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At Farm and Toy Show in Westminster, vintage toy enthusiasts give kids glimpse at past — in miniature

Jon Harman held onto his 2-year-old son’s hand, looking over a line of toy tractors with his 7-year-old nephew at his side.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a very little kid,” the Harney resident said of the 33rd annual Farm and Toy Show, held Saturday at the Carroll County Agriculture Center. “I’ve been collecting toy tractors, [real] tractors and gas engines since I was a little boy, just like my dad, my grandfather and my uncle, who have been doing it since they were in their late teens.”

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Since 1987, exhibitors — both local and from as far away Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York — have come to this show to display antique and collectible toys, tractors, trains, pressed steel, diecast, cast iron pedal cars, tin toys, games, models, and more. Organizer Tim Talbert said collectors come to find rare and unique farm toys, but families also attend to discover toys just coming out, and to buy new items for their children.

The show, which benefited the Carroll County Fair Board, was followed by an early-evening toy auction.

For Harman, the show brought back memories.

“When I was little, I had 1/16th-scale toys outside to play with on the sidewalk, and in the living room I had a whole farm set up of these 1/64th-scale toys. I had cows, different buildings, all sorts of outside buildings, and I had fields set up throughout the entire house. Collecting toys is a good hobby to get involved in,” Harman said. “My son gets to see what I played with when I was a little kid, and what my dad played with.”

Nicole Stambaugh of Uniontown was with her family. She said she wouldn’t miss it.

“My husband has been coming for a lot of years now,” she said. “We bring our nephews, and this is our third year coming with our kids. We have three now — two girls and we just had a little boy seven weeks ago, and now he is here.”

Stambaugh said her children see the real thing daily, but the show is still special for them.

“My husband has a farm set that he’s had since he was a little boy and now our kids have it set up in the toy-room and they are adding onto it,” she said. “They get to pick out something every year to add. They like doing a little carpet farming.”

While one room at the Ag Center had rows of toys for sale, the kitchen was set up with farm displays.

“We have nine displays this year,” said Laura Glass, Talbert’s daughter. “The spectators are able to vote for their favorite displays and the winner is chosen by crowd favorite.”

Miniature farm scenes and collections lined the perimeter of the room.

“The people who attend vote on their favorites in each of two scales, 1/16th and 1/64th," Talbert said. “Then we have a table of scratch-built or custom-made toys that are judged, too.”

The display of 88-eight year old Herb Close of Finksburg was a work of art. There were trucks and tractors built from scratch plus an entirely hand-carved Old West scene.

“I’ve been doing this for about 30 years,” Close said. “I am a sign painter by trade, but I started carving — I don’t even know when — but as an adult.”

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Cowboys with ropes rounded up a line of longhorn cattle, and behind them, a horse-drawn prison wagon carried seven men and two women inside — every bit of it carved by hand.

“The prison wagon, I saw it on television. I sketched it off and then started carving,” Close said. “It takes me an entire day to do one animal.”

Across the aisle, Irvin Black Sr. of Union Bridge had a farm scene that connected with one built by his brother Charles.

“I’ve been coming here for over 30 years,” Black said. He picked up a tiny cow from his display. “I started making these cows when I was little. I would ask my mom for some cookie dough and then make it into a cow.”

An artist, Black graduated from Shepherd College — now Shepherd University — in West Virginia and became an art teacher, teaching in Carroll County for several years, but he’s always had a passion for farms.

“I grew up around here and milked [for local farmers] every morning before going to school, starting in middle school,” he said. “I always loved farms. My mom said whenever we passed a farm — we didn’t have seat belts back then — I would stand up and watch that farm until it was out of sight.”

The first toy barn Black ever built was at the center of his display, the only one built from a kit.

“All these barns are built by hand out of cardboard and painted,” he said of the remaining buildings. “The silo is handmade, too. I try to make it look like a Carroll County scene, like you would look down on from an airplane. I am very proud of all the farms we have here in Carroll County. We are blessed. These are hardworking people ... good people. You can tell a farmer by their work ethic.”

Attendees to the show moved from table to table, admiring displays and chatting with old friends.

“There’s not a lot of farm kids around anymore,” Derr said. “It’s nice for kids who don’t get to see this stuff to come here. They can look at it and imagine what the big ones look like.”

Harman spoke of how the toys have changed over the years.

“Toys back in the ’50s and ’60s were usually all metal, very durable toys. You could bury them in the dirt, and you could plow ground with them, and they did not break. Toys today are plastic, but they are more detailed, which is kind of neat. I wish I could have played with as a kid some of the toys that they have now.” He looked down at his son. “I can’t wait until he is a little older so I can play with his toys,” he added with a smile.

Andy Cashman is on the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair’s executive committee and works with Tim Talbert on the toy show setup.

“The fair board provides the volunteers,” Cashman said. “Agriculture is still the number one industry in the state of Maryland and still the number one industry in the United States. Carroll County is still basically an agriculture community.”

Cashman’s grandson was busy playing with a toy bulldozer purchased at the show, but the toys at this show were for all ages.

“To the farmers, these toys are kind of like their baseball card collection or Hot Wheels or whatever,” Cashman said. “It is nice to see what’s out there and it is great to see little kids playing with them.”

Lois Szymanski has been a correspondent for the Carroll County Times for over 25 years. She is the author of 29 books for children including novels and picture books. She lives in Westminster with her husband and their two miniature horses, Georgie McLittle and Princess Hazel.

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