MONROEVILLE, Ohio — Even though he grew up as a young lad working on the farm, Tim Simon later became a life-long truck driver. As life progressed during his truck-driving years, Simon began to rekindle that childhood farm experience by collecting tractor and implement models. But his thirst to replicate the farm was not complete with just the toy models.
While on the hunt at the National Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, Iowa, Simon noticed a neat little grain handling setup which had some custom features along with plastic grain bins.
“Driving truck provides a lot of time to think and ponder. As I’m driving across rural America, I took note and marveled at the extensive grain handling setups,” Simon said. “As farming operations grow and yields increase, farmers are constantly expanding their grain storage capacity. I remembered that little grain handling set up out at Dyersville and thought I could build one in a larger scale with more equipment and detail.”
That launched a project which spanned five years to complete — a grain-handling diorama.
Tim and his wife, Barbara Simon, reside in Monroeville, a small community in the northern Ohio county of Huron. The Simons’ two sons, Jared and Jordan, are avid supporters of Tim’s farm-related hobby and very helpful in providing critique when called on.
Tim Simon grew up in Monroeville. At the energetic age of 11, his family moved to the country.
“I was excited to live in the country. It gave me the chance to work on a farm,” he said. “In those days, if you were not working on your family farm, you had to have a permit to do farm work. To get a permit, you were required to attend class and pass a test driving a tractor and operating farm equipment.”
At age 11, he worked away from home part time on a neighbor’s farm for about a year. He next worked on a friend’s family farm from age 13 to age 21.
Simon reminisced: “And how I remember operating the tractor in those early years! Driving that Oliver Model 1650 tractor for the first time was a real thrill.”
Through those teen years working on the farm, he gained experience in driving tractors, trucks and operating field equipment. That helped equip him for life’s challenges that would follow.
“I did not have the number of toys that kids have today, but mine saw hard play. My parents would not allow the toys to get sandbox or yard play. Toy tractors and anything they could pull were my favorites. I carpet-farmed only, mostly during cold or wet weather.”
As a boy, Simon received a gift of a 1:16 scale die-cast John Deere Model 630 made in 1959 by Ertl. He still has that tractor, in its original condition, as part of his collection.
Although Simon had a strong affection for the farm, owning and operating a farm was not in the cards for him. While working for Enterprise Hill Farms, he learned to operate a semi-tractor and trailer. With his truck driving experience, Simon saw an opportunity to launch a new career. He bought a semi-tractor and dump trailer in 1981. He leased the rig to a trucking company and commenced driving truck full time. Simon also drove truck on the side for neighboring farmers.
Every hobbyist has a unique story on how they started.
According to Simon, “Collecting farm toys started quite by chance. It actually began when my brother and I were kids. We had a variety of toys as kids and now they’ve grown into a collection. When we went our separate ways, my brother took the Tonka trucks and Match Box cars. I kept the farm toys and barns that Dad built for us when we were kids. Every room in our basement, except the work room, is full of farm toys and equipment. I have too many tractor replicas to count, but there are about 145 implements.”
Hobbyists are often gifted with exceptional talents. Tim Simon’s construction of the grain-handling diorama is an expression of his skill. He brought together a replica that mimics a real operation.
“I wanted something in a larger scale, something that nobody else has,” Simon said. “Layouts in 1:16 scale are fascinating because most of the buildings and other parts have to be custom made. My setup was started with a building my dad had made years ago. The real challenge came in developing the parts for the grain storage and handling equipment.”
At one of his stops when trucking, Simon noticed some metal cylinders that looked to be the right scale for grain bins. They even had the same rib effect like those found on the steel bands used in building grain bins.
Since they were scrap, he grabbed up enough material to make five bins. Once the cylinders were cut at the correct length, his next challenge was making their roofs. The standing rib effect on the roof made the task more difficult. He finally found a machine shop who could make them, but the cost was prohibitive. An employee at that business, Francis Gunlach, saw his plight and offered to help. He took on the task during his time off and made all the roofs for Simon.
The next stage included addimg the grain handling leg, distribution pipes and dryer. The development of these parts took patience and time.
“I had a grain leg made, but it wasn’t the correct scale. With a little help from a friend, I finished out another leg myself. The distribution pipes from the grain leg to the bins came together quite naturally. But the tower-dryer took time and was the result of shopping one day. I was strolling through a store aisle where bird feeders were displayed. I noted a wire-cylinder feeder that looked just like a tower-dryer. I bought two, covered them with door-screen and erected them end-to-end to complete the dryer. The base for the dryer is finished with gutter screen edged with u-channel. The perimeter of the unloading platform walls were made from backsplash that look like brick. The air dryers at the base of the bins are made from wood dolls and scrap wood.”
The diorama is finished off with a variety of items, including grain trucks, tractors pulling grain wagons, propane storage tanks, a cattle pen, field tile and landscaping. Simon’s kids and wife assisted with the entire setup. He said Barbara had a great sense in determining if a piece was in proportion with the other elements.
“Many times I would run into a road-block in developing an idea,” Simon said. “When that happened, I would set that aside and go on to something else. Low and behold, I would be driving along during think time and the solution to the road-block would come to mind. I also found that browsing through stores provided help. Many times I found something unrelated to what I was thinking about that would trigger a new idea. Hobby stores are really helpful in finding things for projects like this.”
One visitor to Simon’s diorama was Norm Schiefer of Bucyrus, Ohio. Norm and his son operate Schiefer Bins, a company that installs grain storage and handling facilities. Norm said he was impressed with the setup.
“For someone who never worked around or built grain-handling equipment, he certainly did a good job,” Norm said. “He even had the leg height correct to get the proper angle for grain to fall from the leg to the bins through the tubes.”
Simon’s advice to other collectors is to “stay focused on what interests you. Think about what you can afford and consider the space you have available to display a collection.”
He added: “The farm toy hobby holds great interest for me. It is a wonderful way to get a break from the routine of driving truck every day. Building a layout can be done by anyone. With a few basic parts, you can make an attractive setup. I encounter countless people who are involved with collecting, and not just farm toys. Barb and I have met numerous people through collecting who have developed into lasting friendships.”
Fred Hendricks may be contacted at fwhendricks<\@>gmail.com.