Content Tools

Reprinted with permission of the Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206

He put it together a piece at a time, sometimes laboring well past midnight in his garage.

When the last bolt was tightened, and Harold Stark fired up the boiler on his hand-crafted working half-size model of a 1909 steam engine, he realized he had completed a 'monumental task.'

And the joy of seeing it work was beyond description, said the 57-year-old Allison employee.

The feelings of accomplishment and joy he experienced last July involved more than simply completing a painstaking task he began in 1973.

The steam engine sitting in Stark's garage at 3215 S. Meridian is a scaled-down duplicate of one that fascinated him when he was a boy growing up on a farm in Rush County.

Stark said he was always on hand to help his grandfather and uncle clean and repair a 1909 Gaar-Scott double cylinder steam engine they used for threshing and to operate a sawmill.

When Stark was old enough, his grandfather and uncle allowed him to replace flues in the engine and to haul water to it when they were threshing fields.

But one thing he always wanted to do and never did was to operate the engine himself.

Stark's model building efforts stemmed from a trip he made to his first Indiana State Fair when he was 12 years old.

'I saw a model steam engine in a glass case that some gentleman had built,' Stark said. His imagination captured by the display, Stark vowed that he too would build a model engine one day if he ever had he right machine tools.

Stark, who went to work at Allison in 1951, acquired the tools necessary to keep his promise and built a one- inch scale model of a steam engine 15 years ago.

It took him about 41/2 years to complete the model, which has 815 handmade 'little bitty pieces,' Stark said. Some of the pieces are so small he had to wear a jeweler's eye piece as he made them.

While admiring the model, one of Stark's uncles asked him why he didn't make one big enough to ride on.

'I let about five or six years go by before I decided to make a bigger model' Stark said. He decided to build a model half the size of the original steam engine because everything would be better balanced and in proportion at that size and it would also be a little bigger model than anyone else had built, he added.

It was a job that demanded all of the manufacturing and blueprint reading and drawing skills that Stark, a foreman in the turbine-blade section at Allison, had acquired. Although Gaar-Scott engines were originally manufactured in Richmond, Indiana, the company went out of business in the 1920s, Stark said.

He found a 1909 Gaar-Scott engine in working condition and used it along with a reprinted 1909 catalogue to make sketches, blueprints and patterns.

He made his first sketches in 1973 and ended up six years later with a bushel basket full of drawings he used to make blueprints for every piece on his model engine.

Grabbing a spare hour here and there, Stark worked away in his garage, making most of the pieces for the coal and wood-fired model engine, which stands about 61/2 feet high to the top of its' smoke stack and weighs about 4,050 pounds when its' water tanks are full.

Stark said he received help from co-workers in determining specifications for the engine and materials, and two friends loaned him equipment he needed to complete the task. He put a brass plate on the side of the boiler dedicating the steam engine to those who inspired him to do something better as a model maker.

When all the pieces were ready, he began to assemble the engine in August 1978.

Once it was assembled and operating, Stark hauled it to several steam engine shows and festivals last summer and fall. At those shows, he said he was paid the highest compliment when spectators told him the engine was 'the finest machine work and model work they had ever seen.'

People often guess it cost him about $7,000 to build the engine, but Stark said, 'I kept track of every penny I spent, and I have a little more than $1,300 invested in it.'

The model engine 'helps you live in the past,' he said. 'Young people today don't realize how hard people had to work years ago to achieve something.'