The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Ron Colonna

Joe Martin Foundation "Metalworking Craftsman of the Year" award winner for 2008

Added to museum: 2/12/08

Engine builder extraordinaire

Joe Martin Foundation "Metalworking Craftsman of the Year" award winner for 2008

Ron Colonna’s work came to the attention of the Joe Martin Foundation in 2002 through the recommendation of Robert Washburn, former publisher of Strictly IC magazine. Ron’s work covers engines in both live steam and gas, and he has contributed much to the hobby of model engineering through the articles and book he has written about producing some of the projects.  

A builder with a knack for engines from an early age

Ron always enjoyed building things and would spend most of his time working with his father’s tools when his friends were out playing ball. At an early age, he made many of his own toys. Things such as boomerangs, animal traps, model airplanes, go-carts, and such, were turned out on a regular basis. Not having a lot of money to spend, many of his projects involved trips to the junkyard or a look through things his neighbors thought were no longer useful.

Model airplanes were a big part of his early interest in engines. He was always disappointed when my models didn’t turn out like those pictured on the box. Ron joined a local model airplane club, and after talking with and learning from the pros, his models started to look more presentable. Whenever an engine didn’t perform the way he thought it should, he would work it over, polishing ports, swapping parts, and blending fuels until it started easily and ran with increased power.

Ron soon progressed to bigger engines such as those found on lawn mowers, mini bikes, and go-carts. His older brother and he built a go-cart from old bicycle frames, straightening tubing and putting things together according to a set of plans they’d found in Popular Mechanics. A neighbor gave them the engine. He had taken it all apart and had it all stuffed in a fruit basket and was going to toss it out. (Hence the expression “basket case”.) Ron rebuilt it and had it running like new in no time.

Ron in his shop at the mill. His 12" Craftsman/Atlas lathe is in the background. His shop is quite modest in size and takes up only one corner of his basement next to the furnace. (Click photo for larger image.)

All Ron’s courses in high school were College Prep even though he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to attend college. In eleventh and twelfth grades he attended a technical school program in Electronics. He went to tech school in the mornings and high school in the afternoons. He enjoyed that program and learned enough to earn some money fixing appliances for the neighbors. By word of mouth, this almost got to be a full time job.

When he graduated, Ron took a job in the local steel mill. He worked on the casting floor of the blast furnace for six months. It was hot and heavy work and not what he wanted to do, even though the money was good. He soon signed up as an apprentice Millwright. This kept him in touch with things mechanical and he learned how to repair some very complex machines. The best thing about the job was that it included a four-year deferment from the military. The Vietnam War was raging and he wanted no part of that; however, he finished the program in a little over a year. He kept taking the tests and passing them, all the while making more money as his job class rose towards being a Journeyman. As soon as he took the final test he was considered through with the course and his draft papers showed up in the mail before his Journeyman’s papers ever did.

Ron was drafted and sent to Vietnam in the spring of 1968. He ended up in an armored unit and spent a little over a month being shot at before being severely wounded by a gunshot to the spine. He was retired from the Army on a disability pension at 21 years of age. Being a partial paraplegic, he was eligible for a free education. He attended Penn State University and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

After college Ron was married and worked part time designing and building pollution control monitoring equipment for a company owned by his uncle. Tess-Com produces this type of equipment and sells it to heavy industry all over the world. He designed a package using specific ion electrodes that is still being sold today.

About this time he acquired a lathe and began using it to make some small parts for these types of instruments. A milling machine followed shortly afterwards.

Since he was only working part time, Ron found he had some free time for model building. He was still building model airplanes, only now had progressed from U-Control to Radio Controlled planes. Getting better with his machinery, he thought he would try to build a steam locomotive. He built LBSC’s Virginia in 3½ inch gauge and joined the West Penn Live Steamers club shortly after completing it. The engine ran extremely well and the Live Steam bug bit him. He went on to build several other locomotives and became an associate member at the Pennsylvania Live Steamers. His stable of locomotives includes two versions of the Virginia design in 3 ½ inch and 4 ¾ inch gauges, a Pacific type locomotive, a Consolidation, and a Hudson all in 3 ½ inch gauges. He also built a Case traction engine in 2-inch scale and a model of an amusement park locomotive for Crown Metal Products in 1-inch scale.

