The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 188


© June 10, 2012   

 ©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

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Steam Cream

It's better than Ice Cream 'cause it's made with Steam


click images to enlarge

Written by Terry D Spahr

I'm a little too young to remember the days when traction engines and threshing crews roamed the farms of Southeastern Pennsylvania.  The threshing crews I do remember, but the tractors with their gasoline engines had long put the Case, the Rumley, and the Frick engines and others out to pasture, some never to return. Instead of two hours or more in the morning to light the fire to get steam pressure just to move the lumbering giants, the crank or the starter button started the tractor needed to do the belt work. 

But something was missing along with the passing of the steam locomotive, that is alive today.  Some full-size, some table top, and some operating scale models are there for you to see if you look for them.  You can see them, talk to the engineers, smell the smoke, and watch the amazing power of steam.  My earliest experience with steam was just as a young lad in Cumberland County Pennsylvania, right between the Pennsy and the Reading Railroads.  I was so close to both in Shepherdstown that I could ride my bike to both. The Reading passed right through my uncle’s dairy farm in nearby Bowmansdale and afforded an iron bridge over, and an underpass beneath the thundering trains hauling coal from the mines in West Virginia North through Harrisburg and beyond. If you’ve not had the opportunity to stand on an open iron bridge, used for agricultural use only, or under a stone abutment underpass as a steam locomotive passes, well you’ve missed something scary, smoky and awesome!

As a youngster, we did it all!  We stared from the iron bridge, wide eyed, as the locomotive approached belching black smoke, sometimes two locomotives pulling the grade, with what seemed like miles of coal cars.  We’d wave to the engineers from the side of the tracks waiting for our pennies to reappear, flattened by the heavy wheels.  And then wave to the conductor in the caboose as he went by.

Another fond memory of my childhood in the 40’s was making homemade ice cream.  Mom’s recipe was simple, but rich and creamy with a taste not forgotten with the passing years! Our milk was the best!  Golden Guernsey is what Harrisburg Dairies called it!  Few breeds of milk cows yield butterfat content like Guernsey cows.  And Uncle Dave and Aunt Katie on a farm called “Fertility” by it owners, was our source twice a week for our milk.  Called Raw Milk by today’s standard, it was just cooled in the springhouse and brought home in gallon jugs.  When it was put in the refrigerator, the cream came to the top and amounted to about 1/3 of the total jug.  Mom always gave it a few shakes before serving it in glasses to my brother and me, but when she made ice cream, she poured the cream right off the top! The only other ingredients were a farm fresh egg or two, a can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, and some vanilla extract.  Our ice cream freezer was a contraption of sorts.  It was originally a hand-cranked 3 or 4 quart freezer in a wooden tub, but my Uncle Wilson had helped my dad update it to electric power.  Sitting and secured to a board was the tub and next to it a small electric motor.  The crank had been removed and in its place a large wire spoke, wicker baby buggy wheel from the attic.  A leather v-belt fit in the grove where a tire once was on the wheel and ran to a very small pulley on the motor.
click to read entire clipping

 Ice in those days was not readily available, except at the ice house in town.  And the freezer portion of the refrigerator at home held just two ice cube trays, hardly enough to make ice cream! So Dad’s solution?  We made ice cream in the winter when it snowed and added salt as we do today to make the sub-freezing brine. Mom’s recipe amounted to just enough for about 8 to 10 people.  Our household which included Grandpa and Grandma Spahr and Grandma and Grandpa Sipe across the road!  She always left room for expansion (we call it overrun today) or it came out the top as it froze into ice cream.  The dashers inside the steel can were made of metal and wood.  Some today are still made that way.  We would watch eagerly as the mixture was poured in the can, closed and started turning.  Dad put snow and rock salt in layers one after the other and pushed it down with a stick.  That made the salty brine that magically turned milk into ice cream.  We could always tell when it was done because the belt flew off!  Every effort to put it back and run it resulted in a repeat! I still have the spoon, always called the ice cream spoon and these memories flash through my mind every time I see it!


As a member of the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum ( for a couple of years, and having built and operate a coal fired locomotive, I became interested in the ¼ size Case Steam Traction Engines for sale on Discover Live Steam.  Some in kit form with just the castings, some complete and more than one somewhere in between.  They were in Texas, Florida, and other locations, with Youtube videos showing them in operation.  None seemed the right price, right place, right size or the right time so I kept looking.  The idea of running a belt-driven ice cream freezer was always on my mind. Suddenly, a fellow club member told me of a 1/3 size 2 cylinder, custom built engine for sale by an acquaintance in Iowa!  Pictures were exchanged, phone calls made, a price agreed upon and there it was, waiting for me in Iowa!

