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HISTORY LESSON: Age is no barrier at the Munktell Museum in Eskilstuna, Sweden

by Cathy Smith

At 82 years old, Lars-Uno Karlsson has spent almost every day of the past 12 years at the Munktell Museum in Eskilstuna, lovingly restoring a battered 1940s gas-powered tractor. Karlsson is one of more than 70 volunteers helping to run the museum, which chronicles the history of Volvo Construction Equipment from the early 19th century.

 

The GMB2 war-time tractor he has been working on was a much sought after piece for the museum’s impressive collection and was finally bought from a collector in south-east Sweden last year. For Karlsson, who spent 33 years working for Volvo around the world, it is his dream to be able to get the machine up and running again.

 

“This project is a huge challenge,” he says. “There are two small parts missing which we have not been able to find. Our target is to at least make the tractor look like it did when it was working 70 years ago.”

 

Sitting in state at the museum entrance is the man who made all this possible – or, at any rate, a statue of that man: Johan Theofron Munktell. He was just 27 years old when he founded the Eskilstuna Mechanical Workshop in 1832, which was the very start of Volvo CE. According to museum curator Leif Anväg, Munktell brought about a revolution: “Mr Munktell had a vision to mechanize farming and make life easier for farmers – and for industry – and that’s exactly what he did. Quite a man!”

Volunteer Lars-Uno Karlsson in the museum’s workshop

Volunteer Lars-Uno Karlsson in the museum’s workshop

 

FULL STEAM AHEAD

Munktell brought steam technology from England and in 1853 designed Sweden’s first commercial ‘Locomobile’ – a transportable, horse-drawn steam engine that could be moved from farm to farm at harvest time to operate threshing machines. It turned out to be a big hit and stayed on the market until 1921. As with nearly everything in the museum, the Locomobile is still in full working order, although operated by compressed air today rather than steam.

 

Every machine on display has its own story to tell – for instance, the first mechanical tractor, designed by Munktell in 1913. A giant of a machine, almost six meters long and three meters high, it was able to do the work of 16 horses. Museum mechanic Clenn Häggqvist, whose curly silver whiskers would not have been out of place a century ago, is almost at a loss for words when he describes handling the tractor: “I can’t tell you what it feels like, it’s fantastic – amazing,” he says. And, as if it was not already quite obvious, he adds: “I have the perfect job working here.”

 

The first Swedish-built road grader

The first Swedish-built road grader

Also on show is the first Swedish-built road grader, dating back to 1924, which the museum’s former curator managed to save from the scrapyard in Stockholm in the 1980s. Despite not having been moved for years, the machine started first time, although it took two days to drive the
90km back to the museum in Eskilstuna.

 

All the forerunners of Volvo’s modern-day construction equipment are in the museum, pampered and polished by an army of volunteers, including an H10 wheel loader. The 60-year-old machine, modeled on a reversed tractor, might not be quite as powerful as its successors but it is still going strong.

 

Another one of Volvo CE’s star products on display is the DR631 – the world’s first series-manufactured articulated hauler, ‘Gravel Charlie’, which made its debut in 1966. This first model was rugged and unsprung but its articulation was soon to revolutionize earth-moving operations on difficult terrain. An information panel tells visitors that the reason Gravel Charlie was so effective on swampy ground was its ability to “wriggle like an eel”.

 

The rule is that a machine has to have been out of production for at least 20 years before it can earn itself a place in the collection. The youngest exhibit is a 1977 BM4300 wheel loader which curator Anväg admits is very similar to those he came across early in his career as a mechanic at a local Volvo dealership.

 

Museum curator Leif Anväg

Museum curator Leif Anväg

SHOWPIECE

As many as 25,000 people pass through the Munktell Museum every year. One such visitor is Chicago-based mechanical engineer Joel Johnson who describes it as “pure heaven” to be surrounded by all the old machines: “It’s this kind of thing that got me into engineering – the engines and the old principles that still drive what we do today. It’s incredible.”

 

The museum hosts many dinners and events throughout the year and customers invited to the Volvo Days promotional events in June will attend a special welcome dinner here. This is Volvo’s chance to showcase new products to customers as well as strengthening relationships between customers and dealers. According to the curator, the museum has “the best chef in town” and so, as well as dining in close proximity to these historic machines, guests will also have the opportunity to take a look at the more up-to-date versions at the nearby Volvo Customer Center in Eskilstuna.

 

The joy of this museum is that visitors are actively encouraged to climb on the machines to get the full experience – in fact, a notice in the reception area states that guests are allowed to “climb on anything, but are forbidden to fall off”.

 

Children love it, too. At the wheel of an early Munktell tractor, one-year-old Katja Blomquist is on her fourth visit to the museum. Her father Erik says she loves being here although, as he confesses his first word as a baby was “tractor”, it is clear that he is quite keen too.