EAGLE GROVE - The original four-wheel cast iron and wood carts that fit under John Deere 1 1/2 and 3 horsepower stationary engines are scarce and not always in very good condition.
Robert Campbell, of Eagle Grove, has helped collectors in all 50 states and 20 other countries by producing the metal parts needed to make their own, both for the John Deere engines and also for the Waterloo Boy.
Collectively, the parts that hold the wheels are known as trucks.
-Messenger photos by Hans Madsen
Robert Campbell, of Eagle Grove, poses with a reproduction John Deere engine cart made from castings he helped produce. Campbell also makes the trucks for a Waterloo stationary engine, muffler castings and even some parts for large-scale outdoor model trains.
Once assembled and painted, they are difficult to tell from a restored original.
"I spotted one at a show once," he said. "When I walked up and took a closer look it was my cart."
The easiest way to tell an original from one of Campbell's is that his lack a hole in one of the castings; he left it off as a cost-saving measure.
The cart venture began for Campbell in 1996 when he purchased some John Deere engines to restore. The carts, when found, were expensive.
"They wanted $400 for a cart," he said. "You could buy the engine for $50."
A friend gave him examples of the castings that were needed. Then he worked with the Seneca Foundry Inc. in Webster City to get the patterns and mold boxes to produce castings.
In spite of family advice not to undertake the venture, he went ahead anyway.
"I crunched the numbers and decided to go ahead," he said.
After getting a sample casting made, he place his first order.
"I ordered enough to make 50 carts," he said.
He also ordered a classified ad in "Gas Engine Magazine" to sell the kits.
"The day I got my magazine I got a call from a guy ordering one," he said. "I ordered 50 more when I picked up the first order of castings."
They sold steadily after that; he estimates he's sold several thousand since.
Campbell still has a few on hand and continues to sell the Waterloo Boy kits. He sold the right to make the John Deere carts this fall.
"I still make the IH cart," he said. "This is actually a better cart, but people want a John Deere under their John Deere."
The rough castings require a bit of work before they are ready for the consumer. Several holes have to be drilled for bolts and the rivets that hold the stamping that forms the axle; then he primers them.
"There's absolutely no oil on them when I get them," he said, "I dip paint them with primer."
In addition to the cart parts, Campbell also makes a reproduction muffler for the John Deere engines. They resemble a funnel when done. The deceptively simple-looking casting requires a sand core to create the hollow space inside.
He's also made some castings that will become part of a large-scale live steam model railroad engine. These include wheels that the builder will have to machine, a casting for the cylinders, and he's currently working on a pattern to make scale couplers that operate just like the real ones.
The wheels took a full day just to pour.
"I poured about 750 pounds of iron," he said. "I worked from seven in the morning until five to make 40 drivers."
He's also made reproductions of other things. A Dempster windmill weight is one of them; the heavy casting is shaped like a standing horse.
"It's the counterweight for the wheel," he said. "There are some with long tails and short tails."
Another casting he helps produce is the foot rest for an old-fashioned shoe shine box. He said they are used by a customer in St. Paul who makes the boxes-.
"He sells shoe shine boxes," Campbell said.
He's also working on a casting for a Victorian coat rack and he has a set of 22 castings available that, once machined, build a 1/2 size running model of a Gade gas engine. The originals were made in Iowa Falls.
He decided to make that for a simple reason.
"I just wanted one," he said.