CABIN FEVER EXPO:

By Staff
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PO Box 253 Leesburg, Virginia 20178

Not quite ready to give up the excitement and joy of the
year-end holiday season? Looking for an alternative to the doldrums
at the end of January? Then pack your bags, set your course for
Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where the father and son team of Gary and
Jared Schoenly are holding the fifth annual Cabin Fever Expo, an
extravaganza of men, metal, and machines. You can spend two full
days exploring and admiring nearly 500 exhibits of working model
engines steam, gas, oil, hot air and all types of metal working
equipment and accessories for home shop machinists. With nearly 50
vendors with everything from engine kits to dimensioned plans, to
complete tabletop machine tools, you’ll have plenty of
opportunities to spend money!

Though only five years old, the Schoenlys’ event has grown
rapidly in popularity, and is now nearly as well known and attended
as the NAMES (North American Model Engineering Society) show in
Detroit. Almost all the vendors that sell at NAMES also set up at
Cabin Fever Expo to display their wares to nearly 3,000 exhibitors
and attendees.

At the show in January 2000, for example, Diversi-Tech Inc.,
from Arlington, Virginia, was offering a ‘U-build-it’ chain
drive CNC router with full three-axis control, to which could be
attached a HP Fordham FlexShaft or a Dremel tool. Vermont-based
Pearl Engine Company offered complete castings or a fully machined
kit for a 2 x 3 marine steam launch engine. Red Wing Motor Company
of Minnesota exhibited a kit of a1/8 scale 5
HP Red Wing Thorobred engine, with a 1 inch bore, 2-inch stroke,
and 8-inch flywheels. At the booth of Village Press (Traverse City,
Michigan) crowds gathered to peruse Village’s full line of
books and magazines, including the latest copies of Machinists
Workshop
, Projects in Metal and Live Steam. The Clock
Shop journeyed all the way from Montana, to set up and offer plans
and precision machined brass parts for clocks. The CBX Digital
Position Readout, which could be fitted to a mill or lathe, could
be purchased from Shooting Star Technology from Rosedale, British
Columbia. The west coast was further represented by International
Sales and Marketing (tools and machinery), Super scale Locomotive
Company (scale locomotive plumbing) from California, and Dinky
Dears (scale models of John Deere engines) from Oregon. And, of
course, there were a score of vendors from Pennsylvania, New York,
and other eastern states. Particularly popular was P.M. Research of
Wellsville, New York, with its complete line of working scale
models of lathes, milling machines, drill presses, shapers, and
other machine tools.

Attendees do some major traveling, too. Gary Schoenly boasts
that there were people from all but a handful of the 48 continental
states (‘I haven’t seen any license plates from Wyoming,
yet,’ he laments. ‘I don’t know what their problem is
out there. We’ve got to get somebody from Wyoming!’)

Accomplished and aspiring model engineers gathered at the fourth
annual Cabin Fever Expo in Leesport, Pennsylvania, last
January.

What they all come to see is an astounding number and variety of
precision made model engines. You can find the entire history of
engine technology represented here, from the steam engines of the
early 1800s, to the hot air and oil engines of the late 1800s, to
more contemporary internal combustion engines, such as an
Oldsmobile V-8 that’s less than one foot in length, to a
working scale model of the 12-cylinder radial Curtiss-Wright
Cyclone used to power bombers during World War II. The Reading
Society of Model Engineers sets up a large scale railroad on which
they run 1 inch scale locomotives operating on live steam.

This is a showplace of skill, craftsmanship, and ingenuity, many
of the engines are completely handmade. And we mean completely:
Many of the exhibitors had started by making wooden patterns for
major components, such as engine blocks and manifolds, making the
necessary mold, and carefully pouring molten metal themselves. A
handful of these craftsmen cut even the nuts and bolts used in
their creations. Such exactitude may be a bit much for some, but
remember, these are guys doing machining because they love to do
it, not because they’re getting paid to.

