September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Most kids probably played video games. I was in the shop working with metal. My dad taught me how to weld," Balzer said.
Although Balzer has grown up, he can still be found in either of those two places on his family's farm. When not working together with his parents, Rick and Cathy, on their 103-cow dairy near Owatonna, Minn., Balzer uses his time to craft cows and other items out of metal objects.
"I like using my creative mind," Balzer said.
One of the first projects Balzer remembers making was in kindergarten when he made a rabbit with limbs that would move.
"The teacher was blown away," he said.
Throughout his younger years as a 4-H member, Balzer made a tractor out of cardboard along with a digger and disc out of popsicle sticks. As Balzer became more skilled, he made a go-cart followed by a dump wagon that could be pulled behind the lawn mower. The Balzers still use the dump wagon today for small tasks around the farm.
In junior high, he decided to pursue his cow-creating project.
"My mom showed me a picture of something similar, and I wanted to try it," Balzer said.
Using objects from around the farm, Balzer constructed the metal cow. For the body, he used an old fuel oil barrel from his family's basement and an old milk can for the head along with small digger shovels for the ears. For the udder, Balzer took a small, empty Freon tank and cut it in half. The teats are old pipes cut down to size with a nut on the end and rounded on the bottom. The neck, legs and tail are pipes that Balzer purchased for the project.
Once the cow was constructed, Balzer needed to paint it. Because of the rust on the metal, Balzer first sanded it down by hand and by using a sanding wheel on a hand grinder. He then sprayed on the primer and white paint and painted the black spots freehanded to look more natural.
"The outcome was pretty cool. It's almost the size of a lifelike cow," he said.
The blue ribbon Balzer received at the county fair for his cow encouraged him to make more. He found two more fuel barrels from a neighbor and went about making two more while in high school - one at home and one in shop class.
Wanting to make each cow different, he made the second one a red and white cow with her head turned to the side and a Brown Swiss cow with her head down as if she was grazing. These two were each difficult to make for their own reasons.
"The Brown Swiss took awhile to paint because I had to blend together three different shades of brown to get the right color scheme of a Brown Swiss," Balzer said. "If I have to paint that again, it will be a pain."
The turned head of the red and white cow also made that creation more challenging.
While honing his skills to make life-size cows out of metal, Balzer also learned valuable skills to use on the farm. During high school, Balzer created a new hay conveyor when the one his family had was too old and unfixable. He also learned how to work on machinery at the farm, which he still does today.
"We do a lot of machinery work on our own," Balzer said. "We can save a lot of money doing it ourselves."
Since high school, Balzer has made a few more cows and continues to look for people who have the materials to make more.
"I have gotten fuel barrels from family and neighbors, otherwise I don't know where I'd get them from," he said.
His newest project is making sunflowers out of old rotary hoe wheels.
"One of our neighbors had a hoe he doesn't use anymore, so I can make at least 60 of these flowers right now before I need to find more," he said.
He might also try to work on a suggestion from his mom - making lady bugs out of old water cups.
Balzer is looking into selling his creations online or in a local store. He has made custom cows for his neighbors and his mom has three on display in front of the house at the farm.
"When the cows get out at the farm, they will go down by the cows I've made and hang out for awhile. It's funny," Balzer said.
While he figures out the details for the next step for his skills, Balzer will continue to work with metal in his shop during his down time at the farm.
"It's like a man cave. It's my space to do what I want," Balzer said. "I like working with metal. I can get creative, upgrade something and improve it to make it better."[[In-content Ad]]
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