The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Clif Roemmich

Added to museum: 10/29/03

A variety of skills applied to model engineering

Clif in his shop with a Stuart engine project being built as a Christmas gift.

At the 2003 Pacific Rim International Model Exposition in Eugene, Oregon, Joe Martin spotted some models that not only had the craftsman's touch, they also exhibited a great variety of learned skills and techniques, including casting, machining, woodwork and sound model engineering. We felt you would enjoy seeing some of the work for yourself.

"Fix it or do without"—Learning to build things from an early age

Clif Roemmich is a native of South Dakota, born in Aberdeen SD in 1947. While growing up on a farm, his early mechanical skills were learned from his father.  During the farming years and living at home with his parents, money was short and if things could not be repaired it was “do without.” The earliest experience with mechanical things that Clif can remember was when his father removed the flat-head V-8 engine from a 1948 Ford, set it on the ground and said, “I am going to the fields. Take it apart so I can inspect it for rebuild when I get back.” This was at an age of 7 or 8, and Clif recalls the head bolts were tough!

By the time Clif was a teenager the family had moved to the Black Hills of western South Dakota. A summer’s work mowing lawns was needed to purchase a series of project kits from a supplier (American Basic Science Course) that advertised in Popular Science magazine.  Some of the projects were building a radio, analog computer, photo developing and an electric motor. The education and skills resulting from these kits helped lay a foundation for future projects.

When Clif reached an age where he could own a car, the first one he bought was built the year he was born. Needless to say his mechanical skills needed to grow just to keep it running. Because of these skills he often was called upon by other teenagers to repair the mechanical parts and body of their vehicles.

After graduation from high school Clif joined the South Dakota National Guard and was trained as a combat engineer and also as a water purification specialist.

From gas station tune-ups to foreman of a maintenance shop

After returning from military basic training Clif worked for almost a year in a gas station doing vehicle tune-ups and light mechanical work.  Shortly before his 20th birthday he went to work for an electric utility company as an apprentice electrician. Two years later Clif transferred to a job in a welding and mechanical maintenance shop. Clif worked in the shop for 18 years, eventually becoming the shop foreman. The shop work included vehicle maintenance, hydraulic equipment maintenance, metal project fabrication and welding. The job also included the repair of a wide range of electrical and mechanical equipment. After 36 years of service Clif is now part of middle management for the utility.

Clif married at 20 and he and his wife Judy raised two children. While the children we growing up Clif and Judy owned and operated a commercial greenhouse for 17 years. Clif constructed and maintained all of the buildings in his spare time. In what little time that was left Clif served as a Cub and Boy Scout leader for 9 years.

From wood turning to metalworking

During the years at high school Clif took wood shop all four years and was a prolific furniture and cabinet maker. In the school wood shop was an old South Bend lathe. Clif took an interest in learning to run the lathe but the instruction that was available from the shop teacher was limited. To feed his hunger for machining knowledge Clif began hanging around the local machine shop watching the machinist ply his trade. Also of interest to Clif was the shop course text book that had a section devoted to greensand metal casting. Again, no training was available. When Clif graduated from high school he bought a copy of the text book with hope of someday learning to cast metal.

Shortly after Clif began working in the utility company shop he bought an old South Bend lathe that had been in a garage fire, was covered with tar from the melted roofing and had sat outside for a number of years—a great find at $100. Cleaned up, repaired and painted, the 1935 lathe was the beginning of 35 years of learning to use machine tools. Accessories were purchased a little at a time and through trial and error Clif began to develop the skills of a machinist craftsman. The progression was from lathe to milling machine attachment for the lathe, to table top milling machine, to floor model milling machine, to a modern lathe and a surface grinder.

Two different views show some of the tools in Clif's shop. (Click on either photo for a larger image.)

Clif’s skills were developed through a number of hobbies including building black powder guns, rubber band airplanes, plaster craft, carpentry and blacksmith projects. At about 30 years of age Clif began collecting and rebuilding antique gas engines, tractors and machinery and was a very active member of the local steam threshing bee. During this period Clif built an automobile using a horse drawn buggy and a 1921 single cylinder engine. He also restored an antique cable-drop well drilling machine and attempted to drill a well on a piece of property he had purchased with the intent of building a home. The well drilling project was abandoned after drilling 28 feet, but that’s another story.  After filling three buildings with the restored items Clif decided that as he grew old he would not be able to move and display the items. An auction came next to spill the rust and old iron from his blood.

About 7 or 8 years ago Clif became a member of the board of directors of a local blacksmith club that was being formed. While working with the club members and while he was building a gas fired blacksmith forge Clif recalled his high school desire to cast metal. A search for the old high school shop textbook was successful, and thus began a metal casting phase of skills development. The blacksmith forge led to the building of a gas fired metal foundry. With the purchase of a good library on sand casting and pattern making, numerous new projects were completed. The high point of the period was the development of a ½ scale model of a four horsepower side valve Witte hopper cooled engine. The Witte was patterned, cast and machine by Clif.

Midwest Model Builders Club

In the mid 1990s Clif decide to try to form a club of hobbyists with similar interests. As the result the Midwest Model Builders Club was organized and continues to meet on a quarterly basis. The focus of the club is to provide a network where craftsmen interact and share their knowledge with others. After attending a model show in Detroit, Clif decided to see if he could get a model engineering craftsmen show started in western South Dakota. The effort was successful, and the Black Hills Model Engineering Show has been held in 2001, 2002 & 2003.

Clif has the skills to work both wood and metal. The majority of his projects have been base on castings and plans purchased from others. Some of his projects have been built from an idea, planned in his head, and usually built without drawings. An example is his model Avery steam tractor. While working with the steam threshing club Clif worked around a full size Avery. After eleven years of looking at pictures and planning the project in his head Clif began building the tractor and the project was completed in five months. Clif indicates as he builds he has a constant goal of improving his skills.

