Farm Collector

History Drives Scale Models

When 66-year-old Roger Meland of Merrifield,
Minn., was a kid, his mother lived across the street from a
construction site. “When I came in off the farm to stay with her, I
watched a steam-operated elevator working as they built the
Minneapolis Honeywell building. I would go and watch the
twin-cylinder horizontal winch bring up cement and all the
products. I was just fascinated by that engine.”

Then when his family lived on a farm near Deer Park, Wis., in
the late 1940s, they would only go to town twice a month. The town
blacksmith shop was steam-operated in those days, run by a man who
had also converted an old Chevy car into a steam-powered one he
drove around town. “I would go right to the blacksmith shop while
mom would shop at the grocery store or the general store for cloth
to make clothes.” The shop had a variety of buckets hung below
leaky valves, including some wood ones, so the water wouldn’t
collect on the floor. At the blacksmith shop, Roger was allowed to
empty the buckets. “It was like an honor to be able to dump the
water out of the buckets,” Roger says. That was how he became
fascinated by steam.

In the 1950s, Roger began making his own steam engines out of
stuff he found lying around the home workshop. “Dad had a lathe and
small mill and some stuff like that, so I just started playing
around. I was just fascinated with anything mechanical, rebuilding
lawn mower engines when I was 10 years old,” he says.

His first boiler for a steam engine was a two-quart paint can,
he says. “It was a compression lid paint can, and my first engine
was a single-acting oscillating engine.”

One day Roger read an article in Mechanix Illustrated
magazine that showed a model steam engine that could be built from
castings. That made him realize he wanted to make steam engines
that looked like the real ones he saw. “The homemade engines I was
making ran, but didn’t look like the real engines to me, so I
started getting into scale engines at that point,” Roger said.

When he was 17 years old, he ordered a model of a Stuart steam
engine from England. “I waited for five months for that engine to
get here. I can tell you I was chomping at the bit by the time it
came,” he says.

STEAM TODAY

Right now Roger is working on building a twin-cylinder steam
engine that was at Honeywell in Minneapolis. Roger remarks, “It’s
the one from my kid dreams, a twin-cylinder horizontal steam
winch.”

Roger has begun making machine shop tools in 1/12-scale, taken
out of a 523-page 1895 catalog, which has been reprinted. “It has
all kinds of old shop stuff in it, machinery that was for sale by
this company, like milling machines, engine lathes, shapers, drill
press, arbor press, bench grinder, table saw and a wood lathe,” he
says. “The company had their own foundries. I have castings of many
of them so people can have their own miniature machine shop.”

One of the steam engines from the catalog that he’s built is a
1/8-scale of a Class F 6 HP Orr & Sembower factory engine. Orr
& Sembower Inc., of Reading, Pa., sold very good engines and
boilers, Roger says. His 1/8-scale is a double-acting vertical
engine of 5/8-inch bore and 7/8-inch stroke. “It’s 7-1/2 inches
tall with a 3-inch diameter flywheel, and it has a belt pulley. I
also have a printed copy of their original literature.”

Another of his engines is a walking beam engine. “It’s patterned
after the patents that really became the very first steam engine
that could do work, from the patents ideas of James Watt back in
1778,” Roger says. Watt patented parallel motion, which is
incorporated in this model, so people can see how it actually
functions. Early engines run by steam were called condensing
engines, and the valves had to be operated by hand as the piston
went up and down.

“Then James Watt patented the parallel motion, which allowed
reciprocating motion to be converted to rotary motion, which could
now turn pulleys and drive belts,” Roger recalls. Other people were
doing steam engines at the time, Roger says, but Watt is generally
considered the father of the industrial steam engine. “Others were
condensing steam to create a vacuum to pull the piston down, which
wasn’t a very good system, but Watt admitted steam to both sides of
the piston which meant much more power.

Roger is high on English-made Stuart model engines. “Two of them
come to mind,” he says, “and I guess I would have to say I still do
a lot of work with Stuart engines, I have quite a few of them
here.” He says the Stuart castings are good and easy to work
on.

One of his setups is a regular machine shop that runs on the
Stuart engine. The Victoria engine, his all time favorite engine,
just runs so sweet. It includes the miniature boiler, pipes, chunks
of wood, wood pails, even a miniature line shaft and incorporates a
scale operating governor.

