SMALL TOWNS: Marion farmer finds unique way to remember his childhood

Harold Wolf pays incredible attention to detail, inspired by his family history and an interest in toy collecting.
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT|Updated: Feb. 9, 2023 at 4:24 PM CST
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With Action 2 News anchor Jeff Alexander continuing his recovery from ankle surgery, we’re looking back at some of his Small Towns stories from this feature’s first year. Tonight’s encore report originally aired on May 5, 2022.

SHAWANO COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A Shawano County farmer’s passion for detailed woodworking has led to some amazing creations.

In the scale of toys, he’s recreated the rural scenes he remembers from his childhood. This week in Small Towns, we travel to Marion on a journey back in time.

As a child in the 1940s, on his family’s farm just outside Marion, Harold Wolf remembers feeling as if he was in heaven.

“My personal feeling is those were some of the best years that farming has seen, before all this technical stuff, that was all neighbor helping neighbor,” says Harold.

Over the decades farming evolved, and when Harold took over as the 4th generation on the farm in the 1960s, he kept thinking back to an era gone by.

“I just hung on to those memories of threshing machines and helping the neighbors, it was something extremely important to me. I never met my great grandfather or my grandfather, but when I look at all the stuff that’s here, the land that’s cleared, I think of them. That all comes back to what encouraged me to try to capture, if not for anybody else, for myself at least,” explains Harold.

Around 1980, inspired by his family history, and an interest in toy collecting, Harold started building.

No blueprints or plans, by the way, just his memory.

“I never built anything with a blueprint, I looked at it and visualized what I wanted it to look like,” says Harold.

Harold’s first order of business, a barn, which once completed, received some company.

“There’s a barn, there’s going to have to be a house,” says Harold with a chuckle.

Harold then turned his attention to making 1940s-era farm equipment, like threshing machines.

He credits his late wife Verl for all of the interior decorations, as well as a lot of trips to hobby stores and toy stores to search for accessories, to bring the farm scene to life.

Mission completed you might think, but Harold was just getting started.

“I mean it just mushroomed from there,” says Harold.

He now wanted to re-create buildings of deep importance to surrounding communities.

“The Caroline Ballroom, everybody went their Saturday night, probably most of us met our girlfriends there,” recalls Harold with a smile.

Again, the detail inside and out, simply amazing.

“I would look at a picture and ok, the door is three foot wide, so that I could take and build the rest of the building,” explains Harold.

A man of strong faith, Harold then tackled a country church.

From a church to a blacksmith shop, which still stands today in nearby Pella.

“There aren’t any blacksmith shops around anymore, and everybody had one because you had horses that had to be shoed and wagon wheels and what not that they made then, so that was a necessity right alongside a tavern,” says Harold breaking out in laughter.

Throughout the years, when he wasn’t busy farming or building, Harold traveled around the state to compete in toy shows.

He enjoyed those shows, but the journey always made him a little nervous.

“Riding in the back of the truck wasn’t healthy for it, that stuff is not made to be jumped around,” says Harold.

With tired hands now too old for delicate woodworking anymore, Harold says his hobby days are over.

Now 83, he does look back with great pride on all of his creations, although is still extremely humble about his ability to recapture history.

“I don’t consider myself talented in this, it’s just I was the only one dumb enough to do it, while other people were out making money I was fooling around with this stuff,” says Harold with a smile.

Harold figures he doesn’t have a whole lot of time left on the family farm and he’s not sure what will happen one day with all of his creations.

He’s hoping they’ll find a home in some museum.

Jeff Alexander talks about the memorable pieces and level of detail

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