Gaar Scott

Irvin Bandelier's father's Gaar Scott running separator in the late 1890.

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On any weekend in the towns and byways of rural America one might encounter a herd of prehistoric machines moving through the grassy fields with the cumbersome gait of elephants. Splendidly restored with polished brass and a dazzling display of colors, these lumbering giants, in a haze of steam and smoke, puff and chug as they pass before thousands of eager spectators in a grand parade. They are called Steam Traction Engines. In the era before the dominance of gasoline, diesel fuel and electricity they would wield their slow stately way from town to town to plow fields and thresh grain.

With the dawning of the 20th century, steam traction engines were found throughout much of the world, but nowhere did they flourish as they did in the farms and prairies of mid-western America.

Due to their rather expensive cost, not every farm had one. So during the harvest season the engines traveled from farm to farm threshing grain while all the farmers chipped in to help each other out.

While the men worked the fields, the women busied themselves preparing hearty meals for the crew. All in all everyone was very busy.

Looking back we see the days as the good old days, but by today's standards the harvest rings were terribly hard work. The engineer was up before dawn in order to build up a head of steam. There was wood, water and coal to be hauled to the fields, often brought out by horses or mules. An engine consumed a lot of both in a day's time. The work lasted from sun up to sun down, with breaks only for meals. I'm sure we are all happy those days are behind us.

The steam tractor's reign proved to be a short one, as the engine proved to be economically impractical to most farmers. With the advent of the gas tractor, good old yankee ingenuity made it possible for every farmer to own his very own tractor. The steam engine soon became a dinosaur too slow and too much work. Most were parked behind the barn or sold for scrap to support the war effort of another world war, their boilers dry and their Smoke stacks quiet.

During the '50's the American worker found new prosperity- Shorter work weeks and more money in their pockets. With time on his hands a strange thing happened. Someone built a fire. It was a small fire but it was to grow all across the country.

First it was just a whisper of smoke from the stack and ever so slowly the pressure gauge inched itself off where it sat pegged for so many years. 20 pounds, 40 pounds, and on up to 80 and even 90 pounds, all of a sudden a whistle blows stating that it's alive again. Slowly the big wheels begin to inch ahead. The proud owner slowly manages to show a smile through the soot that covers his face. Apart from his happiness, a machine that had helped America grow and prosper to what it is now was saved.

During the last 30 years hundreds of engines have been rescued from along fence rows, scrap heaps and old barns. Cleaned, sanded, refitted with new flues and painted, these engines once again get covered with oil and soot. Now the engine has triumphantly been restored to life, not to work as it has so labored in its younger years, but to be paraded around in gallant splendor; stating to each and every one of us that it's glad to be alive. Now each summer hundreds of these gleaming giants perform at steam shows. Not only do the steam engines do this but gas engines that got replaced with electric motors get to join in this pageantry. All in all this is a salute to those who cared enough to save a slice of American history. 'Thank You.' From the officers and directors of the Maumee Valley Steam and Gas Association.