Ron started building internal combustion engines as a change of pace. Through a construction article in Home Shop Machinist magazine he became acquainted with Robert Washburn. He built Robert’s “Sky Charger” engine and corresponded with him about some of the finer points of machining it. Bob went on to publish Strictly IC and later asked if Ron would like to build an engine and write a construction article for him. Ron settled on the quarter scale “Cirrus Mark I”, a Merrit Zimmerman design. Merrit supplied the castings and drawings and Ron machined the engine, wrote the machining instructions and took the photographs of the work in progress. He ran the finished engine along side of Merrit’s original at the Second Annual NAMES (North American Model Engineering Society) Expo in Ann Arbor that year. He was happy and relieved when it ran well and that everyone he talked to enjoyed the article. He continued building IC engines and took them to display at the various model shows he attends. He run them whenever someone asks, and many times when they don’t!

One of Ron’s projects was the most work intensive of them all.  He built a quarter scale Offenhauser 270 racing engine from bar stock, produced all the drawings with CAD and wrote a book of instructions to show others how to do it.  He had heard about the powerful and famous Offys while growing up but really got excited about them after his oldest son gave him a book about them as a Father’s Day gift.  He was able to pick up a couple of side view drawings and looked up copies of some articles Bob Washburn had referred him to a few years earlier.  A couple of photos in the book along with those two drawings and descriptive articles were all he had to work from.  Interest among the many model builders he has met has been good, and several builders of the engine have sent him photos of their finished engines.  Ron feels an attachment to these engines even though others built them.  He says, It’s a great feeling and a great hobby.” Of the 1500 or so books sold in the past years, he knows of at least 50 engines that have been built. He has built a couple more engines since then, including a Novi V8, but he will not be offering plans for those. He says most builders need a lot of technical assistance when building the model, and that takes a lot of time. Some also ask him why he built a part a particular way rather than the way they thought it should be built. While it was a satisfying technical exercise to document the build, it required a lot of extra time that could have been spent building his next engine. If you find that not a lot of the model engineering projects you see are documented with  plans, Ron can now tell you why.

2004 Contest Winning "Whizzer" Motorbike

(L) Ron receives his plaque and award check from Foundation director Craig Libuse at the North America Model Engineering Society Exposition in Detroit in 2002 for winning the Sherline Machinist's Challenge. Ron's detailed "Whizzer" motor bike (Center and Right) took top prize in the contest for miniature machining craftsmen. Awards in the contest are based on votes given by spectators at the show who pick their favorites from all the entries presented. (Click on any photo to view a larger version of the image.)

Selection as 2008 Metalworking Craftsman of the Year

Ron was selected to be the twelfth person to receive the Foundation's top award because of his extensive contributions to the hobby both through his construction of many engines but also for the additional step he has taken to pass on some of that knowledge to others through the writing of magazine articles and production of a book on how to build the Offy 270. In addition, is skill in this field is attested to not only by how nice the engines look but also by the fact that each is a good, reliable runner. As a past winner of Sherline's Machinist's Challenge contest, the winner of which is selected by the spectators at the annual NAMES show, Ron's work is also obviously popular with the show-goers who inspect it in person. Ron will be receiving an award plaque and a check for $2000.00 at the NAMES show on April 20, 2008. His work will be on display in a special area set aside for the winner of this award, and he will be there to run his engines and discuss their construction.

See Ron’s personal web site at: http://www.ronsmodelengines.com.

See videos of some of Ron's engines running on YouTube.com at: http://www.youtube.com/user/ronsmodelengines.

Here are a number of examples of Ron Colonna's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

This photo shows the first locomotive Ron ever built, LBSC’s Virginian in 3 ½" gauge. The larger version is behind it for comparison.

Ron’s scratch built Virginian in 4¾" gauge. This engine has performed flawlessly for many years. Ron and his sons have run it at many track-sites across the country. It’s extremely powerful for its size and weight.

It took Ron two years to complete this 2" scale Case traction engine. He has run it at several steam shows, but mostly it is run in the back yard.
This 1" scale Virginian locomotive was built for Bert Williams of Crown Metal Products. Bert contracted Ron to build it to resemble one of his amusement park engines. He has taken it to several park conventions and displays it running on air on the special stand Ron built for it also.

Ron running his “President Washington”, B& O, Pacific type locomotive at the Pennsylvania Live Steamers’ track. This was before the B&O tender was completed. That’s the tender from his Consolidation behind it.

