With his own hands: Newton resident plows through making half-scale tractors

Denny Franz doesn?t use drawings, blueprints or kits to make his half-scale tractors. He just tears apart original tractors, measuring all the parts and making other parts half the size of the original.
?So there?s no drawing,? Franz said. ?It?s all there in front of me.?
The Newton resident has made four such tractors ? three of which were purchased and one he still has at home. The first tractor sold for $75,000. The model year of this tractor was 1927.
To make the tractor he has at home, Franz borrowed a tractor from local farmer Ken Hamilton, modeling his smaller version after the International Harvester Farmall F-14, which is dated 1929.
?He was kind enough to let me take it all apart and put it back together,? Franz said.
Franz said his creations run, and all the parts are identical to the originals. He?s even created tractor tires from molds he?s made.
There?s only so far he can take making things half the size of the original. Franz jokingly says the paint on his shiny red half-scale tractor at home is twice the thickness it should be. That?s because he was not able to divide in half the high-quality automotive paint he used. He?s also not able to divide in half the molecules he uses in the gas, he also joked.
The first tractor he sold was purchased by a man in Wolf Point, Mont., who had a John Deere museum.
?He built a museum on his farm in the country,? Franz said.
Making these small running pieces of farm machinery is no easy or quick task. It takes Franz 2,000 hours to make a tractor, the retired owner of Denny?s Heating & Cooling said.
He builds the scale-model tractors for the challenge, he said, and ?I like mechanical things.?
?And I?m not going to build another (tractor),? Franz said. ?Four is enough.?
Sitting atop Franz?s tractor at home is an automaton he named Harvey, because of Harvey County. Harvey can wave and control the tractor, which weighs about 300 pounds.
?A lot heavier than it looks,? he said.
Harvey is wearing Franz?s great-grandson?s boots. Even though Franz put the boots on Harvey?s feet, Franz likes to work with his hands.
?It?s strictly an enjoyable hobby,? he said. ?I gotta be doing something ? something mechanical.?
Taking to mechanics seems to come naturally for Franz, as his father was mechanically inclined, as was an uncle, who built model aircraft, some of which are displayed at the Smithsonian, Franz said. This uncle also gave a Navy plane model to the President George H.W. Bush, which was like the one Bush flew in the Navy.
Franz said he might bring his remaining scale-model tractor to a farm heritage show in California. These kinds of shows can feature antique farm equipment and things like sorghum-making demonstrations. Many people attend the shows, Franz said.
?A lot of people remember using (the old farm equipment),? Franz said.
Scale-model tractors are not the only things Franz has built. On his birthday in September 2013, he started constructing a motorcycle in the fashion of those built in the early 1900s. This motorcycle he built from scratch with his own design; it was the second one he?s built.
?It?s not a copy of any original,? he said, sitting comfortably in his living room.
Around that time, motorcycles were quite popular, Franz said, but as cars got cheaper, motorcycles became less popular. Even Goessel and Sedgwick had motorcycle clubs.
In addition to building the motorcycle, Franz painted it in a rusty orange color his wife and kids picked out after seeing it on an antique (Franz assumed) Fiestaware bowl. He hired out the pinstriping, which a woman did by hand. The color orange seems to be a theme with this motorcycle, as the handlebar grips are made from Osage Orange wood. The motorcycle is called the ?Franz Flyer.?
?I?m not going to sell it because I like to go out in the evening and ride it,? Franz said. ?And it doesn?t take up much space.?
The first motorcycle Franz built he sold to a motorcycle museum in Bethany, Okla., which is on Route 66 in an old filling station.
In addition to putting together motorcycles, Franz built a steam-powered car and a gasoline car. In Franz?s fashion, he built the steam car from scratch, then hauled it to Pike?s Peak to see if he could drive it up the mountain ? which was the thing to do back then after one made a vehicle. The vehicles were built between 1988 and 1992.
?It was a bragging thing ? bragging rights,? Franz said.
After that adventure, he constructed a gas-powered vehicle from scratch.
?Just started from scratch,? Franz said. ?No blueprints or anything.?
So, after this car was done, Franz drove it to Pike?s Peak. Both cars were successful in making the mountainous climb.
The gas car, Franz sold to a John Deere dealer in Kingsley, while the steam car went to a museum in Wolf Point, Mont., Franz said. However, one of Franz?s daughters now owns the gas-powered car, as she purchased it from the John Deere collector.
Franz also enjoys making clocks. He?s even constructed a grandfather clock that?s on display at home, as well as about nine others.
?No kits ? don?t believe in kits,? Franz said about how he made the clocks, most of which he?s given away to family and friends.
?Actually, I?ve always been intrigued with clocks,? he added.
At one point in his life, Franz had a couple hundred clocks, which he sold to get enough money to start his heating and cooling business.
?They were just common kitchen shelf clocks, they called them,? Franz said.
Since he?s intrigued by mechanics, Franz bought a couple of automatons from a man at the Boyer Museum in Belleville who built them. Then, Franz made a whirly-gig to look like one of the automatons, which has a woman riding a bicycle perched in front of their home. Franz said sometimes people stop and take photos of it. Looking to the future, Franz is thinking about making another whirly-gig or clock.

Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent

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