Working Models

| May 2002

Richard Fischer and his brothers made their own toy models when they were growing up on the family farm in central Wisconsin. Now 75 and a resident of Waterford, Wis., Richard is still making models - 1/2- to 1/6-scale reproductions of old-time farm machinery that actually work.

'There were six boys in my family, born and raised on a farm, and we built a lot of models by hand,' he said. 'We didn't have any power saws or power tools. But we did have a keg of square nails. By the time we grew up, we had them all used up.'

One of his earliest working farm models, made in 1956, is a 1/6-scale 1922 Case 65 hp steam engine, just like his father owned. 'My dad bought that steam engine and a Case threshing machine in 1922,' Richard said, 'and we threshed with that up until 1940.'

To build the miniature steam engine, Richard set up his own machine shop and studied pattern books checked out from the local library. He bought a six-inch lathe, and taught himself how to run it, carving patterns from the library books into sugar pine. Next, he bought a 12-inch planer and then he over hauled a junked vertical mill. 'If you follow auctions, you can get a fair-sized shop fairly cheap,' he said.

With that equipment in place, Richard settled on a 2-inches-to-1-foot ratio for the steam engine and started building. 'I went to a brass shop and got all the parts for the boiler, and then made the parts, which took a while.' He riveted them all together and then silver-soldered the rivets.

Next, he worked on the wheels and gear box, using rolled steel for the wheel spokes, which he screwed together. 'You get them on the axle, and then you tighten the spokes just like you do on a bicycle to get the rims straight,' he explained. 'I made the differential, but scrounged junkyards until I found the right sizes.'