Photo by Keith Ladage
There are often antique gas engines on display at antique tractor shows, but Bob Suhre offers something a little different. Bob builds model gas engines that not only look like the real thing, but also run.
At last year's Homestead Power Show in Highland, Ill., Bob's models drew a constant crowd. Everyone just kept looking at the miniature models and shaking their heads. More than one admirer was heard to whisper, 'How in the world did he do that?'
These models are just something you don't see every day. Machining and assembling the small working parts would seem to require the patience of Job and the accuracy of a surgeon. If the work phased Bob at all, though, he didn't show it. He answered questions from several viewers, all the while keeping each model engine in motion.
The model gas engine hobby is a relatively new one for Bob. He didn't make his first engine until after he retired from McDonnell-Douglas thirteen years ago. After that he bought a metal lathe and a machine shop and really got involved in model gas engines.
Bob's experience at McDonnell-Douglas gained him the technical skills which would serve him well in his modeling hobby. If not specific skills, it at least help him perfect the attention to detail he would need. 'I started out on a flight ramp servicing radar electronic systems for 14 years, then I went into cost-estimating. When I retired, I was the Manager for Spare Parts on the Cruise Missile. It was fun; we priced out 300,000 parts to the government.'
An article in The Home Machinist is what prompted Bob's interest in Model Gas Engines. He had just bought his machine shop when he read an article on how to build an 'Odds & Ends' engine. Following the directions, Bob built the 'Odds & Ends' engine in 1990. Bob said he made everything, all the way down to the spark plugs.
After the 'Odds & Ends' engine, Bob was hooked, and ready to move onto his next Home Machinist project, a four-cylinder brass engine called 'Panther Pup.' The brass engine sounded like a race car as it purred away at the tractor show, amazing everyone with its precision and beauty. Next, Bob built a hard working 'Olds' 1/2 scale engine which he made from a casting kit sold by Brietsch Peters. He also built the 'Hired Man' also from the same company.
Bob just kept right on going and next built a 'Kenner R5 1/4 scale radial engine'. The 'Kenner R5,' Bob explained, was a five-cylinder World War II aircraft engine. This project was close to home. It took him a year and a half to complete.
Last year, Bob's winter project was a Canfield engine from Zanesville, Ohio. And he's currently building a 'Silver Bullet,' a twin-cylinder water-cooled radiator engine designed by Bob Shores.
Bob combs magazine ads for the parts he needs and travels to a Detroit suburb every April to attend a model engine society meeting.
Bob said he has been amazed at what modelers build from scratch. Many of the inventors on hand will also sell or share their designs of everything from gas and steam engines to a race car and, even, a working .22 caliber Gatling gun.
When the Suhres are at a show, visitors always seem to find their way to their display. June said that Bob just, 'turns on the charm,' and visitors start flocking to their exhibit.
If you have questions for Bob, you can write him at: Bob Suhre, Model Gas Engine Builder, 114 St. Mary Drive, Collinsville, Ill. 62234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cindy Ladage is a frequent contributor to Farm Collector. She and her husband live in Virden, Ill.