3 November 2000

PEDAL POWER TOYS A

MODEL DIVERSIFICATION

When Mervyn Thompson decided to make his sons some machinery

to pull along behind their pedal tractor he never envisaged

that it could be the start of a farm diversification.

Tessa Gates went to County Antrim to find

out more about his metal models

IN an age of moulded plastic, battery power and slipshod production it is so refreshing to come across toys that are hand-made from metal, finished to the highest standards and designed to be propelled by child power, liberally fuelled with imagination.

Such is the appeal of Thompsons Metal Models that people are prepared to join a waiting list so that their child can emulate Dad with his own silage harvester, mower conditioner or round baler. Some people dont even have the excuse of children – they just want one of Mervyn Thompsons models for themselves and Mervyn is modestly amazed at the way his machinery models have taken off.

"I only made the first ones as a present for my sons but people started asking me to make them for their children, too. Now people are desperate for them. Mothers ring up and say my wee boys breaking his heart for one," says Mervyn, a self-confessed perfectionist who farms dairy cattle, sheep and turkeys at Broughshane, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland.

&#42 Hard decisions

Its all taken him rather by surprise and now hard decisions have to be made. Milking and making models doesnt mix. There are just not enough hours in the day for Mervyn to do both and it looks like the farms 30 dairy cows will have to go if the models are to be a successful diversification. "The herd is too small anyway and if I stayed with the cows then I would have to double the number and that would mean renting more land," says Mervyn who farms 40.46ha (100 acres) – some owned, some rented.

He has already got plans and a grant in hand to convert two sheds into a workshop and when this is done he hopes to employ a couple of trainees to help him. At present his father, John Joe, (82) is his only help in making the models. "There is a lot of work and time in each one and as metal toys do not break easily, I will need to keep bringing out new models for variety," Mervyn explains. "I need men working for me so I have the time to plan and test them."

But it is not enough just for Mervyn to test them. Because they are for use behind a toy tractor they must be tested for safety and reach the standard necessary for them to carry the CE mark, without which they cannot be sold. "The red tape with child safety is unbelievable but necessary, I send them to STR in Reading, Berks. Each design is tested there and each individual toy must be checked here before it is sent out," says Mervyn.

"Until people see them they dont realise that these models are not just thrown together. All the edges are rounded, smoothed and sanded – it takes time but it has to be done for safety."

Each of his designs is registered to stop other people copying them and each model is sprayed in child-safe paint. "Customers can choose red, yellow or green paint when ordering. Most children want their machinery to be the same colour as dads."

&#42 Round baler

The round baler opens at the back with a push and closes to a hand-size gap so little fingers wont get pinched. The harvesters draw bar and chute move and the mower conditioners action imitates the real thing. Obviously they do not cut or bale but surprisingly some customers seem to expect them to do so!

The models are priced at £125-£135, but even customers say this is too cheap for the work that goes into them.

"Trying to cost them has been a problem. On the farm I have been an engineer all my life – making and mending to save money. Now I am doing something to make money and it is nice to make something people appreciate," says Mervyn.

Inquiries: 028-2586 1311

Toy story…Mervyn at work (above) and with some

of his creations.