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Antique evolution: Hastings man turns antiques, farm equipment into car show head-turner

The "Lil' Stinker" is Bruce Bauer's rat rod, which has earned its share of attention and awards. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)1 / 8
Bruce Bauer sits in the driver's seat of his custom car. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)2 / 8
The engine area features an antique tea kettle for the overflow tank, a working milk machine just because, an old wash bucket as the radiator fan shroud and pitchfork tines to hold the spark plug wires in place. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)3 / 8
Inside the car, tractor seats and pitchforks serve as seats, a cross cut saw holds the dashboard instruments, old plow adjustment bars serve as the gear shift and parking brake and a gear from the old manure spreader doubles as a steering wheel. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)4 / 8
The "Lil' Stinker" has earned several awards last year and this year at various car shows Bauer has brought it to. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)5 / 8
Passengers in the back sit on padded toilet seats and lean back against the sides of an old New Home sewing machine. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)6 / 8
The project that, in a round-about way, inspired the "Li'l Stinker" is this 1963 Chevy pickup. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)7 / 8
Another project in the Bauer garage was this 1937 John Deere A tractor, modified by Bauer and his sons with a new motor for show. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)8 / 8

Bruce Bauer has been earning quite a bit of attention lately. Last spring, he put the finishing touches on his rat rod, and the vehicle has been turning heads and winning awards ever since.

The "Lil' Stinker" is a collage of antiques and old farm equipment, pieced together over about eight months in Bauer's garage and transformed into a vehicle. The project was inspired by a previous project Bauer had done, a frame-off restoration of a 1963 Chevy pickup. That project took a lot of time and it was difficult to find parts and the specialists willing to do the work at his Hastings area home, he said.

The next project would allow for more freedom. It would also be something that looked different than all the rat rods already out there at the shows. Then he found an old 1947 David Bradley manure spreader for sale, and the vision took off.

The first step, Bauer said, was deciding what he wanted to ride on. He chose a 1993 Chevy S10 chassis, complete with power steering and power brakes, so the vehicle drives and rides comfortably. He paired it with the manure spreader and then got to work collecting parts to fill out the rest of it.

When it came to figuring out what items to use, there was no overarching plan, Bauer said. He had two basic guidelines: he wanted to use things that came off the farm to match the manure spreader, and if anything that wasn't farm related had to be antique. As he worked on it, he got ideas for all the details and incorporated them into the project.

He used an old tractor radiator at the front, followed by an old teakettle for a radiator overflow tank and a metal washtub for the radiator fan shroud. There's a working milking machine attached to the engine for added interest.

The windshield is framed by two old cow stanchions, one that used to belong to Bauer's uncle and one that belonged to his father. Being able to have those two items -- and especially being able to look through them every time he drives the rat rod -- is special, Bauer said.

On the driver's side, an old water pump handle serves as an armrest, and on the passenger side there's an antique gun, so Bauer's wife can really "ride shotgun," he said. An old milk can serves as a muffler; seats are made of old tractor seats and pitchfork tines; the dash is a two-man crosscut saw; the gas pedal is an old sewing machine treadle and the brake is a horseshoe; back seats are padded toilet seats (with the lid down) and the backrests are the sides of an old New Home sewing machine. The steering wheel is one of the gears from the manure spreader.

As Bauer built the car, he made sure it would meet all 23 of the Minnesota Street Rod Association's safety requirements. When it was done, he had the MSRA inspector look it over and he also had it inspected by the Goodhue County Sheriff and the state inspector to make sure it was safe to drive.

Then came showtime. After just about a year of showing off his creation, Bauer already has several trophies from car shows he's attended across the region. In Hammond, Wis., last year, Bauer's rat rod earned one of 10 trophies available for the truck class, the Lions Club Presidents Choice award and best in show, all at the same show, with 200 to 300 other cars attending. "Lil' Stinker" won best in show again in new Richmond, Wis., spectator's choice in Osceola, Wis., best in show for rat rods at the Frankensteiners Ball and more. He's had the rat rod at the Hastings Cruise In car shows as well. In one recent week, he showed it off at four different shows.

Wherever Bauer goes with his creation, he attracts attention.

"It's fun," he said. "You get a lot of second takes."

At a St. Paul car show, he sat back a little ways from the vehicle and just watched the people. It attracted so many people he could hardly even see it through them all.

Driving down the road, Bauer has seen people take photos of him while they're driving, sometimes even pulling up alongside him to get a better look.

Photos of the "Lil' Stinker" have popped up on the internet, and Bauer had a man from St. Louis, Mo., call him asking if he could use the photos for a slideshow to present to people in nursing homes and senior homes where he donates his time. Bauer is currently working with the man to get him new photos to show the old farmers.

"Farmers really get a kick out of it," he said.

Working on cars is nothing new to Bauer. he got his first fixer when he was 15 years old and, before he started his 35-year career at Land O'Lakes, he worked at a service station.

"I've always putzed at cars," he said.

This isn't his only big project, either. Besides the Chevy pickup he restored before "Lil' Stinker," he and his sons installed a Chevy 350ci motor in a 1937 John Deere A tractor, "just for show," he said.