A 27-year labour of love

By Mike D'Amour

March 23, 2017 12:00 AM

LIKE A KITTEN Gerald Wells fine tunes his remote controlled, fully functioning model tractor—with a hand-built 2.65 cubic inch engine— that took him 27 years to complete. With few exceptions, Wells built every piece of the machinery—including the pistons, crank shaft and hydraulics—over 22,000 hours of construction time. The model was on display at the recent Border City Collector show. (Inset) Some parts Wells constructed that didn't quite work they way he anticipated. DON WHITING LLS PHOTO

Call it an obsession, a hobby, or simply a labour of love.
Whatever it was that drove Gerald Wells to spend 27 years, and about 22,000 hours of his life, to hand-build hand a fully functional, model tractor, the results are spectacular.
“I was a grain farmer, so I’d have time off in the winter and I worked on it about three months out of the year,” he said.
“Once you start working on it and you have all these ideas in your head, you go full bore on it.”
In the early 1970s while in Lloydminster high school, Wells, now 63, remembers watching a running single engine.
“I thought, ‘Man, that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,’ and I wondered what a miniature V-8 (motor) would sound like,” the retired machinist and farmer said.
“I just decided to build myself one.”
Not long after, beginning in 1972, Wells began a project that—unbeknownst to him at the time—would take him well into adulthood, but produce a small, working tractor.
He began with a plan.
“I made a few sketches of what I wanted the motor to look like ... (and) my dad gave me a lot of ideas,” he said.
Still, despite the plans, Wells admits most of the project eventually came together through “trial and error.”
Incredibly, Wells hand-crafted just about everything for the remote controlled tractor—V-8 engine block, crank, transmission, pistons, distributor, gaskets, working LED field, road and flashing lights and, well, just about everything.
The gauges and the alternator are among the few items Wells did not make himself, but nearly everything else was fashioned by his own hands.
One exception was the tires for the model, which were not readily available from the likes of Goodyear or Yoho.
But he was not to be stopped
“Years ago Civic Tire used to sell these ashtrays and you could get them (with) automobile tires, or tractor tires (encircling the glass ashtrays),” said Wells, who recalled buying a couple sets of the ashtrays.
“I made rims for the tires, but the tires were squishy soft, too soft,” he said.
Wells created a simple solution by blowing insulation into the tires to give them a more rugged feel.
Another issue was spark plugs. Where the heck could he find some that would fit his roughly 1/10 scale model that bears the appropriate stickers and John Deere colours, but does not resemble one of their working tractors?
In the days before one could go on the Internet and get quick answers via Mr. Google, there was some legwork involved in tracking down rare parts..
But Wells eventually managed to do just that and found what he was looking for.
“I bought the plugs in the States (and) I was told they use them in igniters in the oil field, but as far as I know, they do use them in model engines.”
One of the toughest parts to build was the distributor, Wells said.
“The first distributor I made, I used fibreglass resin and then made a mould out of metal, then machined it out and put all the electrode ends and stuff in it,” he said.
That model didn’t work exactly the way Wells liked, so he built another, larger, one.
Now, “It works like a charm.”
The 172-lb. tractor—which has one bank of hydraulics, a three-speed transmission, a two-speed power shift and runs on 5-30 motor oil and one cup of premium gas to fill the tank— was finally completed in 2009, and pushes, “on a wild guess,” about one-quarter, to one-third horsepower.
After a break, Wells set out to build a functional 43-shovel cultivator.
That project was completed in the fall.
But he’s not done yet.
“I just finished a 48-in, PTO-driven grain auger which will be driven off the tractor,” he said, noting he plans to build some grain bins soon.
When the time comes when Wells is riding the great John Deere in the sky, Wells said he hopes his work will be put on display.
“In a museum somewhere would be nice,” he said.

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