"It all started because of him," says Gary Schoenly when asked about the origins of Cabin Fever, the scale and model engine show he and his family have been running for nine years. "Him," in case you're wondering, is Gary's 22-year-old son, Jared, who, as Gary tells it, "was always interested in toy trains. At about 8 or 9, we had gone to Rough & Tumble, and it was either Dick Shelley or Jack Rosman who had quite a display of engines, and Jared said, 'Dad, we need one of those engines.' I told him you can't just buy one, you have to build one."
The following year, Jared became friends with scale-engine builder George Luhrs, who took Jared under his wing and mentored him in the ways of scale engines. Jared was hooked, and he and Gary started attending scale-engine shows around the country.
Ten years ago, while heading home from the North American Model Engineering Exposition in Michigan, the pair got to thinking. "Driving home, we realized we were going to Michigan to see our Pennsylvania friends, so why not do a model show in Pennsylvania? I remember telling Jared, 'I think I can talk Mom into it, and if we can pay the bills I think we'll be able to do it,'" Gary recalls. That conversation was the impetus for the first Cabin Fever Model Engineering Exposition, which the Schoenly's held at the Leesport Farmers Market in Leesport, Pa., in 1997. Eleven vendors showed up for that first show, along with about 50 exhibitors and close to 1,000 attendees. They paid the bills, and they've been moving forward ever since.
The show stayed in Leesport for the next three years, but in 2001, with attendance rising, and more and more vendors and exhibitors showing interest, the growing show moved to the Lebanon County Exposition Center in Lebanon, Pa. Two years later, and still growing, the show moved to its current home at the York Fairgrounds Convention & Expo Center in York, Pa.
Gary says about 5,000 people showed up for the 2005 show, touring the Expo Center's cavernous floor space and inspecting the displays set up by the 105 vendors and close to 250 exhibitors on hand for this year's event. Vendors supply everything from computer-aided milling machines to rough casting kits to finished, running engines. Vendors sell used lathes, milling machines, bar stock and tools, and a few, like blacksmith Pete Renzetti, pedal their art.
The truth, of course, is just about everything on display could be termed art. What else can you call a perfect 1/16-scale 300 HP Snow double-acting tandem - an engine design Doug Kelley adapted from nothing more than an old textbook drawing and then lovingly crafted to a perfect running display.
Or perhaps Roland Gaucher's 1/4-scale 9-cylinder Bentley rotary radial. Uncannily perfect in every detail and running like nothing you've ever seen, its nine cylinders emitted a wonderful bark with every fire.
Farm engines were plentiful, of course, including fabulous home-built scales like Riley Moore's 1/3-scale IHC Famous. Riley's engine was one of three made by Riley and friends Guy Gerberich and Park Bailor, with each man responsible for making three copies of every piece they worked on until they had enough to make all three engines. Talk about teamwork and friendship!
Scale steam engines were also easy to find, including Roger Grosser's 1/2-scale Pearl steam launch engine, a stunning scale of an already impressive recreation of the full-size Pearl steam engine. Roger sells kits of the full-size engine, which he also had on display.
At the other end of the building, steam enthusiasts could take in Don Hoxie's buildup of Historic Models Casting's Novelty Iron Works Gothic beam engine. An impressive piece built to 1/12-scale, its level of detail and function have to be seen to be believed.
And then there were the fabulous scale engines of George Luhrs, the man who arguably got this whole show running, thanks to his influence on Jared Schoenly. George, who set up his round table of scale engines and equipment in the entryway for the show, is an inveterate builder and modeler, a man who makes everything from scale steam engines to miniature drag saws. Most impressive was the extreme-miniature engine George designed and built in 1999. A 4-cycle, air-cooled single-cylinder featuring a 1/4-inch bore and 5/16-inch stroke (total displacement is 0.015 cubic inches!), the engine runs, much to the amazement of the spectators who crowded around George's table to witness the spectacle.
Thanks to the vitality of the scale and model engine hobby, Gary and Jared have expanded to three annual shows. Including the January Cabin Fever show, they've added an August Iron Fever show (also held in York) and a fall Men, Metal & Machines show held in Visalia, Calif. "I think the hobby's alive and well, and moving forward," Gary says. "The auction this year was phenomenal, and the show floor on Saturday, I don't think it could get much better."
Gary probably wouldn't complain if it did get better, which of course wouldn't garner any complaints from the scale engine crowd, who share a hobby that seems to be growing steadily, and by some counts might be the best venue to attract a younger crowd to the general hobby of old engines.
For more information, contact the Schoenly's at: Cabin Fever Expositions, 3403 New Holland Road, Mohnton, PA 19540; (800) 789-5068; www.cabinfeverexpo.com