Bob Smulski is in the hay business, but the bales he makes are about 4 inches long and less than 2 inches wide. They fit easily on the balsam wood hay wagons he constructs, scaled to fit toy farm tractors.
He also makes scale model self-unloading wagons, but what gets the attention of visitors at farm shows, antique tractor events and dairy breakfasts is his creation of a miniature model of the farm he grew up on.
The farm was settled by his family in the Oak Creek area of Milwaukee County back in 1827. The barn was built in 1839 and still stands today. The family owned 40 acres, and when he and his parents were farming, they also rented another 320 acres.
Smulski sold the farm in 2003 and started building the replica of the farm in 2005. He started just with the barn and silos but has expanded the farm every year to include all the outbuildings such as the granary, corn cribs, milk house, chicken coop and even the bee hives. He completed the display with toy farm tractors and implements like those that have been used over the years.
"The original barn, built in 1839, is still standing in Oak Creek," he said. "The rest of the farm was developed, but the barn is listed on the National Historic List so it must remain."
The display features numerous detailed pieces including stanchions inside the barn with cows lined up in a row and a gutter going through the barn behind them. A hand-built barn cleaner, made with recycled household items, leads out of the barn on the end. The lower portion of the barn is lighted to reveal all the details and what looks like glass block windows completes the structure.
One of the most unique attributes of this miniature farm is that the barn boards on the upper portion of the barn are cut from boards he salvaged from the original old barn before moving off the farm.
"The boards on this 1839 barn were not tongue-and-groove," Smulski said. "They were angled to fit, and the barn was tight."
Next to the barn are two silos. One is a concrete silo made by spraying textured paint onto the tube structure and then adding hoops and a silo cap. The other is a wooden stave silo made from salvaged wood staves from the real silo that once stood on his farm.
"Even the stones beneath this silo are authentic," he said. "I chipped some off from the stone foundation on the real silo and used them for this model."
The farm yard is filled with pieces of equipment from the era in which Smulski was farming. Among the pieces is a toy 1965 Chevy truck, just like the first truck he owned.
"My first vehicle was an old Chevy sedan my Dad gave me," he said. "I took the back seat out of it and used it to haul calves and feed and farm things. After that I always drove pickup trucks."
Next to the granary, also made from real barn boards, are some stacked bee hives boxes. In a miniature tree, he modeled what appears to be a natural bee hive, made from a caterpillar cocoon.
When he was farming, Smulski milked 45 cows. He quit milking cows in the 1970s when regulations changed and farmers were required to have attached milk houses. They also raised hogs and chickens and continued to do so until 1995. The model farm shows the milk truck from Gehl's Dairy in Germantown picking up the cans of milk. The name on the side of the truck indicates the hauler was Fred Ludweg of Franklin.
Smulski designed the milk house so the roof can be lifted off to reveal the details of the can cooler and other equipment in there.
On display along with his miniature farm are numerous pictures showing the farm when it was in its prime. There are also photos of him and his dad farming.
Smulski takes the display to several shows a year. One year, he entered it in competition at the National Farm Toy show in Dyersville, IA, and won first place.
His wife always enjoyed going with him to shows. She passed away last year, and this year his daughter, April Huffman, has gone with him to help set up the display because it takes about four hours to set it up and about an hour and a half to take it down. He leaves it on display at his home when he's not traveling.
Smulski has over 2000 farm toys at home, so he can switch the pieces in the display according to the event. If a show features a particular brand, that's the machinery he chooses for his display.
Wagons, feed bunks and gravity boxes are filled with various food items that fit the scale of the grain they represent. Next to the threshing machine is a wagon filled with bundles of miniature wheat. He searched for just the right weed that, when cut to the right length and bundled, resembled wheat.
His barn is filled with miniature hay bales that he also makes. He sells the bales at shows, and he also makes and sells authentic self-unloading wagons and hay wagons out of balsam wood.
For more information or to purchase an item, visit www.bobsminihaymarket.com.