Jerry's Shop | Jerry's Personal Projects | Legacy Website | Obituary

From the Internet Craftsmanship Museum:

Jerry Howell has been well known in the model engineering hobby for a number of years. He attends the NAMES show and a number of other shows almost every year with a beautiful display of engines he has designed. The engines he has designed no doubt grace many a desk or mantel of proud builders around the world. One look at the finishes on his personal projects will tell you he is not satisfied with any result less than perfection—they are truly beautiful. More important to us at the Foundation, however, is the fact that he takes the extra step beyond just making engines to that of designing and producing plans and kits so that others can make them as well. Even his plans go an extra step not usually found in engine kits, and that is to show complicated parts at several stages of completion, making it easier for a novice to take a raw block of metal to a finished engine block. We were impressed enough with Jerry’s newest project to make the Howell V-4 our next museum shop project. You can follow along as we build it by going to the build page.

A Model Builder from an Early Age

Jerry Howell was born and raised in West-central Ohio. From a very early age he was interested in mechanical things and especially things in miniature. It wasn't until he was in his 50's that he found out where that trait probably came from. His Dad told him of his grandfather who had built a scale model of a house he was going to build. The model included all the studs, rafters, etc. He then used the refined and proven model as the plans to build his full size house.

Having had several electric train sets while growing up created a fascination with steam locomotives. From Jerry’s early teen years in the early 1950's he was always into making box kites, wooden ship models, electric boats, balsa wood gliders, rubber powered model airplanes, water pipe/firecracker guns and soda straw/black powder rockets. Some of the soda straw rockets had two or three stages and flew to several hundred feet high. In metal shop class he turned a brass naval canon barrel which developed into an interest in machining. He checked out every book about steam engines, rockets/jets, astronomy and telescope making from the library at least a half dozen times. His best school subjects were physics and chemistry. Looking back, he says that he is positive that all those things together had a large influence on what he did later on.

After high school Jerry went to work for his father driving one of his trucks picking up milk in 10 gallon cans from farms 7 days a week. As a young adult he was into flying control line model planes, and then later on, R/C planes and boats for a while. Acquiring a 3" Unimat lathe in 1960 rekindled an interest in machining and he used it to build fuel filters and several throttles for his two-stroke engines in order to improve idle reliability over the crude ones available at the time.

(Click image for larger view.)

Jerry built this radio-controlled model of PT-109 in 1968. It was built from a Fibo Craft kit. The hull is fiberglass and the major deck structures are wood. Deck details are white metal castings and the torpedo tubes are aluminum tubing with red painted ping pong ball noses. The boat is 39" long and weighs around 10 pounds. It is powered by one of the first O.S. Wankel engines of the time. The engine is .29 cubic inch (about 5 cc) displacement and is fitted with a stainless steel flywheel and a brass water jacket. A water pick-up is fitted behind the propeller and after circulating through the engine jacket, cooling water discharges into the exhaust pipe ahead of the muffler. The tailpipe exits through the transom. A little whiff of white castor oil smoke and steam vapor can be seen in each photo. There are two 8 ounce fuel tanks, one on each side of the prop shaft stuffing tube. A fuel pump is belt driven from the prop shaft.

A Career Change Puts Machine Tools Back into His Life

Jerry never cared much for driving the truck, so when the opportunity came in 1962, he took a job in Jacksonville, Florida as an apprentice making plastic injection molds for a few years. Here he learned a lot about machining and operating full size lathes, mills, other machines.  During that time he made his first engine—a little 1/4" bore oscillating steam engine from bar stock at home on the kitchen table.

After a few years, he moved back to Ohio and eventually bought and operated a construction equipment business. Here his main hobby interest turned to HO model trains for a couple of decades. His scratch built 0-6-0 switch engine was an early Model Railroader magazine Model-of-the-Month winner.

Getting into the Computer Business Adds Computer Drawing Skills to His Repertoire

Selling the construction equipment business and opening a computer store in the early 1980's, Jerry learned about CAD software and has been using Drafix CAD Ultra in designing his own projects ever since. He says he would not have wanted to do most of his projects without the use of CAD software.

In the mid 1980's he became interested in "hot-air" engines, both the atmospheric and the Stirling cycle.  He began building many types of these engines and as he went along found that he enjoyed designing engines as much, or more, than building and running them.

Requests from Friends Lead to a Business Selling Kits and Plans

Beginning with the early NAMES shows others were asking for plans to build Jerry’s engines. He came by a used 1904 book showing wood cuts of those beautiful late 1800's Victorian era large stationary steam engines that really caught his fancy. He started incorporating that Victorian style into his engines, concentrating on esthetics. He began designing his bar stock engines to look as much like they were made from castings as possible and still not be too difficult for the average builder to make. He notes that a pleasing model that is to the eye only takes a little longer to build than a bare bones one, and if it was worth doing at all, one should make it look as nice as possible. Really well done models will become valued heirlooms to be handed down long after the builder is gone. 

