Gas Engine Magazine

HELLO my name is Samson

By Staff

How does one feel after 18 months of pattern
making, machining and assembly of an engine? What is one’s reaction
when the idea becomes reality and far surpasses the boldest of
expectations? What is accomplished when the model performs exactly
as the full size engine, even duplicating the idiosyncrasies? The
only way these questions can be answered is to go through the
process yourself. Only then can you fully appreciate the scope of
what is involved. I dare say that John M. Kroyer had a similar
appreciation for his first prototype.

Building these small scales reveals a wonderful technology that
is hidden from modern perception. Machine design, which looks
deceptively simple when built on the bench, reveals the
gracefulness of much beauty and a complexity not seen with the
naked eye. Study reveals the greatest appreciation for beauty in
design combined solidly with the best engineering practice of the
day. The fact that nothing frivolous is ever found in good design
is not an accident. These great men of long ago who originated
these engines combined the gracefulness and majesty of art in the
form of gray iron castings and lathe-turned parts.

These small-scale engines built today are a modern-day legacy to
those men of long ago who lifted the yoke from our backs with the
wonderful power of explosive vapor turning a flywheel.

“You don’t need to be a mechanical genius or shop wizard
or possess a million dollar machine shop to build your favorite
engine in miniature.”

Little Sam started as a desire to capture the essence of the
early Samson engines in a size that lends itself to display in the
home. I built Little Sam two ways in my mind before I even lifted a
pencil. The first version involved the casting process, which at
the time I was unfamiliar with. The fabrication process is
possible, although very tedious in the attachment of many small
parts to assemble and no way to replicate it. However, the casting
process provides an easy solution to all of the characteristic
forms used in Samson gas engine construction. Plus, if the model
was successful, I could easily create another one as a result of
already having the patterns made. This was a deciding factor, as
well as my appreciation for the look of true castings in

One of my basic goals was to build it as it could have been when
presented to the patent office. I also built it in such as way that
it cannot be differentiated from one built a century ago. The final
goal was to create an accurate representation of an engine
instantly recognizable as a Samson engine with all the unique
features identifying as such.

After these basic goals were determined, there remained the
question of scale. Most models available today are 1/4-scale.
However, with some amount of detail in Little Sam, I felt a
1/3-scale would lend itself to more precise detailing in the
patterns. It was easier to see what I was doing in this scale as
well. A 1/3-scale engine is a substantial size and very impressive
with considerable power. These considerations all helped to decide
the scale.

I began serious planning for Little Sam after seeing the
marvelous Alamo scale built by Eric Brekke on the front cover of
Gas Engine Magazine in December 2003. This lovely engine is also
1/3-scale and absolutely breathtaking in every detail. With it as
an inspiration, I began Little Sam.

Richard Backus has gracefully allowed me in various issues of
GEM to share Little Sam’s progress. This is the final update as the
engine is alive and well, performing exactly as its big Papa.

These updates have never been how-to articles, but rather I have
tried to pass along the feeling of achievement and perhaps an
insight or two. I am not a machinist, or a carpenter. I did what I
could with what I have, which isn’t much. So Little Sam is proof
that a good engine can be built with a minimum of machine

How does one go about building an accurate model of his favorite
engine? Two things are very important. You must have a deep desire
to build it to the exclusion of everything else and you must
possess the most intimate knowledge of the engine you are modeling.
Deep desire plus accurate knowledge equals success. You don’t need
to be a mechanical genius or shop wizard or possess a million
dollar machine shop to build your favorite engine in miniature.

I have met some amazing people who build the most marvelous
scales imaginable. Roland Morrison helped me tremendously with
practical advice and the accumulation of difficult to find
material. Carmin Adams has greatly encouraged me with hints in
igniter and carburetor construction. Many have replied with tips
and solutions and provided encouragement. I have met many fine
people through this fine magazine.

Little Sam is a 1/3-scale model based on the Samson 5 HP Model
N, built from 1898-1907.

The Little Samson represents the 5 HP Model N engines built from
1898 to 1907 in Stockton, Calif. It has a fully jacketed cylinder
as well as water-cooled head. It possesses a working
distillate/gasoline carburetor with float. The igniter uses
tungsten for point material. The crankshaft and governor shaft run
in properly babbitted bearing, as does the original.

I intended to run Little Sam on propane because it runs so sweet
and quiet on this fuel. However, I built the distillate fuel system
as a working system, this also being one of my original goals. On
gasoline the engine runs about 200 RPM. On propane I can get it to
run about 80 RPM (so far). I have found it necessary to use copper
gaskets on the igniter and valve box cover because of the heat.
Eventually the Little Samson will be belted up to a Samson 3-inch
centrifugal pump in bronze, which is yet to be scaled.

Four complete casting sets were produced from the initial 22
patterns. The other three are in capable hands able to turn these
rough castings into working engines using rough drawings and notes.
I have no immediate plans to provide these castings in a commercial
sense, this is not the reason nor purpose for which they are
intended. I have been waiting five months for valve box and
governor body castings to complete the other three sets. It is
becoming increasingly difficult to find foundries interested in
small runs and labor intensive castings.

Yes, there are men born with a desire and imagination to create
in miniature things that are precious to the heart. Translating
these thoughts into a scale engine is a noble thing, capturing the
essence of the inventor and empowering the viewer to glimpse the
past in a modern day moment. The magic of scale engines defines the
past and brings to life those vision-filled men who dreamed of
power in flywheels.

In much the same sense, we pay tribute by our efforts in
replicating these machines. Their inventors would be pleased to see
our efforts in creating miniatures of their accomplishments, which
helped free men from back-breaking toil, thus giving them a chance
to dream and perhaps leave to their children a better and easier

Think about it. Samsons must be good engines because they’re
still being built today! Little Sam is just as much a Samson engine
as any built by John M. Kroyer. This statement reveals the magic of
scales and their great significance to those who cherish the

Lester Bowman, 175 N. Santa Ana Ave., Modesto, CA 95354;

  • Published on Apr 1, 2006
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