Steve Kunz knew that a scale model steam engine mirroring his 1882 Harrison 10hp engine existed. The builder, Chuck Hildebrand, was a good friend of his dad’s. But Steve’s dad, Louis Kunz, and Chuck had both died more than 30 years ago. The half-scale model had long since been sold, and Steve had no idea what had happened to it – until he followed a lead.
“Lloyd Creed, a friend of mine in the hobby, heard about a Harrison scale model,” Steve says. “He contacted the owner and told me about it. I had wondered what had happened to the model. I’d heard it had been sold, maybe even to a buyer in the U.K. Nobody knew where it was.”
Eventually, Steve went to see the model – the seller lived in southwest Missouri, just four hours from Steve’s home outside St. Louis – and ended up buying it. “I was not actively looking for a model engine,” he admits, “but this kind of piqued my interest.”
Debut of a dynamic duo
At the 2019 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Steve’s full-size Harrison was the featured steam engine – but the pint-sized partner was right next to it. A reproduction water wagon that Steve built rounded out the display.
The full-size Harrison has a story all its own (see Farm Collector, February 2014). Buried in the Missouri River for 40 years, the engine was rescued in the 1950s. Louis bought the engine for $500 (roughly $4,357 today) from the salvage crew and eventually completed a total restoration.
The engine has been on permanent display at Mt. Pleasant since the early 1980s. Thought to be one of the oldest running engines in the U.S., the Harrison is one of a kind. “What makes it really odd,” Steve says, “is that the smokestack passes through the steam dome. Most boilers have the steam dome in the center of the boiler, but on this one, it’s up front, so the smoke can go through the steam dome. Harrison ads said the superheated steam dome relieved the tendency to foam, and created dry steam.”
Marked by old-school craftsmanship
The scale model Harrison was a one-off for Chuck Hildebrand. “This is the only one he built,” Steve says. “I don’t think he had too much interest in steam until he went to a show with my dad. But then he decided he wanted to build a model engine. He was a machinist, so it was right up his alley.”
The builder’s exquisite craftsmanship is showcased in the model. “Chuck did an excellent job building it,” Steve says. “The boiler is made of a really heavy material. Its walls are thicker than those on the full-size engine. On the full-size Harrison, there is a heavier section where the spokes meet the outer wheel rim. He duplicated that on the scale model. He just had such an eye for detail.”
Some of the scale model’s gearing was sourced, but everything else was fabricated. The seat on the front dates to Steve’s boyhood. “It was from my old pedal tractor,” he says. “I put a lot of miles on that seat.”
Model survives in good shape
The model changed hands at least three times before Steve rediscovered it. “A couple of the owners ran it a little,” he says, “but it sounds like none of them really knew anything about steam.”
Steve was surprised to find that the model was in pretty good shape. “It had been kept inside,” he says. Minor repairs were needed, and Steve tackled a cosmetic restoration. He added a headlight and a toolbox, and made a different steering wheel similar to the wheel on the full-size Harrison. He also had a smaller Harrison logo made for the model, and used that as a stencil.
He did not run the scale model at Mt. Pleasant. “I didn’t have it very long before the 2018 show,” he says. “I steamed it up a couple of times before I painted it, but then it looked so good, I hated the idea of getting it dirty.”
Steve’s next project is creation of a scale-model water wagon to pair with the scale-model engine. “I haven’t collected up all the parts I’d need,” he says. “It’ll be a little work.”
Growing up with steam
Louis Kunz collected steam engines and completed five engine restorations. “He was a steam expert,” Steve says. Steve continues that tradition with his pair of Harrisons and an undermount 18hp Avery. He also has a scale-model Baker built by a friend of his dad’s. “I usually run it on air,” he says. The model is nearly 3 feet long; its back wheels are 10 inches in diameter.
Steve grew up with steam. “I’ve always been around it,” he says. “My dad always went to the threshers reunion at Mt. Pleasant, and I’ve been going every year since I was born.” Until 2020, when the pandemic drove cancellation of that show and many others, Steve could be seen in Mt. Pleasant every Labor Day weekend, operating the full-size Harrison and its water tender.
He’s seen the hobby ebb and flow, but today he says it seems to be holding its own. “It seems like there are a lot of engines being restored these days,” he says. “Years ago, nobody would have messed with some of them.” FC
For more information: Email Steve Kunz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leslie C. McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Email her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.