GLADWIN COUNTY — It takes an artist’s eye to see a rusted old tractor and envision it’s potential as a sculpture. Dave Welke, of Gladwin, is one of those rare few that can see the hidden possibilities behind aging farm equipment. He is the artist behind the gigantic weather vane on the corner of Bard and Eagleson Roads.
Drivers in Gladwin County have been entertained by Welke’s artwork for years now. Along his property sits old tractors, displayed in various ways – sticking out of the ground, hanging out of a tree, standing up on end. The tractor art has been an unexpected passion for Welke since 1992 when he first stuck a manure spreader up a tree near their house. Since then Welke has been trying to find new ways to display old farm equipment. “I just always try to think of something different,” Welke said.
His latest piece is a 7,000 lbs, 47-foot long and 32-foot high weather vane, featuring a 1926 tractor with a two bottom plow. It is the largest tractor weather vane south of the Canadian border. A crane had to be used to lift it into the air. Though the piece is incredibly heavy, it does actually rotate with the wind.
The project took about a year to complete and was completed with the assistance of Welke’s son, Jordan Welke. “Jordan did a lot of the welding,” Welke said. Jordan also drafts the plans for the projects before they begin the build.
According to Welke’s daughter, Gabby Tester (Welke), the tractor art seemed like a natural thing for Welke to be doing. “I don’t think any of us were shocked or surprised...he always has something brewing,” Tester said.
Tester said that her father isn’t on social media, so he doesn’t always see the community’s response to his sculptures right away. But she follows along with what the community is saying.
“The wind-vane blew up almost immediately after final assembly. It was nice to finally see something like this bringing people together for good and positive conversation,” Tester said.
Welke, a humble man, doesn’t think of his sculptures as art, and says he has no interest in ever doing sculptures for art shows. His artwork is meant for the passerby on the road. “I like to think of ways to entertain people when they go by,” Welke said.
For those wanting to view the weather vane, or any of his other sculptures, the weather vane is on Eagleson Road, near the Bard Road intersection. “People stop to take photos, that’s why I put it on Eagleson,” Welke said.
As for what project is next, Welke is not sure, but he does have ideas that he and his son are working through. Whatever he comes up with, community members are sure to enjoy it, which is exactly what drives Welke with his artwork, “It brings people together,” Welke said.