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Ryan Johnson, Published January 18 2013

Building memories

Thief River Falls, Minn. - Dale Svendsgaard might have found his hobby unintentionally, but a look at the intricately detailed miniature barns, houses and farm buildings he’s created for the past three years suggests he knows what he’s doing.

The 78-year-old said his creations are inspired by the very buildings he was surrounded by as a kid growing up on the family farm near Goodridge, Minn., where they didn’t get the luxury of electricity until 1949.

Svendsgaard takes the time to incorporate those memories, adding details like handcrafted weathervanes, shingles and working doors to make the buildings realistic. That level of attention even went into the miniature outhouse he made, complete with an opening door and a hole cut in the wooden bench inside.

But Svendsgaard intentionally left out one detail on that project – his model outhouse doesn’t smell nearly as bad as the real thing, he joked.

He said his hobby started three years ago when he wanted a way to display the toy tractor collection he had amassed. Through trial and error, he ended up with a scale model of an old-time barn that could do the vehicles justice, and then began adding a house and other farmyard buildings to complete the display.

“The biggest surprise was that they turned out as good as they did,” he said.

Svendsgaard’s handiwork soon drew the attention of neighbors, relatives and friends, and he’s since built plenty of farm buildings, toy chests in the shape of a barn and even dollhouses for the people in his life.

He said he has no plans to turn the hobby into a career – he still serves as an auctioneer from time to time, a gig he’s had for the past 50 years, and he only recently had to quit his part-time job as a bus driver.

Still, Svendsgaard has donated his work to local auctions that raise money to fight cancer, and he sold out his entire stock of nine farm buildings last month during a toy tractor show in nearby Thief River Falls.

He’s a modest man, but still admits he can admire the intricate buildings he’s created.

“Some of them are kind of cute, I’ve got to say for myself,” he said. “A lot of the neighbors and relatives, they all hee and haw over it.”

He said the appeal of his buildings is simple – the miniature barns are the perfect size to fit plastic farm animal toys still popular among kids, and people of his age appreciate the details he’s added that remind them of the farms they called home as children.

Svendsgaard said he may soon have more time to devote to the craft because he’s undergoing knee replacement surgery and will be laid up for months recovering. But he said he still likes the hobby as a good pastime, just one of the many things that keep him busy – and there’s no retirement in sight for a man like him. “If I can keep moving, I’m going to keep moving because to be honest with you, once you sit down and lay around, it don’t take long before you’re gone,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter

Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587