Scale Models of Perfection

Learn how an aspiration for building a scale model steam engine from scratch gave rise to a mechanical downsizing hobby, modelling engine of every sort.

| January 2020

Mike Riebel with his first two 1/2-scale operating tractors: a Farmall 806 and a John Deere 2010, along with a sign he made using his CNC router. 

Minnesota man keeps the past alive through 1/2-scale models

When Mike Riebel graduated from high school in 1977, he had different aspirations than many other young men. His goal was to build a 1/8-scale steam engine from scratch. Given his heritage, it was a perfectly understandable undertaking.

“My father (Melvin Riebel) and uncles (Bob and Loren Riebel) were co-founders of the Le Sueur County (Minnesota) Pioneer Power Assn. show, so I was always around old iron,” he says, “and always interested in scale models.” He was also influenced by a neighbor, the late Stanley Baringer. “I used to go over and watch him build model steam engines,” Mike recalls.

Before attending college, Mike worked for a machine shop, and that’s where he decided to make a 1/8-scale model. “The owner was nice enough to let me build some fun stuff,” he says. “An old farmer nearby had an Advance steam engine when I was growing up, and I thought it would be fun to build something from the neighborhood.”

While attending college, Mike built this Advance steam traction engine from scratch as a remembrance of one used by a local farmer when Mike was a boy. 

Mike soon discovered it was much more work than he’d anticipated, but that didn’t deter him. “Building from scratch takes a lot of time,” he says. “You have to figure out the scale for every part, and be creative and innovative as you build the parts. But I enjoy building stuff, so I found the work enjoyable. It never put me off. It was gratifying to see it being built, and especially when it was done.”


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