Gordy VanHandel and his family left their dairy farm in the 1970s.
But the farm never left VanHandel.
This is the 20th anniversary of the year VanHandel began construction of a project that remains dear to his heart — a detailed, 1/16th scale model of that rural Brown County farm.
“Every time I see the model it brings back memories,” the 70-year-old Wayside resident said. “A lot more good memories than bad. The only bad ones were when I had to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to milk the cows before we went to school. But that was farm life.”
VanHandel dedicated about 500 hours to the project, completing it in three years. And it was worth every minute, he said.
“I absolutely love it,” VanHandel said. “And everybody who sees it seems to really like it too. It reminds them of their own farms they grew up on.”
The scale-model barn features the exact number of boards as the real barn — each miniature board painstakingly cut from balsa wood. Mirroring the real barn, white stars adorn the exterior side walls.
The middle section of the roof is open, allowing a view inside the barn. And plexiglass permits people to peer inside the lower level of the barn and its 30 stanchions. The 30 toy Holsteins around the base of the barn is the same number the actual barn housed.
The toy farm equipment displayed alongside the barn also mimics brands his family owned — primarily Allis-Chalmers, John Deere, Farmall and McCormick-Deering. And the small white silo, made from a cardboard tube, looks strikingly similar to the real silo.
There’s also an adjacent garage, and many detailed items, like a person using a wheelbarrow to remove manure from the barn as well as tiny milk cans and milking equipment.
“I wanted everything to look just like it did when I was there,” VanHandel said. “The model even has a small 1948 Ford F150 pickup truck with feed bags — that’s the truck I learned to drive on.”
The family farm, southeast of Green Bay in the rural Brown County community of Shirley, was owned by VanHandel’s late parents, Ted and Angeline VanHandel.
Concerned about the number of barns he saw disappearing over the years — and uncertain about what may happen to his family’s old barn — VanHandel was inspired to build a model of the farm.
“I was just seeing too many old barns falling down,” he said. “I thought one day it would be nice to have a model of it so my kids and my grandkids can see what kind of farm I grew up on before it fell down.
“Thankfully, the people who moved to the farm after us took good care of it, and the barn is still standing today.”
To accurately construct the scale-model, VanHandel received permission from the property owner to take pictures of the barn and record measurements.
VanHandel keeps his barn at home in the nearby community of Wayside.
Occasionally, he packs it up and transports it for other people to see. Most recently, he displayed the model at the Agricultural Heritage Days event in Luxemburg on the weekend of Sept. 21-22. Two years ago, he showed it at the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days event near Algoma.
“A lot of the older people see it and say it bring back memories for them too, and that’s nice to hear,” VanHandel said. “I just know there was a lot of responsibility on the farm. It was a different adventure every day. Having this model helps me remember it all.”