California Mid-State Fair: Big rig, small scale

When a local shop was getting rid of two old motorized carts, excitement swept through Les Baty.

“My eyes grew wide, and I started thinking about 12-volt motors and circuit boards,” he said. “That’s how my brain works.”

The retired mechanic and Paso Robles resident reused those items and many more for his remote-controlled miniature big-rig showcased at the California Mid-State Fair this year.

Baty, 71, won best of show in the recycled articles division for the 22-wheeler — made entirely of parts that were once used for something else. It moves and is equipped with a horn and diesel engine sounds.

Baty used everything from doorstops for horns and metal rails cut for exhaust pipes to a stove hood filter for the radiator.

The sleek, 326-pound, 10-foot truck and trailer stretches out on a display amid cakes, crafts and quilts at the fair’s Home Arts Building.

“Les’s entry isn’t like any other item,” home and arts coordinator Diana Reynolds-Howell said.

Fair attendees can see it through Aug. 1.

Reynolds said there isn’t much public interest in an exhibit competition for model trucks and cars yet, but because Baty’s truck was made with reused items, it qualified for the recycled division.

Other entries included yard décor, in which garden and carpentry tools were crafted into birds, and a clock made from saw blades.

“It’s fun to see all the different things people do,” Reynolds-Howell said.

When The Tribune first spoke to Baty in the spring, the project was still getting its finishing touches in a well-used workshop in Baty’s backyard.

When asked if he used a model truck kit to guide him, Baty flashed a modest smile and shook his head ‘no.’

“It just took a lot of brain power and a lot of patience,” he said.

He started with the wheels, and then designed the body of the truck with cardboard so he could gauge the overall size. Then, he crafted its structure with sheet metal and found ways to reuse things around the shop and from friends to make up all of the little working parts.

There’s even a working fan under the hood to cool the motor. A main switch turns the battery on, and then all the other switches throughout the model can turn on something, too.

“Everything on it has a purpose,” he said on a recent afternoon at the fair, as he flipped tiny black toggle switches inside the cab to flash on the lights.

As he did that, a boy looking at display cakes nudged his companion to come watch.

Baty worked on the tractor-trailer for about four hours each day for the past year.

“Then I’d shut the doors on the shop and go think about a problem — why this or that wasn’t working,” he said. “And then wake up in the morning and it had come to me.”

Baty loves the peace he feels when he’s in his workshop.

“It’s a great place to be,” he said.

That’s the way he also made his 5-foot-long replica of an 1890s John Deere Orchard Tractor two years ago. The green machine was in the Paso Robles Pioneer Day Parade in October and took best of show in the same division at the fair in 2009.

It’s also displayed at this year’s fair — resting on the truck’s three-axle low-bed.

Both gained the admiration of adults, too. One man asked question after question as he peered into the tiny windows made from the acrylic in an old TV — and Baty didn’t mind supplying the answers.

“You dream of something that you want to make, that you want to build, or a hobby that you want to do,” he said. “This is what I want to do.”

How he built it

Here’s a list of what Les Baty reused to build his semi-truck:

• Truck frame is from old garage door rails.

• The steps to the truck are from an aluminum stepladder.

• Horns are metal doorstops.

• Cab lights are toggle switch extensions.

• Window glass is from an old television.

• The 12-volt motor is from a cart.

• Side mirrors are mechanic extension mirrors.

• Peterbilt emblems are key chain ornaments.

• Radiator is an old stove hood filter.

• Exhaust pipes were handlebars from motorized carts.

• Front lights are dash lights for regular big trucks.