John Kauffman, Model Builder and Painter

John Kauffman

John Kauffman lettering the Elizabethtown Fire Company ladder truck in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. [See story JOHN KAUFFMAN-MODEL BUILDER AND PAINTER]. Courtesy of picture, Mrs. James H. Shank, 414 Snyder Avenue, Elizabethtown, Pa. 17022.

Mrs. James H. Shank

Content Tools

Elizabethtown, Pa.

Harvey Hoffman of Rheems, Pa., a spry 88, remembers his old friend John Kauffman as a man of many talents. On a living room wall of Harvey's home hangs a picture of a steam engine, painted by John. A remark about the picture sets off a string of reminisces ... of boyhood days at Milton Grove, of threshing rigs and steam engines, and of John's talent with the brush.

Kauffman and Hoffman grew up in the Milton Grove area of Lancaster County where both became steam engine enthusiasts. They threshed many a bushel of grain in the days before combines and gas-powered engines took over.

John Kauffman died August 7, 1972, at the age of 75. His wife, the former Mary Dubler, preceded him in death on May 20, 1972. Out of their half-century of married life came 14 children, six boys and eight girls, all living today in or around Elizabethtown and Manheim. There are 33 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Kauffman lived in the same house for 73 of his 75 years. When he and Mary were married they moved into a house next door to the Kauffman family home in Milton Grove. Two years later, when John's father died, they moved back and stayed the rest of their lives.

Incidentally, Harvey Hoffman today lives in the same house he bought in 1919. Perhaps one of the secrets of longevity is putting down roots or 'staying put.'

The Kauffman home at one time had been a carriage house. It was converted into a home, probably by John's father, who stayed in the carriage-making business. John's job as a young chap was to paint stripes and designs on the coaches.

His children like to talk about his school composition book. This contains drawings made when he was a lad, drawings that indicated an artistic ability at an early age. This talent was encouraged by his coach-decorating work. Through the years John used his spare time to draw and paint and build model steam engines and threshers. He turned his expertise to practical use by decorating chairs and other furniture. In Hoffman's home there are several plank bottom chairs which Kauffman decorated.

Kauffman built beautiful model engines, with precise detail, out of 'junk' which he found around the house. Old pieces of metal, cast-off parts, odds and ends, were fashioned by this artisan into accurate replicas of engines.

Kauffman had a unique way of painting. He didn't use oil or water colors. He used enamel paint on hardboard. His subjects were steam engines and threshing rigs. He knew engines inside out and his paintings attest to that fact. The esteem in which his work is held could be seen at Earlene Ritzman's Korn Krib sale last November 1st, where his models and paintings were among items auctioned. One of his paintings brought $340.

Throughout his working career, Kauffman was a thresherman and a sawmill operator, and also steamed tobacco. For years he would take his sawmill apparatus to stands of timber, set it up and cut. When he decided to ease off a little, he stopped threshing and operated his sawmill on his home property.

For the last 25 years or so, he took things a little easier and spent most of his time making models and painting. People were now coming to him and requesting him to paint pictures of their favorite engines. What was once done for his own amusement became a source of some income and a way of pleasing his friends.

Kauffman is estimated to have finished about 100 paintings. The people who own these works are fortunate. They have in their possession part of the record of the history of American farming. Kauffman helped preserve the story of the threshing rig and the steam engine. If he never did anything else, he should be remembered for this.

But he did other things. He not only recorded the old threshing days, he lived them. He not only painted steam engines, he worked with them and repaired them. He was a regular visitor to the annual Kinzers Rough and Tumble Event and for a time worked at a shop in Kinzers. He was a member of the Milton Grove United Methodist Church, formerly the Evangelical United Brethren. He left a family of 14 children who respect his memory and are proud of his legacy.

Among those who remember John Kauffman best, is Harvey Hoffman. These two men had a lot in common. Hoffman also had a big family, 10 children. Both had wives who went blind in their later years. Both had an affection for their homes and enjoyed their work. Talking with Harvey one gets a sense of how it was in the 'old days' and a feeling of the continuity of things, of how one year rolls into another and that no matter how much things change the basics remain constant.

John Kauffman's life, his work, friendships, family, home, his avocation of painting, add up to a splendid record of accomplishment. An artist and an artisan, John Kauffman was an original.

(See March-April 1976 Iron-Men Album for story on Harvey Hoffman).

(Bill Lenox received a letter recently from F. A. JACOB, Route 1, 8808 Burton, Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613 pertaining to a recently published article - I thought you readers of I.M.A. would be interested in it - Anna Mae)

'I note your article printed in the Sept.-Oct. 1975 issue of Iron-Men Album concerning the musical instruments of Mr. Getz. I visited the Rough & Tumble Show about three years ago and remember a calliope.

'Anyway, you mention a Una-Fon, and I know of a couple others, in Georgia and Missouri. I have seen and heard two others called Una-Fon that might be of interest. One on the 'Delta Queen' steam boat, home port Cincinnati, Ohio, and another in the Ringling Circus Museum at Baraboo, Wisconsin. Of course, these may be different from the Getz unit but thought you might like this information. Each of these also has a steam calliope and the Circus Museum has another thing called a 'Shaker Chimes.'