Nephi Man Builds Mini Steam Engines From Scratch

Aug 23, 2020, 10:54 PM | Updated: Dec 19, 2022, 11:53 pm

NEPHI, Utah — A Nephi man is turning his life-long love of trains into a reality by building his own steam engines, on a smaller-scale.

One train got him some big recognition in what’s called the Metal My Way contest, which recognizes machinists across the U.S. and Canada. The project took him decades to build.

In the back of his garage, Harry Heil is tinkering and crafting, building the pieces for a passion that he first picked up from his father, Art Heil.

“Who was a Union Pacific surveyor back in the 1920s,” said Harry.

It’s a life-long obsession.

“This is an American 440,” he said. “I built it. It took 38 years to build.”

Yeah, 38 years — more than half his life — for a working steam engine, at least it was when he made this video last year.

Now, he’s trying to perfect it and fix a leak somewhere within all those parts. He says he may never be done and that’s okay.

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

It’s also why he felt the need to build a second, bigger steam engine. Over three-hundred pounds. He says one day, it will be able to pull up to ten adults.

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

But behind this crazed train-maker, he says there was always a family that stood by him.

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

A madness that pushes him to keep refining, even when it doesn’t work out.

Harry Heil's 38 year steam engine project A 300 lb steam train Harry Heil is tinkering and crafting, building the pieces for a passion that he first picked up from his father, Art Heil (pictured here).

He’s got a pile of mistakes in the corner.

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

All the more reason to keep trying to get it just right.

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

But like many challenging things, there is a payoff — one that makes visits with any of the 43 grandkids a little more fun.

He’s got one finished electric train just for those times with tracks he lays down around the house.

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

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Nephi Man Builds Mini Steam Engines From Scratch