Tiny History

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An 1870 model Case steam engine

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It was all there, and all in working order. The powerful saw blade, the moving carriage, the dogs holding the log in place, the men ready to load the timber and unload the finished planks. A conveyor belt carried away the sawdust. And it was all in miniature.

Lanny Wesche of Wellsville, N.Y., spent 15 years handcrafting an authentic scale model of a sawmill rig. He used a lot of research but no kits. He said the project would have taken him much less than 15 years to complete, but he kept adding to it.

With a background as a welder and machinist, Lanny brought his sawmill, along with a model of a 19th century wood working shop, to the 5th annual Cabin Fever Expo held at Lebanon, Penn., in January. A log-cutting scene and one demonstrating 19th century steam-driven surface oil pumping equipment completed an extensive exhibit that demonstrated superior engineering knowledge and impressive attention to detail.

Back in the 1960's Lanny attended a steam pageant that sparked his interest in steam power. About 15 years ago, he got into building miniaturized versions of authentic 19th century steam engine scenes to show just how people operated them all those years ago.

'When I get an idea of what I want to make, I go to the library or go to shows and look around,' he said. 'This was the start of the Industrial Revolution and kids don't know about it. The working models draw a lot of interest and the more detail there is, the more people are interested. I enjoy watching the kids.'

Lanny's wood cutting scene includes a handcrafted scale model of an 1870 Case steam engine, one of the earliest made. The belt-driven frame saw is copied from one built in the 1880's at St. Alban's Foundry in St. Alban's, Vt. Back then a new one sold for $50. There is also a horse-drawn water wagon ready to keep the steam engine topped up. 'Initially steam power was an alternative to the tread mill or sweep power,' he said. 'Both were horse-powered. Development of the locomotive was an important factor in harnessing steam power.'

The oil-pumping model demonstrates surface pumping machinery powered by a steam engine, a method that was used for only a short time before gas engines took over as a power source for both drilling and pumping.

'The surface equipment was one of the methods used to pump oil in the late 1880's,' Lanny said. 'The steam engine was belted to the gearcentric to operate the pumps.'

The miniature equipment in the woodworking factory includes aband saw, a table saw, a planer, a drum sander, a cut off saw and a wood lathe, all hand-crafted from scratch. Only the bench grinder and the drill press are made from kits. Such equipment was belt-driven using pulleys and leather belts, with line shaft power provided by a steam engine that also generated electricity.

Born in Germany in 1930, Bill Huxoll of Ontario, Canada started his tool and die apprenticeship at age 14. He had been building models since he was 10 years old, mostly boats and trains, but it was not until the 1970s that he launched into machinery. The first time he saw a lathe he wanted to build one for himself.

'It took a lifetime to achieve my goal,' he said. 'You've got to have the right feeling at your fingertips connected with what's between your ears. It was a three-year effort to build the lathe. When I had built two of them I decided to do something with them.'

Bill also showed off his two scale model Harlinge lates at the Cabin Fever Expo: one a tiny HLV-H and the other a DSM-59. He also showed scale models of a triple expansion stream engine like that used on Titanic, a dual Corliss steam engine, serial number 10003, and a single-cylinder steam engine with a Corliss valve gear. Scales varied from 1/50 to 1/100 and no kits were used.

'Everything you see here was built by me,' he said. 'I was always intrigued with Corless, an American engine designed and built in the 1860s and 70s. It was the most efficient engine on the market. Powered by steam, it was used in all kinds of factories. Flour mills, textiles, you name it. Anywhere that anything needed to be driven by something else.'

Bill, who is a member of the North American Model Engineering Society, visits a number of shows during the year, sharing his knowledge with modelers through seminars and demonstrations.

'I like to show my stuff and talk to people with like interests,' he said. 'I get a lot of satisfaction from this.'

Bill Huxhold and Lanny Wesche were just two of the hundreds of exhibitors and vendors who gathered in Lebanon for the Cabin Fever Expo. They came from as far away as California and Colorado and from as near as Maryland and Virginia. They brought with them every variety of models and model kits as well as parts, machinery and technical literature to share with like-minded enthusiasts.

The first four Cabin Fever Expos were held at Leesport, Pennsylvania, on the initiative of Gary Schoenly of nearby Mohnton, who envisioned a show that focused on model engineering at a time when there was no competition. Gary, his wife Joan and son Jared, are the show's organizers and sponsors, putting in many hours of hard work to make their project a success.

'There's been no engine show on the East Coast since October,' Gary said. 'This is a family-sponsored event and we very strongly encourage children to come. This is my contribution to the hobby. We're losing to technology every day. We shouldn't lose our heritage - there's so much history here.'

The Schoenly family's interest in vintage equipment and models has been part of their lives for many years. While visiting shows and talking with exhibitors they got the idea of providing an opportunity for modelers to get together at a time of the year when they were likely to be indoors working on their hobbies.

The earlier shows generated so much enthusiasm that they outgrew their Leesport location. This year the two-day event was moved to the Lebanon County Exhibition Center in Lebanon, Penn., and the crowds followed.

Four lofty halls were the setting for a wide variety of model-related attractions during the two-day event. A sales area provided space for exhibitors to sell up to four items. The New England Model Engineering Club staffed the machining demonstration area throughout the weekend. There were sand casting and foundry demonstrations and several free seminars covering machining techniques, types of tooling and even how to build your first clock.

The displays included all types of model gas and steam engines, hot air engines, airplanes, boats, trains, cars, kits, modeling supplies and tools.

There was also a lot of information exchanged as exhibitors and vendors greeted old friends and made new ones.

'This is a very nice facility,' Gary said. 'The show has been very well received. We wanted to focus on model hobbies at a time of the year when there's no competition. We'll be here the same time next year.'

The 6th annual Cabin Fever Expo will be held at the Lebanon Exposition Center in Lebanon, Penn., on Jan. 26 and 27, 2002.

For more information on Cabin Fever Expo call Gary Schoenly at 1-800-789-5068.

For more information on the North American Model Engineering Society visit

www.modelengineeringsoc.com on the web.

Jill Teunis is a frequent contributor to Farm Collector.