Local company once catered to campers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 28, 2002

Someone devised an interesting way to attract attention to some products made by Albert Lea’s American Gas Machine Co. years ago.

The gimmick was to use the letter k instead of c on several of the firm’s products. Thus, brand names like KampKook, KampLite, KampKold, KookLite, KwikKook and KabinKook were created for products once made in the city and sold in the U.S. and in at least 62 other countries.

American Gas Machine’s original purpose was to create stoves, heaters, lights and lanterns operated by gas which could be used in rural areas not yet served by electricity.

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This firm, started in 1894 by H. C. &uot;Gas&uot; Hansen, kept expanding and finding new markets for its products. And how and when the firm became involved with products for campers, hunters, fishermen, picnickers and backyard barbecue enthusiasts was explained in a 1932 catalog with:

&uot;The first American gasoline camp stove was built in 1911. Constantly improved from time to time, KampKook has kept pace with the rapidly growing popularity of motor camping, and is used by more campers than all other camp stoves combined. It is everywhere recognized as America’s favorite camp stove. It has several patented features which can be had in no other stove.

&uot;The development of the Instant Lighting KampKook, by American engineers, was the final step in providing for camp life all the convenience of the kitchen range. It lights just like a gas stove – simply open the valves and light the burners; no generating, no delay. Even in wind and rain KampKook lights instantly and stays lighted; gives surefire performance under all conditions.

&uot;KampKook does not require special fuel. It makes and burns its own gas from any brand of untreated motor gasoline, producing a flame equal to city gas in speed, and entirely free from smoke and soot. KampKook is built substantially to stand the hard knocks to which camp equipment is subjected. Burners are bolted firmly to the case; no complicated adjustments, nothing to get out of order. Children can operate KampKook.&uot;

In time, the KampKooks were available in two-burner and three burner models. These portable and compact camp stoves were being advertised as easy-to-carry, easy-to-store, and folding up like a suitcase. Each model had short fold up legs for table top use. A set of high stand legs was available as an extra item for waist-high access to the stoves.

One of the most unusual accessories sold by American Gas Machine was the folding KampKook fry pan. These iron pans came in three diameters (9-inch, 12-inch and 12-inch) and had handles which folded under the pans when not in use. The handle was extended when in use and held in place with a patented locking device.

The KampLite was available in two basic versions. One was an inverted lantern with the light source on the bottom. This unit used regular or leaded gasoline and produced what was described as &uot;high candlepower light.&uot; It could be used for fishing off a bridge at night, farm or emergency use, cabin ceiling light or tent light, and for clam fishing on a beach.

The other KampLite unit was a more rugged version of the traditional mantle lantern. And like the older lanterns, it used white gas for its fuel.

Perhaps the most compact and versatile outdoor product from American Gas Machine was the KookLite. It was called the &uot;handiest camping and emergency appliance built.&uot; This unit was advertised as &uot;the amazing two-in-one cooking lantern.&uot; The KookLite provided light from a lantern and had a burner plate on top for cooking food in a fry pan. Hopefully, this would be a KampKook fry pan with the folding handle.

The Albert Lea made products became very popular and practical for outdoor use. They were used by sportsman, travelers, for recreational purposes, and by explorers, especially in the Arctic and Antarctic regions prior to World War II, Sales were made from American Gas Machine regional offices located in Albert Lea, Oakland, Calif., and Brooklyn, N.Y.

These products were made at two locations in Albert Lea: on East Clark Street in the large building which was replaced with the present City Center, and on West Front Street next to the railroad crossing in what’s now the Lou-Rich plant and the ALMCO offices.

During World War II, American Gas Machine’s expertise and manufacturing facilities resulted in thousands of the gas-fired portable stoves being made for the nation’s armed forces to be used around the world.

After World War II, American Gas Machine Co. was acquired by Queen Stove Works, also of Albert Lea.

Advertising from this era lists American Gas Machine as a division of Queen Stove Works. And in time the Scotsman brand name became more prominent.

The Scotsman label was featured on K-Fuel containers and related appliances. The K-Fuel throw-away containers, about the size of the present shaving cream dispensers, contained pressurized L.P. (liquefied petroleum) gas. The K-Fuel container could be attached to one- and two-burner KampKooks adapted for L.P. use, a lantern, and a special one-burner compact device called the KwikKook.

However, not all the portable camping equipment made by American Gas Machine, and later by Queen Stove Works (Scotsman), was intended for cooking and lighting. Under the brand name of KampKold the firms made and sold what they called &uot;the portable refrigerator’ or &uot;your home refrigerator away from home.&uot;

These KampKold units were available in several sizes and very similar to the present insulated picnic and beverage coolers. One of the major differences was with the exteriors. The American Gas Machine models used steel and aluminum sheeting and had fancier handles. In fact, one model’s opener handles had concealed built-in bottle openers.

The largest of the insulated coolers has the &uot;flexi-tray&uot; which provided separate compartments for dry and wet storage of food, for freshly caught fish or recently killed fowl or small game, for beverages, and even a place for a block of ice intended to add cooling power. And as an special feature, this particular model of the KampKold had a recessed drain plug on the bottom to remove the results of melted ice.

In time, Queen Stove Works and later King Seeley-Thermos switched production at the Albert Lea plants to the Scotsman ice cube makers.

Thus, the products once made in the city for campers, hunters, fishermen, picnickers, backyard barbecue enthusiasts, and even polar explorers were phased out by the late 1950s or early ’60s.