Mechanical Wonder at Capac


The original Kempf Model City was constructed in the early 1900s by Fred S. Kempf. He completed the work between the ages of 16 and 21. He made every single part, by hand, from scrap materials. The Model City was hailed as one of the most remarkable constructions of the time, and was shown at events all over America. Then during a terrible train crash, the model city was destroyed. Fred Kempf and his wife lost their lives in that same train wreck in 1915.

 mechanical wonder

Bruce and Irving Kempf began construction on a new model city that eventually was hailed as the "Mechanical Wonder of the Age". The Model City is a mechanical city, built to the scale of 1/8 inch to the foot. It is 40 feet in length by 4 feet wide. The entire Model City is operated by a ½ horsepower motor, found in the mountain, at the end of the city. The city was fully operational and depicts a typical American city in the 1920s. The city is fully populated with hand-carved people and has all the necessities of life. Cars that travel along the streets are serviced by a corner gasoline station. When they wear out, there is even a junkyard filled with tires and rusted iron. The new mechanical wonder had more than 17,000 moving parts.

For 19 years the city was displayed from coast to coast and throughout Canada: The Century of Progress, Chicago: Atlantic City’s Steel Pier: Great Lakes Exposition, Cleveland: and Lakeside Park, Denver, Canadian National Exhibition and all the major State Fairs in the United States. During the Christmas seasons it was displayed in major department stores across the United States, and many large movie lobbies, from New York City to San Francisco. The Model City went into storage at the onset of WW II and was moved to Grand Blanc, Michigan. In 1988, the Capac Historical Museum purchased the mechanical wonder city.

Inside the Capac Historical Museum the "Mechanical Wonder of the Ages" is on display. It is being refurbished. The Model City is remarkable for its size and detail. When fully functioning, it looks like an actual living city.
Lights inside most of the structures reveal that life in “Model City” is not restricted to the streets. A man rocks comfortably in a chair inside the Maxwell Coffee House, and a new fire engine is poised inside the doors of the fire station. Blue lights flash on and off at the welding factory, indicating a night shift at work. A general store on the main drag displays bananas and other fresh fruit. All the more remarkable is the fact that the whole thing runs on small sewing machine motors and belts, no transistors and no computer chips.

The train wreck that destroyed the original mechanical wonder was described as "horrific" and the cars were quickly engulfed in flames. One of the last acts of the lives of Fred and Blanche Kempf was to literally, throw their infant daughter out the window of the train. That act saved her life. In 1988, Bruce and Irving’s niece, Hazel Kempf Mack, the little girl whose life was saved the day of the train crash that killed her parents, located the Model City in Grand Blanc. Events were set in motion that returned the city to its home in Capac. The history, the photos and the "Mechanical Wonder of the Ages" are housed in Capac at the museum.