Small Wonders

Scratch builder enjoys making threshers

| July 2006

Kenny Sunderland remembers old-time threshing and the hard work, good food and fun everybody seemed to have. But for him, there was more. "All the gears and pulleys and belts intrigued me," says the 73-year-old Winsted, Minn., retiree, recalling a John Deere thresher owned by his father and two uncles. "They were dangerous old machines, but we survived anyway."

Kenny's farm experience served him well when he started building models of the old threshers. Originally, he planned to build one old machine for each of his sons and his son-in-law, but the plan derailed when one son died of cancer. "Then I had too many models," he says, "so I decided to keep making them."

Starting from scratch

Model making was always on Kenny's mind, even as a boy. "When I was young I didn't know how and didn't have the equipment," he says, so he put such thoughts aside until 1980, when he saw a real Minneapolis Junior thresher. The Junior was made of wood and had fewer pulleys than other threshers. It would be less of a challenge, he thought, given that he had to build everything by hand. "I had been going through a lot of books, and I thought the Junior would be the simplest to build," he recalls, "because here was one I could take measurements from." But it was harder than it looked.

Planning a model of the circa-1915 Minneapolis required long days over the course of four months. "I had the parts books with drawings, and then had to use rulers, straight edges, pencils and a calculator," he says, "and draw one piece at a time on big sheets of tag board." He decided on 1/8-scale: Smaller parts were too difficult to fabricate, and larger ones meant the finished product couldn't be carried to thresher shows. He went on to make five Minneapolis Juniors, learning from each one.

A Case built from a Case

Kenny's second model was a thresher made of wood salvaged from a real 1905 Case Model 44-66. "I'd seen pictures of it," he says, "and I kind of leaned towards the idea that the older the machines are, the better I liked it."

By then he had purchased an old military surplus enlarging machine with a 1,000-watt bulb that projected an enlarged image. "I put tag board on the wall and drew the plans on there," he says. It was considerably easier than the time-consuming handwork, but was still an imperfect process. "To make the thresher 1/8-scale, I had to know the actual size of the original parts, and divide by eight," he says. "So if the wheel was 32 inches in diameter, the model wheel would be 4 inches in diameter."