Muscatine group working to transform mower into train
MUSCATINE (AP) — The sun is shining and the weather is warm, but the people working in Thad Burkamper’s Muscatine garage have winter on their minds.
Burkamper and his small team of builders are working on a new offering for Muscatine’s 29th annual Holiday Stroll, which will take place this December in downtown Muscatine.
The Muscatine Journal reports they’re hitching their own version of the fabled Polar Express to a John Deere riding mower and creating a giant model train that will transport this year’s strollers through the streets, six at a time.
This isn’t the first engine Burkamper, 27, has built. He and his wife Rachel, 26, created a scaled-down version for their 2-year-old son Kale, and that’s what got the wheels turning.
“We made him a small train in his toy room that he can play with,” said Thad. “This is a step up.”
Thad, an advertising representative for Hibu, (formerly Yellow Pages) of Cedar Rapids, has a passion for invention.
This time, though, his passion had a distinctly local motive: to build a fanciful and functional train that could be used in the Stroll and other local events.
“I started looking for sponsors, because this is an expensive project, and people referred me to Jaime Weikert, because she’s in charge of the Holiday Stroll,” said Thad.
Thad found a willing supporter in Weikert.
“I looked at bringing in a similar type of operation from Chicago for last year’s Stroll, so I was ecstatic when Thad approached us with the idea,” said Weikert, who’s also the advertising manager at the Muscatine Journal, one of the Stroll’s sponsors.
Getting a cooperative crew together to build the engine was a matter of inviting family and friends, said Rachel Burkamper.
Her brother, Nick Brock, 28, of Wilton and dad, Lonnie Brock, 57, of Muscatine, agreed to be there out of loyalty.
“My dad has always supported us more than anyone else by helping us work on projects and financially,” said Rachel.
Family friend Randy Schmidt of Muscatine said he was glad to be part of the project.
“I love these guys,” said Schmidt, 59. “And they’ve helped me out before.”
The train gang isn’t working off a specific blueprint, but is using its collaborative skills and experience.
The riding mower is the center of the train, and will push the engine and pull the six-seater carriage.
Thad even came up with a way to make the engine shoot smoke from the smokestack on the front of the train. A small compartment that contains a smoke-producing chemical is connected to both the mower engine and the smokestack. When the engine heats the chemical, smoky vapor puffs from the stack at intervals, thanks to an attached set of billows powered by another small engine.
“It will be lined in LED lights and decorated when we’re finished,” said Thad.
The train will be ready by December, but Thad is hoping for an earlier deadline.
“I’d like to be done in mid-October so it can be in the Burlington Halloween Parade,” he said.
The custom-made engine is one example of the inventions the Burkampers research and develop in their small business, Contrivity, which was established in January.
The couple take on the challenge of listening to clients’ ideas for products that are unavailable or have not been invented.
The next step, said Rachel, is to research possibilities for creating the product and draw up a plan. The Burkampers offer clients an estimate with the plan and if the client agrees, the project is underway.
“Thankfully, we have many local businesses who help to make the Holiday Stroll possible each year with their generous sponsorships,” said Weikert. “I am even more pleased we can combine those local sponsorship dollars with local talent to make the train a reality.”