Horse-Drawn Implements in Small Scale

Handmade horse-drawn implements and toy equipment bring horse-drawn farming to life

| December 2011

John M. Klaassen grew up at the end of the horse-farming era. He not only saw how his parents dealt with it, but got involved himself.  

“The toy equipment I make is the same equipment we used on our farms,” he says. “The cultivator or disc, the plow and hay loader, the side-delivery rake, all were practical on the farm I grew up on. I got just old enough to barely get in on some of the horse work. I never actually plowed with five horses on a plow, but I remember my dad and hired help used horses for plowing. Mostly what I did with horses was rake and mow hay. I mowed a lot of acres of hay because I was too young to drive the hay loader or pitch the hay.”

But what really solidified his love for horses was a Christmas gift. “When I was 6,” he recalls, “I got my first Shetland pony, a small black colt.” At the same time, John’s mother began making harness for the plastic, toy horses she’d bought him. “We didn’t have toys like kids do now,” he says. “We used 1- or 2-pound cheese boxes for wagons and things like that. I always had a love for horses, and I still do.”

That’s evident in the horse-drawn implements and harness John has made. He began after seeing another craftsman’s work. When that man retired and sold out, John bought some of his equipment and material.

Leather, though, remained a very expensive component – until he came up with the idea to recycle used leather purses. “I buy them for 50 cents and take them apart,” he says. “They are very well made. It takes me two days to dismantle one.” Harness reins are too small and delicate to be cut from the purses, so he orders those from Tandy Leather Co.

Beginning with wagons

John’s first models were hay wagons. “I bought the wheels, but everything else I made myself,” he says, “the running gears and the hayrack box. I was familiar with the equipment, so I knew what it should look like. I usually use wood from peach boxes, and bought light-weight wood that I carved or cut up. The most challenging part is being precise and accurate. You don’t want to be careless with it, so you make it as close to real as your imagination will let you go.”