ERIK SIREN'S DREAM

OR THE ''COLUMBIA'' HOT BULB OIL ENGINE


| April/May 1987



Johnson's old turn of century Columbia

Mr. Johnson's old turn-of-the-century 'Columbia.' He returns often to the Johnson farm to sit and daydream in the engine house.

RD # 1, Box 564 Pipersville, PA 18947

Can a little boy's dream come true? Can a man ever hope to 'relive' one of his most enjoyable childhood memories? Can one person experience both at the same time? Erik Siren, a dignified, soft-spoken neighbor of ours is a living testimonial to the wonderful experiences our hobby is responsible for. Mr. Siren's eyes light up whenever he tells the story of how he was 'bitten' by the 'engine bug.'

Let your imagination run for a moment. Come with us to a distant shore, to the little farm village of Geta, in the Aland Islands, Finland. This cluster of islands and its 20,000 mainly ethnic Swedish farmers are located in the gulf separating Finland from Sweden. While governed by Finland, the Swedes of Aland look to Sweden for many consumer goods. It's 1930 and cute, red-headed Erik is visiting a neighbor's farm. Near the barn is a small outbuilding with a concrete floor. From within, fascinating noise quickly attracts the curious nine year old's attention. As he peeks in he sees the distinctive shape and hears the unique sound of 'The Columbia', one of several models of hot bulb oil engine (also called a 'semi-diesel') made by the Bolinders Mfg. Co. of Stockholm, Sweden. Arno Johnson-the farmer-sees Erik, shows him how the engine cuts firewood, and explains how it can also be used to thresh grain. Young Erik is in 'seventh heaven.' Some day, maybe some day, he will have an old engine just like Mr. Johnson's.

Soon, to his amazement, little Erik begins to realize that most farms had an 'engine house' and a few had older engines. But Erik's favorite is Like most Aland Islanders, Erik comes from a hardy, talented family. His father had been a farmer, blacksmith, sailor, and shipbuilder. Erik still recalls a beautiful schooner his father built in four years. That magnificent sailing vessel had a 25 HP Bolinder auxiliary engine. He still laughs at how, as a teenager, he went on many voyages with his dad only to be told that he would be cook and his older brother would have the 'honor' of working in the engine room!

Little Erik grew older. He apprenticed to a machinist and became a tool and die maker accustomed to working with very close tolerances. Later on, he shipped out with the Swedish Merchant Marine, becoming first an oiler, then a diesel engineer on Swedish tankers. Returning home, he married the lovely woman who is still his wife and set up his own machine shop. In 1953 the Siren family came to America. Erik found employment as the chief of maintenance in a furniture factory. They are now living in a comfortable home near Philadelphia where Mr. Siren uses his immaculate basement and garage as a workshop-/display area for his old engine hobby.

In 1985 the Sirens felt the urge to visit the 'old country'. When Erik arrived on Aland, a wave of nostalgia swept over him. He felt the years melt away as he walked back to the old Johnson farm. Sure enough, Arno Johnson was still on the farm and old 'Columbia', the source of so many childhood dreams and so many happy adult memories, was still there-stored in a dusty corner of the old Johnson barn. Mr. Johnson was happy to sell all the old iron to Erik and gasped in amazement when Erik matter-of-factly mentioned he was shipping the useless thing back to America!!