1288 Lexington Ave. Winfield, Iowa 52659
I am a senior in agricultural engineering at Iowa State and am
22 years old. I caught sight of a steam traction engine for the
first time when I was about eight years old at the Mt. Pleasant,
Iowa, Show, and have been fascinated by those engines ever since.
We had a book about the Old Threshers Reunion in the grade school
library and I remember staring at the pictures for hours at a time,
especially those of the model engines. I would often ask engine
operators at the show if I could help, but more often than not they
said that they already had plenty of help and would not need
When I was 14 years old, I heard about a fellow who lived a few
miles from us and had some old gas engines. Using the directions
given from a neighbor, I set out on my motorbike for his farm, not
knowing that that day would be a great turning point in my
My eyes popped wide open when I saw that he owned not only a few
old gas engines, but also a 1/3 scale Case. I
soon forgot about those gas engines that I had come to see, and
started asking questions about the model.
He told me about how he had just bought it a year or so earlier,
and how he just got done replacing a chain drive with gears out of
the corncrib. There were many other things he explained, which I
soaked up like a sponge!
Never before had anyone been so willing to explain a steam
engine to me. He talked about a big engine he had, or something,
but my fascination and concentration were solely on the model
We took the model to Old Threshers that fall and I got my first
lessons in engine operation. Before I even touched the throttle,
though, he had some important things to teach me mostly safety.
Where to keep the water in the glass. How to make an injector work
if it gets hot. What to do (and what not to do) for about every
We ran that model at the show every year for seven years. During
those years those first ‘lessons’ and many more were
repeated over and over again. The most important thing I learned,
though, was to respect the power and potential deadliness of steam.
Over and over, safety was emphasized. ‘Don’t get nervous
and run away,’ he would say. ‘People have been killed
running away.’ I’ll never forget his words.
When I was 15,I learned that the ‘big engine’ he
mentioned now and then was his very own 16 HP Gaar Scott. It was
stored in a drafty shed, the contents of which I’d never
bothered to ask about.
It was six years later that we ended up getting the old girl
out. The excitement of seeing a steam engine for the very first
time as a young boy re turned to me as I stared at the lines of the
old Gaar Scott. I’d never seen it outside before.
We cleaned the mouse nests out and washed out the boiler. He had
sprayed fuel oil inside the boiler to help prevent pits. This left
us with some oil floating in the water but it paid off as the
boiler looked really good inside. We made new hand hole gaskets,
oiled, greased, scraped, dusted, and lit a fire.
I’ll never forget the time I ran that Gaar Scott. Now, I had
run several different ‘big’ engines, as well as models
before, but never had I run such an engine as that Gaar Scott. No
knocks, no pounding of any kind the engine ran perfectly. After
over 10 years or so of sitting idle, it still ran as good as ever.
We didn’t have any trouble with the injectors or lubrication or
As I ran the reverse lever and throttle, I felt as if I
‘melted’ into that engine. Never before had I felt so
comfortable on a traction engine. The engine and I became almost as
one being, to speak figuratively. I’ll never forget that
experience. I felt as if I had ‘graduated’ to a higher
‘class,’ on my way to becoming more like the man who taught
me everything I know about steam traction engines the man who had
given me a chance seven years earlier.
Now, I don’t claim to be even close to being a steam
traction engineer, nor will I ever claim to be one; the real
engineers are almost gone. But thanks to my ‘teacher,’
I’ve come to know at least a little bit about those fascinating
machines that men once relied on for their livelihood.
For all you engine operators out there who can remember when you
got your first ‘break’, I hope you’ll think twice about
the little kid who asks if he can help, before sending him on his
way. I will!