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Model Cars

Model of Buick sedan, made by Harold KookenThese model cars were made by a boy who tinkered with odds and ends, creating models of cars and machinery that resembled the originals. His passion lead him to his dreams, just before time ran out.

Harold Kooken was born in 1906, the son of Al and Jennie LaRue Kooken of Iola. Although little is known about Harold, it is clear that he overcame adversity during his early years. At the age of 12, Harold had a bout with the Spanish flu during the 1918 world epidemic. He survived, but his heart was damaged.

When Harold's father opened a car dealership in Colorado, the high altitude proved too much for the son's heart. Harold and his mother returned to Kansas to live on his grandmother's farm near Waverly. They never reunited with Al Kooken.

Made From Scraps

Harold was not able to live the active life of most children, so he found other ways to amuse himself. Taking up scraps of material--small pieces of wood, metal coffee cans, little pieces of rubber--he began to assemble models of cars, farm machinery, and houses. Often these were working models with movable parts.

Model of Chevrolet roadster, made by Harold KookenAccording to a newspaper article written many years later, Harold and a friend created a detailed model of a Cord automobile in the late 1920s. It was taken to a Detroit auto show in 1932, and according to family lore someone from General Motors was so impressed that Harold was hired to do design work for the automobile company. He allegedly had a role in designing the 1934 model Chevrolets.

Tragically, Harold's story ends here. That same year, 1934, Harold's heart gave out on his 28th birthday.

In 1942 Harold Kooken's mother Jennie presented the Kansas Historical Society with several of his models. They are in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History. Seen here are the Buick Sedan (upper right) and the Chevrolet Roadster (lower left) made from scraps found on his grandmother's farm.

Entry: Model Cars

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2005

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.