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Headwaters Hide Annual Hot Air Engine Reunion

| May/June 2004

Vacationing in northern Minnesota in late August 2003, we went searching for the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River. Driving along Highway 200, we had almost reached the north entry to Itasca Park and the Mississippi headwaters when we noticed some interesting activity just before the entrance to the park. Vintage-looking buildings made from rough-sawn lumber, and old tractors, steam engines, farm equipment and large gas engines piqued our interest, so we decided to find out what all the activity was about. In the parking lot, we saw license plates from California, Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia, Texas, New Hampshire, Indiana and Maryland, as well as from Canada. What could have drawn all these people to this remote northern-Minnesota destination? It was the Hot Air Engine Exhibitors Reunion, put on by Olaf 'Ole' Berge and Wally Berge of Cass Lake, Minn.

In Cycle

Ole is known by enthusiasts as perhaps the world's foremost authority of hot air engines. He not only builds full-sized engines from original patent drawings, but he also displays and runs these engines every year at the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers Annual Show. Ole's enthusiasm and promotion of these Stirling cycle (hot air) engine shows has probably done more to promote interest in researching, collecting, running and experimenting with the hot air engine than any other person. And for people interested in Stirling cycle hot air engines, the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers at Lake Itasca, Minn., continues to be the central organization for the hobby.

The August 2003 reunion attracted approximately 80 exhibitors who trekked from 19 states to Lake Itasca, with attendees displaying their own vintage hot air engines, hot air engine models, hot air engine toys and hot air driver fans. Experimental engines built by individuals looking for an efficient, viable alternative source of power were also on display. Some of these experimentals use modern-day technology and knowledge coupled with the ingenious ideas contained in the Rev. Robert Stirling's 1816 patent in Scotland that launched the hot air engine.

Spectators were intrigued by the hot air engine's ability to rapidly heat and cool air in order to create an adequate temperature differential on each revolution to create working power. Among the engines displayed at last year's reunion was a 5-inch Rider engine owned by Lowell Wagner, recently restored to running condition by Ole. These 5-inch Riders are rare items, and only three are known to exist. Four Bremen caloric engines were also displayed by Harlan Hjermstad, Wayne Hawkins, Perry Kolb and John White. With only a dozen known to exist, Bremen engines are quite rare.

Modern-day, experimental Stirling cycle engines were displayed by Don Isaacs of California and other exhibitors. Two rare Thomas & Smith engines, in 4-inch and 5-inch sizes, were displayed by the Yoder family from Ohio.

As a bonus, we enjoyed the vintage tractors, gas engines, steam engines, horse-drawn equipment and a vintage blacksmith shop. After the reunion, we still found time to find the headwaters and walk across the Mississippi. All of the hot air engine exhibitors whole-heartedly thank Ole and Wally Berge - and also the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers - for their gracious hospitality.


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