Newton Man Turns Scraps Into Tiny Tractors

Fri July 20, 2012 - Midwest Edition
Mike Mendenhall - NEWTON DAILY NEWS

Chuck Osborn holds a miniature wheel made of tin and steel in the basement workshop of his rural Iowa home.
Chuck Osborn holds a miniature wheel made of tin and steel in the basement workshop of his rural Iowa home.

NEWTON, Iowa (AP) Chuck Osborn holds a miniature wheel made of tin and steel in the basement workshop of his rural Newton home.

The 77-year-old points to each component. It’s intricate. He crafts the unit with a scrap piece of metal pipe and molds the hub from a strip of steel. Holes in the hub have to be drilled for each individual spoke and then threaded, soldering each tiny rod to the wheel.

For Osborn, it’s the attention to detail that makes his hobby of miniature tractor building a rewarding challenge.

“Unless you pick that up, you will not know how heavy it is,” he said as he points to a finished McCormick tractor at his painting station. “That’s 10 pounds right there.”

The farmer and tractor enthusiast began building the one-twelfth-to-scale models in 1997, making a small John Deere wagon from wooden bats taken from his father’s old combine. He used to work on the real thing, purchasing and restoring tractors for sale in the 1980s. He said he once sold 50 of the restored farm equipment in one day, but after costs went up, Osborn found a new way to maintain his passion.

“I’d just buy old, beat up ones and fix them,” Osborn said. “But anymore it’s so darn expensive. Ever since I was a boy tractors have been everything to me.”

In his basement, Osborn’s display shelves are a sea of green and yellow. He has collected hundreds of John Deere and McCormick model replicas, most given to him as gifts by his wife of 50 years, Rachael, and his children and grandchildren. He has returned the favor by making his own miniatures for his family. To date, the micro-engineer has handcrafted 35 to 40 tractors and has made 20 distinct types of toys.

In his dimly lit workshop, lined with unfinished concrete walls, Osborn has his latest project under construction. The frame of a tractor sits on a hand towel, still with an unpainted coarse silver skeleton. The tractor’s radiator is visible, as well as its chassis. To the left, tin scraps are still scattered from a recent bore. Most of Osborn’s pieces have six moving parts, with active steering wheels, crankshafts, wheels and axles. But his tractors are not built from plans or template. Osborn makes his toys from memory or, at most, a photograph.

“I’m not a perfectionist and I don’t claim to be,” he smiled. “But I just like to build something that’s at a reasonable cost. I’ve got so many grandchildren, to get one you have to be family.”

The tractors also are given to a few of Osborn’s close friends, but he said he has never sold one of his toys.

In his display case, Osborn pulls out a different piece — a to-scale U.S. Army GMC truck. The replica was similar to the “deuce-and-a-half” Osborn drove during his time in military service between the Korean and Vietnam Wars. On the back are identifying markings that read “US 7A 78E HQ 40,” indicating its service in an engineering unit. These small items are remembrances that, Osborn said, he will give his family something to pass down for years to come.

“If I had to do this [hobby], I’d probably get upset about it,” he laughed.

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