A recent photo of Ron’s Challenger V-8 after a rebuild to replace some carbon clogged oil control rings. This engine attracts the most attention of any at the shows. With the electric starter it runs at the touch of a button.
This is the large ¼ scale Cirrus Mark I that Ron built and wrote the construction article about for Strictly IC magazine. 1-1/16" bore, 1¼" stroke, 73.77 cc displacement. A Merrit Zimmerman design.
Another of Merrit Zimmerman’s designs, the 1/6th scale Cirrus Mark I. 11/16” bore, ¾" stroke, 1.2 cu.in. displacement. Glow ignition.
The Forrest Edwards designed 5-cylinder radial. .943" bore, .966" stroke, 55 cc displacement, glow ignition.
Ron’s first rotary; the 9 cylinder Gnome Monosoupape. This engine is 1/5th scale and was built from drawings produced by Les Chenery, England. ¾" bore, 1" stroke, 64cc displacement.

Ron’s 1/8th scale Bentley BR2. He scaled down the ¼ scale version of Lew Blackmore’s engine. It is the only 1/8th scale version we’re aware of. 5/8" bore, 7/8" stroke, 43.2 cc displacement.

The Sealion, a Westbury design. Ron won “Best of Show” with this engine at the NAMES Expo in 1995. Robert Washburn of Strictly IC magazine sponsored the contest. Four cylinder, overhead cam, 7/8" bore, ¾" stroke, 30cc displacement.
Ron has built a few farm type “hit-and-miss” engines. This is the New Holland, a Paul Breisch design. 7/8" bore, 1-3/8" stroke, .826 cu. In. displacement.

A side view of Ron’s ¼ scale, 270 Offy. This is the same photo he used on the cover of his book on building this engine. It is a 16-valve engine with double overhead cam (gear driven), spark ignition and dry sump lubrication. 

Many people from around the world have purchased Ron's book on building the Offenhauser engine. Shown here are three people besides Ron showing off their engines at a recent model engineering show. Left to right are John DeBoom, Ashton, IA, Ron Colonna, Ron Clark, Greenfield, IN and Julian Morrison, Clinton, TN.

In the 15 years it has been on sale Ron has sold over 1500 copies of his book on the engine in 17 different countries, and he knows of at least 50 engines that have been built from his plans. He still gets a couple of orders per month for the book.

A front view of the Offy showing the magneto drive details.

A look down at the top of the Offy. The four carbs are all functional and serve to mimic the Hillborn fuel injectors used from the early 1950’s on. A computer chip controlled fuel injection system is in the works.
Ron is seen with his Offy engine on its display stand that includes a radiator to keep the engine cool while running it.
The Hercules was designed by the late Bob Shores. Unfortunately, Bob did not live long enough to see this one run, but it's a nice tribute to his design and like all Ron's engines, a good runner.
The "V-twin" is essentially patterned after the design of a Harley Davidson motor of the 1940's and '50's. It was scratch built without castings using a cutaway drawing of a Harley Knucklehead engine for the details of the bottom end and photos of some Panhead parts being sold on eBay for the to end.
Current project under construction: a Novi V8. It is being built from Photos of a Novi engine that Ron found on the Offenhauser Historical Society's website and a drawing of the geartrain that was shown in the book Novi V-8 Indy Cars 1941 - 1965 by Karl Ludvigsen. It's supercharged and the four overhead camshafts are all gear driven. It's a "square" engine with a 3/4" bore and stroke.

In August, 2009 Ron sent updated photos of progress on the Novi V8 engine. With manifolds and twin distributors now in place the engine is looking much more complete.

Photos taken at the NAMES (North American Model Engineering Society) show in April, 2010 show the engine complete. It has run once for a brief time but now doesn't want to fire again. Ron is working on the problem

Ron's 1/4 scale Whizzer motorbike was the featured model at the 2010 NAMES show in Detroit. It is about 14" long and the engine runs just like the full-size version. (5/3/10)

Ron completed this 1" = 1' Case Steam Traction Engine and sent the photos in March, 2013. He decided to build it as a way to take a break from the internal combustion engines he had been building recently. He purchased the cast parts from a model engineer who had started the project and given up on it. He had previously built one at 2" = 1' scale and notes that the smaller one was about "10 times more difficult." It did, however, allow him to use his Sherline tools on many of the smaller parts. He has run the engine on compressed air, and it does have a functional boiler and pressurized kerosene storage tank under the coal bunkers. Despite the beautiful paint job, he does plan to fire it up at least once before displaying it. He notes the casting kits are still available through Coles Power Models.

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