Chris Rueby Tells His Story
|You can click on any image for a larger view|
|After completing my most recent project, a live steam 1:16 scale model of the Marion Model 91 steam shovel that is outside a quarry in LeRoy NY, a number of people were asking how I learned how to build models like that. Well, it's been a long and twisty road that hopefully keeps going for a few more miles!|
|Like a lot of
kids, I enjoyed building model kits of cars, planes, etc. After
visits to some great museums like Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and
the Mariners Museum in Virginia the focus turned to ships, and the
next few kits were small wooden ships. Then I was given a set of
ship model books by Harold Underhill, and things really began to
change. Underhill really focuses on attention to detail in his
models, and shows a lot of techniques for making complex detailed
parts with simple hand tools - this is a lesson that has stuck with
me ever since. The next model was the brigantine Leon from his
books, with a carved pine hull and quite a bit of detail in the
rigging. He showed ways of flattening/shaping copper wire into metal
fittings for the rigging which did not require buying pre-cast
parts, just using simple tools. This was the start of my 'toolbox'
of techniques learned over the years.
My interest in ship models continues to this day, both in static display and radio controlled operating models. Later models included clipper ships and fishing hulls, then Mystic Seaport started selling plans for their steam passenger ferry Sabino, which I had ridden on many times - it just was a natural pick for what to build.
The Sabino model was radio controlled, and I got the opportunity to have the Sabino captain run the model in the water in front of the real ship. On the next cruise out that day, with the model sitting down in the engine room, the captain called me up to the pilothouse and taught me to pilot the real ship up and down the river! Quite an inspiration for a young modeler.
|It was during
the build of the Sabino model that I got my first lathe, a small
Unimat tabletop unit that came in very handy for making small wood
and metal parts, though it got the most use early on when set up as
a miniature table saw. A later model came about when I stumbled
across a four volume set of books in a used book store, all in
French, published by the national maritime museum in France. These
books focused on the design and construction of a Napoleonic-era 74
gun naval ship - very little text, but almost every page was a large
fold out plan for every part of the ship. With hundreds of sheets of
very detailed plans, it was just begging to become a model. That was
the first time that I attempted a fully framed/planked model, built
like the real one from the keel up.
In order to show the framing, it was done in the style of the old Admiralty models, where they left off most of the outer planking to show the way that the hulls were constructed. This project spanned about 10 years, though there were many gaps in its construction while other projects and hobbies took the front burner temporarily. An offshoot of the ship model hobby happened after I moved into a house and had much more workshop space - the scale models turned in to 1-to-1 scale full-size boats inspired by the builders at Mystic Seaport, where they have a shop dedicated to building traditional style small boats. This was a shop that I had spent a lot of time when younger, seeing how the planking was done, also learning from books by the masters of the craft like Pete Culler and John Gardner. Over the years I have built a dozen traditional lapstrake boats, ranging from small sailing canoes to an 18' Concordia sailboat, plus modern style cedar-strip kayaks. The methods used on the full-size boats extended those from the models, while the full-size techniques also applied themselves well to later models.
|Other models made along the way include a small fleet of working submarines (one being a Great White shark with articulated tail and fins) and a small rowboat propelled by its oars.|
|Another offshoot of the ship model hobby was wood carving - started as part of the ship models when carving the hulls and other fittings, and branched out into carving animals, carousel horses, and gargoyles.|
|The ship model
influence still held on in some projects, like this stern eagle
inspired by work that I had seen at Mystic Seaport - carved in pine
then gold leafed.
The gold leaf lessons from the stern eagle carried over into other projects, like a small model of one of the chariots found in Tut's tomb - saw a PBS special on recreating the chariot as a full size working version, which they used to learn how the chariots functioned and developed. I was able to get hold of the expert from the show who did the construction, who kindly pointed me at the books with measured drawings from the original artifacts from the tomb. As with many projects, they started out with a fascination for a machine or tool, and a desire to know how they work - what better way to learn how something functions than to build one?
|Early on all
of the carving was with hand chisels and spokeshaves, but then I
obtained some books and videos by master bird carver Floyd Scholz,
who teaches using rotary tools and woodburning tools to shape and
detail his carvings. The first bird that I did was a life sized
Perigrine Falcon, carved in Tupelo with all of the feather detail
incised in with a wood-burning tool. Scholz teaches a painting
technique involving thin washes of color to build up the shading
that gives wonderful results. Here is the falcon carving, hung off
the porch roof with monofilament to let it 'fly'.
He also teaches how to make the eyes by back-painting on plexiglass, then shaping and polishing the front surface. Just one more example of techniques to add to the toolbox.
In the next twist in the road, the wood carving branched into carving in stone, beginning with some small pieces done in Alabaster, a soft milky stone that can be cut with rotary tools and files.
logical progression from there was carving with hammer and chisel,
which was done on the next carving. I had bought an Inuit carving of
a dancing bear made of green Serpentine stone while on vacation, and
it was just crying out for a dance partner. So, I started with a
block of white marble and began shaping a mirror image of the green
Quite a ways from the starting point of ship models, but many of the same techniques applied.
|The wood carving had also led into furniture making, partly to make display cabinets for all of the models! One project of note was my take on the wonderful rocking chairs by Sam Maloof. Not being able to afford one of his chairs, I decided to try my hand at the same style. The project began with what I called a test fixture - a simple framework bolted together from 1x3 boards to mimic the shape. This framework had rows of holes to allow the bolts holding it together to be moved in small increments until a comfortable shape had been found - it is surprising how small a change in height or angle can change the feel of a chair. Once the shape had been arrived at, a set of patterns was made, and the real chair cut/carved from thick chunks of Cherry.|
that same time, I got back into the model shop and wanted to learn
more the art of cutting metal. Following books on clock making, I
learned quite a bit about cutting simple gears and a lot more about
precision, since clocks are very unforgiving about friction. I built
a couple of clocks from existing plans, a wall clock and a mantel
clock, before attempting a more complex striking clock using a
traditional mechanism but my own design for the framework.
