The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

2007 Lifetime Achievement Award winners Robert and Frances Washburn

Winner, Joe Martin Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for 2007

Robert Washburn—(Unknown) to 4/13/09

Added to museum: 4/23/07

Keeping miniature internal combustion engine builders informed and involved for over 17 years through Strictly IC magazine

Frances and Robert Washburn—The people behind the publication Strictly IC, the magazine for "MICE" builders. Bob came up with the acronym for "Miniature Internal Combustion Engine" builders. (Click on photo for larger image.)


In addition to awards for actual craftsmanship, The Joe Martin Foundation also presents awards to individuals who have contributed significantly to the process of craftsmanship through their skills in communication and a lifetime of helping others to become better craftsmen. For their contribution to the world of miniature internal combustion engine building through the publication of Strictly IC magazine, the Foundation is pleased to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Robert and Frances Washburn. Read on to learn a little about how, after retiring from a career with Boeing and after retiring again after owning a hobby business, Robert and Frances went on to a third career of publishing success with a magazine that brought the diverse group of IC engine builders from around the world together through one great resource.

Robert Washburn passed away April 13, 2009. The above introduction and following story were produced in 2007 upon the presentation of the award for lifetime achievement. Bob's expertise and guidance in the field of model internal combustion engine construction will be greatly missed in the community of craftsmen among whom he was so well liked and highly respected.

The evolution of Strictly IC magazine

by Robert Washburn

A little about my background

Frances and I had left our employment with The Boeing Company, Frances in 1970. (Frances was a lead in Engineering Finance.)  I resigned the next year in 1971. (I was a  Purchasing Specialist.) As a team we put together a men's hobby shop here in our city of Kent, Washington. During our hobby days, I became interested in collecting antique model airplane engines (my M.E.C.A. Number still is 664-3...I believe their numbers are above 3,000 now). Soon I found myself more interested in building internal combustion engines than collecting them.

In 1976, I bought a new Atlas 12 x 36 lathe. Later I added a milling machine and a surface grinder. Even though I had no prior experience as a machinist, I was able to become a contributing editor for The Home Shop Machinist magazine, writing a column called "The Apprentice."  My first engine project was the Schroeder 09 (a single-cylinder engine published in the Engine Collector's Journal). Although I never got the first engine to run due to lack of compression, by then I was really hooked. I built two of (the late) John V. Thompson's Tarantula (a nine-cylinder radial engine). Later John came out with his V8 called the Scorpion. I started building one of these, but it was never finished because we started putting together the magazine all those building years. It still sits on top of one of my two reference book shelves today about 90% finished. Earlier, H.S.M. also published construction articles on two of the other engines I built the Sky Charger and my own design of a three-cylinder radial, the Triscamp.

As hobby shop owners and operators, by 1984 we could no longer compete with the discount hobby retailers like Tower Hobbies who were selling kits at our wholesale cost. On April Fools Day, 1984 we closed down the hobby business and spent the next three years doing something we had always wanted to do—travel the world.

A beginning in the publishing business

While working on miniature I.C. engines at home, and because all the home machining-type magazines were devoted to live steam subjects, in 1987 I decided what the world needed was a periodical devoted to building miniature internal combustion engines in the home shop. Frances has always been on my side in all our endeavors. Together, we set out on this new project. I wanted to let all those fellows building  MICE engines in the world know they had company. Through our magazine, I wanted to make all MICE builders into a cohesive force. I wanted them to get together throughout the world and 'talk' to one another. I believe the magazine succeeded to beyond my wildest dreams before France and I became too old to carry on.  By the way, we are still disbursing back issues into the world despite that fact we stopped publishing!

I related my interest in putting out a newletter to MICE builders to (the late) Roger Paul, (the late) Bob Paule and Bruce Satra. All three said, "Do it. I'll help." But instead of publishing a newsletter, on the first issue (Vol., No.1) I came up with a 20-page periodical. Later I enlisted the aid of Roger Schroeder, with the other three volunteers they  became our Contributing Editors. All my C.E.'s were the backbone of all our issues.

