Mechanic Turned Machinist Attracts Attention with Miniature Engines PDF Print E-mail
Sample ImageWhen Roy Leach retired in 1982, leaving a house-building business to his son Darcy, it only took a few jigsaw puzzles before he developed a strong desire for a machine shop. When his wife Bernice encouraged him to build one, a new hobby was born that took over their lives. Engines had been a theme in Leach’s life ever since high school, but he had been fixing them previously and now he took to building them instead, in miniature. He completed his first single-stroke engine in 1987, inspired by blueprints in Home Shop Machinist magazine. He never stopped after that until he had built 18 gasoline engines, 18 steam engines and 4 hot air engines, all of which work. For over two decades building and showing these unique little beauties has helped to keep him passionate about life.
Leach went to Saskatoon Technical Collegiate after high school, then on to the Air Force in 1941. They sent him first to McCloud Air Force Base in Alberta for basic training and then to Ontario to St. Thomas Technical School, about which Leach said, “If you didn’t know an engine inside and out after that it wasn’t their fault.”
From there he was transferred to Camp Borden and a year later to their Advanced Training Unit, where pilots spent their last 40 hours before graduation. There he helped to keep the aircraft flying until the war ended.
He married his high school sweetheart Bernice in 1942 and when he was discharged in New Westminster they opened a service station there. A few years and three children later they moved to Alberta to a 320-acre farm with an extra quarter sectiSample Imageon rented and a 4000 square foot shop for his engine repair business.
As if he wasn’t busy enough with all that he also played piano throughout the Eckville district in a five-piece dance band called The Rhythm Boys. “We were all farmers. I played for 17 years with them. We did 90 dances in 6 ½ months one time. Bernice couldn’t go to all of them,” he said. He remembers earning eight to ten dollars per gig in the sixties.
In 1974 Leach was asked to come to Blind Bay to build a house for his sister and brother-in-law. He had been developing an allergy to the oil of the fuel injection engines he was working on at the time and he also discovered that he loved building houses, so he moved to the Shuswap where he built 45 houses in eight years. Of course he also played with bands until he now figures that he has played with most musicians of his generation in the Shuswap.Sample Image
Leach’s first miniature engine was like an oil well engine and “could pump oil just like a big one would.” He made a single cylinder engine like what was used to pump water or clean grain on the farm. It was 1.5 horsepower compared to the 20 horsepower engines used by the grain elevators, but otherwise the same. His two cylinder John Deere engine was practically the same as the old John Deere “D” engine. “Gasoline is my thing,” according to Leach, but he went on to experiment with steam engines and hot air ones run with an outside flame. “They are beautiful things – they’re so quiet,” he said.
His “pride and joy” and the most complicated to build is a radial aircraft engine with real spark plugs and ball bearings for which he manufactured 354 individual pieces – everything but the screws and spark plugs. The pistons in it are three-quarter-inch compared to six inches in a real one.
Leach joined the Pioneer Power Club in Armstrong, where his engines were enthusiastically received, and began demonstrating them at the IPE, where he would fill 20-foot tables with engines. “That’s where I got pretty well known,” he said. “You would start them up for people. You get to know a lot of people.”
Both Roy and Bernice love people. They began traveling in a motor home with all the engines all over the western provinces to fairs. Their favourite was the Thrasherman’s Reunion at the end of July in Austin, Manitoba, which was the biggest theme show in Canada. They have fond memories of “all the miniature engine people in a circle like a family” and having potluck dinners together. Bernice often fed everyone pancakes for breakfast.
“It’s a beautiful hobby to get into,” said Leach. “You learn by doing. It was so much fun and we both enjoyed it.” He has given away many of the engines now, as well as ribbons and trophies, but he still shows at least once a year at the Heritage Days at the Piccadilly Mall in February.

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