When Wally Biernacki set out to build a 1/4-scale model of a 1914 65 hp side-crank Case steam engine, he wasn’t about to let little things like time or toil get in his way. “If you put your mind to it,” he says, “you can almost do anything.”
Introduced to machinery as a farm boy south of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada, Wally was utterly captivated. “The mechanical things intrigued me,” he recalls. “I made boats and planes as a boy and I whittled a car. If I see it, I’m going to make it.” Decades later, that passion still burns strong. “I’ve always been around steam,” he says. “I like steam engines of all sizes.”
Among his favorites is the scale Case model steam engine he built 30 years ago. He bought a casting kit for the engine and a Canadian company built the boiler. “In Canada, anything over 15 psi has to be licensed,” he explains.
The real key to the project, though, is a set of plans for a full-size 65 hp Case steam engine. Wally re-drew the plans to 1/4 scale and had the drawings certified. The result is a stunningly accurate model of the real McCoy. “I’ve been told it’s the most authentic 1/4-scale Case around,” he says, “and I believe that. Other than two water valves and the fire tubes in the boiler, mine is exactly 1/4 scale. If (the valves and tubes) were 1/4 scale, they’d be too small to fire the engine properly.”
Starting with the engine kit, Wally machined castings, bored the cylinder, and made a canopy, connecting rod, piston and wheels, complete with hand-threaded and -cut spokes. The gears were blanks; Wally indexed and milled them. “There was a lot of machining work,” he admits. “And I’m not a machinist, so sometimes I have to make two or three parts to get one good one. Sometimes I just have to leave for a half hour.”
Clearly he doesn’t leave very often. Rated at 2-1/2 hp, the model Case is a workhorse, pulling implements also built by Wally. The line-up includes a buzz saw, drag saw, grist mill, tank wagon and a 1/3-scale 1922 Case stationary baler he uses to produce tiny hay bales for seasonal decor. The latter (essentially a show demonstration) is a hot commodity at autumn festivals. “In the fall I don’t go to a show unless I have 100 bales made ahead,” Wally says.
Safety is a paramount concern. The model steam engine’s boiler is tested at 150 pounds and its safety valves are set at 100 psi. “I follow the same ASME specifications as you would with a big engine,” Wally says. The model’s pressure gauge, safety valves and boiler shell are tested annually.
Shows are a big part of the fun for Wally. “I go to about 22 a year,” he says. A day at the beach it’s not. The boiler, for instance, houses 14 15/16-inch flues. After firing the model, each flue must be cleaned with a wire brush. “That’s just part of the fun,” he says with a smile. “And if it rains, I’ll be wearing rubber boots and a slicker while I’m firing and I’ll have fun then too.”