Clif continues to work a full time job and devotes 20 to 30 hours per week to model building. The projects that are waiting in boxes and in Clif’s head are more than enough for a couple of lifetimes. Retirement is not far in the future, and when that day comes the chips will really fly.   

Here are several examples of Clif Roemmich's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

An American design sidewheel ship engine. The castings are from iron and the wood is oak. This is Clif's favorite engine. Construction to this point required 650 hours of labor. He estimates the paddlewheels will take an additional 300 hours.
Another view of the steam engine for a sidewheel ship
This Gothic steam engine is a 1" to 1' model of an engine that is now located in the Henry Ford Museum. Clif particularly enjoys building models of engines that have an extensive history. The original of this engine was cast in 1851 and was in service for 74 years.
The flywheel of the model is 18" in diameter. This was well beyond the ability of his shop lathe. He machined the flywheel on a 1895 Barnes lathe that was installed in a farm workshop in the 1030's. The old Barnes was belt driven by an electric motor that appeared old enough to have been built by Tom Edison himself! He had a little trouble learning how to run the old lathe, but in the end it did a great job. We are sure the builders of this old lathe could not have guessed that after 107 years the machine would be performing work using a strange substance called carbide as a cutting tool.
Clif has built a special room where many of his models are displayed.

Here is another view of Clif's model display room.

This is a picture of Clif's model Avery steam tractor. About 20 years ago he worked around a full-size Avery at a local steam show. He was very impressed by the majestic power of the machine. Clif collected pictures of Avery steamers for a number of years and planned the model in his head. The model was built without prints or drawings. He used a large picture of an Avery to measure for scale.
The steam tractor pictured is the first model Clif built. This engine was built without drawings or prints in 1971 and1972. It was built with hand tools; a bandsaw and a drill press. At this point Clif did not have a lathe.
Clif's most recent project was completed in May, 2004. It is a model of an American La France Fire Engine from 1890. The rw castings are from Coles Power Models in California and the engine has a functional steam boiler.
The horses are made by Stone Company, and Clif had the leather harness gear custom made by D&H Custom Designs in Garner, Iowa. The owners, Harold Bulmer and his wife built the harness from scratch and the quality is first-rate.
The two-cylinder double-acting pump is powered by a 2-cylinder steam engine.
The brass bulb (accumulator) and brass boiler smoke stack were both shaped by the use of hand tools while spinning on a lathe. The hand tools were made from old screwdrivers with carbide inserts silver-soldered on.
The aluminum wheel castings were pretty rough and hard to work with. Each wheel required about 4 hours of work to get ready for paint. Clif used automotive grade self-etching primer on the aluminum parts to get the paint to stick.
The engine and horses are displayed on a street with street lights and a fire hydrant.
The total model with horses is 44 inches long, 18 inches high and weighs 100 lb. It was built for Clif's son who is a full-time firefighter and his wife is a volunteer firefighter.

New models at the 2016 N.A.M.E.S. Expo in Detroit

M' De Polighnac's Curved Cylinder Steam Engine (Right)

Built in 1870, the original engines had 6 HP and ran at 500 to 750 RPM. That was very fast for the period. The engine was used to power woodworking machines.

1830 Vulcan Beam Steam Engine

Scale: 1" = 1' or 1/12 size

This is a real old-timer amongst beam engines. it evokes the era of the early historic steam engines, when they were becoming self-contained and all-metal construction. This engine is representative of that early transition from the use of wooden beams with the engine structure being part of the engine house.


1/4 scale 1899 Camelback Drill Press

The name "camelback" refers to the peculiar humped cast iron center frame to which the main shaft and pulleys and gearing were built up. The camelback has the most distinctive appearance of any drill press ever manufactured. This is an antique style of drill press manufactured around the end of the 19th century and well into the first half of the 20th century and were still being manufactured until the 1970's. Today these antique style drills are often found for sale when older welding and blacksmith shops and farms go up for auction. Some people today are skeptical of these old drills--often mistakenly believing that these old tools don't work simply because they don't look like modern drill presses. But to those who use them, these old style drills are very practical and highly desirable for nearly every drilling job. Camelback drills turn much slower than modern drill presses, and this slower drill speed greatly extends drill bit life by reducing the heat build-up in the drill bit. They also operate much more quietly and smoothly compared to modern drill presses, thus reducing operator fatigue. They were built solid to last a lifetime, and this they certainly did. Many camelbacks outlived their original owners and continue to serve multiple generations of metalworkers today.

1841 Johann Bodmer Sliding Cylinder Steam Engine

Whether this engine was ever built is not known. The existing drawings from 1841 are for a marine paddlewheel engine. Mr. Anthony Mount developed the plans for this model following the basic design of the engine as originally drawn.

1840 Murdock-Aithens Steam Engine

The design of this engine is English and was taken from a drawing in an 1874 reference titled "Blackie's Engineer Machinists Assistant." The scale is 1" = 1'. The castings for the engine lay in a box for 25 years and are no longer available. The model was finished in 2005.

1904 #77 Holt Steam Tractor

Originally built by the Holt Manufacturing Company of Stockton, CA

This tractor was first built with steel wheels as shown in the fourth photo at the left. It was later converted from steel rear wheels to a track type drive to test the use of tracks when working soft ground in the San Joaquin Valley of central California. This model was built by Clif Roemmich in 2015 using photos of the original tractor. None of the Holt Steam tractors exist today. The tractor was the beginning of the use of tracked vehicles for farming and construction, and was later made popular by the Caterpillar company.

1909 Mercedes Aircraft Engine

Built in 1/6 scale by Clif Roemmich and completed in 2016.

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