What do you get when you mix parachute cord, steel washers, brass rod, earphone wire, cigarette lighter O-rings, adding machine gears and a couple of surgical hemostat clamps? Why, a model Farmhand hay loader, of course.
At least, that's what 57-year-old Paul Radabaugh, Dubuque, Iowa, gets. "It all started with the need to get a 10-speed bicycle," Paul says. During a family visit to North Dakota, Paul's mom coaxed the then-teenager into staying a few weeks with his cousin, Paul Musland, and his wife, June, on their farm.
Paul's dad wasn't convinced the 13-year-old would be able to do it. "Dad said I would be homesick and wouldn't last five days." Paul countered: "If I stay five days," he asked, "would you get me the 10-speed bicycle I want?" Paul's dad agreed. "He thought it was a safe bet," Paul recalls.
Five weeks later, Paul came home to his new 10-speed bicycle. He brought a new love and admiration for farm work and machinery … especially Farmhand hay loaders manufactured by Farmhand Inc., Hopkins, Minn.
One of the first things Paul and his cousin did that long-ago summer was make hay. "He said he was going to get the Farmhand and we'd make hay," Paul recalls. "I thought he meant another person: a farm-hand."
But this Farmhand was a hay loader mounted on a Farmall M tractor. From that moment, Paul was hooked. For the next eight summers, he returned to Edgeley, N.D., for a stint working with the Farmhand. "I was always on top of the stack when we were making hay, working against the Farmhand," Paul says. "If my cousin wanted me to work fast, he brought the hay faster."
Paul learned how to seal the top of the stack so rain would run off. It was hard, dirty work, but he loved it, except for one very hot day on the hay stack. "I remember seeing my cousin drive away. Next thing I know, I'm waking up on the ground 12 feet below. I was taken home to a cool basement where I spent the rest of the day."
Years went by, and the Farmhand loader receded into the back of Paul's mind. In 2002, he saw a model Farmhand at a show. "It brought back memories of the farm and the real Farmhand," he says, "but I didn't like how (the model) was made, so I went to a hobby shop and bought some brass, and made my own."
A bus mechanic by trade, Paul had never made models before. The first effort, made from memory, was pretty crude. "I tried to improve the second one," Paul says. "The third production looked pretty good." So good, in fact, that a co-worker said he'd like to have one. Because the new piece was a commission, Paul wanted to make this 1/16-scale model even better than his earlier creations. Next, he built two 1/64-scale Farmhand hay stacker models, then a 1/43-scale model for a Farmall M like the one in North Dakota. And he made a 1/87-scale Farmall M with a Farmhand loader when he reproduced his cousin's farm in a layout.
When Cathy Scheibe of Toy Farmer Inc. saw his display in 2003, she encouraged Paul to seek a bigger audience. "That's an eye-catcher," she told him. "You need to bring your Farmhands to Farmhand country." Suddenly Paul was an exhibitor at the North Dakota Farm Toy Show in LaMoure.
The result was a revelation. Aging farmers clogged the hallway leading to his table. "We could have served coffee and donuts," Paul says with a laugh. "That's been quite a few orders of my Farmhands since."
The first step in making the Farmhand, Paul says, is to create the bracket that clamps the Farmhand to the tractor's axle. Then he forms a square backframe from a jig and solders it to the tractor mount. Next he makes the hydraulic cylinders that support the Farmhand loader bucket, sliding 5/32-inch brass rods inside 7/32-inch brass tubes.
Paul originally used automotive shop O-rings fitted tightly around the brass rod on either side of the cylinders to hold up the Farmhand bucket, but those had to be moved to raise or lower the bucket.
Then he discovered O-rings inside adjustable-flame cigarette lighters would fit in the space between the different-sized rods, so the Farmhand loader is lifted and lowered automatically. To simulate chrome, Paul uses aluminum rods for the outer cylinder.
