Clint Russell's hand-built half-scale tractors dead ringers for the real thing.
Anybody can think big. The trick is in thinking small. It's a distinction Clint Russell understands. Clint designs and handcrafts richly detailed tractor reproductions … in half-scale. His scale model creations include a Rumely OilPull Model M, an Allis-Chalmers WC, a Little Bull, a John Deere D, a Waterloo Boy, a Dain, an International Titan 10-20, a Froehlich, a 10-20 Mogul, a Farmall F-20, a Hart-Parr 18-36 and a Massey-Harris 101, as well as a few implements.
Clint's been building half-scale tractor reproductions for 20 years at his home in Apopka, Fla. Before that, he collected gas engines until it became a chore to haul them to shows. "I decided I was going to build something that runs on its own," he recalls, "and my shop was too small for regular tractors." For years he kicked around the idea of building a small-scale tractor. When he retired, he tackled his first project: an International 10-20 Titan.
"That first one was a learning experience," he says, shaking his head. "It had old truck tires for the rear and boat tires on the front. It was an ugly thing, and pretty crude, but it worked." It did more than that: It also lit a fire. "The main thing was I determined that I wanted to do better," he says.
Each half-scale tractor begins as a puzzle in Clint's mind. "On some of these tractors, I mulled over the possibilities for years before figuring out how to build them," he says. He builds one tractor at a time, but his mind is always multi-tasking. "The engine for the John Deere D sat in my shop for four or five years," he says. "Then I got the transaxle from a combine salvage yard, and it lay in the shop for two or three years. All that time, I was thinking about how I would build that tractor. Having the components in the shop is a constant reminder."
The key to the puzzle is Clint's capacity for structural visualization. "To some extent, I guess I do the engineering in my mind, without blueprints," he says. "It's just something I can do. Some people can do it; some can't. It's like thinking in scale. A lot of people don't realize what half-scale is. I had to do a lot of thinking about that. It took me a while to understand it, and I didn't, really, until I started drawing plans and sketches."
For the Rumely, Clint began by determining the wheelbase and engine, and making extensive measurements of a full-size tractor. He made a sketch of the engine to scale, then superimposed the engine sketch onto a sketch of the chassis, centering the flywheel correctly. "That was a big aid in getting the correct perspective," he says, "but it doesn't work for every project."
Several projects have had unique demands. To duplicate the 5-inch channel that forms the frame on a full-size Waterloo Boy, the frame on Clint's reproduction is made from 2-1/2-inch channel - which doesn't exist. "I had to split the iron and weld it together," he says. Clint did the work by hand. "I've never owned or operated a milling machine," he says. "I do a lot of things just using a mini grinder."
He works with familiar tools: electric drills, grinders, drill press, welders and a cutting torch. He also uses a lathe dating to 1886. "It's big enough to handle a 13-inch wheel," he says. "When I got it, it supposedly was in working condition, but I had to replace some parts. It's not as true as it should be, but I've learned to compensate. For the things I do, it works well enough. The feed screw is worn out in one place and it jumps, but I know to expect it."
Research is a critical phase of each project. He suspects his Froehlich tractor, for instance, to be more authentic than a full-size reproduction commissioned by Deere & Co. "I think I had more information about the original Froehlich than they did when they built their reproduction," he says. Information he learned while researching the Little Bull tractor tells the story of an era predating rigorous tractor testing, when the words "buyer, beware" were apt.
"The Little Bull was the biggest selling tractor in 1913-14," Clint says. "And at $350, it was cheap. But the company insisted on cash. By 1915, people figured out why it was so cheap: You couldn't hardly turn the tractor right." Clint's Little Bull features a starting engine from a John Deere Model R diesel tractor. Designed to run at 4,400 rpm, Clint slowed the engine to a top speed of 800 rpm by adding governor weights, a heavier flywheel and different carburetor.
Clint's next project may be a Case Model DC. An avid member of the Florida Flywheelers, he often links his projects to show features, and the Fly-wheelers will feature Case at their 2008 show. "People suggest that since my last name is Russell, I should build a 40-80 Russell," he says. "But the full-size Russell is 24 feet long, so half would be 12 feet, which is bigger than I have room for. And smaller than that just doesn't look right. They already get out of proportion at half-scale."
Like the craftsman who builds ships in bottles, Clint admits to being a bit obsessed by his hobby. "It's a pleasure for me," he says. "I enjoy the challenge of doing it. What would I be doing if I wasn't doing this? I don't enjoy just sitting, not accomplishing anything." FC
For more information:- Clint Russell, 2733 Ramsey Drive, Apopka, FL 32703.
- Florida Flywheelers Antique Engine Club; Flywheeler Park, 7000 Avon Park Cutoff Road, Fort Meade, FL 33841; (863) 285-9121; www.floridaflywheelers.org