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Cool Things - Steam Engine Model

Steam engine model

Childhood memories of threshing machines powered by steam traction engines lead one Kansan to build this 1/4-scale model.

Collecting, preserving, and operating antique gas- and steam-powered engines is a popular hobby. Clubs are located all over the United States, and people travel for miles to visit tractor shows where they can indulge their fascination with steam power.

Perhaps the most popular feature of these shows is the operation of huge antique steam traction engines (precursors to today's tractors); these machines feed nostalgia for the days when large threshing crews roamed the plains. But there also is a strong contingent of aficionados who build and operate smaller models.

One of these hobbyists was native Kansan Ernest Hedlund, who built this quarter-scale model of a Gaar-Scott steam engine after working as a mechanic all his life. Born in 1906, Hedlund worked as a water boy for threshing crews until old enough to repair and operate a full-sized Gaar-Scott steam traction engine. Gaar, Scott & Co. of Richmond, Indiana, was a popular manufacturer of steam traction engines from around 1870 to 1911. (For Kansas threshing history, see the online exhibit Wheat People).

Hedlund embarked on a career repairing farm machinery after leaving his family's Clay County farm. Years of mechanical experience came in handy when he eventually took a job as field service representative for Ford Motor Company's tractor division in Kansas City. In 1970 Hedlund retired to Morganville, near his home town of Clay Center, to operate a machine shop.

Close-up of steam engine name plate

Building From Memory

After deciding to construct this model of the Gaar-Scott engine that was so important to him in his youth, Hedlund tried to locate patterns but was forced to construct the model mostly from memory. He made the boiler and wheels from cut gas pipe and milled the small controls by hand. Hedlund proudly claimed only two parts had to be obtained commercially--the cylinder chest and the name plate (pictured at left) on the front of the engine. It took him about four years to finish the model, which could operate by burning either coal or wood. Hedlund enjoyed operating the model for family and friends until his death in 1977.

Shortly afterwards, the model was purchased by Hedlund's nephew, the Rev. John Swen Hedlund of Topeka. Following John's death in 2001, the engine was returned to Ernest's daughter, Karen Hedlund McCoy. The engine came to the Kansas Museum of History through McCoy's generosity.

Entry: Cool Things - Steam Engine Model

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: October 2001

Date Modified: September 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.