Wooden Models Bring Past to Life

Craftsman recreates the farm equipment of his youth by working in wood.

| August 2007

Glue is what got Melvin Ehlert, Sauk Centre, Minn., stuck on building wood models of old farm equipment and tractors, including two that run. "I was retired at the time, and I saw an old farm sled someone had made, but it was all glued together," he says. "I saw that and I thought, 'By golly, I could make something like that.'"

But 84-year-old Melvin wanted to make his wooden model sled more original. He wanted to use nuts and bolts, and he wanted the finished piece to have the removable box he remembered from his days on the farm. "I told my children I used to drive a team of horses to the barn with that sled and load it full of manure by hand, and then haul it out to the field and spread it by hand with a fork."

Questions from his children sent him back to the drawing board. When they asked how the sled worked, he made a set of dump planks and demonstrated how a box filled with gravel was unloaded, lifting the removable sides and pulling out the dump planks under the gravel one by one.

Next, he made wooden models of a hayrack and a flare box. Each fits the frame and is interchangeable with the original box. That versatility allowed the real sled to be used for multiple tasks throughout the year. He recalls an era when his father and other local farmers used the sled-turned-wagon and a team of horses to haul gravel to rural roads. "That was during the WPA (Works Progress Administration) days during the Depression," he says. "That was how country roads originally got graveled."

Early memories made real

After his success with those models, Melvin decided to complete the set. "I decided to build whatever we had on the farm at home," he says. Thus followed the corn marker, hay bucker, harrow wood drag and stone boat.

The corn marker was used to score a grid in a field. Corn was planted with a hand planter at the points of intersection. The result was a field of symmetrical rows that could be cultivated in either direction. He last saw the marker used in 1930. "It was used mainly on hilly fields," he says.