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Krueger finds niche in farm toy industry

SOMERSET -- While others are admiring the enormity and complexity of farm equipment, Stan Krueger is likely to be looking at the details and imagining ways to reproduce them in plastic or steel at 1/16 or 1/64 scale.

Since he and his brothers started customizing their 1950s-era Tonka trucks, Krueger has tinkered with toys. Fifty years ago, the intent was to "improve" the toys by adding a tandem axel or fuel tank. Today the goal is to create miniatures so accurate that collectors can't pass them up.

His accomplishments were recognized last November when Krueger became the 2006 inductee into the Hall of Fame at the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, Iowa. He joins 27 previous inductees, including Fred and Gertrude Ertl and Claire Scheibe.

"That's what's driven me in this business is somebody saying, 'Hey can you build this?'" said Krueger, guiding a visitor through aisles of shelves stacked high with boxes of toy parts.

Though he calls them "kids," Krueger's customers are usually not children. They're more likely to be men trying to reproduce their grandfather or father's farm operation or to create a farm scene they've imagined.

"They're making a model of a farm, like model railroads, except more detailed," he said. Krueger said his customers know exactly what they want.

"I will have kids come up and they have a list of what they need," he said. "They want to make (their model farm) as real as possible."

Krueger developed a special interest in toy equipment when his mother took a job on the Tonka Toy production line in 1954 and worked there for the next 31 years.

He and his brothers loved the toy trucks they received at the company's holiday parties but couldn't resist customizing them.

"We'd send stuff back to Tonka Toys for them to look at," said Krueger. He admits he doesn't know if the company's designers took any of the boys' suggestions to heart.

Krueger earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting, became a certified public accountant and worked as a CPA until 1987.

He revived his interest in farm toys by collecting them at flea markets in the 1970s.

Krueger developed his first product -- a line of replacement fenders for toy tractors -- in the late 1970s, turning to an uncle who was a machinist for help.

Using a stamped metal piece, Krueger made five variations of the miniature fenders for replicas of Oliver, John Deere and Farmall tractors.

"On most tractors it was the right fender that would be broken off," said Krueger, explaining that when kids play with tractors, they tend to lean their right hand on the right side of the toys.

He advertised his replacement fenders in Toy Farmer magazine in late 1980. In 1981 he filled an accountant's audit bag with fenders for 3010 and 4010 John Deere tractors, the Oliver 1800 series and the International 806 and headed for the Lafayette, Ind., toy show.

He sold nearly all the fenders he took to the show. That year he established Standi Toys Inc., combining his name (Stan) and his wife's name (Sandi).

Krueger's other products include a replacement cab for older model toy tractors, hay wagons and tires designed so that the dimensions, number and depth of the lugs make the tiny wheels precise replicas of tires made by Firestone and Trelleborg, a Swedish brand.

"You have to be accurate," insisted Krueger, pointing out that his tires have the same number of diamonds as the real thing.

And, he has produced a line of tires to replicate those used in tractor pulls.

In 1987 Krueger gave up his CPA work and made Standi Toys a fulltime job. His first plant was in Hugo, Minn. He later moved production to Ham Lake, Minn.

In the late 1980s Krueger was approached by Successful Farming magazine to make several sets of toys, including a portable grain dryer, grain bin, auger and dairy barn. The magazine intended to sell packages of sets to raise money for scholarships.

Magazine representatives guessed they'd sell over 500 units.

"They figured if we did a thousand they'd be happy," said Krueger. In the end 2,000 units were sold.

"UPS came twice a day that year," said Krueger, recalling that the toy company was shipping out 200 to 300 units a day for awhile.

Krueger is a regular vendor at national and regional toy and farm machine shows.

He's been attending the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Ky., since 1990.

"There's no gawkers there," said Krueger. "They're all farm people."

He sells at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, the World Dairy Expo in Madison Minnesota's Farm Fest and the Minnesota State Fair, where Standi Toys has its own building.

"I figure that I've spent a year of my life at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds," said Krueger.

He estimates he does about 30 shows a year, including expositions in Indiana and Missouri.

Closer to home, he has had a display at the St. Croix County Fair since 1994.

In 1993 Standi Toys moved to its present location on Somerset's Main Street. There Krueger, his wife and two employees are the core of the company. Four contract workers do piece work in their homes.