Ponoka’s Bob McWade

Hand-crafted artistry

Ponoka’s Bob McWade creates models that reflect life on an Alberta farm

By Dale Cory

It was a Saturday morning, and I had a surprise for my nine-year-old son York.

You see, he loves trains — model trains to be exact. Truth be known, he loves all forms of transportation. He can tell you the make and model of any car, truck and semi that hits the highway. His favourite vehicle, the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 — one sweet ride I’m sure — is somewhat out of his daddy’s price range, considering its $480,000 price tag.

So, when I saw a poster at Diamond Willow Middle School promoting the first Model Train and Hobby Show to hit Red Deer in 15 years, I knew it would be our destination.

When we arrived at Westerner Park in Red Deer, I took my camera along in search of a Ponoka connection.

Before long, I found local craftsman Bob McWade.

The first point of interest that stood out was the encryption on the tablecloth covering his display area — ‘All models are hand made’.

The hand-crafted works of art consisted of threshing machines, trucks, tractors, chuckwagons, barns, and cultivators, among other things.

And yes, they were all hand-made.

“When I was a kid, I used to make models and combines and different things out of blocks of wood,” offered McWade, who was raised on a farm about eight miles west of Ponoka, and incorporates many aspects of farm life into his work. “All of this got going in 2002. I had a neck injury and had to retire from driving truck. I needed something to do, and this is what I started doing.”

McWade had no idea eight years ago his hobby would lead to all of this. His display at the Model Train and Hobby Show stretched over two 12-foot tables. McWade’s first hand-built model was a replica of the Mack truck he was driving for a living. He had somewhat forgot about his hobby until his forced retirement, at which time he pulled out the Mack and got back to work.

“When I had my neck injury, I had to have something to do, so I finished my truck,” recalls McWade. “ I was only going to make a tractor, then when I got it finished, I thought, ‘Well, it has to have a trailer’, so I got a big piece of aluminum pipe and made a trailer for it.

“From there on, it never stopped.”

He build Glen Crandall’s threshing outfit, then moved on to work on George White’s steam engine.

“When I got all that made — then of course, you’ve got a threshing machine and a steam engine — well, then you have to have a water wagon. It just never ends,” said McWade with a chuckle. “It takes about 75 hours to build a threshing machine like that. If you ask me how much I spend doing this, I guess the best way to put it would be to say, ‘I could tell you easier how much time I don’t do it. I’m at it quite a bit of the time.”

McWade’s replica of the Tommy Dorchester chuckwagon is similar to the one found on the post at the Ponoka Stampede Grounds.

While McWade has plenty of ideas for models floating around in his mind, he does take custom orders, and recently built a 1952 Cockshutt combine for a gentleman in Saskatchewan, who took McWade’s work of art to Bill Cockshutt, the last known remaining member of the Cockshutt family.

What does it take for Bob McWade to build these models? He visits local metal and welding shops often to scavenge for scrap pieces he can turn into something unique.

“It’s all done with a hacksaw and a pair of tin snips, and I do my own training with spray bombs. Actually, my painting seems to be getting better all the time,” said McWade with a chuckle.

McWade doesn’t like to sell his models. If somebody wants one of his pieces badly enough, he offers to build them one.

“I have my own standard collection that I don’t want to get rid of,” says McWade. “If I like something, I build it. When I get through building something, usually something else comes along and I think, ‘Maybe I should build that, so I give er a whirl.

“If you asked me which piece I like the best — I couldn’t tell you, because I like them all.”