Emil Leimkuehler has spent almost a quarter-century showing off his vintage fleet of tractors at antique farm shows. The friendly new faces and familiar friends that he meets are the reasons he returns year after year. Ask Emil what he'd change about show-going, and he'll tell you there's one part of the show circuit he could do without: Hauling around a bunch of big, heavy tractors.
The Fulton, Mo., collector's answer to that age-old antique tractor problem is simple: Don't travel with full-sized tractors. That epiphany catapulted the lifelong farmer into a mission to craft miniature tractors from nothing more than a few tools, a blowtorch and a hacksaw.
'I used to show big tractors for years, but then I got tired of lugging them around to each and every show,' Emil explains. 'Now I just take my miniatures. They're easy to carry, and I get more attention now than I ever did with a regular-sized tractor. At this last Mt. Pleasant show, I must've got my picture taken 75 to 100 times.'
The paparazzi-like attention around Emil was the result of his Oliver 88 Standard miniature with a hand-made hay rake in tow. Emil turned heads all weekend as he drove along the rain-soaked roads of the Old Threshers Reunion show grounds. Never one to pass up a friendly question or remark, Emil made pit stops along his route each day to talk with curious collectors and puzzled spectators about his diminutive darling tractor. Most of them had the same questions: 'What scale is that tractor, and what's powering it?'
'The tractor wasn't made to a certain scale,' Emil explains. 'My reason for making it was only so I could fit it through the door of my mini-home camper, which I take to all the different shows.'
Although Emil doesn't like to lug around a bunch of big tractors, he says he's been there and done that before. He's a retired farmer and a lifelong Oliver loyalist with some outstanding restorations stored in the shed back home. Emil owns an Oliver 77, a 1925 12-24 Hart-Parr and a 1917 International Titan featured in the January 1980 Gas Engine Magazine, among others. Restorations are great, Emil says, but these days he's thinking big by going small.
Emil admits he's not a machinist, so his work isn't about exact micrometer measurements. Yet, the little Oliver 88 is obviously a sturdy tractor. He first constructed the frame and axles out of steel, which became the foundation for a 3-hp Briggs & Stratton engine, as well as a Wheel Horse transmission and rear end. Next, Emil fabricated an Oliver body - with all its rounded edges - from tin and fiberglass. He molded the curved areas of the body and nose by bending the material around a metal pipe, finally, he added rims and tires from a Troy-Bilt tiller. The hood, Emil says, is made of heavier steel and includes spring-loaded hood latches, just like a real Oliver 88.
'That was the hardest part, getting the hood latches done just right,' Emil says. 'They're spring-loaded just like the real thing, and lining them up just right so there weren't any gaps was difficult.'
Another project snafu he overcame was squeezing the 88's vital components into such a small space while honoring the tractor's original design. 'Making a model that little, the steering and gas tank didn't leave much room for work,' Emil recalls. 'On top of that, the Briggs exhaust was on the opposite side for an Oliver, so I had to run it around to the other side. I tried to make it look as close to the real thing as I could.'
The tiny tractor experiment was a success, Emil says. He's also finished similar projects, including a 2/3-scale Hart-Parr and a 14-inch remote-controlled Oliver 88. Emil has no plans for future tractor projects, but says he might try his hand at a scaled-down International Titan. 'It sounds silly, but I can picture exactly what I want to build and how to do it by just laying in bed at night and thinking about it.'
Who knows what Emil will dream up next, but rest assured, it'll be a big hit.
-To learn more about Emil Leimkuehler's collection, contact him at 5381 County Road 204, Fulton, MO 65251.