At 76 He's A Living Legend
Post-Bulletin Town and Country Editor
We thank Charles Withers of the Post-Bulletin newspaper of Rochester, Minnesota for granting us permission to use the following article and picture. Also we thank Jerome M. Foster, R. D. 1, Fountain, Minnesota 55935 for sending this along in the hopes the readers would be interested in it.)
GRAND MEADOW-When he was 13 years old, Henry 'Krink' Christgau made a toy steam engine out of a half-gallon syrup pail and a bicycle tire pump.
Several years later, Christgau had graduated to bigger projects. Thousands of hours, for instance, have gone into machining the parts for an Avery steam engine. It stands in his little shop here. Half the size of a regulation steam engine, it is a working engine capable of doing the work of its bigger brothers.
Oddly enough, it was a noted aircraft designer named William Bushnell Stout who started Christgau on the road to making miniaturized steam engines. Stout was the man who designed an all-metal aircraft for Henry Ford. It was affectionately known to pilots as the 'Flying Goose.' However, Stout and Christgau became acquainted through Stout's 'Jacknife Page' which appeared in a St. Paul newspaper.
'It was devoted to make-your-own projects for young people,' Christgau recalls. 'In one of his pages Stout told how to make small steam engines. I followed his directions and the little device actually worked.'
Many, many years later, Christgau learned Stout was living in Phoenix, Ariz. Out of sentiment, he made a toy called a 'walking mud turtle' and mailed it to him along with a letter recalling some of the projects. Stout responded to the letter and said it brought back many happy remembrances.
Today, at the advanced age of 76, Christgau has become a legend in his own time. A native of Grand Meadow, he is regarded as being 'independent as they make them.' People up and down Main Street like to recall incidents of how he has responded to challenges.
One story told with considerable relish concerns the tight-fisted farmer who protested at being charged 50 cents for a welding job.
'I can get it done in Austin for 35 cents,' the man protested.
Whereupon Christgau reached for the welded part and calmly broke it open.
'Okay,' he retorted, 'now go over to Austin and get it welded for 35 cents.'
The story may not be true but it does illustrate Christgau's independent nature.
Another favorite story concerns two Spring Valley brothers, Wayne and Walen Freeman, who had a construction business. During World War II they ran into a problem of major proportions. A road construction project which required completion within a short time was being held up because of a broken bronze gear on a large road grade.
Frantic inquiries all over the country were negative. It was war time and getting a replacement gear would have required almost a presidential directive. Finally the Freemans came to Christgau and asked if he could weld the broken gear. They explained their predicament. About 10 miles of road construction had to be completed at any cost.
Christgau listened impassively and then nodded his head.
'I'll tackle it,' he assured the brothers. 'Just furnish a man to help me.'
Making a fire clay pattern, Christgau fitted a sand mold into place and went to work with two welding torches. Within a short time, he had cast an 18-pound bronze gear that worked perfectly. Years later, when the Freemans junked the grader, they presented the gear to Christgau as a keepsake.
Christgau's miniaturized steam engines, however, have won him fame over a wide region. He exhibits them at shows featuring antique steam rigs. In addition, they've been featured in parades in a number of cities.
Each engine requires several thousands of hours of work. He has sold some of them and says the others also are for sale.