NEW HOLSTEIN — John Poch accumulated an impressive array of tractors over the years.
His collection features 30 full-size tractors, including 22 steel-wheel machines, encompassing seven brands.
But Poch is equally proud of the dozens of scale-model tractors and related agricultural equipment he meticulously handcrafted from metal over the years.
Nine years into retirement, the 71-year-old Poch recently completed his 100th scale-model piece and said he doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.
“I have always liked agriculture, so for me it’s fun to putz around and make things like these out of metal,” said Poch, surrounded by tools in the workshop of his barn situated between New Holstein and St. Anna in rural Calumet County. “I can work with wood, but I prefer to work with metal. And it makes sense since the things I create are metal machinery in real life.”
Poch’s handiwork comes in a variety of scales, including 1/16 (five pieces), 1/8 (72 pieces), 1/4 (12 pieces), 1/2 (three pieces) and 3/4 (eight pieces). Each item features moving wheels and other applicable parts.
Perched on Poch’s workshop table on this day are his two most recent 1/8-scale creations, both circa late 1920s — an Oliver manure spreader and an International hay rake. Like all of Poch’s creations, they’re designed nearly entirely off photos in his dozens of books featuring tractors and other agricultural equipment.
“No blueprints at all,” he said. “The plans are mostly in my head as I’m making them. … I’m not a perfectionist. I’m just trying to make them look pretty good.”
Each 1/8-scale model takes roughly 40 hours to complete. Poch works on them year-round, with a bit more time spent in the workshop during winters. He acquires the metal from Schuette Mfg. and Steel Sales near Manitowoc; the business curves the wheels for him, and he makes nearly everything else.
“I’m not rushing to make any of them since they’re all just for personal enjoyment and not for selling,” he said.
Most of the completed models are arranged on shelves and display area in the main floor of the barn, above the area where the workshop is located and some tractors are housed. Poch hasn’t shown his creations off his property, but occasionally he provides tours to people who inquire after hearing about them by word of mouth.
Guests notice that about 20 of his earliest scale models are painted to resemble their original color schemes. These days, Poch leaves models with a raw metal exterior.
“I just started to think, ‘Wow, this is like the black-and-white pictures I work off of,’ and I liked that,” Poch said. “And if I ever want to go back and paint some, I can always do that too.”
Poch’s first scale-model creation, which also happens to be his favorite, was a 3/4 size McCormick-Deering W-30 he built in 1988. One year later he built its companion piece, a 3/4 size McCormick-Deering No. 8 plow.
Over time the larger-scale items filled up interior space on his property, so when Poch retired his focus shifted primarily to making 1/8 sizes.
“I like 1/8 more than 1/16,” he said. “The older you get, your fingers get stiffer and eyes get poorer. But the larger they are, the easier they are to work with.”
Among his favorite 1/8 models is a 110-horsepower Case steam engine.
“I’m not really into steam a whole lot, but I’ve seen them at shows and they’re huge,” he said. “I really like how that one turned out.”
Poch’s interest in agricultural machinery dates back to his upbringing on the family farm and more than 40 years spent working for a Land O’Lakes (formerly Lake to Lake) cheese plant in Kiel. He wasn’t a metalworker by trade, but it came with the territory.
“I never had any training in that, but when you grow up on a farm you always needed to fix something,” he said. “Even if we didn’t do something right, we were learning how to fix things. If I did it wrong, then I ended up doing it twice. So I learned.”
Poch was born and raised early on near Random Lake in rural Sheboygan County. At the age of 7, he moved with his family to a 60-acre farm near St. Anna that milked 12 cows and had a few pigs and chickens. The farm used Oliver tractors, but Poch remained open minded over the years to creating and collecting all brands of tractors and equipment.
Poch worked for Land O’Lakes/Lake to Lake from 1966 until his retirement in 2010; two of those years were spent serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He performed various duties at the cheese plant, filling 40-pound hoops with cheese in the early days and handling tasks in the loading area for the last 25 years.
Poch’s wife, Mary Lou, grew up on a family farm near St. Anna as well. Her family milked 100 cows and worked 400 acres.
The couple have lived at their current residence for the past 45 years. The property, formerly a small dairy farm, still features the original log house (since converted to a grainery) from 1861. Amish horse-and-buggies frequently traverse the nearby country roads.
Poch proudly noted he hasn’t had a television for the past 40 years, preferring instead to listen to the radio.
“I like listening to the radio while I’m making my scale models,” he said. “One thing we learn in life, you can’t have enough toys or tools.”