Handcarved Toy Wooden Tractors
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Any model made for a certain year will follow the same characteristics of the real tractor, Ralph said. Each detail is meticulously copied. Given the amount of labor involved, Ralph's artwork is reasonably priced. Most of his tractors are priced between $250 and $300.
Many are sold before they're completed (Ralph's never advertised, so it's all "word of mouth"). Most of those on display at the Amana show were his own, or were sold. He makes one prototype, then tries to make 10 at a time. Once --just once -- he said he made the mistake of selling a prototype.
"There is nothing like the very first one," he said. "Each one is always a little different."
Ralph said he knows of no other handcarved toy tractor artists producing in the volume he does (more than 100 toys a year). His big break came when he was featured as a local artist in the "Eyes of Texas" series. His work has been featured in several national magazines, and his 1939 F20 has been placed on display at the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, Iowa.
The hobby became a fulltime business when he retired about two years ago at 39. Nancy encouraged Ralph to devote his energies to his new interest.
"Ralph is a carpenter and also an artist," she said. "He just put the two things together."
Under the couple's new agreement, he takes care of the cooking, shopping and kids' appointments.
"I have most of it down," he said, "but I'm just now getting the hang of laundry!"
After a lifetime of working as a carpenter, going into business for himself was a big step. He'd had, he said, three "great employers," and made the leap into self-employment only because they retired. That background has served him well: not only did he do carpentry work, he also did recreations of vintage finishing details, like sculpting fireplaces and cornices. Former employers still persuade him to take on an occasional special project. FC
For more information: Ralph Smith, RR 2, Box 59J, Mathis, Texas, 78368; phone (512) 547-3402. On the internet, wdtracbyrs@aold. com
Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer based in Virden, III.
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