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

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.’”