On our first of two trips to Australia, in October, 1987 we had the pleasure of being invited to (the late) Reg and Margaret Wood's home for high tea and a lunch. Reg was a MICE builder. At lunch, I mentioned to Reg I was going (a gonna doer) to start publishing a magazine devoted to design and construction of miniature internal combustion engines. Would he be interested in subscribing? Reg became our number 1 subscriber.

Before the first issue was distributed, Bob Paule called and said to me, "I hope you have some subscribers because writing my column "In The Shop" is a lot of work." My reply was, "We have 84!" Then I got the idea I should advertise in Home Shop Machinist magazine. This turned out to be a stroke of genius that helped us increase our circulation by about 745 subscribers with the first ad. From there we were off and running.

Before we published Issue No.13, Frances and I made a trip to England. We were to stay one night with the late Prof. Dennis Chaddock and his wife Stella. Dennis had arranged to take us over to Barry Hares' home in Birmingham for a look at the 1/5th-scale, Merlin Mk 20 engine. This was an overwhelming sight to behold. Words cannot describe this engine. Barry ran the engine for us. It is recorded on our video tape. Before the trip, Frances also took on the task of Official Strictly I.C. Photographer. She asked me what to do with the camera? I said, "You know how professional photographers do it, they take a myriad of shots then when developed, use the best one."  I  relate this incident because on Issue No. 13 we started putting color on both the front and back covers of our magazine. Color covers continued to our last issue, No. 84. The Merlin occupies our first color front cover.

In our publishing house (we did everything at home), I was the Publishing Department, Frances was the Distribution Manager. I put issues together while doing what graphics we used in order to get issues off to our printer downtown on our deadline. I worked at this full time every-other month. Frances' work was a daily process, working with incoming new subscriptions, sending out back issues of those people who wanted to be in from Vol.1, No.1. All four Contributing Editors were scattered throughout the USA. Roger Paul was in Rhode Island. Bob Pauli was in Missouri. Roger Schroder was in Kansas and Bruce was in Utah (later Leonard Woods joined in, he from Germany). They faithfully sent their manuscripts to us. I would edit them for our use and proceed to put another issue together. I had to have the color cover artwork into our printer downtown six weeks before he needed them to put the issues together. The act of putting covers together was the most daunting task I faced with every colored-cover issue. After reviewing photo after photo, selecting what I would use, I did the layout and associated graphics. When this was accomplished, I would take the mechanicals to our printer to have 5,000 color covers printed.

When we would go off on a trip and come home, we would have a post office carryout tub filled with mail. When we shook off jet lag a day later, we would sit at the breakfast table and sort the accumulated mail into personal and business stacks.  After one such trip, we had 110 business envelopes to open.  I would slit open all the business envelopes. Frances would scan the personal mail. We would then open, remove contents from the business mail and stack it. Frances' work would then begin way before mine. In taking care of the business mail, Frances had to place the new subscriber's information in her computer (a grueling task, I must say) and get orders packaged to send out to the new subscribers. My task was to start answering correspondence from subscribers. I would set aside three or four days to accomplish this after every trip.

When our printer delivered some 3,000 copies of a new issue, using my garden tractor and a long trailer I built, I would haul the issues down to an area outside our daylight basement bar. In readying an issue for mailing, Frances started first. She would print a label for all current subscribers. She would separate the foreign subscribers from domestic. She would stuff an issue into an envelope for the foreign and put the necessary postage on each. That would start on Wednesday after the printed issues arrived. On Friday afternoon, we would sit opposite each other at the table in the bar. I had already brought the 19 cartons of issue inside, placed half of them on her side of the table and half on mine. We then would separate the mailing-label run into two halves. There we both sat the rest of the afternoon, all day Saturday and Sunday morning until the mailing was completed. The process involved placing an issue into a polyethylene bag, sealing each, placing the mailing label on each and boxing them by USA postal Distribution Centers. By Sunday afternoon we were both bushed.

In order to get favorable postage on each issue, we had to sort each poly bag into mailing zones. I would take boxes of these into my shop and put them into mail bags. I would tag the bag as to its destination. When I got a trailer full, I would haul them up to the garage and put them into our station wagon. By Sunday afternoon the wagon was full; all bags were in the wagon ready for the trip to the P.O. on Monday morning. Delivering them there would rid ourselves of another issue for a couple of weeks for me, but Frances had to continue caring for new, incoming subscriptions.