Just one of the hundreds of model engines exhibited at last
year’s Cabin Fever Expo. Check the website at
www.cabinfeverexpo.com for details of this year’s show.

Some of the modelers even work up their own designs and plans.
One modeler had used the recently obtained underwater photographs
of the engine room of the famous Civil War ship, Monitor (now lying
half buried in the sea bottom off the North Carolina coast) to
design and build a working scale replica of the unusual steam
engine the famous inventor John Ericson had specially designed for
the vessel.

Of course, there are plenty of the kit-built engines on display,
as well. Some of the kits are extremely well done, and basically
need only to be bolted together to the correct torque. But most
kits are rough castings that need a lot of machining and finishing
to produce the jewels of craftsmanship that finally are put on
display.

The level of skill and craftsmanship evident in these engines
can be intimidating. That might discourage some people from
bringing their own work to exhibit, but the Schoenlys will set them
right in a hurry. ‘I’m always finding guys who don’t
know about the show, or don’t even know about the hobby,’
Gary says. ‘They think they’re the only nutcase in the
world that builds and collects this kind of stuff. This past
weekend, I was at a nice country festival nearby, and there was a
guy there who’s been to Cabin Fever every year, just attending.
He’s never exhibited anything and he’s sitting there at the
festival with a whole table full of neat little engines he’s
built. So, I asked him why he’s never brought them to Cabin
Fever and he said, ‘Oh, you know, it’s just stuff I
built.’ And I asked him, ‘You don’t get it, do
you?’

‘That’s just the point,’ Gary says with a huff of
emphasis. ‘The point is to share whatever it is you’ve done
with a bunch of people that do the same thing. They can appreciate
your work and help you make it better. Unfortunately, there’s a
lot of guys out there who think like that who think that what
they’ve built is not as good as what the guy next to them
has.’

Schoenly tells the story about a fellow who called him a few
years ago and asked if he could display some miniature lathes.
‘I was kind of suspicious,’ Schoenly says with a grin,
‘because I thought, oh yeah, here’s a guy who’s going
to try to sneak in with some stuff that he can sell. So I explained
to him our setup, and that he couldn’t sell anything. And he
said, that’s fine, he just wants to exhibit his miniature
lathes. I was still kind of suspicious, but I told him, yeah come
on and bring ’em. So, this real well-dressed gentleman shows up
I think he’s an attorney in New York or something, with a lot
of steam behind him, and he completely fills an eight-foot table
with these beautiful little lathes. They look like a big Monarch
machine lathe, but they’re only a foot long. And, he had three
tiers set up on that table. He had 25 or 30 of the neatest little
lathes you had ever seen, complete with chucks, collect sets, and
so on all the accessories that the big boys have. And the guys went
absolutely nuts! They loved his stuff! Dan was completely amazed.
He had thought that he was the only nut in the world who collected
these things. He had the time of his life.’

Gary Schoenly is easy to pick out in the crowd. He is a tall,
massive man, with a jubilant beard and mustache, eyes sparkling
with mischief, and a thunderous laugh. If this guy ain’t Santa
Claus, he surely has to be related. You can just see him in the
North Pole workshops, roaring with delight at the latest and
craziest mechanical marvels he and his elves have fabricated and
assembled. You easily believe him when he explains that he and his
son Jared put the show together each year, not to make money, but
to promote the hobby of home shop machining and model engineering.
‘Our interest is in the engines, in promoting the hobby,’
he says. ‘I would be hard pressed to name anyone who is making
a living in the model business. There might be a few guys who are
able to do it in the large scale live steam railroading, but that
is because they have larger operations, and more work than just the
model business.’

That is true of most of the exhibitors, also. Asked if his show
might be a good place to recruit new talent for a machine shop,
Gary replies, ‘Realistically, I’d have to say it’s not
very likely. A lot of the guys who exhibit here are machinists by
trade, but a fair percentage of them are running their own shop.
They have their hands full already. So, the talent’s there for
sure, but I don’t know of any one of them who’s looking for
a job.’

