An Extravaganza of Men, Metal, and Machines

| January/February 2001

  • Model Engines

  • Model Engine

  • Model engines

  • Model Engines
  • Model Engine
  • Model engines

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 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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