I am from Ballyclare in Co Antrim, I have never lived on a farm in my life, but I spent an awful lot of time on my granda’s farm when I was young, following him about, annoying him probably! I was always involved in the agricultural scene and knew when I left school I wanted to go to Greenmount Agricultural College to study land-based technology.

When I finished in Greenmount things took a bit of a turn and I somehow ended up in university; I don’t know how it happened really to be honest. I studied technology and design which really ties in with what I am doing now, designing models.

Model behaviour

While I was in school and college, models were always going on in the background, I was always playing with them when I was young and when I grew up, I always still had an interest in them. I loved having models that I had seen local contractors and farmers using; that’s what I loved and that is where the building of models came into my life.

Blake Thompson at his workstation where scaled CAD models of farm machinery are produced for 3D printing to produce components for his 1:32 scale models. Note the wall of caffiene to keep Blake fuelled!

The big mainstream companies didn’t make Northern Ireland or Irish machinery; you’d never see a Kane trailer or a Herron trailer back then, it wasn’t a thing. You couldn’t buy a wee single bale lifter, a toy model or anything, so I butchered something together that didn’t look anything like a bale lifter, but it did the job for me. I was probably in my early teens when I started dabbling in the making of the machinery.

The brand Model Farmer was originally created by a friend of mine, I got to know him from going to model shows, so we joined forces. I was kind of working on my own doing my own wee thing and he was helping me along and then through time, I just did more and more to become involved in the business and in 2015 I bought it over.

Working hand-in-hand

When I left Greenmount I got a job over the summer to drive for a local contractor as a spare trailer man and now I have done 10 years with him. I would get inspiration for the models I make from the contracting scene; they work hand-in-hand, because if I am building models and working with the real equipment, you get to see it and you get to understand it, it’s brilliant in that sense and you also get to know the manufacturers.

If a new machine comes out, we wouldn’t build a global brand because a bigger company would be able to make the model in China and it would be much cheaper for people to buy it. I would aim more at Irish and UK manufacturers with models, the main make would probably be Slurry Kat or Herron.

Blake Thompson with a selection of his 1:32 scale models.

In terms of models, the adults and the elderly men want the older classic machinery, then you have the younger generation who want to buy the more modern machinery. All models are different to make, some are that bit odder and older, there wouldn’t be as many about, the likes of a John Deere I could get a base model to work from but the likes of a Zetor Crystal, I would have to start from complete scratch. I haven’t a clue how long I have spent working on one single model, I think if I knew the answer it would scare me.

Generally, I wouldn’t make specific models because I haven’t got the time and it’s not cost efficient. I have a range on my website of stuff that I make and I pick and choose it myself. A lot of stuff would come in casts and moulds, so I would have the kits for them and that’s the main end of the business – I don’t say I don’t do bespoke models but I just don’t push it.

Blake Thompson in his workshop; with boxes of stock to be processed to fulfil Christmas orders.

The GRASSMEN end of things has definitely become a big part of my business now, over the years as they grew I started to recreate their tractors and I have a stand in their shop in Ballymena.

Work set-up

The website is set up which makes things easier, you can go on and order and pay, it is very straightforward.

I have a workshop here at my house which is an old barn I converted about 10 years ago; I spend more time in it than I do in the house. I work on my own 95% of the time and I have a friend who gives me a hand whenever he can. The stuff I am working with, a lot of it is really small and tiny and detailed, you need a lot of patience and good hands, it’s not just for everybody.

Advice for anyone thinking of starting your own business: if you’re young and keen just go for it, you’ll not know everything from day one, but say yes and you will figure it out, that’s what I’ve done.

You can check out Blake on Facebook, Instagram or on his website www.modelfarmer.co.uk.