The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents

Richard Dosdall Autobiography

Page added July 2019

  Building a school science fair project so good it was stolen

Click on any image to enlarge


As I grew up a little more, I was always experimenting with things in the shop, learning to solder wires, then how to braze, weld, and use our power hacksaw. (Not a bandsaw, but a hacksaw.) When I was in 7th grade, I built a spectacular electric motor for the science fair. We had to display our projects in the large cafeteria, the next day, a Saturday, was the judging. When I got there, it was gone. Someone had stolen it. The teachers seemed as if they didn't care, and nothing was ever found. Over the next few weeks, I built another one, even better, just because I could. The science fair was every two years, so by that time I was pretty heavy into radio-controlled airplanes. I entered one that I had left part of the covering skin off of so that you could see the construction inside. I took 1st place, and went on to the regional competition in a town about 75 miles away, but of course the winner of the regional competition was from that town.



Learning woodworking and building clocks
By 10th grade I was becoming a pretty good woodworker. My dad had all the basic woodworking machines. Every winter for a while, we would go up in the woods behind the house, cut some logs, haul them to the lumber mill about an hour away, and have them sawed into boards. They would air dry for at least a year, then we would start building things. I've built gun cabinets, china cabinets, roll top desks, coffee tables, end tables, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, just to name a few things. I guess what I liked the most, was to build grandfather clocks. In 11th grade building clocks turned into a business for me. I built and sold many. At this time I was also using the knowledge that I had learned repairing tractors for restoring antique tractors. I was pretty busy at this time in my life, woodworking, repairing tractors at dad's shop and restoring some of my own tractors while I was still in school.


Grandfather Clocks

An interesting
pendulum weight



If you can’t afford a full-size steam
traction engine, build a scale one

In 12th grade, there was an organization called VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America). I was involved. There is competition for participants from various schools, for various categories. My category was cabinet making. You would go to a participating school that was putting on the competition. There you would get a set of blueprints for the item you had to build. You would get 10 minutes to look over the prints, then have one hour to build it. Most of the time the project was not finished in the allotted time, but the judging was done on the precision of the work, the overall craftsmanship and how far along the completion was. Well, I placed 1st in our local competition, then 1st in the regional and went on to the national competition in Louisville Kentucky, where we got to see President Reagan honoring us. I was also in the metalworking class in school, where we had the basic lathe, one milling machine, and welders. By this time in my life, I had pretty much already learned from my family what the teacher was trying to teach, except for the foundry work. I got interested in that, and did a lot of casting. I was really getting into my old tractors also. I had it in my mind that I wanted to have a full-size steam traction engine, but when you are only 17 or 18, that kind of money seemed way out of reach. I knew the only way that I would get one would be that I would have to make one from scratch. Of course it wouldn't be full size, but a scale model.

Building a 2” scale Case steam engine
From attending steam threshing shows, I got to know a man who built a 2" scale Case steam engine. We became good friends. He had made wooden patterns for the castings for his engine. I asked him if I could use his patterns, and he said “sure.” I then asked my shop teacher if I could cast these during class. He agreed. Every day for many days I was pouring brass castings for this engine, in order to get them all done before I graduated.




The 2” scale
Case engine

The engine
almost complete

The 2” scale Case
with engine mounted






Two views of the finished
2” scale Case steam engine


Outfitting a machine shop
My dad had an Atlas 12" lathe, but never had a vertical mill. I would need one to build this engine. One day after school I went to a machine tool supply company in Minneapolis to look at a Cincinnati mill that they had for sale. It had a noise in the head, so I didn't buy it. They wanted $1200 for it. Before I got home, the salesman called, and my dad said that I wasn't home but could he help? My dad was kind of stubborn and blunt. They talked about the mill that I had just looked at, and he told the salesman that Rich said he wouldn't give him over $600 for it. He accepted it!! So when I got home, my dad told me the story that I had bought that mill for $600. After getting it home and putting in our newly constructed shop at my parents new house, which they had just built, I found the noise in the head to be just the drawbar flopping around since it didn't have any tool holder in the spindle. Little by little, this new shop turned into my machine shop by adding equipment when I found a good deal. Today I have a cnc mill, a cnc lathe, (both retrofitted by me) four other lathes, one horizontal mill, one large horizontal mill that I found a vertical head for, a 40-ton shear, a 40-ton hydraulic press, a Fellows gear shaper, welders, and, of course, my first milling machine, the Cincinnati.