He also likes the Stuarts because in England and Germany people
in general are more into models than Americans are, he says.
“They’re into models of all kinds, model railroads, model steam
engines. There are more people doing models as a hobby. It has to
do with the size of the countries, the size of their homes, and a
whole different system and style of living. In some countries the
stores are only open one Saturday a month, and none in the evenings
past 6 o’clock,” he says. That gives people the desire to do other
things, and making models is one of them.

Roger says it’s harder for the small caster nowadays, because
many of the smaller foundries have fallen by the wayside, and the
big companies want to do runs of 100,000 or so, which obviously
doesn’t work for a hobbyist like him.

Roger says when people see his model steam engines, they think
they’re just incredible.

TAKING IT IN

“They think that just because I make them I’m some kind of
genius, but I’m not. I’m just a guy from down the street, and it
all depends on what you apply yourself to. I’m good at this, but
I’m bad at a lot of other things. You should see my typing. If it
wasn’t for spellchecker, I would have to make a lot of phone
calls,” Roger says.

He says it takes some machining skills and the equipment to do
it. “You don’t need big expensive machinery. You can get by with
pretty reasonable-priced stuff. The most expensive parts involve
tooling. For skills, I just say it’s 90 percent intestinal
fortitude, and a little bit of luck.”

Roger admits that sometimes things don’t work out when he’s
creating his engines, but he just climbs back on the horse, so to
speak, and gets to work again. “My education is in engineering, and
I love a challenge, so if I have a problem, and have to go in and
redo something, or remake a part, make something different, that’s
part of the fun in it for me. I get to go back and make it better,”
he says.

Today, Roger says he’s kind of a purist when it comes to models
of the old engines. “When I look at some engines that are supposed
to represent engines from the 1890s, I see the Phillips head screws
or socket head screws, which just don’t look right, because they
didn’t have them at the time. So for years I’ve been using scale
hex head bolts and scale-sized nuts and studs to make sure they
look authentic.”

Roger says there isn’t really a most difficult part of what he
does. “Really, it just depends on your experience. For machinists
with 30, 40, 50 years of experience, it can be a snap. But for
someone just starting out, it can be quite difficult. Each engine
has its difficult part, but the difficult part of one engine isn’t
necessarily the same difficult part on another engine. Some engines
are harder to do the crosshead because it’s kind of closed in or
hidden or really tall. Some are harder to do the eccentrics, like
the Stuart Victoria model, where the hardest part is the governor,
because the parts are so small.”

He has to use magnifying glasses at times. “Right now I’m
assembling an engine that uses 0.80-inch screws, so I need a
magnifying glass and tweezers to get the bolts in place,” says
Roger. Also, he’s performing the work on a twin-cylinder marine
engine. “It’s a magnificent engine and just runs flawlessly. It has
a Hackworth reversing gear and is a small two-cylinder engine used
for marine purposes.”

He has also made several model gasoline engines, including an
Economy, an upright Domestic – which is very, very rare in real
life – and a New Holland. These engines intrigue him because people
made them from scratch in the sense that there were no other
engines to follow and no plans. “The engines came straight out of
their heads,” he says.

Roger is excited about one of his latest projects, a scale model
of an Atkinson gas engine. “The castings will be coming any time
now. The Atkinson was a strange engine, a four-stroke engine that
does all four strokes in one revolution. It was made out east in
Pennsylvania. A friend of mine did all the research on it for
me.”

Besides his love of old steam, Roger says he builds and collects
these engines because they all have an incredible history. “It’s
being lost. People may never be able to see the full-sized engines,
but when you have a model engine you can take to shows in the
summer and fall they get to see what the model engines are like and
imagine what the engines were like when they were full-size,” he
says.

One of the fun things he does at the 10 or so shows he attends
is to take his 1-1/2-inch steam whistle and toot at the big
steamers from the sidelines as they go by. “They toot back with
their big one and people get a charge out of that,” he says.

“The shows we go to are just wonderful and my wife, Susy, and I
meet so many nice and incredible people. We’ve made so many new
friends, including the folks at TM Research who have been a
tremendous help to me.”

“I dearly love this hobby and wish more people would get into
it,” states Roger.

Contact Roger Meland at e-mail:
theengineshop@brainerd.net
www.theengineshop.net

Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane,
Rockville, MN 56369; e-mail: bvossler@juno.com

  • Published on May 1, 2006
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