The following article is reprinted with permission from the Denison, Iowa Review. Wilbur Anderson lives at RR, Kiron, Iowa 51448.
When Wilbur Anderson was a boy of 10 he began making models-rough, unfinished airplanes made of old pieces of wood and nails. Now, almost 60 years later, he is still making models but they are a far cry from the crude figurines of before.
The retired Kiron man's latest project is an almost perfect one-eighth scale replica of an old, iron-wheeled John Deere tractor. Anderson made all the parts himself. Each and every piece was hand-molded and not content to work with easily carved wood, the entire tractor is made out of metal.
'Wood would be easier in some ways but I've always liked lathes and metal working tools. I just prefer working with metal,' he said.
Originally, the idea was to make the tractor work. A former mechanic, Anderson knows enough about the inner workings of a tractor to make a running model. But the small size defeated him when it came to making a carburetor.
The idea for the project was born when he saw a picture of one of the old models in a magazine. His homemade machines including a drill press, a grinder and a welder were fit for the job, but first he drew plans on graph paper.
'I traced off the picture when I decided I wanted to make a model. I figured out the size I wanted to make and had it enlarged,' he said. He then had to figure out what size the inside parts should be.
Every detail is perfect: The moving gears work together, the steering is connected to a drive shaft that turns the wheels, tiny spark plugs and a radiator core made out of ball pens. When he finished the parts, he even painted the model the traditional John Deere green.
Anderson used scrap metal from wherever he could find it and his tools, a lathe, scraper, drilling machine, grinder and welder. He and his wife have a scrapbook of pictures showing the process of building and some of the simpler models he had made before. They also have proof that his fascination for machines began at a young age-an old photograph shows a two-or-three year old Anderson with an old piece of farm machinery.
It took Anderson a year and a half from when he began the model on paper until the painting was done but he has no idea how many hours he actually spent on the project. 'I don't keep track of time with a hobby because then it becomes work,' he said.
Anderson is now retired from 25 years with the telephone company. Before that he worked in a garage but he was never trained to work with metal. He just developed his talent over years of working with his hobby. He still has a replica of a steam engine he made almost 50 years ago.
Although he has tried other hobbies over the years, he is now content with his metal models. However he said, 'It does take a lot of thought before you just start building something'. He added, 'Sometimes it takes three or four tries before a piece will turn out.'
The tractor is not exactly as he envisioned it because it does not run. He thinks that someday he may make a bigger one that he can fix a caburetor into. But he does feel a sense of accomplishment now that it is finished, and is proud of his work.
'I think someone would be willing to buy it, but I don't care to sell it,' he said.
Meanwhile, he is still busy making a three-bottom plow to go with the tractor.