Now how do we get it to Los Angeles?  It weighed 1850 lbs dry, was 47 inches wide at the rear wheels, and was 7 feet long!  A perfect fit into the bed of my Ford pick-up truck. A long-time friend and fellow LA Cop, Steve Gnerlich and I had made more than one road trip.  I called Steve and said “what do your day’s off look like in early October for a road trip?”  He said “where are we going?”  I said to Centerville, Iowa!  Of course his next question was “why?”  So I told him that we were going to pick up a steam engine, and we needed to do it in 5 days!  He checked his schedule, called me back, and said “I can put together 6 days starting the 3rd of October!

We made plans, maps and schedules with the seller and off we went!  We arrived on schedule at 10 am on the 3rd day. Fired the boiler, drove it around the yard a bit to get comfortable with the controls and then proceeded with it on a trailer to the local John Deere Dealer in town.  We did a sling-load off the trailer and onto the truck and off we went to California, about a ton heavier than when we arrived with the wagon that came with the engine.

There were lots of looks and thumbs up as we sped along back roads and freeways, anxious to get the new toy back home in LA.  We came to a stop in LA Friday afternoon, right on schedule, and the first person to see it was a city boy who said “what is that?”  Steve said “it’s a steam tractor”!  Then the guy said “how fast does it go”?  To which Steve replied,  “well about an hour ago it was going 90”!


We unloaded it at the steam club 2 days later; hydro tested it and certified the boiler, fired it and ran it for 10 hours the first day!  An awesome piece of workmanship and machinery!  Its prototype is a Gaar-Scott, two cylinder engine manufactured in Richmond, Indiana prior to 1905.  It was custom build by Morris Baer, master machinist, hobbyist and builder of locomotives among other things.  Total time in the project estimated at over 3500 hours!  And it looks it!  It makes nearly 9 horsepower at 150 psi of steam pressure!

A flat fiber belt came with the outfit so now all I needed was an ice cream freezer.  I had previously researched an internet web site  or .  They sell ice cream freezers made by the Amish in Ohio, and White Mountain freezers parts, most powered by one cylinder John Deere hit and miss engines, but none with steam.  I spoke with the owner, and now friend, Tom Graves and asked him about running one with a flat belt and a steam engine.  He opined that he saw no reason that it would not work, but that I would need a flat belt pulley to replace the v-belt pulley that he supplied. 

 The 20 quart (5 gallon) model the largest one that Tom sells, was the one that I chose.  When it arrived I noted that it was over 5 times larger than the one from my childhood.  And it fit right into the wagon that came with the engine.

Next I searched ebay for a flat belt pulley.  I ended up buying 5 of them and an additional 4” wide rubber belt before I found the right one.  Tom said that I wanted to turn the freezer at 55 to 75 rpm’s to make the freezer do its thing.  I choose a 22” diameter unique one and attached it to the freezer shaft.  I then acquired a digital tachometer, placed a piece of reflective tape to the inside of the freezer pulley and started the engine running.  Now we know how fast to run the steamer to get the desired speed that Tom suggested. Oddly enough all of the pulleys came from an old threshing machine in Illinois!

So far I’ve made 8 flavors of ice cream, officially now called “steam cream” with the most popular and tasty one being butter pecan.  I’ll post the recipes on Tom’s website, under steam cream recipes so you can try them if you want. A video link is also available on Youtube by searching “Miniature Gaar-Scott steam traction engine………steam cream.  There will be more posted as time goes by.  You may contact me at

Much to our surprise, the steamer runs effortlessly and smoothly at first, then begins to chug and chug as the steam cream hardens and then the belt flies off!  Nothing changes, just like our old electric one!  And I make it just like my Dad made it with layers of ice and salt and a stick to push it down into a salty brine.  We peek in the can every now and then and add more and more salt to the ice until once again milk magically becomes ice cream and steam cream.

A young engineer and friend, Harrison Hitchcock, lubricates, maintains the water level in the boiler and wood in the firebox along with assuring the right speed at the flywheel.  Sam Calderwood and I make the ice and salt do their work and of course taste and share the delicious results! So what some have referred to as the “Golden Age of Steam” is alive and well and will continue as long as young and old recreate, restore, model and operate the steam engines of our Grandfathers!

Paul Miller (left) comes from a long line of threshirmen. The photo near the top is of this families' crew.


Written by Terry D Spahr


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