Farm replicas keep wheels turning
No challenge is too big, or too small-scale for the engineering mind of Wes Duerksen of Goessel, especially when it concerns intricate working parts on wooden farm toy replicas.
From tractors with turning wheels, a baler with a working auger, and threshing machines with belt driven channels, to a pull-type old-fashioned road grader with rotating blade and sliding rear axle, Duerksen has created at least 40 replicas with working parts, from wood, just because he likes the challenge.
“Oh, I just get an idea from something I remember dad having on the farm when I was a kid, or maybe I’ll see something under a hedge row,” Duerksen said. “I like the challenge of trying to make it like the original, scaled down, and with working parts. Everything has to work.”
Duerksen retired in 2010 from Bradbury Corporation in Hesston where he worked for 24 years as a mechanical design engineer. Prior to that, he designed and made tools at then Hesston Corporation, relying and building on practical experience he gained from building and creating farm equipment and parts his entire life.
“I’ve been at this for some time,” Duerksen said. “My cousin Donley and I, we grew up on the same yard. I could count on one hand the number of purchased toys we had, but we made our own. At one time my mom took a picture of us and about 100 farm equipment toys we were playing with that we built on our own.”
Duerksen still has two plows from those early farm-toy construction days, with blades made from flattened bottle caps. Careful attention to detail is evident in his work, even at the young age of 10 or 11 years old.
That careful detail is still evident in Duerksen’s wooden farm replica projects that decorate his basement office, recreation room, and outdoor shop.
He enjoys showing how the parts all work, almost as much as building and planning the next project.
“These tractor wheels have 60 spokes in each wheel,” he said. “I drilled all those spoke holes, cut the center out, sanded the diameter, and made a jig to hold the OD and ID. I had to get the connections just right.”
The tractor, a McCormick-Dearing Threshing Machine, was like one Duerksen remembered from his childhood.
“My dad had one like this,” he said. “We also had a 2236, like this one here, and an International F20 Farmall, like this one. I’ve made a dump rake and binder just like the ones we had too.”
Duerksen makes most of his projects from plans in his mind, though some of the larger non-farm items, like a combine, large semi-truck and slated cattle trailer, or the working crane started with a basic idea and blueprints from a magazine.
“I like to make each one special,” Duerksen said. “I try to find an original piece of equipment, measure it all out, scale it down, and then work on it until I can get all the parts moving.”
Duerksen does not use nails or screws to hold his pieces together. He uses Elmer’s glue or miters joints together, or engineers telescoping parts to become moveable.
“Moving parts fascinate me,” he said. “I spend a lot of time, sometimes at night, just thinking about how I can get something to work out. I usually get it to go.”
Duerksen said, mechanically, things really had not changed much through the years.
“Parts all pretty much work the same,” he said. “Computers have changed technology, but parts move the same way.”
Duerksen has built some items that are not farm-related, like several golf carts complete with left and right-hand clubs, or a tow-truck, but for the most part, he sticks with farm-type projects.
“These are the things I liked to be around as a kid,” he said. “I never could afford real farm equipment, so I just like the challenge of creating it this way.”
He said his most recent project, the Adam’s Leaning Wheel Road Grader, took about 80 hours to complete.
“I just had to take a lot of time to figure out all the moving parts,” he said. “I just keep working and try not to build myself into a corner.”
Duerksen uses simple tools like a band saw, sander, and drill press to create his wooden masterpieces.
Different types of wood, like maple, birch, walnut, mahogany, and teak, create light and dark contrasts in the finished projects.
Duerksen does not sell his work or take it to shows.
He prefers to create and enjoy his wooden projects in private.
“The grandkids are fascinated and like to show their friends, but they don’t really play with these,” he said. “It’s just something I like to do.”