Note: This feature is in the Sept. TT&C 2017 issue.
Dan Schmitt grew up on a farm where mechanical opportunities abound. Dan’s mechanical aptitude was always in play with that environment. And so, he was constantly tinkering or making things.
During his youth on the family’s Illinois farm, Dan once decided to build a boat. Dan’s first building exploits did not pass muster. But he salvaged the project, as noted: “I built a boat entirely from wood. Rowing that awkward thing was a lot of work. I rigged a nifty paddle wheel on the back of the boat. Then, I scrounged up an old Briggs & Stratton engine and belted it to the paddle wheel. It seemed like a good idea, until the paddle wheel splashed water into the boat and I nearly drowned. My paddle wheel boat got set aside.”
Dan went on to recount his scratch-built boat experience, “While in town one day with Dad, I saw a small propeller displayed in the window of a hardware store. I talked Dad into buying it for my boat. With a little gear work and the propeller attached to a shaft, I soon had an inboard-powered boat using the Briggs engine. It didn’t move very fast across the water, but I stayed dry and it was easier than rowing.” But building additional mechanical things got put on hold until sometime later.
Following graduation from high school, Dan served a stint in the United States military. A few years after Dan and Martha married, they ventured west to settle near Omaha, Neb. Dan soon found employment as a welder in town. However, he and Martha also farmed about 100 acres at their newfound home north of Omaha.
With Dan’s inclination for mechanics, he began overhauling tractors as a sideline. He worked on his own tractors at first, but soon did restoration work for friends and neighbors.
“I always liked tractors from the 1940s and 1950s period. They were well-made, easy to understand and something I enjoyed working on. Word got around that I was doing tractor mechanics, so I was kept busy. I restored a few tractors for myself and started a collection of the old reliables,” he explained.
In due course, Dan started displaying his tractors at antique farm machinery shows. While exhibiting at these shows, Dan took note of tractors and other machinery that had been customized and scratch built. In 1984, Dan and Martha started attending the annual Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Show staged in Portland, Ind. During one visit at the Portland show, Dan’s interest was triggered to build a piece of equipment.
“I had a lot of experience welding. And with my tractor restoration work, I knew a lot about those mechanics. I thought, surely I could build a scale model piece of equipment. But, I wanted to build something different,” Dan suggested. Sometime late in the 1980s, Dan’s yearning to build something different was launched. He started scratch building models of industrial equipment that were fully operational.