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Illinois collector finds like-minded Michigan builder

Wrenching Tales by Cindy Ladage 
“This is a little country restaurant,” Fred Helmuth says of the Korner Café, the restaurant his family has been involved with since 1975. 
Helmuth and his wife, Carolyn’s, family run the café located in the little town of Chesterville, Ill., which lies in Amish country between Arthur and Arcola.
While he grew up on the farm, Fred and his family have been involved in numerous businesses in the Arthur area. “My father and I and several family members had the (Okaw) Truss plant and I worked there, and then branched into other business like the CHI Overhead Doors that we sold in 2005,” Fred said. 
After selling the company, he became involved in the antique tractor collecting hobby. “I grew up on a farm that used old Oliver tractors. I just stuck to that brand when I started collecting the big ones.”
Fred is on a mission to have half-sized miniatures of several of his full-sized tractors created by the talented Kurt Smith of The Little Tractor Co.
Kurt, from Milan, Mich., has made four and is on the fifth miniature for Fred. The first ones Fred ordered were the Oliver 1650 and the Oliver 770 orchard.
Today, being semi-retired allows Fred and Carolyn to spend part of their time in Sarasota, Fla., where they have what Fred calls a “farmette.” The Helmuths have family in Sarasota so Fred is able to continue his hobby. “I have projects with my brothers-in-law. One has a Cub International Harvester he is working on and the other brother-in-law has a WD45 Allis Chalmers,” he said.
The shed where “the boys” work is quite a place, according to Carolyn. “In the shed they have a popcorn machine, hot dog machine and all the comforts of home,” she said. “They go there at 7:30 in the morning, to the coffee shop break at 2, then come back home at 4:30.”
The Sarasota area is a home away from home that has been part of the Helmuth tradition for most of their lives.
“There is a large Amish and Mennonite community is Sarasota. I’m the third generation to go to that area. Carolyn’s mom and dad’s family went there too,” Fred said. “We go down two, three weeks in a row then come back home.”
Since they are still working they can’t be down south for too long an extended time. Plus, Carolyn added, “I miss the grandkids.”
It was while at the Florida Flywheelers that Fred saw his first miniature tractor. “They were so cute, I thought I’d do that. I couldn’t get it out of my mind; Kurt’s name kept coming up. I called him and he came through this area that July, on his way to a Red Power show. He is a good guy; he started building minis for me.”
The original plan was just for Kurt and his dad to pick up parts and head home and build the 1650 Oliver mini. That was until Fred spied Kurt’s four-wheel-drive 1206 he had on the back of his trailer. “It was my biggest and baddest tractor so far; it had a functioning front-wheel-drive,” Fred explained.
At that point, he pulled Kurt in to see his beautiful 770 Oliver Orchard, asking if Kurt could make a miniature of it.
On the drive back to Michigan, Kurt said, “My dad is a conservative, quiet guy and I asked him, ‘How am I going to build an Orchard?’ He smiled and answered me ‘You better figure it out; you just sold one!’”
Fred’s tractor was not Kurt’s first miniature.
“I started making minis when I built mine in 2008,” Kurt said. “I built an IH 826 for fun, then built a JD 2030 for a friend for fun. It was my intention to be finished, but it just didn’t work out that way. I built my first mini for a customer in 2010 it was a John Deere 430.”
Besides the 770 orchard, Kurt has also built a 1650 row-crop miniature and a 750 wide front Minneapolis Moline for Fred. He is currently building a 1550 Cockshutt for Fred as well.
The Cockshutt and a current Farmall M project are the 32nd and 33rd minis he has built to date. “I build tractors three to four days a week and letter and pinstripe trucks the rest. I have never grown up, and I still play with tractors and trucks,” Kurt added.
 To see what he is working on, log on to his website at  and to check out his trucking company, log onto
Fred and Kurt plan to share Fred’s tractors and miniatures at this year’s Half Century of Progress Show in Rantoul, Ill., Aug. 27-30.
Visit for details.

The views and opinion expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication.