Reprinted from 'General Electric News--March 1979' with permission from Denver G. Chancellor, General Electric Company.
A work of art would be a fair appraisal of the miniature steam engines built by General Electric's Glenn Bowers. This working model weighs about 30 pounds.
Glenn Bowers may not consider himself a celebrity but the recent Tube Products Department retiree has (1) been featured on a television program, (2) been the subject of a feature story in a daily newspaper, (3) had his name appear in a well-known national magazine and (4) won numerous awards.
Glenn, who retired effective March 1, has an unusual hobby that has attracted all this attention. The former machine adjustor in Owensboro's grid department builds miniature steam engines.
Now perhaps the thought of a steam engine isn't particularly exciting. But if you ever see one of Bowers' creations, you'll probably become a steam engine fan. Glenn's steam engines are simply beautiful works of art. They're perfect in every detail and work as well or better than the full-sized models.
Whether you're nine years old or 90, you'll be anxious for Bowers to fire up one of his engines so you can watch it puff across the floor or yard.
If you're a 'city slicker' and aren't acquainted with virtues of the steam engine, this type of power was used to operate farm tractors, mills and locomotives before more sophisticated engines took over. Bowers' most impressive engines are models of farm tractors which he has recreated precisely, painted piece by piece and displays at fairs, steam engine club competitions and other special events.
Just looking at one bf Bowers' engines is entertaining, but the real fun comes when he fires up one of the miniature tractors and pulls a caravan of kids in coaster wagons around the yard. That's what he did for television personality Johnny Mann when Mann brought his 'On the Road' program to Owensboro to film Glenn and his engines.
Bowers, himself, can ride on a small trailer behind one of his engines and 'it can also pull a Volkswagen', Glenn reports.
Bowers' steam engines become even more remarkable when you consider that Glenn made every part himself. There are no kits or manufactured parts involved.
'I tooled every part with the exception of a few small metal screws.' Bowers confirms. 'How long does it take me to build an engine? I've never kept records of the hours required, but I worked on one engine over a two-year span.' That's easy to understand when you consider the tiny parts and intricate work involved.
Glenn's craftsmanship has earned him two awards from the national publication, Mechanix Illustrated, and the Owensboro newspaper featured the recent GE retiree in photographs and a feature story after a reporter saw one of the engines at a county fair. He has won several awards in crafts shows and competitions sponsored by various steam engine clubs.
Bowers grew up on a farm and became interested in steam engines when he was 'about 17 years old. A fellow who owned a steam engine lived about a mile from me and I would help him operate it,' Glenn recalls.
His first steam engine was built while he was working as a mechanic for a Madisonville, Ky., Ford garage in 1948.
'Business was slow for a few weeks so I thought I would build one,' Glenn explains.
There are two basic types of steam engines, traction and stationary, according to Bowers. The traction engines are the ones which can be driven (tractors, for example) while the stationary engines were used to operate feed mills, flour mills and similar operations.
'A stationary engine once was used to operate one of Owensboro's distilleries,' Glenn said.
About 1952 Bowers began seriously pursuing his unusual hobby. Since that time he has built 14 steam engines and still owns a dozen of them.
'I sold two but I really didn't intend to,' Glenn said with a laugh. 'A couple of men asked me how much I would take for engines, I gave them a price I thought they wouldn't take, but they did.'
Examples of the craftsmanship of Glenn Bowers are these 2 photos of one of his steam engines. The engine pictured here has enough power to pull a compact car.
The two he sold were the less-complicated stationary type. He has been offered several thousand dollars for one of his traction engines.
As a young man, Bowers worked at Ford garages in Eddyville and Madisonville before moving to the Ford garage in Owensboro. From there he moved to General Electric and, when he retired, had worked at GE for '28 years, nine months and 20 days.'
'I was in grid when I started and stayed there throughout my GE career,' Glenn said. 'I've got no complaints with General Electric. It's a fine place to work. The benefits are good and I even won about $1,500 in suggestion awards during my years at GE.'
Glenn said he decided to take early retirement at age 63 'when I took a look at those good early retirement benefits.'
Bowers' wife, Mary, also is a General Electric employee and currently works in the ceramics section.
What does Glenn plan to do now that he's retired?
'I have a lot to do around the house,' Bowers said. 'I bought some paint several weeks ago and haven't had a chance to use it until now. Of course I'll also keep working on my steam engines.'
Glenn puts his engines on display at various events about three or four times a year but, if you live in or around Owensboro and would like to see one now, there's an engine on display at the Owensboro Area Museum.
And with gasoline prices going up and possible shortages predicted, Bowers just may decide to build himself a full-sized engine for personal transportation. All he would need for fuel is a few bushels of coal or some cords of wood.