Grand Meadow Man Makes Small Steam Engines

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HE'S MR. STEAM ENGINE Henry Christgau, 76-year-old Grand Meadow machinist, is pictured with the model of an Avery steam engine he built in his shop. The model is approximately half the size of a regulation engine. It took approximately 4,000 hours of Chri

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.

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