Featured Collector: Denny Baehr

Even though Denny Baehr’s red truck bears a sticker that says, “Trucks are Red and Tractors are Green,” he sincerely likes and appreciates all brands of tractors. It’s just that he grew up loving green. In one of the first pictures taken of him, when he was about 9 months old, he’s sitting on his dad’s brand new 1944 A John Deere. His first recollection of driving a tractor was the new John Deere G his dad bought in 1952. He got to pull his grandpa’s Case hand-tie baler powered with a Wisconsin engine.

Growing up on a farm northwest of Adams, NE, inspired him to have an interest in tractors. He attended several shows at Camp Creek near Waverly, NE, and during one visit saw a miniature unstyled A John Deere tractor and right then and there decided to build one.

His half-scale A started from a mini-bike that he bought for $25; that’s where the first parts (wheels and engine) came from. Then he acquired an old lawn mower transmission at a flea market. Two 4’ pieces of angle iron became the frame. An old evaporator grill from the furnace humidifier became the radiator. Denny says, “I asked my dad what he used for the differential on the tractor that he had built and he said it was a Model A Ford car rear end. He had a spare one and I installed a sprocket in place of the ring gear and had a buddy machine the axles.” In his brother’s junk pile he found a 1930 Chevy steering gear. This was the steering gear that really gave the tractor the right look. The rear tires are 16” JD 290 corn planter spoke wheels. He made a to-scale drawing of the tractor before he ever started building it: this made the assembly job much easier. He figured out the gear ratio a head of time so the tractor would not run faster than he could walk because he didn’t want a runaway. It took Denny over two years to gather all the parts, working on it in his spare time.

The half scale Model D started life as a Dynamark lawn mower that was bought for $50. Denny says that’s the best way to start because you have most of the parts you need to begin. Denny suggests that you just have to rearrange things, do a little tin work, put bigger tires (15”) on the rear and raise the front end so it sits level. The fenders are trailer fenders and the seat is way back behind the rear wheels so he installed a 75-100 lb counter weight where the radiator would be to keep the front wheels on the ground.

The Model G came from a fellow in Wilber, NE. who had at least 30 old Deere’s, including 7 or 8 JD G’s, in a huge shed. With guidance from his nephew, Denny picked out the 4 that he thought were the best. The Wilber man had to move a dozen tractors out of the way so Denny could test-drive the 4 G’s that he picked out. He then selected the one that seemed to run and sound the best as far as gear noise. This was in January, 2001; by the end of May that year he and his nephew had it disassembled and sand blasted; his nephew had also primed and painted it. The wiring was all replaced and new gauges were installed. No work was done mechanically other than replacing some gaskets.

Denny has worked for the NE Dept of Roads, 42 years, all in highway construction. The past 16 years he has been a Highway Project Manager, mostly on the interstate system around Omaha, overseeing construction at the I-680 and West Dodge interchange for the last 3 years. He is responsible for evaluating the contractor’s work, seeing that it complies with the contract, plans and specifications. On the average, he processes payment of approximately a half a million dollars every month.

Denny thinks his strongest interest is the building of the miniature tractors. The challenge of scrounging junk piles to figuring out what piece of junk will work to get the desired results and putting it all together is great fun. He built these tractors to be used by kids and not just to be looked at. Denny says, “The look on a little ones’ face when he gets to drive a tractor just his size gives you the greatest feeling in the world.” That feeling and also the camaraderie and friendship of the EVAPA club members gives Denny Baehr great enjoyment.

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