Wheel Collection Goes on Tour

Indiana man builds wheel collection from lowly relics.

| August 2013

  • An Old Wheel
    This wheel (one of a pair) gets more attention than any other on the trailer — but Denis Schrank doesn’t know its purpose. It is 24 inches tall and 4 inches wide. The axle would be 1-3/8-inch and it has a cotter pin in the end of the hub to prevent the axle from turning. “It would have had a bearing on the axle under the frame,” Denis says. Traces of Army green paint are visible, he says, making him wonder if the wheels were used for a smoother ride on an ammunition wagon. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Four Leaf Clover Wheel
    Denis calls this his four-leaf clover. “I love that wheel,” he says. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Assortment Of Wheels
    Among other things, this side of the display features a potato planter seed plate, an emery stone, a propeller, a clodbuster wheel, a boat steering wheel, a gear from a 5-gallon ice cream freezer and a chain drive out of a cistern. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Gear From A Horse Power
    This grouping is encircled by a gear from a horse power. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Continuous Spoke
    The spokes of this “continuous spoke” wheel are formed from one continuous piece of rod. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Cast Iron And Steel Wheels
    Most of the wheels in Denis’ collection are made of cast iron or steel; wood was more typically used for belt pulley wheels. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Wheel Collection
    Part of Denis’ collection is displayed along buildings on his farm. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Old Corn Binder Wheel
    This wheel may have come from an old corn binder. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Wheels Make Transporting Easier
    The wheel, Denis notes, makes life much easier. “With a wheel you can roll something instead of push it or pull it,” he says. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell
  • Ornamental Wheels
    Ornamental or utilitarian, wheels showcase design. 
    Photo By Bob Crowell

  • An Old Wheel
  • Four Leaf Clover Wheel
  • Assortment Of Wheels
  • Gear From A Horse Power
  • Continuous Spoke
  • Cast Iron And Steel Wheels
  • Wheel Collection
  • Old Corn Binder Wheel
  • Wheels Make Transporting Easier
  • Ornamental Wheels

By itself, a wheel is little more than a curiosity. Add an axle, and it becomes a simple machine. The latter point is the foundation of technology. And the former? Well, the former is what captivates Denis Schrank, a collector of wheels.

For more than 30 years, Denis has gathered up sheer tonnage of wheels. Iron, wood, aluminum, steel, brass, stone, spoked, solid, handmade, machined, big, small: There is but one criteria. “They’ve got to be different,” he says. “I don’t have any run-of-the-mill wheels.”

For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that this collection is not limited to vehicle wheels. The word wheel covers broad territory, including not only wheels that travel over the ground but also steering wheels, spinning wheels, potter’s wheels and water wheels — and Denis’ collection seems to regard that definition as a starting point.

Constantly evolving

A serious collector of antique tractors since 1974, Denis was at a Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. swap meet some 30 years ago when two wooden wheels caught his eye. “They may have been for a pulley,” he says. “Each was 42 inches by 4 inches and they had the prettiest wooden spokes that had been turned on a lathe. So I bought them; I didn’t pay much for them.”



Then, as is ever the case, “more showed up.” Three decades later, a 24-foot row of wheels lines an exterior garage wall. Another building nearby sports a 44-foot row. “I enjoy seeing the wheels along the buildings,” Denis admits. Practicalities prevent display of the entire collection, which is just as well, as it is constantly evolving. “Just this weekend I picked up four wheels,” he says. “Some people add to the pile and some subtract, but I never charge.”

Among his collection Denis also counts 28 tractors, two International Harvester trucks and, he says deliberately, “lots of old farm equipment. And my wife said lots.” In fact, his wife, Pat, is supportive of his hobby. “The nice thing about my hobby is having a wife who’s involved in it,” he says. “If I think I need something, she says ‘go get it.’”