Written by Arron Dudley 12950 Hillcrest Drive Chino, California 91710
Combined skills, dreams and nostalgic enthusiasm of a Canadian wheat farmer, a machinist and a tool-and-die maker, and a lifelong stockman have come together to produce a gleaming, running quarter-scale replica of a 1920 Gaar Scott steam tractor.
Germ of the project started back in the 'roaring twenties' when those giant, iron-wheeled, monster tractors began belching and clanging their way into farms of the North American continent, displacing horses and giving new meaning to the word 'horsepower.' Perched atop one of those early iron giants was a diminutive farm boy, Dennis Griswold, piloting the big tractor across the vast wheat fields of western Canada.
California beckoned Dennis; and after a few seasons aboard the big harvest giant he reluctantly climbed down, left the throttle and walked away. But the memory of those teenage summers in command of that hissing, churning early tractor never left. As the years fell away, the memories intensified, as all old-timers can attest. In 1979, with a lifetime of machine shop experience behind him, Dennis gave in to his dreams. He would recreate the tractor of his Canadian teenage years.
Three years and 2,000 hours of machine work later, the former Canadian farm boy called fellow steam engine hobbyists in to critique his quarter-size twin cylinder Gaar Scott tractor, five feet long, 450 pounds, a handmade dream.
The finished model, while reflecting some crudeness of its original 1920s predecessor, gave few hints of a genealogy tracing to junkyards, aviation surplus stores and scrap heaps. Precision parts, many not visible to the casual observer, have no junkyard background. They were painstakingly machined from blocks of solid metal.
Dennis Griswold's compact little garage machine shop in Long Beach, California is long since cold and silent. He died several years ago.
His cherished replica tractor, however, was never relegated to dusty disuse. Inherited by his daughter, Alice Griswold, the diminutive Gaar Scott, in company with one of Dennis Griswold's other creations, a smaller one-eighth model 1920 Case, became featured displays in the mechanical section of the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles.
Displaced by space and restrictive building codes, the Gaar Scott and Case tractors went back home to Dennis' daughter. Circumstances brought photos of the Griswold tractors to the 'For Sale' bulletin board at the California Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association Museum in Vista.
Enter the stockman in this consortium of romantics: Arnold Bohlander, lifelong collector of cowboy and circus memorabilia, carriages and 1920s ranch furniture. At sight of the Griswold tractors, covered but gathering dust in the daughter's garage, Bohlander succumbed to a new hobby. It was a tearful parting as Alice Griswold helped load her late father's tractors into Bohlander's truck after they struck a deal.
A lifetime of deal-making with a handshake or a phone call had instilled a near-reverent respect for his livestock industry colleagues.
'None like them on this earth,' he would say.
Entering a new world of dedicated antique engine buffs, he extended his self-imposed perimeters of trust and friendship. The Griswold tractors broke trail, carrying him into a new coterie of talented and selfless friends.
Bohlander's penchant for perfection led him to Ken Byers, retired Chino, California, machinist with a lifetime of shop experience and a garage full of engines. He also had, as Bohlander expresses it, ' a heart full of helpfulness,' as did his shop pal, Mel Smith.
The Gaar Scott was painstakingly restored, refitted and resuscitated into action in Byers cramped garage. Then, at risk of appearing to gild the lily, refinements and new detailing began to merge under the practiced eyes and hands of Chino's Don Brinderson, lifelong tool and die maker, inventor, mechanical historian and dedicated builder of miniature steam tractor models.
Six months and 500 man hours later, the Gaar Scott tractor emerged from Brinderson's shop with a glistening array of new brass fittings, many handmade; a new brass stack fashioned from an inverted fire hose nozzle, a shiny new frontal marque, custom cast in brass, bearing the Gaar Scott name, its Richmond, Indiana origin, all emblazoned around a large 'B' (for Bohlander).
Fresh from the Brinderson shop, the Gaar Scott went to a custom auto paint shop to receive multi coats of ebony paint over its non-brass portions, red wheels and the affectionate sobriquet 'Ol' King Coal' artistically lettered on its flank, a designation obtained from a yellowed original Gaar Scott brochure winnowed up by Bohlander's wife, Gail.
'I cherish the friendships made during my lifetime in the livestock business,' says Bohlander. 'I attributed the qualities of those people to close association with the outdoors and their affection for living, growing things. Interestingly, I'm finding much of the same camaraderie and genuine friendliness among these old-timers who enjoy hearing old engines talk to them. I guess you could say I'm broadening my horizons.'
Bohlander enjoys displaying his new toy to new-found 'hit-and-miss' engine enthusiasts; meanwhile, Don Brinderson and Ken Byers are cleaning out places in their shops for that other Griswold rig, the 1920 Case that Bohlander feels shouldn't be neglected. 'They're sort of stable-mates,' he says.