There were a few scale engines that Jerry wanted to make that just couldn't be manually machined from solid stock and still look like they were made from castings. Many of the parts were very small, so sand casting was out. The answer was making lost wax castings. A jeweler friend taught him the very involved process, and with the purchase of a lot of high priced equipment, he made several detailed limited edition castings kit engines in aluminum and also in zinc alloy. His favorite of these is the "1 of 50" serial numbered Rider Compression Hot-Air Pumping Engine which is now a collector’s item.

After designing so many of the "hot-air" engines his interest turned to internal combustion engines. Having acquired larger machine tools over the years, Jerry decided to buy and build some antique model hit-n-miss IC and steam engine castings kits. Over time, he has collected more than 25 of these kits and has built some of them, with the rest being saved for "some day". These kit engines inspired him to develop some of his own bar stock IC engines. He saw there was a relative lack of non-airplane type IC bar stock engines in the hobby, so he turned his attention to that area. The first ones were single cylinder and later came the air cooled 90-degree V-Twin and the liquid cooled V-Four which features twin cams, Hall effect distributor, pressure feed oil system, magnetic drive water pump and a water heated intake manifold.

Jerry has always wanted his IC engines to be doing something instead of running without a purpose. Others have geared or belted their engines to can crushers, peanut roasters, water pumps, etc., but having a fondness for stationary industrial engines, he decided that a generator was about as practical and clean a load that can be driven by a model engine. Also, a permanent magnet generator (actually a DC motor) doubles as a starter motor. All of the prototype internal combustion engines he has designed since 1995 have the starter/generators as standard equipment. They have sort of become his "trademark" engines at shows. Over the years Jerry has attended more than 50 model engineering shows and has met some of the finest folks on earth, and more than a few have became close friends.  Model engineering/machining is truly one of the world's great hobbies!

Jerry’s project, the "Howell V-Four" engine is currently the Foundation Craftsmanship Museum Group Build project which he  considers a great honor.

Jerry visits with founder Joe Martin and shop craftsman Tom Boyer on a visit to the Craftsmanship Museum. (Vista, California / October, 2007.)

Jerry's Shop

Jerry owned an original 1960 Unimat DB200, although it had only been used with a buffing wheel for polishing for the past 20 years. He also owned a Maximat 7 and Maximat Super 11 lathe. In the mill department he used a Jet JVM-836 (manual with Mitutoyo DRO and 6" Kurt Vise), and a Jet JVM-836 mill that he converted to CNC with ball screws. The conversion was done in January, 2007. His first CNC project was to mill the skids and the exhaust rain caps for the Howell V-4 engine. He used either one of the mills for drilling large holes, and his own Mini Drill Press for everything under 1/4". There is also a cantankerous old Jet 5" horizontal/vertical bandsaw that he always threatened to take a sledge hammer to!

An Overall View of Jerry's 10 x 14' Shop

1968 Emco Maier Maximat 7 Small Gearhead Lathe

1990 Emco Maier Maximat Super 11 Lathe

Jerry's Personal Projects (Click Images for larger view.)


Associated "Hired Man" castings kit by Paul Briesch—Jerry added a cam operated plunger fuel pump which maintains fuel for consistent runs from full to empty tank.
Stewart Turner Sandhurst Petrol EngineThe bore is 2" and the stroke is 3". The radiator, fan, centrifugal water pump, and pumping throttle are all his own design. The engine was on the cover of the June 1999 issue of Gas Engine magazine along with an article.
Middletown Machine "Woodpecker"—Built from a Richard Shelly castings kit.
Nanzy Engine—This 1/2 HP engine was machined from 1/2 scale castings in a kit by Russell Snyder. The engine has 1-1/8" bore, 1-1/2" stroke and 6" flywheels. Jerry made babbit crankshaft bearings instead of bronze and a positive crankcase vent check valve is installed inside the crankcase.
Perkins "Windmill" Engine—This engine is machined from a set of castings offered by DeBolt Machine. The crankshaft was machined from solid tool steel. The valves, governor shaft and fuel pipe support bracket are stainless steel. It uses a low tension, make-n-break ignition.
Scratch Built Freelance HO 0-6-0 Switch Engine—The only commercial parts used were some Cal-Scale and Kemtron lost wax detail castings. It won the Model of the Month Award along with an article in the June 1971 issue of Model Railroader magazine.
24 Pounder Naval Canon—A 1/10 scale replica of a typical Man-O-War deck gun from 1779. The base ring is 2" in diameter and the barrel is 12" long.
Stuart Turner No. 10 Horizontal Steam Engine—Made from the Stewart Turner castings kit, Jerry added his own 8-pole DC generator, working fly-ball governor/steam throttle and the lubricator.

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