For the past three winters, Al Smith has been building out two John Deere tractors, a 440 and a 540, that he uses on his small-scale farm.
Southwestern Minnesota hobby farmer Al Smith dreams up big machines and more efficient equipment. Then he heads to the shop and creates it.
"My passion, I guess, is building stuff," says Smith, age 58. While he operates his creations on just 15 tillable acres of corn and soybeans, his ideas stem from regular work on a much larger farm: Smith’s brother-in-law, Mike Fruechte, and his nephew, Brian, farm about 3,000 acres nearby in Pipestone, and Smith is responsible for helping out at planting and harvest, driving primarily New Holland tractors and preparing fields.
Machinery maintenance is a big deal for Smith, who learned to weld through on-the-job experience and an adult education class. He keeps farm equipment greased so it won’t break down, saving valuable time in the field.
"When I get in this piece of equipment, it’s not yours anymore, it’s mine," Smith jokes.
His welding experience has come in handy. Over the years, Smith has built planters, dozer blades, cabs, tillage equipment, three-point hitches, quick hitches, head movers, bale movers, trailers and silage gates for the back of a truck; put front-wheel assist on a John Deere 3010; and put duals on a tractor, among other projects.
"I get all of these ideas, especially when I’m out running Mike’s equipment," Smith says.
For the past three winters, Smith has been building out two John Deere tractors, a 440 and a 540, that he uses on his small-scale farm. He uses both for field work, hauling grain, pushing snow and other jobs.
The 540 is his favorite project to date. Smith likes its style and lines, reflecting what he calls an aggressive design. The cab also has heat. (It does not have air-conditioning.) He spent time rearranging it, lengthening the machine and more, and he says the tractor and its companion are a blast to run.
Mental pictures guide Smith in his work, not blueprints.
"I know what I want, start building it and very seldom do I ever have to cut a piece off because I didn’t like the position or the shape that it appeared to be," he says.