By SUSAN BLOWER
RUSHVILLE, Ind. — The Rush County Fairgrounds was hopping last week, not with show animals, pageants or rides, but with table after table of farm toys, attended by eager shoppers, young and old.
“This was one of our nicest toy shows in 12 years. All the vendors were happy and sold a lot of toys. It was a great crowd,” said organizer, Mark Shepherd.
“This toy show is always good for me,” said Bud Wall, a toy maker from Kokomo, Ind. “The crowd was good. Mark does a super job of promoting the show. He’s one of only a few who doesn’t charge admission.”
A wide variety of farm-flavored goods are featured at the Rushville Farm Toy Show, including wreaths, ornaments, decorated windows, clocks, signs, and, of course, toys, both new in the box, handcrafted and custom made.
Wall designs and creates models of farm implements, such as discs, ploughs and cultivators, out of brass to 1/16th scale.
“These are not toys to be played with. Our motto on our business card is ‘Big toys for big boys,’” Wall said.
His prices range from $100 to $900, he said. “Custom toys are holding their value. We are a year behind on orders. Some of the more intricate have 350 pieces,” Wall said.
Wall took seven to eight orders at the Rushville show, to be delivered at next year’s event.
A retired farmer, he began making models after working on the farm and studying their real-life counterparts.
“As the toy business got bigger, I retired from farming 4-5 years ago,” Wall said.
Now 70, Wall said he wants to continue as long as his health permits.
“It doesn’t keep me out of trouble, but it keeps me busy,” Wall said smiling.
He has recently designed horse-drawn equipment. Amish workers flock the horses and hand-sew the leather harnesses. He said there are only about 2-4 custom builders of farm toys in the United States.
“We need more younger people to get into this,” Wall added.
While the custom toy business is doing well, vendors of boxed new toys are experiencing a soft market in the struggling economy.
“It’s been slow the last 2-3 years. I keep records, and there’s a difference from 3 years ago. We still sell a little bit of this and that,” said Jon Love, vendor from Losantville, Ind.
Love copies pictures from antique magazines to create his clocks, signs and pictures. He also sells Minneapolis Moline farm toys.
“I copy brochures and ads from farm magazines from the 1950s. I copy them so I don’t destroy history,” Love said.
“At the Hagerstown (Ind.) Flea Market, I once bought a whole stack of The Farm Mechanic, from 1918-31, to keep some lady from buying them and tearing off the covers for a framed picture.”
“I laid down $100 for those. They are museum quality.”
Love said he works hard to craft farm items and travel around to shows, but in the end it’s all worth it.
“I enjoy the people. It’s part of it. We’ve built up a clientele. But if you can’t make money at it, you can’t do it. Farmers understand that. We have a lot of retired farmers who spend (a lot) on items they wouldn’t have spent 10 cents on years ago,” Love said.
For his part, Shepherd is busy planning for his 13th year in the toy show business.
“I’m not worried about the toy market. I tell you what; we have a lot of good stuff for young kids and the older ones who like collecting. Some of the older folks bring their grandkids,” Shepherd said. “I like to watch them come through the door and see them leave happy when they go home.”
Shepherd’s three-person crew – his wife, daughter and himself – spend 2-3 days setting up for the show each year.
“We’re giving back to the community, and I love doing it,” he explained.