Scale-Model Gas Engine Building

A California gas engine model maker's scale experiences

| July/August 2004

Back in the late 1980s, I attended my first gas engine show. I have collected and worked on old machinery all my adult life, and that first show was a dream come true - there was so much great stuff. It was at this first show that I saw a model and talked to the gentleman who built it. I showed the model to my wife and said, "I think I could build that." She responded, "You need a hobby, so go for it."

The years have passed with lots of chips on the floor and correspondence with model builders and interested people. What follows is an account of my models and my impressions of building them:

This was my first model. I was able to machine all the castings with little difficulty. However, when it came to the valves, gears, springs, governor, etc., I did a lot of head scratching with many phone calls to Homer Stevens, who walked me through all the spots where there is no substitute for experience - most notably building a one-piece crank, seating valves and setting exhaust valve timing. When the Olds first ran, I called Homer so he could hear it, and he knew I was hooked! The Olds model would be very good for anyone interested in building their first. In retrospect, I was lucky it was my first as I have built a few since that may have discouraged me.

Homer then sent me a set of castings for a Fuller & Johnson he had, saying he didn't think he would get to it due to his age. I built it, called him up and let him hear it run.

Domestic sideshaft
This is one very interesting model, with its sideshaft and all the action going on at the head. This model is a challenge to build, and the cylinder casting is very unique. When I finished it, I wrote an article for Gas Engine Magazine about my experience.

As I waited for my copy of GEM to arrive, I received an overnight express delivery letter from New York, but I had no idea who the sender was. I read the letter and had to laugh - although my copy of GEM hadn't arrived, it was clear my article had been printed. The sender had built the Domestic, but couldn't get it to run. He said, 'Call me collect ASAP. I'm a machinist of 60 years, getting old and don't want to waste time. Thanks.' I called him (not collect), and we got it all figured out and running in just a few calls. He told me his nephew lived about 30 miles from me. I knew the name but never met the nephew, Francis Ford Coppola. Small world this model interest brings along.