Next he adds the square brace atop the Farmhand and adds a hay basket, snow bucket or other attachments. The hay stacker control valve is next. "On the real Farmhands," he notes, "everything was done with this one valve and control handle: up, down, tipping the hayfork." It takes him two hours to make the mechanism that makes the device move in and out and turn at 180 degrees like the originals.
In a vise he stamps out two halves of the reservoir tank that holds the hydraulic oil, solders the halves together and installs it behind the tractor's left rear wheel. Paul's 1/8-scale Farmhand has real working hydraulics activated by an electric microwave motor and a piston from the hydraulic clutch of a Dodge truck.
Farmhands were powered by a pump on the tractor's PTO. Paul replicates the pump by cutting 3/8-inch tubing 3/16 inches wide, flattening two sides with pliers and leaving the top and bottom rounded. He solders four pieces of brass tubing loops on each side to make it look like gear pump housing. "Then I drill a hole all the way through so it will slide on the PTO shaft."
Miniature pulleys are fashioned from steel washers that fit on 1/8-inch brass tubing. "I put one on, cut a spacer, put the other washer on and solder it all together," he says. For double pulleys where cables meet, he uses three smaller brass washers and two spacers. He solders a tiny brass rivet into place, and the pulley fits over that. An even smaller brass rivet holds everything together.
Cables for the Farmhand are made from old parachute cord. "Inside the woven outer covering, you'll find seven fine nylon strands," Paul says. "I was searching for something that looked right, and a guy at work brought me 20 feet of parachute cord."
Equally ingenious hoses are made from discarded headsets. "Working in a school bus garage, you'd be surprised how many we find. If they're still working, we give them to lost and found. If not, I use the wires for my hoses."
Paul enjoys the relaxation model work offers. "It just brings back good memories," he says. "I spent time on that farm for eight years, and the people were wonderful, like my second parents. For each Farmhand I make for a different tractor, I might think about something I did one day on the farm. It just relaxes me."
But building the 1/8-scale motor-driven Farmhand loader was frustrating. "Any time I build something new and have to figure it out, I can get frustrated," he says. "With that 1/8-scale Farmhand, I had to build six different cylinders until they no longer leaked oil." (He donated a 1/8-scale Farmhand hay loader on a Farmall M tractor to the North Dakota Toy Farmer Museum at LaMoure as a memorial to the Muslands. The display includes a dedication and photos of the couple.)
The most difficult work was adding tines to the fork for the 1/64-scale Farmhand, he says. "I tried soldering the 13 wires one at a time but the heat loosened the ones I'd finished. So I made a bracket to squeeze all 13 together and solder them all at once."
People are often surprised at the delicacy of the models, Paul says, each of which takes up to 30 hours to make. He uses hemostat surgical clamps and does the fine work without glasses or magnifying tools. His only tools are a tiny chop saw with a 2-inch blade, drills and similar tools. The chop saw works well, though it loses its edge quickly when working with hardened solder.
Paul's models spur recollections for farmers who've worked with Farmhands. One reported that if the heavy angle iron support on early models broke, the pieces showered down on the driver. Another man pointed at the pin above the right rear wheel. "Do you know what happens when that pin breaks?" he asked. "I ducked, and the snapped cable just missed me."
Recently a man in his late 60s rushed over to Paul's display table, all excited. "That's exactly what I had," he said to Paul, pointing at a model. "I've been looking for one like it for years." "He was so excited he was shaking," Paul recalls. The two compared notes and ultimately decided the unit the man had owned was a second generation F-10 Farmhand. First and second generation models are defined by the junction of angle-iron supports. Third generation Farmhands used tubing, which was lighter and self-supporting.
Paul laughs when he says he builds the Farmhands to keep himself out of trouble. "It's a nice pastime," he says. "I kind of like building these Farmhands and doing the tedious work. Each one brings back a slew of good memories."
And that's where most Farmhand hay loaders reside today. "A lot of guys say they haven't seen any for a while," Paul says. "I tell them they're still here. You just have to go behind the barn and look in the trees." FC
Bill Vossler is a free-lance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; email: email@example.com