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steam engines built by hand
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Decades in the making, a Utah man builds steam engines by hand

Harry Heil spent 38 years building this steam engine. Photo Courtesy KSL-TV.

NEPHI, Utah – One Utah man has a passion for trains and he has spent decades building a dream. He builds miniature steam engines and has been working on this for over half of his life: 38 years to be exact. 

Harry Heil first got his passion for trains from his dad who was a Union Pacific surveyor in the 1920s. 

The steam engine

“This is an American 440,” he said in an interview with KSL-TV. “I built it. It took 38 years to build.” 

Last year Heil had the steam engine working, but right now he’s trying to track down a leak and perfect the little steam engine. He says that this is a life-long project and that that’s okay because he loves the craft. 

“(It) excites me, and I guess it’s the boy in me. I hope I never grow up,” he said.

Heil loves his craft so much, he’s building another bigger engine. At over 300 pounds, it should one day be able to pull up to ten adults. 

“I was hoping to have it already running, but it has its own mind,” Heil said with a laugh. 

Support behind the scenes

Behind every great accomplishment is usually a support group. Heil is no exception; he says he had the support of his family. 

“I was able to have a good family that supported me in my madness,” he said.

Despite any setbacks, Heil has not lost his enthusiasm for building steam engines and he clearly loves to share his passion with others. 

Heil received recognition from the Metal My Way contest, a contest for machinists across the U.S and Canada. 

Challenges along the way

Another factor Heil has had to work around is dyslexia, a condition he didn’t know he had until he started his teaching career. 

“We didn’t figure this out until after I started teaching college, but I have dyslexia,” he said.

“If I can do it with my little handicap, anybody could do it,” he said.

Passing along his passion for trains, building and creating

He loves sharing his passion with his 43 grandkids. Heil says he has a finished train for them to ride when they come to visit — and he hopes one day it will inspire the next generation to follow in their grandfather and great-grandfather’s footsteps. 

“Finishing is wonderful, but the making of the thing is what I love,” Heil said. “I love making it.”