So you can see why this was an all out team effort. There were only the two of us doing our thing here at home on each issue.

Photos: Yuen Lui

What's next

I started in 1994 to miniaturize a 6-cylinder, horizontally opposed, dual overhead valves, full blown (Roots blower), fuel injected, electronic ignition racecar engine. I'm still working on it today; albeit progress is really slow now with my breathing malady...again I had been putting magazines issues together all the time I was initially working on the engine. One day in 1994 I got a call from an A.J. Mobley, who claimed to be associated with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He said he had something I might be interested in and was willing to trade if for something I had that he wanted—a set of original plans for a Offenhauser 150 engine. What he had to offer was a set of plans for a future engine project produced by a consortium of engine builders who wanted to bring the name of  Offenhauser back into competition at the  'Brickyard' speedway. Somewhere along the way they ran out of money or enthusiasm and the project was dropped, but an interesting engine had been designed. His proposition sounded interesting, so we made the trade. The actual six drawings I ended up getting were of two engine designs and they were assembly drawings, not construction drawings. The one of the two engines I chose turned out to be the engine I described above; a racecar engine. I assigned the project the name of OFFYSIX. As far as I can tell, no other real-world  prototype had ever been attempted from the mechanical drawings. (I was offered a full set for US$3,500.00 but declined).

While still publishing the magazine full time, in 1994 I polished my AutoCAD skills by producing 1/4 scale drawings from the set I had received in the trade. I was, during that time, also able to produce the crankcase, the cylinder sleeves, engine blocks, gear box and 13 gears to operate the dual overhead cams and with two oil pressure pumps for OFFYSIX. During our tenure in publishing, based on some of the construction articles we published, I had also built a dynamometer, a crankshaft grinder and the EDM.

On OFFYSIX, I have had some help of late. A friend, Hans Mulder, in Holland asked if he could produce the cast pistons for me. A friend in Detroit, Bud Kirk, asked if he could produce the connecting rods. (They are beautiful.) Later he asked to machining the pistons and piston pins. To all these helpers I always say, "Yes.  I'll take help anywhere I can get it."

That's where I am today; still working on the project and hoping I live long enough to finish the engine. I would sorely like to put the engine in a Formula 1 racecar but am having a hard time finding out how those guys build their little beasties.  I have bought books, I have searched the Internet, but these guys seem to not want things to get out. I don't care what Formula 1 car it is (as long as it can be configured to accept a flat, six-cylinder engine), I don't care what year it is, I don't care who produced it! I just need help in configuring a 1/4-scale Formula 1 race car.

Some Engine Projects Built by Robert Washburn

(Click on any photo to enlarge.)

Though best known as a magazine publisher, Robert is also an innovative builder. Below are a couple of examples of engines he has built. They are presently part of the collection of the Model Engine Museum in Phoenix, AZ (See and are on display in the Foundation's museum in Vista.

Triscamp 3-Cylinder Miniature Radial Engine designed and built by Robert Washburn, Washington, circa 1990


Robert Washburn designed and fabricated eight of these tiny 3-cylinder, 2-cycle, methanol-burning radial engines by gearing together three individual engines into one housing.  Lubrication is provided by castor oil mixed with the fuel.


Photos and description courtesy of Paul and Paula Knapp (#62)


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Approx. Size: 9W x 14H x 8L

Thompson Tarantula 9-Engine Radial Model Aircraft Engine built by Robert Washburn, circa 1980


Robert Washburn built this engine from drawings supplied by John Thompson when Washburn was writing construction articles for Strictly IC magazine.


The Tarantula consists of nine Cox .049 1-cylinder model-airplane engines geared together in an aluminum crankcase within a plastic Williams Brothers Pratt & Whitney R-985 model-engine kit.  The nine engines are geared so that all cylinders fire at the same time. The engines actually run cool enough that they don't melt the scale cylinders of the plastic kit that surround them. It is an interesting way to build a scale looking engine using a minimum number of custom machined parts.


Photo and description courtesy of Paul and Paula Knapp (#36)

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