Scale Model Engines Offer the Best of Both Worlds

Illinois collector builds his favorite engines as working model farm machinery.

| April 2004

The concept of scale model farm machinery isn't novel by any means — the idea's been around at least since Jean Schoenner of Nuremberg, Germany, crafted a three-cycle, flame-ignition engine sometime between 1880 and 1890. A quick glance through a September/October 1951 Iron-Men Album proves engine and steam machinists have been showing off their homemade handiwork at threshing reunions and engine shows since those events began in the early 1940s.

While the prevalence of scale models wasn't widespread during the early years of these shows, today scale models occupy their own healthy-and-growing niche right along other heavy- weight farm show categories such as tractors, stationary engines and steam traction engines.

Talk to any scale model builder or collector, and they'll likely explain with passion how they used to collect traditional farm machinery until they experienced an epiphany about scale models.

"They're easy to transport and display at shows," James Gehringer of Elburn, Ill., says. "But the real reason I like them is because I built them myself. I can go to a big engine show with 10,000 people showing old engines that have been restored, but inevitably people will come looking at what I've made and find themselves amazed because I'm the one actually making these engines."

James is among many collectors — some who also moonlight as resourceful machinists — who find crafting their own versions of today's most popular antique engines is more rewarding than locating and restoring an original. The decision to build and display scale models is often as thrifty as it is pragmatic: Searching for rare engines can be a time-consuming and fruitless effort, and buying a rare engine can often hit collectors heavy in the pocketbook. A scale model, on the other hand, can be designed after any engine model and might cost significantly less than the real thing.

"Let's face it, buying old engines is big business these days and finding a nice, rare engine is hard and expensive," James admits. 'I like the fact that I can buy the plans for whatever engine I choose, then make a copy of one with my own hands."