16-inch  South Bend lathe and  a Clausing lathe retrofitted to CNC by Rich

Another Clausing lathe

Rich’s CNC mill which he
also retrofitted

 A fellows gear shaper

Rich sharpens his
own end mills

Rich’s first vertical milling machine

Cincinnati mill with
vertical head



After graduation it was driving trucks,
working in the shop and restoring tractors

OK, backing up a little now. Before graduation I was selected as the “ALL STAR INDUSTRIAL ARTS STUDENT,” which came with a large traveling trophy that you get to keep for one year. After turning 18, I got my class A driver’s license so I could drive a semi. Soon I found a cab-over Peterbilt that I bought to help out with our family business, as the machinery was getting bigger all the time. After graduation, it was working at the shop every day. After work it was working on my antique tractors, which had now turned into antique tractor pulling for me, or working on my 2" scale Case engine that I had made the castings for. At one time I had 52 tractors, sold most of them, but today am back up to about 30. I did the tractor pulling thing for a couple of years, and have many, many trophies to show for it. A couple of years work and my 2" Case was completed. At age 22, I ordered a new Chevy pickup. That was my pride and joy. If it looked like rain, I would drive something else. Soon it got so that I didn't want to drive it at all, because when you are working on greasy farm equipment, your vehicle shows it. Today I still have that pickup, and it has less than 5000 miles on it.

High School All Star
Industrial Arts Student Award



Some of Rich's
restored tractors 


Rich competing in tractor pulls


A shopping trip to help a friend nets
several tractors to restore

A friend of mine wanted me to go with him to North and South Dakota to look for some antique tractors to restore. Well, it seems that I bought more than he did. I had most of them sold before I went back to haul them home. One in particular I kept. I shouldn't say one, because it was two big piles of parts. It was a 17-30 cross-motor Minneapolis tractor. (This was before it became Minneapolis Moline.) For a couple of years prior to this, of course, girls were an interest of mine too. Soon I was engaged. I wanted to get this 17-30 Minneapolis done and painted, so that my new wife and I could leave the church on it and drive it to the reception. All went well!

A tractor pulling friend contacted me about a 1911 15 HP Case steam engine that was for sale about 1-1/2 hours away. I went and looked at it, and before leaving, a deal was made. Countless hours went into the restoration of that engine, but it now is museum quality.

Rich and Jill’s wedding
tractor ride article in
The Gas Engine


The Minneapolis
17-30 cross-motor
wedding tractor


The 1911 Case steam tractor fully restored with the 2” scale Case model in the foreground


Building my own log home
Before getting married I was just telling my bride-to-be that it would be fun to take my semi and find some big trees and build log house. I mean do it all by myself. Well, after getting married that is just what I did. I bought three acres of land from my Mother (Dad was now deceased). I borrowed a dozer from a friend, landscaped a building site, and dug a basement all before the ground froze up for the winter. Our new daughter was six months old the day I started landscaping. That winter was 1993. I spent that winter peeling logs inside our shop that my brother now owned, and I worked for him instead of my dad. Also that winter I spent building a sawmill in the shop, that would be capable of sawing a 35-foot log, since that would be how long the floor joist logs would be. I knew of an old sawmill in the woods not far from here that was mostly gone because of people stealing parts, but enough was left for me to start with. I made it with a hydraulic carriage and it was driven with the power take-off on a tractor. I put a 48" blade on it. The next summer I spent sawing all these logs, sawing two sides flat to 8" thick. This way the logs will stack nicer when building. Also that summer I laid all the blocks for the basement, got the finished floor on the main level, and got heat installed in the basement. I then covered it securely for the long winter ahead. A temporary door into the basement through the basement window allowed me to pretty much finish the basement that winter. Also that winter, I built the four log rafters inside our shop that I would need the following summer. I did get our new house done the next summer. My wife and I did everything ourselves on that house, wiring, plumbing, heating, block laying, landscaping, everything except drilling the well, but we did put the pump in ourselves. We needed a garage, so the next summer we built a 32' x 56' pole shed with two 10' x 10' overhead doors. I did this by myself also. During all of this building I also had a part time job at the post office as the farm economy took a big hit. (Our daughter now has my old mail route.) Soon this turned into a full time job, but I could usually be done by noon or 1:00 PM, then go to the shop for the afternoon and then work on the house after 5:00 PM. Long days, but I got it done.

