The Altona Mall Toy Show attracted hundreds Friday and Saturday to check out hundreds of farm toys, model airplanes, diecast collectibles and painstakingly created models. There were approximately forty vendors at the event organized by BJW Toys which is owned and operated by John and Leah Wiebe. John has been a farm toy hobbyist for years, with a passion that began as a kid.
"I grew up playing with farm toys, and always felt there were a number of farm toys that were missing, so that really got me into trying to figure out ways of building it," explained Wiebe who designs and creates his own collectible farm toys. "Then, when I had the resources to build them, we went ahead with it."
BJW Toys, named after the initials of the couple's four children, started in January 2019 when John felt there were a lot of 1/64 scale toys lacking in the toy industry. He began drafting toys before he started work at 6am, and a friend offered to 3D print his work.
"It takes a lot of a lot of time and effort to downsize all the details, and try to figure out what it takes to make it look realistic, but it's nice to see the end result," he shared while standing next to some of his latest pieces at the show, one of those being an Elmer's Manufacturing Super 7 harrow. "It's not been available for people to buy, because it was a challenge, and we took the time and mastered it. That's been a real prize item."
Among the exhibitors were a number of farmyard displays, including Robin Nikkel's. Originally from Morden, and now living in Vancouver, just two weeks ago he won the 2023 National Farm Toy Show (small scale division) in Dyersville, Iowa. It's the largest farm toy show in the world.
"The way I explain it to people that aren't in the hobby is it's like winning the World Series," stated Nikkel. "It's the highest pinnacle you can get to in the hobby. I'm also the first Canadian in 46 years to ever win the trophy."
There were five judges that reviewed his entry at the Show, considering things like level of detail, realism, how much of the display was made by the entrant and the ability to bring movement and life to the piece.
Nikkel's display was an original idea combining a number of different aspects, including a river scene inspired by Northern Ontario, a corn field in early June and farm yard with shop and upstairs office he handcrafted from scratch.
"I started it in January last year," Nikkel shared when asked how long it took him to create the display. "The time went pretty quick. I spent all my spare time on it. The only thing I timed was this cornfield. There's 26 rows in it. In each row there's a cornstalk every quarter inch, and I had to hand drill every hole. Each row took me half an hour, so 13 hours in this one field."
When Nikkel was a child, he had model trains from his grandfather, and ultimately left the hobby in his 20s, getting back into in his 30s.
"The base is just Styrofoam," he noted. "And then, just getting an idea in my head, start shaping the Styrofoam and changing it as we go, like anybody else. If it doesn't work, then take it out, start again and try and conceptualize the picture you had in your head in the final project."
As Nikkel was speaking with PembinaValleyOnline, his display was surrounded by kids and adults inspecting the intricately detailed model, which is exactly what he enjoys the most about the hobby... the people.
"Meeting all kinds of new people, and especially kids, seeing the excitement in their faces, and trying to inspire other people to get into the hobby," he said before commenting on the recent renewed interest in farm toy collectibles and diecast. "I think it's a sentimental thing, especially those that have left the farm and have grown up with it. They want to have some memories of what they had when they were kids as adults now."
After winning this year, Nikkel is now on a two year exemption from competing again, but already has plans for entering in 2026.
Meanwhile, back at Wiebe's booth the organizer took a moment to share what it was like to see all the attendees looking through the displays the vendors put together, and the passion on those table that took hours to create.
"It really is what I need that pushes me to keep putting the toy show on, and going through all the work," he said. "It's very rewarding."
And as for that next generation in his family, the BJWs which the company is named after, and the future of the hobby continuing?
"It's really neat to to see my children play with farm toys," Wiebe noted. "That's really what keeps it going. I think a lot of it is the interest I show in it, and the time I take to play with them and make it fun."
You can listen to CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner's conversation with Robin Nikkel, below.
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