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Radio Controls Bring Toys To Life
Robert Denson stops crowds in their tracks at farm toy shows when his 1/16 scale models start moving. Equipped with electric motors, miniature gears, hydraulics, and radio receivers, they work like real equipment, raising and lowering implements, augers and more.
“Inevitably someone at a show will try to pick the models apart,” says Denson. “They’ll ask, ‘Can it do this or can it do that?’ Then I show them it can.”
Denson’s first car and truck models were carved from 2 by 4 lumber when he was growing up on an Arkansas farm. His first motorized model was a plastic, Bigfoot Monster model truck his dad put together. “I thought it would be cool if it moved, so I took motors out of a couple old hair dryers and some small gears and attached them to the wheels,” he recalls. “It ran on D cell batteries.”
After Denson joined the Army, his first duty station was in Germany, where he discovered radio-controlled (RC) toys. When he returned to the U.S. he renewed his hobby, at first buying 1/16-scale toys.
“I realized they weren’t accurate,” he says. “They lacked detail.”
Having operated farm equipment for a neighbor as a teenager, Denson knew the detail that was missing. In 1991 he built his first from-scratch Deere 9610 combine out of wood, with all the exterior features of a real combine.
“I took it to a toy show in 1992, and I could have sold it 10 times over,” says Denson.
Over the next few months he motorized it with a gear head from a battery-powered screwdriver and a toggle switch for going backward and forward. The response at a second toy show in early 1993 encouraged him to keep going. By that fall he had it fully radio-controlled with a rotating reel, rotating auger and a header that could be raised or lowered. It had a better drive system, a swing-out auger, cab lights and other details built into the cab and engine.
Since then, Denson has continued refining and expanding his list of RC models, some scratch-built and others modified from commercial 1/16-scale toys. He gets help from local equipment dealers who appreciate his skills.
“They’ll call me to let me know a new model has come in and I might want to take a look,” he says. “I’ll take detailed pictures down to how many bolts are holding the axles together.”
That information comes in handy when he is building. “If I can’t make a model look like the real thing, I won’t,” says Denson.
His favorite model is a radio-controlled, AGCO Terra-Gator 8103 he built from scratch. He still recalls the first day he saw one in a field and realized he was hooked. While on guard duty at an airport after 9/11, he saw a man with an AGCO jacket. Denson, carrying an automatic rifle, stopped him.
“He told me he would give me anything I wanted,” laughs Denson. “I told him what I wanted to do. He was an engineer and later supplied me with 3D drawings, which I sized to match some truck tires I already had.”
As with his other models, this one required a lot of patience as he tried to find parts. He gets about 75 percent of parts from Europe, often fabricating what he can’t find.
“There are no suppliers of miniature hydraulic parts, pistons, motors or pumps in the U.S.,” says Denson. “You have to figure out where to get things and how to modify them. When I was building the Terra-Gator, I needed some leather strips for the steps. One day I walked through the ladies shoe section at Wal-Mart and saw a pair with leather straps that were perfect, so I bought them, just for the straps.”
For the Terra-Gator he found a source for a miniature liquid hydraulic system. It controls the booms, wrapping and unwrapping them, as well as lifting and lowering them. He also equipped the Terra-Gator with lights, a truck sound system and a detailed driver’s cab with the letters and markings of the full-size spreader.
“It took nearly a year to complete,” recalls Denson. “It still pleases crowds at shows.”
Over the years Denson has assembled a collection of more than 30 RC models, including a Caterpillar 140H motor grader with full motion blade and a 4-WD Deere tractor with a planter that lifts and lowers. A semi trailer pulls up to combines that extend their augers, and other tractors pull a plow and a disk that lift and lower.
Occasionally, he will put one of his models on the market. He has sold non RC combine models for $1,200 each. He recently put his cotton module truck on the market.
“One of the hardest things is how to price these models,” says Denson. “It could go anywhere from $1,500 on up.”
While Denson has built RC models to order, he prefers doing them for himself and entertaining others at toy shows.
“I enjoy doing this as a hobby and encouraging others to build their own,” he says. “If someone calls, I can spend hours talking about how to do things. There are a lot of guys with this hobby, and we share ideas on what to use and how to do it.”
Check out the video at farmshow.com.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Robert Denson, 1015 S. Mcauley Dr., West Memphis, Ark. 72301 (ph 901 240-6141, rtdjr45@gmail.com).

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2020 - Volume #44, Issue #2