Final Touch

Little Sam gets his name in brass


Little Sam ran all season with this set-up: a 1-gallon barrel for cooling and propane for fuel.

Content Tools

Little Sam has been to several shows out here in California, accumulating over 50 hours of running time, and has never missed a lick. The little 1/3-scale Samson gas engine has proven itself as steady and reliable as its bigger brothers. It runs like a watch on propane. I consider it a Samson gas engine in every respect, a smaller version fully representing John M. Kroyer's ideas and a full member of the family of engines built by Samson Iron Works in Stockton, Calif.

When the final update appeared in Gas Engine Magazine in April 2006, it showed a finished engine all ready to run with the bugs worked out. But you may have noticed a very important final touch missing.

That final touch was the one thing Little Sam needed that I couldn't build in my mind. It was too small, too detailed and too complex. I thought about it and could never come up with a practical solution.

Isn't it strange how engine guys have the best of luck? When I first informed GEM of my intentions to scale the 5 HP Samson webspoke, Richard Backus, editor, printed my inquiry asking for practical suggestions for pattern making be sent to Modeler's Corner via Rusty Hopper. Shortly thereafter, I received a wonderful letter from a fellow named Roland Morrison. This letter was filled with encouragement and practical advice, and he also suggested he might be able to help with the final touch. Because he himself had been down this road and realized how difficult it is to create this scale final touch.

I was intrigued! That was the beginning of a great friendship with Roland. By now you may have guessed the final touch is the lovely miniature nameplate fitted to Little Sam. It captures every single detail of the early builder's plate in high relief. My wife, Melissa, swears it's the most beautiful piece of "man jewelry" she's ever seen. I think so, too. The little nameplate makes the engine, giving it a pedigree, and has become the focal point of Little Sam.

Roland is an interesting guy and everyone should get to know him. When you do, you'll find another guy who partners with Roland producing the most exquisite scale engine developments you can imagine. This other guy is a soft spoken, gentle "Minnisooootan" who has a big smile and firm handshake. Did I mention he builds the most exquisite scale engines? (All to exact scale, using the lost wax process.) Nothing common for these guys: Kansas City Lightning, Mery vapor engine, Gade air-cooled and some in development I'm not allowed to mention.

Marvin Hedberg is his name, and they are producing marvelous stuff. They have a website at

Roland and Marvin are great guys and contributed the lovely nameplate to Little Sam. There was no charge to me, but they were not cheap to make. Consider their development.

When the plates came in the mail, I became so choked up I could hardly speak. I was so pleased and astonished at the detail these little plates of bronze possessed. I'm amazed at the high level of precision inherent in these nameplates. They have no equal from anyone or anywhere in the world.

The Samson nameplate was made using the investment (lost wax) casting method. This method will give the finest casting detail available. Marvin made an aluminum mold for the wax forms on his CNC mill. First, he had to recreate the Samson nameplate on his computer using surfcam software. To do this, he looked at photos and rubbings of the original plate and this alone took eight to 10 hours. (Roland's lovely wife, Luella, provided many details.) From there, Marvin created a cutting program and posted the cutting program to a floppy disk. Marvin loaded the program into a milltronics CNC mill, which used cutters running up to 15,000 RPM with diameters of 1/16- and 1/8-inch and 0.01 and 0.1 thousandths diameter. The whole milling process took eight and a half hours. Then the mold was sent to Roland where he did his magic using the lost wax casting procedures.

In the beginning when I asked Roland how much the nameplates would cost, he replied, "You (or us) could never afford them!" Shop rate for a mill like this is $160 per hour.

I cannot begin to tell of the great help Roland and Marvin provided in the development of Little Sam. How does this relate to the hobby? Why would they help a guy with only a dream?

Let me tell you one thing: These guys who develop scale engines are not getting rich. They work full-time jobs with all the responsibilities we have. When you kick about the price scale casting kits cost, when you gripe that the prints are off, when you roll your eyes at what finished scales are bringing, consider this: For every scale engine, there is a person who had a dream - a dream that germinated into an idea and that idea into iron castings. From this came a finished engine that other people will value and enjoy.

Some are very, very good; others poor. This is the reality of a scale. Their purpose is not to make money (but that would be nice) but to bring joy and pride to the builder and designer. These scales recreate a moment in time that existed long ago.

Building scales is a noble pursuit, occupying many dimensions, but never making the developer wealthy. This is not the purpose, nor the reason for their existence.

The Roland and Marvin nameplate represented is a work of art created out of love and great respect for the early inventors who struggled to initiate engines they dreamed would help their environment. Many of these early pioneers will forever remain nameless, unknown to modern man.

Roland and Marvin will always be identified with Little Sam and his nameplate. It is a gift intended to perpetuate the engines that helped remove the cruel yoke of toil from the backs of men (and women). These engines created a better standard of living for our children and helped create the finest country on the face of the earth.

I tender my heartfelt thanks to Roland and Marvin for such a wonderful gift. The little nameplate should be on a king's crown, but who am I to complain? It looks just fine on Little Sam.

Contact Lester Bowman at 175 N. Santa Ana Ave., Modesto, CA 95354; (209) 527-4665;