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Unique tractors get brothers trips to Iowa State Fair

Brandon (left) and Michael Dau, of Melvin, Iowa, pose with the tractors they each made for their personal development project at the Osceola County Fair in Sibley. The tractors, crafted from old sewing machines and junk parts, were awarded trips to the Iowa State Fair.1 / 2
Michael (left) and Brandon Dau, stand with the six projects they exhibited at the Osceola County Fair this week that will now advance to the Iowa State Fair. The projects include their photography exhibits, Michael's bench and each of their John Deere tractors made from old Singer sewing machines.2 / 2

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Three years ago, brothers Michael and Brandon Dau of Melvin, Iowa, joined 4-H because they were bored and wanted something to do.

Today, the boys, ages 14 and 12, are making plans to take the fruits of their boredom -- and the treasures from their grandpa's grove -- to the Iowa State Fair.

The Daus earned the trips with their unusual spin on John Deere tractors after judging ended earlier this week at the Osceola County Fair in Sibley. The fair continues through today.

"We were looking at sewing machines one day and they resembled a tractor, so we made one into a tractor and decided we'd make a few more into tractors for fair," said Michael.

There was only one problem -- they needed some more old sewing machines.

Ultimately, they received two donations from friends of the family -- a pair of old Singer models -- and went to work, tweaking their creations after learning a few lessons with their prototype.

Using the sewing machine as the base, its old crank wheel doubling as the steering wheel, the boys looked around their Grandpa Allen Dau's farm for recycled treasures to complete their project.

"We had a few pieces of PVC pipe that we got out of my grandpa's grove, and long bolts," said Michael. Bolts and a set of old, small wagon wheels for Michael's tractor were found in Grandpa's shop, while Brandon had to search for suitable wheels elsewhere.

"We just walk around in the grove sometimes and sometimes we ride dirt bike out there," Brandon said. "You never know what you can find."

Sure enough, they found a set of plates that, when placed together, appeared to make tread around the perimeter.

"Grandpa ... didn't know what they were," said Michael, adding that his Grandpa Dau encourages the boys to be creative and use whatever treasures they find in the grove.

After the wheels were secured, the brothers decided to fashion old silver spoons -- also found in their grandpa's shop -- to create the seat for each of their tractors.

Some drilling, a little bit of welding and skills learned painting helped to bring all of the recycled treasures together. Even the paint was recycled -- the boys made a stop to the hazardous waste and recycling center in Spirit Lake, Iowa, where they found John Deere green paint and picked out the brightest yellow paint they could find.

"We were going to (make) a John Deere and International, but we couldn't find any decals for International and we'd have to call the company to print them off the Internet," said Michael. With the fair fast approaching, however, they didn't have time to jump through the extra hoops.

After the fair is over, however, the brothers plan to seek out the International decals -- and Ford, too. Michael wants to bring an International tractor to the fair next year, while Brandon plans to make a Ford model. They just need to find some more people willing to donate their old sewing machines.

As for their two finished projects, the boys have already received requests to sell them.

"Right after we got them judged, somebody wanted them," said Michael. "We just said we were going to keep them for right now."

Certainly, they'll need to hang onto the tractors at least until mid-August, when the Daus travel with them to the Iowa State Fair. In addition to the tractors, the boys earned trips with several other projects. Michael will make his second consecutive trip to the state fair, where he will exhibit his black and white photo of a butterfly, a series of photos of migrating Monarch butterflies and a bench he crafted from recycled lumber found in his dad's garage. As for Brandon, he will make his first trip to Iowa State Fair with pair of projects this year -- his tractor and a close-up photo of a mushroom.

The brothers are members of the Baker Road Runners and Shooting Sports 4-H clubs. They are the sons of Lee and Tiffanie Dau of Melvin.