His father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather were all Maine potato farmers, and as a young man, Jim Chandler put in his time, too, picking potatoes, loading potatoes and eventually driving a truck hauling potatoes. Ultimately, his career path took him in a different direction when he pursued a profession in vocational rehabilitation, helping persons with disabilities to find employment. But Chandler never forgot his agricultural roots. And, he has celebrated them in a unique way for more than 25 years.
As a child growing up in Presque Isle, Maine, Chandler especially looked forward to his birthdays, because his uncle, who was a parts manager at the local Massey dealer, would give him model farm equipment as gifts each year. Those cherished toys are long-gone, but Chandler has made a hobby of collecting, refurbishing and building his own 1:16 scale models of farm tractors, the various equipment they tow, construction vehicles and assorted truck styles. He attributes this interest to trying to replace those childhood treasures.
Chandler and his wife, Nancy, made a major move in 2017, opting to relocate from Maine to Pennsylvania to be nearer to a son and grandchildren in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Jim, who also is a classic car enthusiast, was already familiar with central Pennsylvania from his annual trips to attend automobile shows in Hershey and Carlisle. When the Chandlers purchased a home in South Hanover Township, Dauphin County, he made sure their new residence had ample storage for his models, as well as a workshop where he could continue building or restoring his farming and construction-related models, most of which are based on equipment from the 1950s to 1970s era.
Though Chandler has been downsizing his model collection in recent years, he still has approximately 250 tractors and 100 trucks and pieces of construction equipment, plus their accessories. This made for a major endeavor when it came time for him to pack them for the nearly 800 mile move south to Pennsylvania.
It took Chandler three weeks of “working day and night” to box and package his collection, which includes many fragile pieces. Chandler said there was plenty of cardboard to be recycled when he unpacked his treasures in Pennsylvania, where most of the models are now carefully arrayed in glass-fronted display cases.
Exploring the Collection
Chandler started his collection in 1993 with an affinity for John Deere models. He’s assembled a complete 25 model set of the Ertl Co.’s John Deere Precision Classics Series of highly detailed tractor replicas, which began in 1990. As a member of the Two-Cylinder Club for John Deere enthusiasts, he also has a full set of the club’s annually issued models from 1992 through the present.
Chandler eventually began making his own 1:16 scale farm equipment to go along with the tractors in his collection. He prefers to work using bronze, because it can be soldered. He is meticulous in duplicating the details of the life-size machinery and incorporates moving parts into his model creations whenever possible. Chandler has also made appropriately scaled accessories, such as a hand cart, an engine stand and a functioning engine lifter.
Chandler’s many efforts include a Hays field sprayer with retractable spraying arms and a spent bullet casing for its tank’s fill cap. Another one is a 1950s vintage sprayer with two wooden tanks mounted on each side of the tractor’s body. Turning a round hairbrush purchased at a local drugstore into a tractor-drawn sweeper used on parking lots is just one more example of his ingenuity. Another time he made a sheep’s foot compactor — so named because when ancient Romans built a road, they had sheep walk on it for compaction — built from scratch using a kitchen rolling pin, wooden dowels and a frame constructed with soldered brass tubing; in Pennsylvania it is known as a “cultipacker.”
Not surprisingly, a number of the models Chandler built have ties to his native New England and his previous involvement with the Maine potato industry. Among these replicas of equipment used in Maine agriculture are a soil breaker, a corrugator for use on fallow land, a ditcher and a scurrifier, which gouges a small ditch. These pieces proudly bear decals with the name “Chandler Engineering,” which is a nod to his creative efforts in fashioning authentic scale models of this farm machinery.
Chandler’s masterpiece is a flatbed truck of the type used to haul barrels of potato from the field. He well remembers filling these barrels, which held 165 pounds of potatoes each and for which he and other potato pickers were paid a mere 20 cents per barrel. “It’s hard work,” he recalled, but it was also the way he earned money to buy school clothes. Chandler said that, while his wife was able to pick 125 or more barrels per day, he “never got past 70” barrels.
Jim Chandler’s potato-truck replica uses a die-cast 1941 GMC model by Highway 61 Collectibles. He customized its flatbed floor with “planks” made from wooden paint-stirring sticks. The 37 barrels it carries took up to one-and-a-half hours each for Chandler to turn on a lathe because he needed the strength of maple’s hard wood to obtain the thinness of the barrel walls.
Other authentic features that he added to the potato truck include a bang board and a hydraulic-style hoist with a working grapple apparatus, which was used to raise the barrels onto the truck’s bed. Chandler’s realistic potatoes in the barrels are actually soybeans painted tan. He’s previously made six of these potato trucks, including one he donated to a charity raffle; tickets were sold for $10 each and yielded $5,380 for the sponsors.
Another piece unique to New England is an odd-looking device that resembles a stripped-down combine. The bright yellow apparatus is a cranberry harvester, designed to knock cranberries from the bushes they’re grown on into a bog, which would be flooded with water so the berries float to the top for easier gathering.
This piece further displays Chandler’s inventiveness. He constructed it from sheet brass and brass tubing, using springs from a ballpoint pen for the mechanism to raise and lower the harvester’s reel. Its front tank simulates an oil reservoir and was made from a cut-off section of an International Harvester 544 tractor. The gasoline tank behind the seat was made using brass water pipe caps. Both tanks feature aluminum fill caps turned on a small lathe. The simulated radiator was formerly the speaker in a transistor radio. The harvester is complete right down to the red “cables” on its battery.
Perhaps surprisingly, Chandler does not have a significant interest in full-size tractors and construction equipment. Rather, he appreciates them for the ideas they give him for constructing his models.
These days, Chandler continues judiciously downsizing his collection. He sells pieces primarily through online sites like eBay and Facebook and has stopped buying additional models. This is allowing him to reduce his holdings to those with sentimental value and the 25% or so that he made, modified or restored.