New Hobby Harvests A Crop Of New Friends

By Staff
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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.

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