Pandora Boxes

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana

Joe Fahnestock

Content Tools

Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'

'OI' Needle-Eye', they call him. And little wonder, one muses, as he observes the tiny, intricately-detailed and perfectly-functioning gas engine models of stationary design which the man who has earned that honorary nonemclature has been showing; recently around some of the midwestern Gasoline Alley conclaves.

You'd hardly know he was around. There is no fanfare when James R. Maloney arrives from the capital city of Indiana, Indianapolis, parks his ear somewhere in the melee of popping prototype gas engines and tractors, and proceeds to methodically unpack his beautiful polished cases with brass handles, knurled knobs and engraved name-plates which signifies both the model and its maker.

Your eyes fairly bug out of your head, as the quiet little man with the cap strides across the grounds, dodging  internal combustion engines with whirling fly-wheel, his eye glancing now and then at the prototypes he hopes someday to model. But if your eyes haven't already popped out of your head at the mere sight of the beautiful cases 'OI' Needle-Eye' is non-chalantly lugging, one in each hand, they certainly will, once he begins loosening the machined brass knobs and reveals the treasures of his 'Pandora's Boxes' to the gaping gasoline gaffers who have already congregated to witness one of life's biggest, though tiniest surprises.

For out of one polished case 'OI' Needle-Eye' fetches forth a beautiful polished brass and red-enameled model of the Famous International 2-Horse-power vertical gas engine for you to see. But wait a minute - that's just the first surprise, in case your jaw is already dropping. For out of the second polished case, the craftsman's hand carefully lifts an even more intriguing piece of watch-like mechanism - an exact duplicate of the first model International vertical engine, only this one is even smaller. In fact so tiny it nestles comfortably in the palm of his hand.

You begin asking questions of the little man whose eyes are so sharp for details both small and intricate.

And he answers quietly, as he starts the larger model with one spin, 'This one has a three-quarter inch bore and a one-inch stroke.'

Your eyes look over the little model, then glance over to the large prototype that some gasoline alley but has dragged onto the grounds on some truck and your ears note there is a similarity in the speed and rythm of firing - the let-tie engine keeping right in time with the larger one.

You detect a slight grin underneath the cap shade as 'OP Needle-Eye' gives one spin on the fly-wheels of the yet tinier model and its half-inch bore piston with but a three-quarter inch stroke also begins firing in the same speed and rhythm of the prototype. And you begin wondering who 'OI' Needle-Eye' is, and from whence he has come.

'OI' Needle-Eye' is always loaded with double surprises in those 'Pandora Boxes' of his. Here James R. Maloney shows pint-sized and pea-sized versions of the Famous International vertical gas engine. Both models are equipped with tiny water-cooling pumps. Both are made up from raw material, no castings, and they run in same rhythm as original. Shown displaying at National Threashers, Wauseon, Ohio, 1967.

But hold on a moment, for the surprises have only begun. For the little man underneath the gray cap has arrived from his ear, carrying two more of his Pandora Box eases. And again your eyes bulge from their original sockets as he lifts out a horizontal-type gas engine, with fifteen-sixteenths Lore and one-and-one-eighth inch stroke, and from the other case an even tinier one to match the larger, this with hut .555' bore and fifteen-sixteenths stroke.

With but one twirl of each fly-wheel both engines are soon popping, your ears (drilling to the veritable symphony of the diminutive Mutt-and Jeff, hit-and-miss, make-and-break sparks which match the larger exhausts on the trucks across the way.

He sort of (lodges the questions, like a bashful boy unwilling to reveal his favorite fishin' hole. But if you are persistent, 'OI' Needle-Eye' - pardon us, James R. Maloney, and Irishman possessing the patience and craftmanship of a sauerkraut dutchman, reluctantly explains that he never employs the easier method of using mere castings for his models as so many others do.

'All my models are completely fabricated. I make up all the parts from raw materials. The fly-wheel is built up from heavy wall tubing used in making the rim. the rest is made up from heavy flat pieces of steel, and the spokes are cut out,' explains Maloney. 'The steel cylinders have cast-iron linings, the water jackets and crank cases are also made of steel'

'The horizontal engine models are, of course, hopper-cooled, while the vertical International models have tiny water pumps in them,' points out Maloney, in way of keeping his diminutive running models in the strictest tradition of the larger ones he has meticulously copied.

'All my nuts and bolts have special threads. There's lots of lathe work involved in making models like these,' reveals the Hoosier genius, as if you didn't already surmise.

The model Model-Maker at the National Threshers, Wauseon, Ohio 1967 'OI' Needle-Eye' is always loaded with double surprises when he comes to gasoline alley. Making one fine model isn't enough for him-he's got to make both the pint-sized and then the pea-sized version of each entire-just to show you he can do it. Left is tiny horizontal engine with only .555 inch bore and 15/16 inch stroke. Right is the larger one with 15/16 inch bore and 1 and 1/8 inch stroke. Both run in same rhythm as the prototypes.

Stopping one of the engine models, Maloney removed the plate from the base, revealing the same neatness in the electrical firing package, pointing out the tiny batteries, condenser and wiring which feeds the spark into the make-and-break system through neat radio jackplugs. You wonder if this is a model of some old-time farm engine, or some sophisticated electronic brain which might well fit into the latest space rocket, destined for the Moon.

'And from whence cometh such patient genius?', one finds himself asking.

'Well, I used to be an instrument maker for firing Naval guns,' he answers after you've pinned him down to the subject. 'But before that, being born on a West Virginia farm, my Dad ran a sawmill - even set them up for other saw-millers. So you might say I got my start with steam engines. I guess I have been interested in engines since I was five years old. In fact I have a one-inch scale Case Traction engine that I am in process of building, but I never ran a large steam engine.'

In one of his weak moments, 'OI' Needle-Eye' broke down and sold one of his fine horizontal gas engine models to a veteran collector from Hillsdale, Michigan. Rumor had it that the deal brought only some eighty odd dollars across the barrel-head.

'How long would it take for you to build such a model?' I asked.

'Oh, about 200 to 300 hours,' came the reply.

'Well, that's about 30 cents an hour for expert craftsmanship,' I snapped a bit horrified. 'How many times I've paid out $4.00 and hour for some flunky to cobble up my car, only to have it run far enough to the next garage to be cobbled again.

To 'OI' Needle-Eye' - James R. Maloney, genius whose philosophy is 'Why-waste time picking up tools off the shop floor when it can better be spent in turning out watch-like, precision models?' - we doff the Spark Plug stiff katy as an humble gesture to your great efforts at preserving our American heritage in what appears to us the perfect craftsman's labor of love. For such a distinguished line of diminutive models may take their place among the authentic archives of historical American agriculture where surely there must be a niche for you.

May you continue turning out more and more such fine models the like of which match the prototypes endeared to us in a manner that ever thrills us.

The model Model-Maker takes measurements on an engine at Darke County Threshers Gasoline Alley-Now you know why they call him 'OI Needle-Eye'. James R. Maloney takes measurements of every part and angle of Stickney Engine before going back to his 'little elfs workshop where a model of this engine will be made. Accuracy and correct proportion are habits formed from years of making delicate Naval instruments for the firing of guns.

He sketches prototype for next model and if sketching is any clue, it looks ike 'OI' Needle-Eye's' next engine model is going to be a Stickney horizontal. We'll be looking for it at one of the Gas Alley reunions.

Although James R. Maloney always makes pencil sketches before making his fine models, like the question of the chicken and the egg, which comes first, the sketch or the engine? He was sketching this Engine (Model) but then again there must be an engine first to sketch.