Ethan Hilderbrand

An Avid Collector and Builder    

By Jack Criss

Sixteen year-old Ethan Hilderbrand has turned a lifelong love of farm toys and models into an award-winning hobby.

In early February, the young man won first place in the display competition youth division at a farm toy show in Sheffield, Alabama. There are three age divisions in such shows and Ernie’s division – ages twelve to eighteen – is always the most competitive because it draws the most participants. 

“He’s always loved tractors and farming since he was a child,” says his father, Ernie Hilderbrand. “We live in Sataria where we do custom farm work so Ethan has been around machinery all of his life. And this win for him back in February was definitely a big deal and I’m so proud of him.”

“I have a wide collection that I’ve built up over the years and a group of friends across the country who share this interest,” says Ethan, who also actually builds his own models. He says he sets up and works mainly in his room. “Actually, he works all over the entire house,” laughs Ernie.

Father and his son attended their first trade show in Cleveland at the Farm Toy Show held annually there in town. “We’re friends with Blake Andrews, who puts on the Cleveland event, and that’s how we learned about other, similar shows across the country.”

And the word “toy” doesn’t really describe what Ethan builds and collects.

“I like to use the term ‘model’ because what I build and make are actually replicas of equipment that I and other farmers use in real life,” says Ethan, who works with his father on their family farm and earns his own money for doing so. “That’s how I’m able to buy what I need to build my models and go to the shows,” he laughs. 

“I customize my models that I build using parts that I buy that other people have made using 3-D printers,” explains Ethan, “like tires, rims and other specific pieces of the equipment. There are also supplies that you can buy from people across the country for the parts. I usually get the parts I use from one supplier in particular at the toy shows we go to.”

Farm toy shows have become a big draw across the country, says Ethan, bringing collectors from all over the country. 

“There’s a National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, Iowa and the biggest national toy shows in the country are also held every June and November in Iowa, too. We usually go to both of them. It’s a huge event that takes up two high school gyms and also the classrooms. It has a display competition and it’s also where the vendors come to sell and that’s when I can buy what I need. Vintage farm toys are also sold at the shows – they’re great events,” he says. 

The man who puts on the Sheffield show where Ethan won his first place award, Josh Aycock, is the first person who ever invited him to a display competition, says Ernie. “And now he’s been invited to several,” he says. “We owe Josh a lot and appreciate what he’s done for us.”

Ethan plans a career in farming, just like his father – which is why his hobby will remain just that. “All he wants to do when he’s not in school, at Yazoo County High School, is drive a tractor,” says Ernie. “When he’s not working on his models he’s out farming with me.”

But the two say they’ll be back in Iowa during the first of June for the new big toy show.

“I won’t be placing anything for competition but Ethan will take his own money that he earns and buy what he needs,” says Ernie. DAJ