The Rustmobile was approved at 135 pounds of steam per square inch.

One of those was the Rustmobile – or the Mad Hatter.”Russ’s steam-driven creation is an unusual machine to see at a farm show (or anywhere, really). Dutton Co., Kalamazoo, Mich., dating to about 1925.“That came from a hat company in Minneapolis that used steam to make hats to fit or shape them to size,” Gene says.

A homemade device cobbled together with disparate parts, it uses the frame of a Model T auto, wheels from a Ford Falcon (adapted to make the rims fit), front and rear Model T axles (cut and narrowed), a jackshaft to reduce the speed of the 1935 Plymouth transmission, a Rockford twin-disc clutch off a 4-cylinder Wisconsin engine, a Model T steering wheel and emergency cable handbrake, and a Little Giant steam boiler (serial no. “The pulley came from a steam engine that ran cream separators at a creamery in Elk River, Minn.” The Case plate attached to the side? The result is an odd-looking machine that careens around the occasional Minnesota tractor show at about 2 mph.

When he got older and couldn’t handle the work anymore, he offered it to me.

He said, ‘Gene, I think you should own this.’ I said, ‘If you think so, I guess I’ll have to buy it from you.’ We made arrangements, and I bought it.”At the time, Gene had other irons in the fire, so he stashed the Rustmobile in a shed. “I didn’t decide to take it out until a younger buddy came over and said he’d like to help me get it running.” That involved new piping with different pressure release valves and a state inspection.

I was young at the time, but I kind of liked the steam, so I started helping the older guys hauling wood, water and the occasional beer, just helping them out.”Gene, who lives in Champlin, Minn., learned about running steam engines from experienced engineers like Russ Magnuson and Walter Schmidt.

“I remember the first time I ever ran an engine,” he says.

He became a traveling mechanic for Minneapolis-Moline Tractor Co., Minneapolis, which required him to travel all over Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“In those days,” Gene says, “mechanics would travel from the plant to fix tractors on warranty right on the farm.

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Gene Zopfi learned to love old steam engines by example.

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