RED WING, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s roots are tied to its farm history, and a Red Wing man has never forgotten that.
Pete Freiheit was a farm kid who developed a love for history — most of all the tractors used on his farm. So he started tinkering with some tools and built a few model tractors — thousands of them, actually.
“You always try and make the one you’re working on better than the last one you were working on,” he said.
It’s been that way since Freiheit was a kid. His wife calls him stubborn, but he says he prefers “perfectionist.” Either way, the tractors he drove as a kid have turned into a life-long passion.
“Almost every tractor was safer than a Farmall,” Freiheit said with a laugh. “I hate to admit that.”
Still, Farmalls are what Freiheit knew. He liked them so much, he began making toy tractors for his brothers. Then when he got married and had kids, he started making them for his son.
“I had a lot of duds,” he said. “Things we started and didn’t finish it you know.”
But like a good farmer, Freiheit plowed through the adversity. He went to great lengths and great detail to get the model tractors just right.
“I would go to the salvage yard, take my book and my tape and measure them,” he said. “Stick the measurements in a calculator and get it down to one sixteenth.”
By the late 1970s, he was in business. Collectors started noticing not only his Farmalls and John Deeres, but other tractors too. His work at a Lake City iron foundry, and later an aluminum foundry, taught him skills that helped drive his perfectionist ways.
“A lot of my tractors steered and a lot of custom builders didn’t make steerable tractors,” Freiheit said.
They’re durable too — able to stand the test of time. His business has come from word of mouth, but that spread even further. He’s had customers as far away as New York City.
And like some of the tractors he makes, Freheit is a rare artist. The lost-wax casting method he uses is almost nonexistent today.
So when he saw someone selling a tractor on Ebay that he made more than 30 years ago, he paid to get it back.
“I knew right away that it was my tractor,” he said.
Over his pioneer career, Freheit has hand made nearly 4,000 tractors. Some have sold for hundreds of dollars, along with the model rail cars he’s also mastered.
Last month, Freiheit was recognized for his six decades of work when he was inducted into the National Farm Toy Museum’s Hall of Fame in Dyersville, Iowa.
“I’ve spent some awful long days at the work bench,” he said. “I could take it when I was younger. Now, my legs are shot. I’m kind of like Brett Favre. We both got inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year.”
Freiheit says he will start slowing down now, doing just some custom work projects. But many of his tractors are on display at the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, Iowa.