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Toy barn workshop

By Staff | Dec 24, 2010

JOHN KAUFFMAN, of Eagle Grove, uses basic tools to build his toy barns and farm buildings. He appreciates having his father’s workbench in his shop. “In a way, it’s like dad is here with me every day,” he said.

EAGLE GROVE – When John Kauffman toyed with the idea of building a small wooden barn for his nephew to play with, he realized he could also preserve an important piece of Iowa’s rural heritage.

“I’m passionate about this,” said Kauffman, 40, a Hefty Seed Co. agronomist from Eagle Grove. “The history of these barns must be kept up or new generations will never know what these wonderful structures were used for.”

In the winter of 2008, “Big John” decided that his young nephew, Nick Lemmon, needed a barn to house his toy farm animal collection. “I went to the garage with a sheet of half-inch plywood and out came a gambrel-roof toy barn. You should have seen the look on Nick’s face when I gave it to him. From then I was hooked on making wooden barns.”

Kaufmann, who enjoys reading Farm News’ annual publication featuring the barns of Iowa, has built a side business constructing a variety of painted toy barns, from double monitors to cattle sheds. It takes him approximately 35 hours to build each barn, which includes a roof that opens up, livestock stalls, feeders and a haymow door that opens and shuts with a little rope.

While the barns are richly detailed, they’re also durable and are made to be played with,said Kauffman, who designs them for children from ages two to seven.

IT TAKES John Kauffman approximately 35 hours to build each barn, which includes a roof that opens, livestock stalls, feeders and a haymow door that opens and shuts with a little rope.

Larry and Jan Minikis, who farm near Thor, have purchased several hand-crafted barns from Kaufmann for their grandchildren, who live in the Des Moines metro area.

“The kids have had a lot of fun playing together with the barns,” said Jan Minikis, who noted that Kaufmann built them a barn that looks similar to the barn that stands on Minikis farm. “John’s barns are so popular that some of our friends and family have also bought them for their own grandkids.”

Rural Iowa provides endless inspiration

Building each barn brings back many memories for Kauffman, who grew up on a farm south of Marcus in Northwest Iowa. “I baled a lot of hay in my day,” added Kauffman. He said his grandfather was a woodworker and his father was skilled at welding and repairing farm equipment.

Kauffman’s farm background reflects the attention to detail that’s evident in every toy he makes – from the pens in a hog confinement barn to the gates in the gambrel-roof barn that swing open on real hinges. Kaufmann, who studied drafting in high school and worked for a cabinet shop in Nevada at one point in his career, also enjoys making small machine sheds to house 1/64 scale farm toys, as well as larger machine sheds to store 1/16 scale farm toys.

WHILE THE BARNS are richly detailed, they’re also durable and are made to be played with, said John Kauffman, who designs the toys for children from ages two to seven.

“I look at barns and farm buildings as I travel the countryside and I get inspiration for what to make next,” said Kauffman, who works on his creations for a few hours each evening in the shop behind his house. “I’ve got a hundred more ideas of things I’d like to build, from corn cribs to livestock sale barns. The sky’s the limit.”

In addition to barns, Kauffman has built chicken houses, gas stations, and a body shop/car wash. He numbers and signs his toys, which range in price from $75 for smaller buildings to $250 for larger structures. Kaufmann, who enjoys building special requests for people, has grown his business through word-of-mouth advertising and is grateful for the repeat customers who are helping him educate the next generation about an important piece of Iowa’s agricultural history.

“I think it’s important for kids to learn about barns and I love to see little kids smile when they play with these toys. I make my barns to last and I hope they become family heirlooms.”

Learn more

To contact Kauffman, call (515) 851-2437, or e-mail jjkauff@goldfieldaccess.net.

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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