Exquisite Big Rigs Built From Wood As A Hobby

SOUTHBURY, CT – Wesley Knecht doesn’t need a large garage to park his heavy-duty trucks. He keeps two inside his house. At the time we met, a third was in the process of being assembled and sat atop a bench in a workshop behind his home in Southbury.

Others that he’s given away or sold over the years are scattered around the country. One’s in Chicago. Four are in the Indianapolis area. Some are here in Connecticut. There’s even one displayed in a museum in Tennessee. 

Wesley Knecht in his workshop

Knecht’s trucks are all made of wood and are 1/18th the size of real big rigs and wreckers. He’d built 19 intricate and delicate models over two decades and had one more in progress. He builds them for enjoyment.

“It’s a hobby. I don’t want it as a full-time job. If it’s a full-time job, it’s not going to be fun anymore. If I do one, maybe two a year, I’m happy,” he said as he sat a stool in the backyard shed that contains his woodworking equipment.

Knecht is a retired truck driver, so he knows a lot about the real diesel-powered versions of his creations. “I actually started as a mechanic. I ended up driving for 38 years. I drove trucks for 38 years. I started with trailers – 18-wheelers – and the last 23 (years) was with O&G, mostly in tri-axles, dump trucks,” he said.

Watch the video of Wesley Knecht at work

Each model truck that he crafts requires patience and skill. He takes measurements and snaps “a ton of pictures” before he begins building. “To do a truck like this one I’m doing now is probably 250 hours. I’ve never really timed it totally,” Knecht said, adding that larger models can take as many as 400 hours.

“I’m very particular on how the grain of the wood flows. I throw as much detail into these things as I can and I tell people I see detail on these things that the average person would not see because my background was driving trucks,” he said.

His hobby came about after he built a wrecker replica for his son. “I got into it 21 years ago. My son is out in Indiana. He drives a heavy duty wrecker. I found plans, just generic plans, a Peterbilt truck with a wrecker on the back, so I decided I was going to build it for him,” he said.

A model in progress

What began as a gift, a one-time effort, became a satisfying longterm endeavor. “I might come out and work here for a couple of hours. In wintertime, I might come out and work for eight hours.”

He learned by doing. “I’m pretty much self taught,” Knecht said, recalling that his father was a carpenter, which suggests working with wood might be in his blood. Not only are his handmade masterpieces long on details, such as air horns, six-piece gas tanks, and exterior air cleaners, they’re exceedingly beautiful due to Knecht’s precision. 

“Some of the harder parts are just doing the fenders. A lot goes into doing a fender, starting with a block of wood and having to round it, and finish it off, and get the rounded edges to it. Some of it I do with the router, some of it’s by hand,” he said. The only pieces he doesn’t make by hand are the rims/tires. It’s easier to buy them.

Knecht’s 19th truck, which was then inside his house, was built with a purpose. It was to be raffled off the next weekend at the Connecticut Yankee Chapter of the Antique Truck Club of America’s annual show at the Bethlehem Fairgrounds in Bethlehem. It was made with five species of wood.

“The dark wood is walnut. The main cab of the truck, the nose is butternut. I use basswood for the whitest wood, more accent stuff like for aluminum or chrome, and then I use yellowheart. It’s an exotic wood. It’s yellow. I use for clearance lights, signal lights, things like that. And then I have bloodwood that’s red, I can use for tail lights” Knecht explained.

The raffle model was a 1986 Peterbilt 359. “I’ve done Kenworth, I’ve done Peterbilt, I’ve done Mack, I’ve done International. I’ve done a lot of the bigger names,” he said.

Material alone can cost $500, while a custom-made glass cover for the finished product can run $800. He donated one model to the International Towing & Recovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn., while another was sold to a customer for $3,000.

“I don’t get what they’re really worth. Nobody’s going to pay me what they’re really worth. There’s so much time involved. Each one that has gone out of state has been hand delivered – Chicago, Indianapolis area, Tennessee. They were all hand delivered. There’s no way I could ship ’em. They’re too delicate,” Knecht said.

While frustration in building a Mack model once caused him to put down his tools for two years, he eventually rebounded and went back to work. He does have some models that he’s still itching to create.  

“I haven’t done a tri-axle dump truck yet, which is what I drove for most of my career at O&G, so I’d like to do one of them,” he said. Also on his wish list are an articulated tractor and a front-end loader. “There’s other things I can do. I just haven’t done ’em yet.”

Knecht would also like to do a Brockway big rig. “It’s on my list ’cause I used to own one,” he said.

Since RIDE-CT visited him, Knecht finished the truck that he had been working on, and sent along the picture shown below.

Photo courtesy of Wesley Knecht

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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