In fact, Schoenly fears that their business concerns are
perversely affecting some of these machinists from helping train a
new generation. For the show in 2001, Gary explains, ‘I was
trying to get one guy to give a class on hand scraping. He’s
got his own shop, and he’s a whiz at scraping, but I think
he’s afraid that if he gives a class, he’ll be snowed under
by nickel and dime stuff and he’s got a business to run. And
that’s really unfortunate, because of that one kid out there
who might have been interested.’

Getting young people interested is a major concern of his, and
Schoenly comes back to the theme often. He says more young people
are being attracted, ‘but maybe I’m saying that because I
want to believe it. I know this for certain, the hobby’s not
just a bunch of retired guys anymore.’

Schoenly is hopeful, because his own son, Jared, was drawn into
the hobby by George Luhrs, an older machinist who eight years ago
bothered to notice the youngster’s fascination with Luhrs’
operating scale models of agricultural steam traction engines, and
took the time to answer Jared’s questions. Since then, father
and son have spent most of each summer together, traveling to
antique engine and tractor shows buying, swapping, and selling old
stationary engines. But what really captivated Jared’s interest
were the finely crafted model engines exhibited at the NAMES show
in Wyandotte, Michigan, each April.

At some point, the idea occurred to them that there was as much
interest in model engineering in the mid-Atlantic area, as there
was around Motor City. With Jared working just as hard as his
father, and a lot of advice from founding members of NAMES, the two
put together the first Cabin Fever Expo in January 1997, in the
Farmers Market of Leesport, Pennsylvania, some eight miles north of
Reading.

The primary motive was not money, but it was a major concern.
‘We only had ten vendors,’ Gary recalls. ‘We were
really wondering if anyone was going to show up, and if we were
going to have enough from the door receipts to pay the bills.’
But the hard work and earnestly heeded advice paid off, with nearly
1,000 people paying to get through the door. With attendance nearly
tripling since, the event has now outgrown the facility in
Leesport, and the fifth annual Cabin Fever Expo, scheduled for
January 27 and 28, 2001, will be held in the Lebanon Valley
Exposition Center, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Along with the move to larger, more expensive facilities, the
2001 Cabin Fever Expo faces another new challenge: this past fall,
Jared entered the University of Pittsburgh to begin studying
mechanical engineering. Jared has been an indispensable aide to his
father in organizing and managing the show, but now that he is in
college and away from home, he simply can’t help as much. Gary
says that Jared’s assistance is indispensable, and insists that
his son be given an equal share of credit for putting the show
together.

Gary Schoenly is immensely proud about the career his son has
selected. And he appreciates the key role the hobby of model
engineering played in that selection. ‘George Luhrs was open,
talkative, informative,’ Gary says. ‘We’re losing sight
of that. There are a lot of fellows like George, but you also have
to admit that some of the old-timers are not that easy to talk
with, and that’s sad because every day we’re losing some of
the knowledge and some of that craftsmanship that they’re
taking with them, but that could have been passed on to someone
younger, if they had just tried to be a little bit more
open.’

This clever display at last year’s Cabin Fever Expo lets
spectators see many of the internal components of a model engine,
and gives an idea of their small size.

And that’s what makes Cabin Fever Expo and other shows like
it so valuable. It is something Schoenly understands, and is proud
of. Cabin Fever brings people together, to share their common
interest in machinery and engineering, and to encourage each other
in reaching new levels of skill and excellence, Schoenly’s eyes
truly sparkle as he tells a favorite story.

‘There’s these two guys I know,’ he relates,
‘who had buddies in high school, and they ran into their old
friends after 20 or 30 years, at Cabin Fever. All these years these
guys had a common interest in machinery and metalworking, but had
lost track of each other. It turns out they still live only a few
miles from each other, and that kind of thing has happened TWICE at
Cabin Fever. What could be a better thank you, than helping make
something like that possible? That’s the kind of thing that
makes all the effort worthwhile.’

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