Precision crafted scale models

Superb artistry by Forbis

In the world of custom scale models, Dan Forbis has attained superior craftsmanship. An exceptional achievement is his weathered look applied to his customized and scratch-built farm equipment replicas. Through an informative chat, Forbis shared a glimpse into his quest to master this high level of artistry.

Forbis’s drive is a combination of several facets. His love for agriculture and its associated equipment reigns supreme. His partnership in the Rocky Mountain Agronomy Center has exposed him to business specific equipment. And then, he aspires to build realistic scale model farm machinery. With humility, Forbis stated succinctly, “I’m simply an amateur. Doing what I’m doing is like playing golf; you can learn the game, but it’s impossible to master it. I’m continually searching for ways to improve my modeling.”

Dan Forbis is shown working on one of his highly crafted scale model projects. Photo courtesy Dan Forbis


One of Forbis’s earliest toys was a one-sixteenth scale, cast-iron John Deere Model D made by Arcade. “Since that was my first toy, I’ve held onto it. Shortly after receiving the Model D, I received a John Deere two-row corn picker. At age 7, my next toy was a one-sixteenth scale International Model 1456 tractor. Back then, it seemed like a huge tractor with its duals, cab and front weights. It farmed many acres as a kid. I restored and customized the Model 1456 slightly larger than life. For example, I was able to retain the identifiable wear marks in the wide front from the tires rubbing into the metal spindles,” Forbis said.

Forbis reminisced further, “At an early age, I dismantled toys to see how I could make them different. I created a new look with my one-sixteenth scale, John Deere Model 6600 combine by painting it blue. The ole International backhoe got modified and became my front-end loader. I needed the sound of a two-cylinder John Deere, so I called my International Model 544 the Johnny Popper. I raised a crop of pinto beans in my kid farm. They yielded enough to make a pot of chili.”

This display case represents Dan Forbis's models built with precision detail. Although the John Deere colors appear to dominate, Dan has scratch-built numerous models in other colors. Photo courtesy Dan Forbis

With those early years modifying toys, it follows that Forbis’s interest would evolve into custom crafting later in life. “My interest in toys as a youngster re-invigorated my farm toy hobby. With this fascination, I’m always thinking about modifying that next piece or building something from scratch. For example, it’s fun to work over an International Model 544 tractor. Don’t be afraid to take the hacksaw to them and see what you can make. Fortunately, they’re plentiful and cheap. And, they make great customs,” he said.


Forbis does not profess to be a collector. His home display consists of a couple dozen models or less at any given point. A few models have been carried over as toys from his youth, some of which he customized. He shared this perspective, “I enjoy customizing farm tractors and equipment much more than collecting them. I’ll sell a customized piece on occasion. Or I may do a special project for a collector. Although I’m not doing custom work as a business, it provides a little hobby money to keep me going. It’s strictly a hobby. Customizing is enjoyable, but scratch-building is more challenging.”

Forbis shared information on several models that he customized. The revamped one-sixteenth scale versions of the International Model 1456 tractor make great collectables. His custom features include; precision wheels, weights, and the added three-point hitch. He indicated that Ertl’s one-sixteenth scale, John Deere Model 3020s are great tractors to modify. When done right, he said, “They rival the looks of the highly detailed precision models. From Ertl’s original variations, you can have a small collection of unique Model 3020 tractors.”

For a collector friend, Forbis applied his expert skill on two one-sixteenth scale John Deere tractors: a Model A and a Model GP, wide tread on rubber. Dan noted that the Model GP was originally built as a potato tractor during the late 1920s. The mounted, four-row cultivator was built entirely from his imagination. He finished these replicas in expert fashion with the weathered look.

Forbis highlighted a few of his scratch-built replicas in one-sixteenth scale. They include a precision built RoGator Model 854 sprayer, a highly detailed Owatonna Model 6D-2 self-propelled hay swather from the late 50s, and a superbly built John Deere Model 7721 pull-type combine. “It took five years and over 500 hours to build the John Deere combine. The material cost for this project mounted up. A fellow customizer scratch built the hydraulic cylinders and wheels,” he said.

The one-sixteenth scale, John Deere Model 4450 with the mounted sugar beet cultivator is a hybrid. Dan used components from different tractors for the custom piece. The mounted cultivator with 22-inch row spacing is scratch-built. The entire outfit was given Dan’s special weathered look.


