Duo builds big, in miniature

BLUE EARTH – Lonnie Erickson of Elmore and John Volz of Minnesota Lake enjoy trains and farming – in miniature.

Both have toy scenes on display this week in the 4-H building at the Faribault County Fair.

“Took me 15 hours to put it up,” Erickson said of his trains.

Erickson has laid down tracks with little trains racing around, surrounded by small buildings and other structures that he made himself.

Volz has several farm scenes laid out. Each site represents different eras in farming, from the horse-and-buggy days to today’s huge livestock barns.

It takes Volz and his wife, Chris, six to eight hours each to set up his miniatures.

“Lots of back bending,” Volz said. “When we lay it out, never get it the same.”

Both men admitted what they have out for viewing is just a fraction of the toys they own.

“This is about a third of what I’ve got,” Erickson noted.

“There’s a lot of it out in the trailer,” Volz said.

Things tend to collect after so many years.

“I’ve been collecting trains since ’71,” Erickson said. “Just needed a hobby.”

“I make a lot of crafts, mainly this kind of stuff,” he added.

His woodworking hobby dovetails with the trains. Erickson has created buildings to augment the train sets with a windmill, water tower and train station (with “Elmore” on it, naturally), and “The Office,” which looks suspiciously like an old-time saloon.

Erickson doesn’t use patterns for his creations.

“No plans, just whatever works out,” he said. “It takes a while, but it’s your hobby, so you just do it.”

His scenes frequently change because he buys and sells.

“I have ’em displayed in my basement and go to different shows,” Erickson said.

Volz also puts his scenes on display locally. In addition to the Faribault County Fair, he goes to the Blue Earth County Fair and Fest Ag in Minnesota Lake.

“It’s a hobby, right,” he explains simply.

The hobby got off the ground thanks to his wife, Chris.

“My wife was principal of Delavan School, trying to get a magnet school (centered on farming). That’s when I bought the little white barn – 25 years ago,” he said.

Volz knows what’s authentic.

“I used to milk cows, feed steers and pigs,” he said. “I still help my nephew (Roger Volz) farm.”

He buys some of the things in his display, such as the vehicles and animals, but “I built the big buildings,” he said, gesturing to the large livestock barns on one end.

“There’s about 370 cows in the first big barn,” he said. “I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how many in the whole works.”

The display covers a large area. On one end, there’s a two-story farmhouse with a picket fence, lots of livestock and turn-of-the-century vehicles. Going down the length of the display, viewers can see the years pass as machinery took over and farms got more industrialized.

“Lot of the farm stuff now is not like it was years ago,” Volz said.

Volz’s other scene is not as complex: it’s a nature scene with mountains and wildlife. The evergreen trees came from a hobby store, the mountains from Department 56 when the Mankato store went out of business. Little vehicles run down the highway.

One of the reasons he goes through all the work is to see the reactions of kids.

“Their eyes; they see things,” Volz said.