Getting young people involved in the steam hobby

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Jerry Swedberg and students assembling the wobble steam engine.
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Siblings,Tyler, Christine and Tanner Johnson took the class together. There were six sets of siblings working together. Rollag is a family show with second and third generations keeping the tradition going strong. The future of a show is its young people.
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Esther Scherer was the youngest and the first to complete her engine. Four girls took the class. It is hard to know who was the happiest - the instructors or Esther!
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Students were very interested in the class and drilled carefully.
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A new project to get young people involved in the steam hobby was started at the 2008 Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion (WMSTR) at Rollag, Minn.

Jerry Swedberg had been thinking how to get more young people involved in the hobby that has been so dear to his heart for the last 50 years. The skill of building models and displaying them is usually done by older people. As a retired mechanist and teacher he decided to have a model building project for young people ages 11 to 17. They would need no experience – just interest. The class offered filled up fast.

There were eight students in each  of three classes. He estimated that it would take 3-1/2 hours to build a wobble steam engine.

Each class started with a 20 minute discussion of the  machines that would be used and what would be done, which included drilling holes to filing to remove sharp burrs, tapping holes, reaming holes to the exact size and pressing brass bearings into prepared holes to reduce the possibility of premature wear of the  crankshaft. Safety was stressed and all pieces of metal were clamped down to prevent spinning when drilling. Volunteer instructors presented a demonstration before each procedure was started. Dave Gibrszhwski, Oscar Swedberg and Jerry Swedberg were present at each class.

There was a lot of work required to get the materials ready. Ron Frigstad, Henry and Ann Swedberg and Ed Hanyzewski prepared the parts by sawing them to length, marking hole locations, drawing blueprints, drilling and reaming the cylinder bore and engraving the date and location of the base of each engine.

Each student completed several procedures. They included drilling 1/64-inch holes through 3/4-inch-thick parts (only two drills were broken while drilling 72 holes); drilling and tapping several 1/4-inch 10-24 holes; filing off the burrs and rounding corners; drilling and reaming 3/8-inch holes for brass bearings, and after pressing in the bearing, reaming the hole to a diameter of 1/4-inch.

The base of the engine was 2-1/2-inches wide and 1/4-inch thick. Filing off the burrs was done first. Then two layout lines were drawn from corner to corner; a center punch mark was at the intersection of the two lines. A 1/4-inch hole was drilled through and counter sunk so a flat head screw could attach the base to the 4-3/4-inch tall main column. All holes were cleaned. Assembly took only about 15 minutes.

Then came the real test – would it run? We all held our breath. An air hose was attached and the air valve was slowly opened. The flywheel was given a spin. A few needed more polishing or adjustment of the spring but all 25 engines eventually ran on 6 to 15 pounds of pressure. You should have seen the happy looks and grins! I am not sure who was the happiest – the  builders or the teachers.

Every steam engine  builder was given their engine to keep at no cost as WMSTR paid for the materials, the four small drill presses, reamers and vises. They were asked to bring them back and exhibit them at the 2009 show. 

The classes continue to gain in popularity. Jerry Swedberg was asked to present classes  at steam shows in Dalton, Minn., and Albany, Minn. He is also thinking of different projects for upcoming classes, perhaps involving an electric engine.

The future of our steam shows and hobby rests with the young people and we need to   create an interest. We need to share our skills with them so they can enjoy a lifelong appreciation for the hobby.

For more information, contact Elaine Everson at

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