Customized Models Preserve Steam Donkey Tradition

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A steam donkey built from an Ozark Miniature kit, as purchased. In real life these were usually rust-colored or black, but Jon painted this one red to enhance the details.
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An AMT/Ertl 1/25-scale Caterpillar D8H plastic kit. Jon added metal tracks to replace the original plastic ones, a canopy, sweeps, front brush guard on top of the blade, hydraulic lines and other small details.

Jon Stiles has delved into a tiny niche of customized toys: the steam donkey, modeled on old stationary steam engines used to transport logs in the woods. “What was done in the northwestern U.S. in the old days was pretty amazing,” he marvels.

Steam donkeys were used to drag logs from one stationary donkey to the next with a winch mechanism until the logs could be dropped in a river or trucked out of the mountainous terrain. Logs were also carried across valleys and gorges by cables stretching across chasms.

After the advent of tracked equipment, steam donkey use diminished, but because of their massive size and the cost to bring them out, many were abandoned in the forest. Easily accessible units were quickly dismantled by metal scrappers. “Today, people in the northwest go on ‘donkey hunts,'” Jon says. “They get together on a weekend, take beer and sandwiches, and hunt for old steam donkeys abandoned in the woods.”

Jon has customized logging crawlers (also called logging cruisers or northern loggers) with industry-specific apparatus: canopies, front sweeps to protect the operator from brush and winches. He’s also customized steam donkey miniatures and scratch-built ones. “I had to have a few of those to set next to the logging crawlers, because they worked together for a number of years before the crawlers eliminated the donkeys.” FC

Read more about Jon’s collection of cutomized tractor toys in Building Customized Caterpillar Toys“.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment