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Honey I shrunk the earth mover

Gresham man builds wood replicas of giant machinery


Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Rohrbach plays with one of his cement trucks outside his home in Gresham.Mike Rohrbach may be the most patient man alive.

Inside his Gresham mobile home, the 54-year-old toils away in a dusty, yellow-lit shop, cluttered with tools, truck parts, formulas scribbled on papers and blueprints for seemingly every heavy duty machine known to man.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - All in the details: Rohrbach crafted a gas can and fire extinguisher to include on his yellow logging truck just like the real version is required to have.Rohrbach spends painstaking hours working on his model toys.

The results are intricate wooden replicas of heavy equipment — trucks, cranes, caterpillar tractors and bulldozers — all scaled to 1/16th of their actual size and painted to mimic the real thing.

Rohrbach says he quit drinking in 1988 and found a new hobby. He started building things out of scrap lumber that his neighbor brought home from work.

First it was a wooden clock. Then gun cabinets, jewelry boxes, bed frames, a China hutch. His floor filled up with sawdust each time he built something, but his joinery became more intricate and refined.

“Woodworking has always been kind of a mind-game challenge,” Rohrbach said, adding that he loves the natural beauty of wood.

Everything Rohrbach built, he gave away. At some point, his neighbor with the lumber asked him why he never built anything for himself.

He said, “There was nothing I wanted that rocked my world.”

Then one day while sitting in his trailer sifting through a Grizzly's catalogue (tools galore for wood and metal workers), his eyes zoomed in on a stunning wood replica of a commercial Kenworth T800 truck.

“Wow, that is cool,” he recalls thinking.

A month later, Rohrbach had ordered the blueprints and built the exact truck from scratch.

Rohrbach's attention to detail is nothing short of impressive.

For example, one of his log truck's would not be complete without a miniature chainsaw, axe, shovel, gas can and fire extinguisher, which logging trucks are equipped with in real life.

His personal collection (13 in total and not for sale) has earned him a studio corner full of prize ribbons and trophies, including multiple “best in scratch built” from the Clackamas County Fair.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Mike Rohrbach explains how he builds his painted wooden models inside his shop at his Gresham home.Originally from Corbett where a road is named after his father, Rohrbach has been around machinery his whole life. He's fascinated by it, he says.

As an inventory control specialist who's job is to loan heavy duty machinery to work crews, he knows more than the Average Joe about machinery.

Rohrbach takes his research seriously, often “going out in the field” to photograph giant machinery. He later combines the images with designs he finds online or in equipment brochures. Then he does the calculations and draws his own plans.

Not only does Rohrbach make his own parts for his models using a milling machine, or finds alternatives, like a golf tee for a truck horn, he puts them together in the exact fashion their corporate engineers do, only 16 times smaller and with super glue.

“Even though they are wooden models, I do go the extra mile to make them look like they've been shrunk like a shrink ray,” said Rohrbach, who considers himself a nitpicking perfectionist.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - This scale model of a John Deere tractor was sold for about $5,800.Rohrbach built a replica of a 150-ton heavy haul trailer that stretches 14 feet, 2 inches, about the width of a single wide home.

The man's work has paid off. He's sold eight one-of-a-kind models. Those who know his work usually hear about it by word of mouth through the toy or trucking industry.

His first sale in 1999 was two Glacier cement mixer trucks, sold at $900 each.

His most expensive piece, a Hitachi pile driver, sold for $8,500 to Dewitt Construction in Vancouver, Wash. A replica John Deere tractor, valued at $5,840, sits in a corporate John Deere office in Fargo, N.D., a memento for the 50th anniversary of the company's first store.

Rohrbach says he charges $20 per hour, and requires a $1,000 non-refundable deposit, so he doesn't lose out if the purchaser decides not to buy it.

What impresses Rohrbach about heavy machinery is the sheer size of the equipment and how all the working parts come together to haul objects or move earth. He uses his models to make relevant comparisons.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - All of Rohrbach's models begin with cutting and shaping wood.“If you had a pickup truck next to an earth mover, you can see how big the truck is in relation,” he said.

He keeps the models he doesn't sell safely packaged away inside boxes in his room.

Pictures don't do justice to the level of detail in his work, so he insists on pulling out three to show.

Gently setting a Caterpillar motor scraper on the table, Rohrbach demonstrates how the scraper would scoop and push dirt in the field. Then he opens the truck's door to reveal the driver's cab.

“Everything on it works, just like the real thing,” Rohrbach says.

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