The concept of horse drawn implements built to scale and fully operational is challenging, yet to see precision built implements by Tom Brunner is amazing.
Learned metalcraft. While farming in his boyhood community of Mount Horeb, Wis., Tom Brunner gained a great appreciation for farm equipment. He also gained experience as a machinist through technical school and 20 years as owner of a welding business.
Ellis Manufacturing Company of Verona, Wis., a firm that makes band saws and grinders, currently employs Tom. Through these experiences, Tom has devoted his free time to creating high quality one-fifth scale implements.
In 1989, Tom caught the vision to build one-fifth-scale implements to accompany his fledging pedal tractor collection. About two years later he started building one-fifth-scale horse drawn equipment.
Basic beginning. Through his previous experiences, he appreciated the importance of starting with a basic implement. His first scale implement was a John Deere disc. Over time he graduated into building more challenging implements.
Tom Brunner’s first major horse drawn implement was a McCormick hay loader.
“It was an early favorite as we had one when I was a youngster. I don’t ever remember working around the hay loader, or draft horses, for that matter, but I vaguely remember them,” Tom said.
Horse power. Horse drawn hay loaders first came on the U.S. farming scene in the late 1800s. They were touted as being one of the best labor saving machines a farmer could own.
The McCormick hay loader that Tom emulated in his scaled-down version was built from 1929 until 1953. As Tom’s work progressed, he eventually built six different brands of hay loaders; all exact copies of their original.
The hay loader pictured is a Massey Harris Model 8. It was originally built in 1945. Tom built this scale version in 1997.
Taking precise measurements for implements under construction can be a challenging task. Tom explained,
“I locate and buy an original of the implement I want to build. I move it outside my shop where it’s easy to take measurements. The old piece of equipment may be in rough shape, but that’s OK as I can still get my measurement. I also try to locate the owner’s manual for that implement.
“In the rarest case, I’ll take measurements from the equipment at another location, which is what I did for the steam engine I built.” Tom’s machinist prowess is all encompassing. He makes nearly everything that goes into the equipment.
He machines the gearboxes, pulleys and nearly all working parts. Asked if he sends anything out for machining and Tom said, “Not very much. I make about ninety-nine percent of each implement. If I need a precise bend, I’ll get help as I don’t have all the needed equipment for those kinds of things.”
Rounding up horses. The horses used with Tom’s implements were hard to find. “I first located a couple at a leather shop. When that source dried up, I found some at a flea market. Now I’ve developed a direct outlet. While they are not exact replicas of draft horses, they fit my needs,” Tom explained.
The next challenge was finding someone who could make the needed harness to complement the detailed work resulting from Tom’s craft.
Eventually he found that craftsman. Tom now has beautifully detailed harnesses for every horse. His stable includes ten teams that are fully harnessed and two additional horses used in single hitches.
One-of-a-kind. Over time, Tom has expanded his horse drawn implement yard to about 45 one-of-a-kind precision-made units. Asked if he had ever sold an implement, Tom replied, “I’ve been offered a lot of money for different ones, but I don’t sell them. This is a combination hobby and my 401K-retirement account. I enjoy making them and displaying them at different toy shows. Maybe I’ll sell them some day if I need money for retirement.”
Last is favorite. With the scope of your collection, you must certainly have a favorite implement? “My favorite is the one I just completed. When I start another one and finish it, that one becomes my favorite. With each implement, I’ve gained experience in knowing how to make them better than the one before.
“It’s a challenge to make the next one more detailed and precise than the previous one,” Tom said. His most recent accomplishment is a horse drawn manure spreader. This John Deere unit shows meticulous detail with all working parts. Implements tie in with toy shows.
How do you decide what to make next?
“I prefer making older vintage equipment. I exhibit at a few local farm toy tractor shows. The show will have a feature brand each year so I’ll build an implement that ties in. If the brand featured at the show has no horse drawn equipment, I’ll just make something special that I like,” Tom explained.
When asked what keeps his creative juices flowing after building so many implements, Tom responded, “Each implement is a new challenge. I enjoy seeing how I can make the next one more detailed than the previous one. I want as much of the implement to run as possible. I also enjoy displaying them at our local farm toy shows. As long as I keep it a hobby, I’ll find enjoyment.”
No commercial market. Brunner Implements are rare, one-of-a-kind and therefore valuable. Tom does not envision a commercial market for working implements due to labor and production cost.
“Even though there may not be a ready commercial market, it is still self rewarding to build them,” Tom said.
Aspiring machinists often ask Tom how to get started in making scaled down implements. Here is Tom’s advice: “Start off simple with maybe a disc or harrow. Then begin to work your way up. Otherwise you’ll get discouraged and give it up. The most important ingredient in successfully completing a project of this scope is having patience, patience and more patience.”
In maintaining his creations as a hobby and to provide a variation in his work, Tom builds one-fifth-scale implements for pedal tractors. He has 50 attractively built units in this handsome collection. Tom’s wife Rosemary is an enthusiastic supporter of his work.
“Tom is involved in something he enjoys. When he’s home and he’s not in the house, I know he’s close by working in his shop,” she said.
Marvelous achievement. Tom Brunner and his precision horse drawn implements are a rare breed. Not only are his implements a marvelous achievement, his talent as a machinist is a unique gift. Brunner’s implements are a feature attraction at the Verona Farm Toy Show held each year on the second Sunday in February at Verona High School, Verona, Wis. He also exhibits at the annual Summer Badger Steam and Gas Show in Baraboo, Wis.
(Fred Hendricks owns SunShower Acres Ltd. of Longmont, Colo. SunShower Acres provides genetic consulting services and related breeding products for dairy farmers. Hendricks is an avid “Toy Farmer” and a freelance writer.)
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