Chuck Balmer


Chuck Balmer received the Craftsman of the year award for 2018 from the Joe Martin Foundation. He is a retired electrical engineer, who, at the start of the space age, designed aerospace testing equipment, data systems and even robots, while preserving the technology of the railroad age through painstakingly accurate working locomotive models. The jewel of his collection is a 1:16 scale 3½" gauge live steam scale model of the famous 2-6-6-6 Allegheny locomotive built by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, an effort that took 14,000 hours and more than seven years to complete.

Balmer was inspired to model steam engines by memories from his youth of watching The Wonderful World of Disney on TV as Walt drove a scale steam locomotive around his property. After graduating from the University of Dayton in 1968, he built and equipped a home machine shop and an electronics lab; built a foundry to cast his own parts; learned pattern making and welding; and honed his machining skills by building a stable of locomotives in the small ¾" scale as well as two robots.

Those models and robots include:

·  An NYC 4-6-4 Hudson steam locomotive completed in 1971

· Pidge, an 0-4-0 Switcher , completed in 1973, the year he and his wife, Julie, were married (Pidge is Julie’s childhood nickname)

· An EMD F7 Diesel electric completed in 1975, based on copious photos he took of an Erie Lakawanna F7 that was on its way to the scrap yard.

· Sugar, an 0-6-0 vertical boiler plantation engine completed in 1976

· The Allegheny 2-6-6-6 articulated engine completed in 2013. It is 8 feet long and weighs 350 pounds.

· An SD70 Ace diesel electric in BNSF colors completed in 2014

· An 0-6-0 gasoline powered boxcar switcher in 1½” scale completed in 2017

· 7 additional engines acquired from other sources that have been either restored or completed

·  9 cars, including riding cars, freight cars, and a caboose

·  Avatar, a knee-high robot that received the 1982 Robot of the Year Award by Robotics Age magazine and was displayed in the Boston Computer Museum for three years. Avatar was written up in several publications including the Wall Street Journal.

· Huey, a 12-inch-high autonomous robot built in 1992 that wanders through Balmer’s shop, mapping its course, and then backtracking home to its charging station. Huey is programmed to remind Balmer of birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.

Although the robots are not models, they are powerful examples of Balmer’s miniature machining and design skills. The diesel engines mimic full size engines with an internal combustion engine driving a generator with appropriate electronic controls. Few diesel models are so internally accurate.

The Allegheny

Balmer had first seen the massive, full-sized Allegheny in the Henry Ford Museum in 1963, and it sparked a passion to build it in miniature. In 1977 he purchased a set of 100 blueprints of the Allegheny, which showed basic schematics but few part details. Family visits included hours of research at the Allen County Historical Museum in Lima, Ohio, and photographing and measuring the full-sized engine in the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, allowed Balmer to create the needed part designs and dimensions in sketches that fill an 1½" thick binder.

Here is the loco at key stages of construction.

Fabricated rear cylinders
Piston valve assembly
Rear frame
Chassis mock-up
Front engine steam and exhaust pipework
Finished firebox after welding
Propane burner mounted to frame above ash pan
Tender with outer shell mounted.
First time boiler shell set on engine chassis
Low angle view of the Allegheny

The workshop