Tilling up talent

Perham man cultivates hidden skill for unconventional art

Rod Swanson's tractors sit on display in his Perham home. Swanson works on four tractors at a time and numbers each one. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

Rod Swanson's tractors sit on display in his Perham home. Swanson works on four tractors at a time and numbers each one. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

One of Rod Swanson's tractors sits on display in his Perham home. Swanson starts each project with raw steel and references up to 50 photos to include every little detail. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

One of Rod Swanson's tractors sits on display in his Perham home. Swanson starts each project with raw steel and references up to 50 photos to include every little detail. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

Rod Swanson's tractors sit on display in his Perham home. Swanson works on four tractors at a time and numbers each one. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

Rod Swanson's tractors sit on display in his Perham home. Swanson works on four tractors at a time and numbers each one. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

A few miles north of Perham, past Little Pine Lake, resides an everyday man with an extraordinary collection. Dozens of antique tractors are housed inside his modest home; there are Minneapolis-Molines, antique steam threshers, Farmalls and John Deeres from every era. While they're solid steel, they never harvested crops or plowed snow; they're models handmade by Rod Swanson.

When Swanson, 78, retired after working road construction 80 hours a week his whole life, he needed to find a hobby. After attending the Thresherman's Reunion in Rollag with his grandson every year, Swanson thought he'd try making his own tractors.

After years of practice, Swanson's skills— and his tractor collection — keep on growing.

Swanson starts each project with raw, scrap steel he purchases in rods and sheets from a galvanizer in Fargo.

"What they call scrap is gold to me," he said in his gruff voice. "If it wasn't for that, I couldn't afford to buy the stuff."

Rod Swanson, 78, poses for a portrait in his home in front of his collection of homemade tractors. "He worked construction his whole life, we never saw talent like that before," his daughter Jodi Sjolie said. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

Rod Swanson, 78, poses for a portrait in his home in front of his collection of homemade tractors. "He worked construction his whole life, we never saw talent like that before," his daughter Jodi Sjolie said. (Carter Jones / FOCUS)

Working on four at a time, he references over 50 pictures to include tiny oil filters, hoses and plugs. Swanson then toils away in his shop for three to four months at a time before he emerges with each finished set. Swanson numbers each set with magic marker, writing its number, the date and his signature underneath.

Swanson's "whatever it takes to get it done," mentality means he added a whole new wing to his pole barn to fit all of the tools he's added over time. From milling machines to steel saws and two lathes, Swanson has everything he needs to get into each tractors finest detail. 

For full article, go to: Perham Focus

Source, image(s), credits & more: Perham Focus | cjone