Crafting Vintage Tractors from Wood

California artist rethinks old iron

| March 2009

Lino Giovacchini turns old iron into wood.

A magician? He might as well be – look no further than the artistry contained in his models of antique farm equipment.

The California artist grew up on a farm and has an enduring affection for machinery, especially farm machinery. Lino has become a well-known artist near his home in Tracy with his detailed wooden farm machinery models. Many have won awards in fine art shows.

Growing up using farm equipment, Lino developed an appreciation for the creative minds that designed these machines. His home in the central valley of California is near Stockton, the birthplace of Holt Tractor Co., and a hotbed of innovation in the early part of the 20th century as Holt evolved into Caterpillar.

Reinventing the wheel

A retired general contractor, Lino got his start with wood models by making wheeled toys. The first major challenge he faced was making spoked wheels. Drilling accurate holes in wood is complicated by the wood’s grain, which presents both hard and soft spots to a drill bit. Lino found metal-working machinery gave the accuracy needed for his farm equipment models.

Often starting with a single black-and-white photo, Lino simplifies the design but retains the proportions to make an accurate representation. Working with wood presents challenges, but he prefers it because many original parts on early farm machinery were made of wood. His creations remain unpainted, and spruce is his favorite material; he salvages scrap wood from residential construction sites. Not every piece he finds will work. Lino won’t use a piece of wood with a knot in it, as he needs clear wood for his model. “It just doesn’t look right if there’s a knot in it,” he says.

The metal lathe is the workhorse of Lino’s farm machinery construction operation. Early farm equipment features a huge number of round parts – wheels, pulleys and pins – and that’s where the metal lathe comes in handy. A table saw and band saw, along with a jointer and planer, are used to create precise and accurate components. Lino makes special jigs and fixtures to cut the complex shapes, and to clamp some wheels and parts. Drill presses, and belt and circular sanders are used to accurately fit the small parts.

To simulate the long belts used on many pieces of 19th or early 20th century farm equipment, Lino cuts a thin sliver of straight-grained wood, steams it, and hopes it doesn’t break as he bends it around the pulleys. Other parts are hand-carved, such as the simulated leather hoses on early steam engines.

Varied inspirations

Each model starts with an interesting story or photograph and Lino’s desire to add the piece to his collection. He built a 1902 Avery tractor partly as a nod to his father, who was born that year. A rare 1917 Lang tractor joined the collection in honor of a friend by the same name. And a European-made 1915 Aebi (complete with side mower and dump rake, like those on the tractor Lino grew up with) honors his Italian heritage. The more details and moving parts a piece has, the more interesting Lino finds it.

In the end, the choice is his. Lino’s creations are not for sale. The challenge of the work, he says, is its own reward.  FC