Federalsburg, Md., Jan. 31--About five years ago, Arthur B. Rosser, a self-taught mechanical wizard of 73, started to put together a small steam engine as a plaything for his teen-age grandson.
The grandson grew up and got married, but the plaything kept on growing.
Now it has developed into a 20-ton, 100-engined contraption that is designed to do nothing at all except delight the eye of the beholder.
'There's nothing else like it on the face of the earth,' Mr. Rosser said and added ruefully: 'Nobody else would be fool enough to do it.'
Those of us who live in the immediate Baltimore Area were intrigued of course to see in the Sun paper Mr. Arthur Rooser's aggregation of early steam and gas engines assembled on his mighty trailer.
I think it is of such interest to engine fanciers that I am prepared to pay the Baltimore Sun their fee of $22.50 so that it may be reproduced with a copy of the Sun's descriptive article.
His mechanical wonder has no name and fits no category. Basically, it is a 38-foot, flatbed trailer on which Mr. Rosser has mounted eight large steam engines and 92 old gasoline engines in tiers.
At one end of the trailer is a massive boiler with a smoke stack like that of an old-time fire engine.
The boiler can power all eight steam engines at once. When they get going, plus a few of the gasoline engines, the sight and sounds--whirling wheels, rumbling gears, hissing steam and throaty, three-toned whistle toots--are a delight to any lover, young or old, of things mechanical.
'It's not supposed to do nothing except sit there and run,' Mr. Rosser said. 'No, sir, not an engine on it is designed to do a thing.' But it's a beautiful sight to see when it's going. Children like to pull the whistle ropes.'
Mr. Rosser places no value on his do-nothing contraption. 'In the eyes of society it's just junk.' As for himself, thinking back on the labor and money that went into it, he said; 'I hope I never know what I got in it.'
Junk it may be, but on the few occasions when he has put it on public display in full operation, the contraption has proved quite a crowd puller. In previous years, when it had fewer engines, he has shown it at the annual Christmas parade in Federalsburg and, in the summer, at the annual show of antique farm equipment on the nearby farm of James L. Layton.
On these occasions, the multi-engine. Marvel gained such renown that Mr. Rosser said he received invitations to display it at fairs and firemen's parades in several surrounding towns.
But he had to turn down the offers because the thing has gotten so large and unwieldy that it takes a truck tractor to pull it.
'The trailer has no springs. You can't haul it over 10 miles an hour. And I have to get a title or registration for it. T don't know what kind. I'm hoping it'll come under an 'antique title.' Not an engine on it is under 40 years old.'
Most of the time it stands, massive and silent, in the stable where he built it near his home here.
This past year Mr. Rosser didn't even bring it out for the Christmas parade in Federalsburg. Instead, he built and displayed a smaller version--one steam engine and one gasoline engine on a 9-foot trailer with one whistle.
'It's very cute,' Mr. Rosser said, 'but it's nothing like the big one.'
He began work on his contraption in 1962 with the simple idea of assembling one steam engine for his grandson, T. Thomas Rosser.
After he got that first engine together, he needed a boiler, and when he got the boiler he figured it was big enough to run more engines, so he conceived the idea of mounting them on a trailer.
By that time, 'I was working on it seven days a week and nights, too.'
In the first year, he built the trailer and mounted 25 engines on it and displayed it for the first time in 1963.
After that he slowed down some but continued to add engines every year. 'I traveled all over the Shore to find them.'
As the trailer got crowded, he hit on the idea of adding levels. He now has three tiers of gasoline engines on it. The eight large steam engines are clustered around the boiler.
Towards the end, he set a goal for himself--100 engines. He felt he had to get that many on the trailer. Last summer he added the 100th and now considers it finished.
Now that he has finished it, he seems both proud of it and mad at it. 'I wouldn't do it again. I could spend my time doing something better.'
But after reflecting he will say, 'It's a work of the imagination. A beautiful sight when it's going.'
Besides, there is nothing else like it on the face of the earth.