History Drives Scale Steam Engine Models

Early experiences led Minnesota man to steam engine models.

| May/June 2006

Even at age 66, Roger Meland of Merrifield, Minn., can trace his interest in steam engine models back to its beginning. When he was a kid, his mother lived across the street from a construction site. “When I came in off the farm to stay with her, I watched a steam-operated elevator working as they built the Minneapolis Honeywell building. I would go and watch the twin-cylinder horizontal winch bring up cement and all the products. I was just fascinated by that engine.”

Then when his family lived on a farm near Deer Park, Wis., in the late 1940s, they would only go to town twice a month. The town blacksmith shop was steam-operated in those days, run by a man who had also converted an old Chevy car into a steam-powered one he drove around town. “I would go right to the blacksmith shop while mom would shop at the grocery store or the general store for cloth to make clothes.” The shop had a variety of buckets hung below leaky valves, including some wood ones, so the water wouldn’t collect on the floor. At the blacksmith shop, Roger was allowed to empty the buckets. “It was like an honor to be able to dump the water out of the buckets,” Roger says. That was how he became fascinated by steam.

In the 1950s, Roger began making steam engine models out of stuff he found lying around the home workshop. “Dad had a lathe and small mill and some stuff like that, so I just started playing around. I was just fascinated with anything mechanical, rebuilding lawn mower engines when I was 10 years old,” he says.

His first boiler for a model steam engine was a two-quart paint can, he says. “It was a compression lid paint can, and my first engine was a single-acting oscillating engine.”

One day Roger read an article in Mechanix Illustrated magazine that showed a model steam engine that could be built from castings. That made him realize he wanted to make steam engines that looked like the real ones he saw. “The homemade engines I was making ran, but didn’t look like the real engines to me, so I started getting into scale engines at that point,” Roger said.
When he was 17 years old, he ordered a model of a Stuart steam engine from England. “I waited for five months for that engine to get here. I can tell you I was chomping at the bit by the time it came,” he says.

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