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© February 24, 2002 

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Cabin Fever: The Place to Be

By Don Orr

Photos by Abby Logan


January has come and gone once more, and with it, Cabin Fever 2002 is now history.  I doubt that many who took part in this event will look at its parting with anything other than regret.  It has become the place to be in January for many steam and gas engine buffs, and is looked forward to by many of us for months ahead of its occurrence.


A wee bit of history.  As a child, I started building model airplanes at the early age of 7, and didn’t stop until I reached adulthood (if I ever did) and discovered live steam locomotives.  My awakening to this was by an accidental acquaintance with Model Engineer magazine back in the 60's.  At that time, I was totally unaware that an American magazine was available catering to the same hobby, and my interest at the time took a decided route in the direction of British locomotives.  I began to accumulate many Model Engineer magazines as a local library disposed of the their collection by giving them to me.  As a result of all this reading, I became aware that our UK cousins did, and in fact had for years, enjoyed the annual Model Engineer Exhibition (please pardon me if I got the “correct” title incorrect…it has been many years since I have seen the magazine) where they displayed the finest locomotive models one could imagine.  I often wondered why there was nothing in this country to compare to that great event.  In looking back now, I can see that there were many factors here:  We are a large country, spanning over 3000 miles from coast-to-coast, and travel over the country was not as easy then as now.  But times have changed.  Many of us now no longer let distance be a barrier to enjoy our hobby.  And now we have 4 Model Engineering shows a year to choose from, depending on where we live and how far we wish to travel.

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But lets get back to Cabin Fever.  This year’s show, 2002, was the 6th annual Cabin Fever, and it has done nothing but improve with age.  Now you will find more vendors, more exhibitors, and  many more folks to talk to during your visit there.  So, choose what you like - is it looking at the displays of all the engines, shopping for tool bargains, hard-to-find tools and antique tools, visiting the vendors peddling their goodies for your particular interest, or is it just wandering around talking to the friends you haven’t seen since last year.  You will have ample opportunity to do any or all of these at Cabin Fever.  Lets look at each of these activities and see what’s there.


Let's start with the engines/models on display that we all love to see.  In this case, I had to add the word ‘models’ since my perennial favorites are not the engines, but the models of a gentleman whose name I am embarrassed to admit I have forgotten and I am doubly embarrassed since he spent a good deal of time talking to me.  The models he built are of Hardinge Lathes, a DSM-59 and an HLVH, both dear to me since I have one of each (though mine are a lot older and not nearly as pretty as his models).  The DSM-59, second-operation lathe for those of you not acquainted with this lathe,  was being used at the show to turn out small wine goblets from what appeared to be 3/8” diameter brass rod, each goblet measuring around ¾” long.  These lathes are fascinating to look at, as they are exact replicas of the prototypes. 


Now on to the engines.  You will find just about any type of engine in which you have an interest at Cabin Fever.  There are many examples of hot air engines, steam engines - both single and multiple cylinder, gasoline engines, hit-and-miss engines, and in the smaller scales, live steam locomotives running on the indoor track.  Regrettably, there are few, if any, large-scale locomotives showing up for display at Cabin Fever yet.  But, I truly believe that things are looking up.  I have attended every Cabin Fever to date, the last 2 as a vendor, and from my vantage spot as a vendor, it appeared to me that there were more locomotive folks at this year's event than in past years.  Let's hope that the trend will continue.


Among the most memorable engines to be seen have to be the scale Offenhauser gas engine and the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.  At prior year’s events you could hear the Offenhauser all over the building as you walked around, as the builder would fire it up about every hour or so.  It was just like I would imagine it would sound if I were at the Indy raceway.  It sounds beautiful!  And not to be outdone, the Merlin was also beautiful.  As we have attended the past Cabin Fevers, we have watched the progress on this engine as every year it would appear on the table with the latest assortment of parts, all of us watching and wondering when we would see the final product.  Well, this was the year!  It is truly amazing.  I have picked 1-1/2” scale and 2-1/2” scale in which to build locomotives, primarily because the parts are large enough for me to see and work on.  The detail in the Merlin engine is astounding as you look at the crankcase housing and see the many small bolts holding the casing together.  I have no idea what size they are, but they must be 00 or 000, and there are dozens of them.  I am afraid that my old fingers could not even hold one of them without dropping it.  Then you look down beside the engine and there is a small box of scale tools, all hand-made for working on the engine.  Yes, if engines are your thing, you must come to Cabin Fever next year! 

Click to enlarge

Now, what's next?  Oh yes, the tools.  There are vendors there with just about anything you could want in the way of small tools, but if you really want something special you must be there when the doors open Saturday morning.  These good items go fast, so unless it is so special that you are the only one in the world who needs this tool, you will probably be out of luck.  At least that’s the way it is with me.  After so many years of buying and collecting tools, there is little left that I really need other than the little “special” things, the ones you usually have to order when you need them.  But most of what you need you will find at Cabin Fever, be it drill bits, reamers, collets, or even a new used lathe or new CNC machine.  Deals?  A few, but it seems to me that prices are going up and deals are coming down, but then as a vendor, I don’t have the time to shop and bargain that I used to.  There must be good deals out there as I have yet to see anyone at Cabin Fever without a smile on his face, but then in the company of all the others of a like mind and being surrounded by our favorite toys, only the Grinch could not be happy.


You will most likely run into a few old and new friends at the show, folks you only get to see once a year, and then spend a few moments catching up before one or both of you must rush off to the next table or to the next show.  And speaking of shows, or demonstrations, they are almost non-stop all day Saturday and Sunday.  They are all worth going to, even if the subject is something that you are not particularly interested in.  Gary has provided us with some of the best folks around to show us how to make patterns,  pack sand molds, pour the metal, machine the parts….just about any adjunct to our hobby.


Lastly, we get to the model parts vendors.  Gary’s policy has been to bring in vendors who cover a broad spectrum of the model engineering hobby, be it steam, gas or hot air engines, clocks, locomotives or any other mechanical contrivance you can think of, and chances are there is at least one vendor to cater to your interests.  You can buy casting, fittings, steam accessories, completed engines, books, magazines, just about anything you need to start building that favorite engine or locomotive.  Since my area of interest is large scale steam locomotives, I like to see the list of vendors that serve this group increase from year-to-year, and they certainly have.  This year, there was Roger’s-Cooke Locomotive Works, Locoworks/Little Engines, Locoparts, Howard Gorin, and a couple of others I was not familiar with as they sell diesel and electric parts and cars, an area I don’t keep up with.


The bottom line is that there is something for all model engineers at Cabin Fever.


In my humble opinion, it is definitely “the place to be” in January!

 Don Orr <>


the end


About the author

Don Orr is the owner and CEO of which specializes in construction of precision components for Live Steam locomotives.  Don's articles have also appeared in Live Steam Magazine; "A tail of two Moguls".

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