With the weathered look in scale models, it’s a debate on what came first, the chicken or the egg. In other words, did modelers first apply the look or did commercial toy manufacturers initiate the technique? The debate is a moot point as Forbis’s weathered look rises to the top resulting from his technique.

When queried about his method, Dan responded, “I have learned through experience. Although airbrushing provides a beautiful finish, I still use rattle can paint for certain applications. And the ole paint brush even comes in handy at times. I own about two dozen air brushes and numerous automotive paint guns. I have more equipment for custom building than actual models.”

He added, “Automotive painting is a fascinating field. There are different mediums, including an assortment of paint, both oil base and water base. Often, I’ll buy a plastic model to try different techniques. When I’m comfortable with a new approach, I’ll use it on a farm equipment model. Living in central Wyoming does not provide the opportunity to easily interact with other builders in person to exchange ideas. Other than infrequent internet contact through emails and phone calls, I’m basically on my own. Most of my building and painting methods resulted through trial and error. Fortunately, some of the trails resulted in success.”


As noted early, Forbis has a devote interest in agriculture resulting from a diverse family background along with the agronomy business. He was fortunate in marrying Karla in 1985, a sweet farm girl. Together, the couple raised two children who are now adults. His in-laws owned a farm where he worked during and after college. Crops on that farm consisted of alfalfa hay, malting barley, sugar beets, and dry edible beans. They also ran a small herd of Angus/Gelbvieh crossbred cattle.

Forbis received his business management degree from the University of Wyoming. “I always wanted to control my own affairs. Subsequently, Karla and I tried farming after college, but were unable to forge a suitable living. I worked various jobs including two different stints where I learned about agronomy. That led into the purchase of our current business, Rocky Mountain Agronomy Center located here in Riverton, Wyo.”

“A side note about our business; it’s a very diverse company in the field of agronomy. It includes, applying dry and liquid fertilizers along with seed and crop production products. We’re also immersed in consulting as it relates to sales and service of our products,” he said.

At nearly 5,000 feet elevation, Riverton lies at the confluence of four rivers. Established in 1906, Riverton is located at the southeast corner of the Wind River Indian Reservation. This bustling center has developed into the agriculture and commercial hub of Fremont County. With a farm/ranch agriculture base, the greater Riverton area is a major producer of top-quality cattle and horses. The semi-arid climate also produces superior alfalfa hay and prolific sugar beets resulting from irrigation.

Forbis barely cut his eye teeth when he first drove a tractor. An early experience was operating a Ford Model 8N with a backhoe in a housing subdivision that was under construction. He also drove a John Deere Model 3010 pulling a roller harrow for a neighboring farmer. “I thought that was the cat’s meow! A short time later, I ran a John Deere Model 3020, 4000 and Generation II’s on the farm. Driving experiences with those tractors is why I love customizing the scale model versions,” he said.


Although Dan’s daily responsibilities can be rigorous, he relishes the time operating equipment in the field. However, he cherishes his creative time at the workbench even more. “I love spending time creating things. It lets me forget the stressful day job for a couple hours. The challenges of engineering parts, mastering paint, and the weathering process are good for my aging brain,” he said.

From the workbench, Forbis shared facets of his modeling. He works primarily with brass and sheet metal. Aluminum is utilized on occasion. He finds that soldering strengthens the model, especially the delicate parts and assemblies. “Soldering is a science rather than an art. It required time to develop the skill, but I’m more comfortable with it now,” he said.

He continued, “In many respects, painting is an art form. I get nervous painting, so I take the necessary safety precautions. I have yet to master the art, so I roll the dice whenever I don the paint mask. I’ve had to strip many nice custom pieces and repaint because it wasn’t right the first time. Eventually, I conquered the job.”

Forbis shared these thoughts on 3D printing, “There is a growing interest in 3D printing. I own a printer and would like to build parts, but my time commitments have restricted its use. It’s an economical source of parts, but for now, I’ll buy the 3D parts from venders.”

To be sure his creative thirst is adequately quenched; Forbis also builds scale model dioramas. “I enjoy building ‘waterline’ battleships and warship models cruising through realistic ocean water. I plan to construct several small scenes in one-sixteenth scale. An antique tractor junkyard beacons my interest,” he said.

He concluded, “People in this hobby are down to earth and wonderful to interact with. I hope to keep building well into the future.”

If you would like to learn more about Forbis’s highly crafted models, call during the evening at (307) 850-7247 or make contact using his email:

Hendricks is a freelancer who lived in Colorado for 32 years. He now resides in Mansfield, Ohio, his home state. He covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email at


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