Dennis Franz has a small tractor collection: small in every sense of the word. His collection consists of miniature tractors he's built from scratch.
In 1990, Dennis built a 3/8th scale miniature replica of a 1925 John Deere D. Two years later, he built a hand-held remote control to operate the tractor.
He also put a farmer doll in the driver's seat. The doll would roll his eyes, turn his head, and move the clutch and steering wheel.
Dennis, 53, is the owner of Denny's Heating and Cooling in Newton, Kan. He has long exposure to things mechanical.
"I've built stuff all my life," he said. "And I've been around machinery all my life. My dad was quite a mechanic, and he had a construction business and did soil conservation work for the government. He overhauled his own equipment. As a little kid, I saw that and was intrigued by machinery. I thought it would be a good challenge."
To build his miniature replica, Dennis completely disassembled a full-size 1925 John Deere D and then reproduced all the parts on a 3/8th scale.
"I had to make everything, even a lot of the nuts and bolts," he said. He built the engine, too.
The gas tank can hold two quarts of fuel, but Dennis has never filled it, because the miniature tractor will run for six to eight hours on just a quart of gas. It weighs about 254 pounds.
Dennis has taken the miniature tractor to several antique tractor shows, where it always attracts large crowds of onlookers. He later sold the miniature replica to a collector in Montana, but has since created two other remote-controlled replicas.
Four years ago, he built a 1936 Model L Case tractor, also in 3/8th scale. Once again, he took apart a vintage tractor in order to rebuild it in miniature.
Building the Case replica took about 2,600 hours. "It's really my favorite," Dennis said. It was more difficult to make than the Deere, he said, because it had more parts. The Case replica can pull kids on a rope, or a pickup truck in neutral gear.
Dennis also reproduced the John Deere 1925 D again, but the second time in 1/4th scale. "That's about the limit," he said, explaining that he found it difficult to work on such a small scale. The 1/4th scale tractor's rear wheels stand 11.5 inches tall, and the entire tractor weighs just 62 pounds. Dennis spent about 2,000 hours working on the project.
Dennis is not currently building any new miniature models, and he has cut back the number of antique tractor shows he attends. "I get a lot of calls from people wanting me to go to their shows," he said.
He transports and stores his tractors in plastic display cases he made as protection against the elements. When he attends a show, he can lock the tractors in the cases so they can be viewed, but not touched, while he goes for lunch.
The miniature replicas are crowd pleasers wherever Dennis goes.
"It's the cutest thing I ever saw in my life," said one onlooker. "It's the highlight of the show." FC
Dianne L. Beetler is a lifelong rural resident who enjoys writing about people with unusual collections.