Farming on a small scale
WORTHINGTON -- Gayden "Gator" Wohlman figures he owns more than 500 tractors and hundreds of other pieces of implements, from drags and disks to manure spreaders, combines, augers and wagons.
While you might think he owns an implement dealership or two, he probably could -- as long as his customers were only interested in miniature John Deeres.
Wohlman, who grew up on a farm midway between Sacred Heart and Renville, transformed his love for farm life into a small-scale farming operation in the basement of his Worthington home. Actually, it's a small-scale farm that has grown into mega proportions.
"We went to a toy show in Mankato and they had a whole room full of miniature farms, and that's how he got started," said Wohlman's wife, Linda. That was back in 1987.
Since then, Wohlman has amassed a fairly large collection -- not just of implements, but of livestock barns and buildings, fences, animals and material to represent different crops. The couple moved to their present home in 1992 just so he could finally get some of his toys out of their boxes and on display. Prior to the move, they lived in a trailer house.
One look at the basement and Wohlman was already making plans on how he was going to arrange his farm.
Several four-foot tables were built to house the farm display, each with a shelf underneath to provide for additional storage. Wohlman has plastic tubs -- each labeled with something different, from bins, houses, silos and barns -- stacked there.
A nearby room is lined with shelves on three walls, each filled with smaller plastic totes containing miniature implements, animals and farm hands. Complete farm sets, still in their original boxes, are also stacked there -- waiting for the day when Wohlman has more room for an expansion.
"I guess you never have enough toys," said Linda.
Several years ago, Wohlman's sister-in-law Cindy VanKley visited from Oklahoma and painted scenes on the walls to serve as a backdrop for the farm. There are rolling hills, plowed fields, a lake, farm scene and even the Ocheyedan Mound, complete with white rocks to spell out "Gator and Linda." The mound was painted for Linda, a native of Ocheyedan, Iowa, and on an opposite wall, the reddish-colored dirt is representative of Oklahoma.
Several different materials cover the table tops, from indoor/outdoor green carpeting painted brown to represent soybean fields, a couple of varieties of black corduroy to act as planted fields of corn and soybeans, beige-colored welcome mats to mirror corn fields, and grey-colored corduroy to represent cement roadways at the grain elevator.
In keeping true to his memories of farm life, Wohlman has decided to show that not everything is neat and orderly on the farm. For instance, he pointed out a scene where some bales had fallen off the elevator's conveyor belt as it carried bales toward the haymow.
The farm includes a barn and yard for the dairy cows; two farrowing barns, two grower barns and one feedlot for all of the Hampshire pigs; a milking barn for the dairy goats and a yard for the goats and sheep to share; several pens and buildings for the cattle feeding operation; and an open range that boasts miniature Texas Longhorns being rounded up by cowboys on horses. There is even a slurry system for the manure.
"The challenge has been for him to find stuff that looks realistic, like corn and grain," said Linda.
Wohlman dyed grains of rice to look like ears of corn, and filled gravity wagons with mustard seed to mirror soybeans. Hay bales come in a couple of different styles -- the plastic green square bales and tiny pieces of wood that he crafted.
After being laid off last September from the job he had at Highland Manufacturing for 21 years, Wohlman has spent considerable time tinkering with his miniature farm -- so much so that if anyone moves anything, he spots it and puts it back where it is supposed to be.
"One time he came home and the cowboys were riding dinosaurs," said Linda, adding that the grandkids had found his collection of non-farm toys and decided to have a little fun with the farm.
"If the cat's upset with him, she'll walk through it," Linda said. "This winter, he was gone for a couple of weeks and she laid on it."
While the cat may get away with tipping things over and knocking them out of place, it isn't so for the grandkids.
Wohlman tells them, "This is Grandpa's looking farm, not his touching farm."
The only time the kids are allowed to touch the pieces are when Wohlman decides they need to be washed and cleaned up again.
Wohlman anticipates he'll be taking the farm down soon. He hasn't been able to find a job locally, and the couple's house will be listed with a realtor next week. They aren't sure where they will end up, but Wohlman hopes it will be somewhere that he can unpack his farm and put it back on display.
"I'm hoping to get a place where I can put up half of it," he said. "Probably if I'd stayed here, I would have built another table for a sale barn and dealership."
He already has the materials for both, he just never had the room to put them up.