Rich with his home-built sawmill
cutting the logs to build his home



The finished log home for
Rich and his wife Jill


Time for a change of pace
After all of this building, I needed a change of pace, so I got back to my machine shop and started some fun projects. I built a few stationary steam engines, but then I wanted to go bigger. I bought a set of castings for a 4" scale Burrell steam engine, which is an English engine. I spent the next seven years working on this engine, after work and weekends. The boiler is made of SA 285 grade C boiler plate, and is hydro-tested to 250 PSI. After finishing this engine, I started building a 4" scale 65 HP Case steam engine, which I had also bought the castings for. The original patterns for this engine were made by Ralph Endres from Proctor, Minnesota. Since the last boiler I built they changed the numbering on the boiler plate to SA 516 grade 70 but is still the boiler grade material. I spent the next five years on this engine-evenings and weekends.



The Burrell
in 4" scale


Two photos of the finished
Burrell steam tractor

  Back into clock making and repairing
I had been getting a lot of calls from the people that I had built clocks for in the past, wondering if I still worked on clocks. The old ones were beginning to wear out. I started my own clock repair business, and had more work than I could keep up with. This was also done while I had my post office job and also working at the shop. I did this for about 12 years, until my clock parts suppliers went out of business, then I quit too. After all of this clock work and understanding the principles of the clock mechanisms, I thought it would be fun to design and build a clock from scratch. I used 1/4″ brass for the side plates, fitted every shaft with a ball or needle bearing, cut all of the gears myself, and cnc engraved the dial. I copied the escapement from an 1850’s pocket watch, and scaled it up to suit my needs. Then I built a stand out of 1-1/4″ copper pipe and used a 4″ brass valve as my weight, which can be filled with lead shot to get the proper weight.
Next I built a couple of hit and miss gas engines—a Fuller and Johnson, and a Red Wing, the patterns for which were made by a friend of mine here in Red Wing, Minnesota but are now owned by PM research.

Two views of a brass clock
designed and built by Rich

  A lifetime of collecting skills & knowledge
As you can tell I have done a lot of different things in my life so far, and I like to think that there is not much I couldn’t accomplish if I set my mind to it. I had thought for a long time about building a 1/2 scale tractor, which is one half size or 6″ to the foot. It seemed that I couldn’t quit thinking about it, so I had to do it. This would take all of my talents to pull this one off. I remember what these tractors looked like when my dad was hauling them home from the factory to be sold, and my model had to look exactly like they did when they were new.

I am a stickler for detail, and everything had to be correct, right down to where the spot welds are and how many there are, etc. I know at the beginning I said this was going to be a short story, but I guess I’ve done an awful lot in my life so far, and I didn’t even scratch the surface. From here on you can read the article about my 1/2 scale Oliver in more detail that follows this article.

A recent project
Building a 4-cylinder stationary steam engine of my own design. It has a large flywheel in the center and a cylinder on each corner. The connecting rods are fitted to a gear train that is tied to the flywheel. The picture of this is a “work in progress.”

End view of the 4-cylinder
steam engine



The pattern to cast the flywheel
for the 4-cylinder engine


A new 4-Cylinder steam engine under construction


Flywheel assembly for the
4-cylinder steam engine


Gear train for the
new engine


Finished Project Photos


  Thoughts on craftsmanship
I was brought up to do the best job possible quality work. Throughout my life, no matter what the project, I have stuck with that train of thought. My standards have always been very high for my work, and detail is very important to me. Hopefully the younger generation can keep this motto going.
More about Richard Dosdall - You can find online videos of some of Rich's work on under “Dosdall Engine Company.” He plans to be adding more in the future.

Below are photos of some additional “fun” projects built over the years
showing the wide variety of items I found challenging to build.

  A 1-inch long model
chain saw printed
with a 3D printer



A “Jack in a Box” machinist’s puzzle cut from aluminum
  A fully restored tractor
done by Rich

Another of Rich’s restored tractors
A White Field Boss
  Two views of an upright steam engine

A 3D printed ball
and cube
  A working ball bearing race made on a 3D printer A Fuller and
Johnson engine
  Fun gears Irregularly shaped gears
  A model International gas engine under construction


One of the first engines Rich built. A horizontal steam engine
  One of the many airplanes Rich built and flew when
he was into radio
controlled flying
A single-cylinder
steam engine
  Another horizontal
stationary steam engine


A Red Wing hit-n-miss engine with elegant striping

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