The clocks taught me more techniques for the mill, including the use of the rotary table for both gears and shaping other parts.
fascination was with steam engines, so several steam engine model
kits by Stuart Turner and PM Research later I had learned quite a
bit, while also learning how much that I had no clue about! That was
when I dusted off my collection of books about building model steam
locomotives, written by Kozo Hiraoka. I had first gotten the books
several years earlier, but until this point I had never felt
confident enough to attempt one of the builds. This was a good time
to attempt one, having more time to spend in the shop after retiring
from a career as a software engineer for Kodak.
Kozo's books are an amazing teaching tool, leading you through the build while teaching a whole variety of techniques on the lathe and mill. One of the key things that he teaches is the use of fixtures and jigs. It is common to dismiss jigs as a waste of time for making just one or two parts, but it quickly became apparent that while it may take an hour or two to make a jig, the parts made with it would have taken twice as long to make less well. Before this build, I had never done any silver brazing, cut bevel gears or fabricated complex shapes from bar stock. It was quite an experience, and it opened up another world of possibilities for choosing models to build.
Wanting to further practice the skills learned from Kozo, the next project was a twin cylinder adaptation of the MEM Corliss engine, adding in a small barring engine as well.
|It was at the
end of this project that one of the other members on the MEM forum
(Model Engine Maker), Ron Ginger, posted some pictures and video of
a fantastic machine - the Lombard Log Hauler. These were the first
practical machines made with crawler tracks, and look like a cross
between a modern bulldozer and a steam locomotive. They were
invented back in 1901 to pull trains of log sleds out of the Maine
woods on iced roads, so they could log remote areas not accessible
by rivers or lakes to bring out the lumber. One look and I was
hooked, but there were no plans available for these machines. In a
fortunate bit of timing, the Maine Forest and Logging Museum had
recently completed a full restoration of one of the surviving
haulers, and they were kind enough to allow me to spend days
crawling all over/under the machine taking photos and measurements.
These all went into another new skill that I was learning, the use
of 3D CAD software. The Autodesk company offers a free license to
their Fusion 360 product for home hobbyists, so that was a natural
choice of which package to learn. Once the machine was modeled up in
3D, a set of measured drawings was produced and the construction of
the model began. All of the techniques learned from the Kozo Shay
build were put to use on this build, along with the woodworking
skills for the cab portion. This model was set up for radio control,
allowing it to be driven around under steam.
After completion, the model has gone back up to the museum in Maine several times for their summer/fall events, where they run the real machine. A side benefit to these trips was the opportunity to learn how to operate the engines and steer the real machine! The steersman sits in front of the boiler on the Lombard, which was a very cold place to be in the north woods of Maine in the middle of winter.
completing the Lombard, I was looking around for another vehicle or
large machine to model, when I found out about the perfect thing -
about 20 miles from home sits the last remaining Marion Model 91
steam shovel outside the quarry where it worked from 1906 to 1949.
After it was retired, the quarry company drove it across the road
from the quarry and parked it, where it still sits today. The town
acquired the land it sits on and got it made a national landmark to
protect it. I was again able to arrange access into the machine to
measure and photograph it, to make another 3D CAD model of the
machine at full scale - a set of measured drawings at full scale was
presented back to the historical society to help document the old
shovel. Here is a render of the 3D CAD model with the cab removed to
show the inner workings:
This turned into my biggest project yet, spanning over two years to build it from stainless steel and brass bar stock, with bronze bearings and a copper boiler. While the plans were done in a 3D computer package, all the work was done on a manual Sherline lathe and mill - I still prefer doing the hand work on all the parts though there were many jigs and fixtures used to mass produce parts like the plates for the crawler tracks. The finished model is 4-1/2 feet long and weighs just under 100 pounds, but all four of the steam engines function, and all the controls are functional.
|On both the Lombard and Marion projects, one source of information that many people don't take advantage of are the old patent records. All of the US patent records are available online, both through the US Patent Office website and also through a patent search engine that Google maintains. All of the patents are searchable, and contain a wealth of information on the machines - cross section drawings, diagrams, and descriptions of how they work. On the Marion shovels, they invented a new style valve arrangement that combined forward/reverse control with throttle control, all without any external linkages like with a typical steam engine. Without sources of information like this, even having access to the real machine would not have helped (unless they would allow you to dismantle it, which is very unlikely). Also, the old catalogs that the companies put out to help sell the machines can have a wealth of information on how they worked and their features, just like modern product catalogs.|
|So, that brings this journey back up to the present. What's next? Hard to say where the muse will lead, though a couple of possibilities are a scale model of a Stanley Steamer automobile engine, or possibly a model of the huge triple expansion steam pumping engines at the Ward Pumping Station in Buffalo NY, which supplied drinking water from Lake Erie to the city for decades. I was able to get a copy of the original builder’s blueprints for the station, and am in the process of making a 3D CAD model of the engine and pumps.|
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