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Celebrating return of repainted steam engine

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

An important part of interactive outdoor exhibits reappeared the Frontier Times Museum, 510 13th Street, on Thursday, Dec. 20. The half-scale - but still formidable - steam engine has received a facelift via a new paint job.
Donated to the museum by Leon Karr of Rockport in 1985, the hand-built engine was restored to working order in March 2011, a four-year project of Ben Nolte and his able assistant, Dale Haynes.
Under the watchful eyes of Nolte and Haynes, Mike Eifurt undertook the engine's recent repainting at his home in Kerrville. Carefully matching the engine's original colors, Eifurt put over 100 hours into the project. It proved to be the icing on the cake for a restoration project that began nearly three years ago.
In January 2010, Nolte approached museum administrators and volunteered to restore the dormant engine. A certified Steam Traction Engineer, he restores and operates steam engines in his native Minnesota. However, he and his wife, Carolyn, winter happily in the Texas Hill Country.
The restoration process began by transporting the engine to Haynes' garage in Ingram for a thorough cleaning and replacement of missing parts. "Everything was stuck, nothing moved or worked," Nolte said in an earlier interview. He and Haynes changed rotted and rusted pipes and re-threaded others.
"I've been wanting to get it running for four years," Nolte explained, adding that he first heard about the relic steam engine while enjoying a refreshing adult beverage at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar. "Someone told me, 'You'll never get that thing running.' Well, they should have never have told me that." Nolte happily accepted the challenge.
He speculated that this particular steam engine might have powered a shingle mill or cedar press. However, he has no idea of its age. Nor, apparently, has anyone else.
Clearly excited by the transformative powers of a new paint job, Rebecca Norton, executive director of the museum, called it the "best Christmas present ever!"
The now completely restored steam engine will become the centerpiece of the museum's outdoor interactive exhibit located in back of the museum. "We plan to do weatherproof labeling that describes how steam works to power the engine," she said.
For the record, the steam engine operates like a giant kettle sitting on top of a hot stove burner. The heat from the fire boils the water in the kettle and turns it into steam. However, rather than uselessly blowing off into the air, as does steam from a teakettle, the steam is captured and used to power the engine. In turn, the engine powers other equipment such as saws in a lumber mill.
Designated as the Discovery Corral, the interactive area is designed to teach young children simple concepts of natural science and history.
"We discovered the museum had little to offer to families with children ages two to six years," Norton said. "This was a segment of our audience that was not being served."
A grant from the Bandera Community Foundation assisted with the development of the interactive area and a recent $10,000 grant from the Kronkosky Foundation will enable museum staff and volunteers to complete the project.
In addition to the fully restored steam engine, the Discovery Corral includes a "Bang & Clang," which introduces children to pitch and tonality; "Dinosaur Dig," a large sand box that allows children to "uncover" dinosaur tracks and match them with graphics of the giant lizards that used to roam the Hill County; an as yet unnamed area that encourages children to match tracks to the native animals that made them; and the Cow Milk Saloon, a strictly-for-fun dress-up area.
When Discovery Corral is completed, Norton plans an outreach blitz to kindergarten through third grade classes as well as to local students who are being home-schooled.
But, she's not through yet. Next on Norton's wish list is the rehabbing of a vintage printing press donated to the museum by Ruth and the late Ray Marvin Hay in the 1980s. "The press was from the Hays' printing business in Boerne," Norton said. "When it was donated, it was in perfect working order, but at that time, there was no place to store it. Unfortunately, it now needs to be totally restored."
The printing press, made by Chandler & Price Co., in Cleveland, Ohio, would be an important addition to the Frontier Times Museum. "Given the museum's history, the printed word is of utmost important to this facility," Norton said.