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Fred Heim, big toys for big boys

Fred Heim does not stand 12' tall. He just builds woodworking projects that are half as large as life.

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  • Models: a growing concern

    As he prepared to hand over the construction business to his sons, Fred Heim decided to revisit a childhood hobby: model-making. The first models he tackled in "retirement," 1/16-scale wooden trucks, were incredibly detailed, made completely out of wood, and apparently unsatisfactorily diminutive. Looking at those models one idle day in his shop office, he decided it was time to scale things up a bit.

    Fred built his first half-scale model, the Peterbilt truck, left, out of fiberglass, mahogany, and plywood on an aluminum chassis. And—get this—it runs. Powered by a 26-hp diesel tractor engine, the cab just fits Fred's six-foot frame thanks to a removable steering wheel. The truck features working lights, 12" trailer wheels riding on golf-cart axles, an air-bag suspension system, hydraulic brakes, and a high-gloss automotive paint job. The fittings, mechanisms, latches, and trim had to be hand-made to fit or repurposed from smaller cousins of the real thing.

  • Peterbilt 379 with hill dump trailer

    An aluminum frame lends Fred's 26' dump trailer strength while a professionally powder-coated body give its mahogany-plywood sides the convincing look of metal.

  • Caterpillar D8R bulldozer

    No half-scale construction business can get by without earth-moving equipment, so Fred made this half-size replica Caterpillar D8R dozer. Overlooking no detail, he had decals scaled from the original.

  • Caterpillar 345C L excavator on drop trailer

    Each link in the 345C L excavator's tread contains nine pieces of mahogany or PVC. Both of the fully-articulated, working treads have 52 links. That adds up to 936 pieces of half-scale detail.

  • Caterpillar 980H wheel loader

    Fred drives his half-scale Caterpillar 980H wheel loader by remote control around the basement level of his shop. The hydraulics give the arms and bucket the full range of motion of the real thing.

  • The captain builds his ship

    The Rachel H.'s hull consists of two layers of overlapping mahogany planks attached with stainless steel staples. A coating of epoxy inside, in-between, and outside the planks ensures a watertight hull.

  • From here he scales up!

    The Rachel H. started as—what else?—a model. Points were pulled from the stripes and scaled up to make full-sized rib patterns

  • Preparing for her maiden voyage

    Nearly completed, the Rachel H. awaits a few final details. The flat-bottomed-hull design limits the boat's speed to about seven knots, perfect for leisurely river cruises.

    See Fred's models in motion at woodmagazine.com/fredheim.

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