A testimonial by longtime live steamer and trackowner Richard Symmes
I've known John Kurdzionak since 1986, when he was 15 years old and joined our local live steam club, "The North East Live Steamers." I was involved with the founding of that club, back in April, 1967. The Club recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. John still is a member.
Two of our well-known members were the late Charles A. "Carl" Purinton, the founder of the Brotherhood of Live Steamers; and Carl’s son, the late Charles S. “Charlie” Purinton. Carl and John had a wonderful relationship in the hobby, in spite of the great difference in their ages.
Charlie mentored John on various aspects of live steam history, locomotive construction, and operation.
Carl died in 1999 and Charlie in 2010, but John maintains a very close relationship with “Cap” Purinton: Charlie’s son and Carl’s grandson.
When I first met him I wrote in our club newsletter that "John had the steam bug, for real!" As a teenager, John purchased one of the Friends Models 3/4" scale Boston & Albany tank locomotives, which he ran at every steam meet in the area. During his college years, he worked at the Mount Washington (NH) Cog Railway, first as a brakeman, then a fireman and finally as an engineer.
Listening to hobbyists at early meets he attended as a teenager, John heard the same old lament over and over regarding the availability of designs in the smaller scales. "You can't get 3/4" scale castings anymore”. “This (or that) design is lost and will never be available again”. And “the good old days are gone”, etc.
So John decided to turn those complaints on their collective heads, by locating as much of the old material as he could, saving it from obscurity or scrap, and producing it again.
While researching the live steam hobby as it began here in the 1930s and 40s, he became interested in locating some of the classic old models built by legendary hobbyists such as Langworthy, Coventry and Friend. In doing so, he began to receive tips on where not only models might be, but patterns and castings, drawings, etc. He quite quickly located the local but long-defunct Friends Models, whose materials had been in storage in a barn since 1979. He bought Friends Models with the intent of preserving the product line and making it available again.
For H.J. Coventry’s designs, this turned into a quest in which he was looking for the live steam equivalent of, "The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine." Most of Coventry’s designs were lost, unaccounted for, or had been destroyed. Nevertheless John searched the country for more than ten years, seeking the whereabouts and disposition of Coventry’s long-lost designs. The search required travel to Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Indiana, California, and Canada....just to positively identify and to purchase these materials. By this effort, John was able to find most of what remained of the famous "H.J. Coventry" designs. He purchased all of it, so as to “get it all under one roof”, save it from scrap/obscurity/loss, and to produce it again. It required tens of thousands of dollars just to locate, travel to, and purchase the Coventry designs. It was literally scattered across the 4 corners of the USA and Canada.
Unfortunately a good deal of the Coventry material was lost over the years, and did not turn up in John’s searches, so John began replacing this lost material (patterns, core boxes, etc.) with brand new ones that were custom-made by patternmakers.
The result is that today, John has perhaps the most comprehensive collection of 3/4" and 1" scale design material in the country. He is releasing modern, state-of-the-art castings and drawings that remain true to the old days: top-quality sand-cast parts from local foundries, and the same hand-drawn blueprints that hobbyists were working from decades ago.
In "real life," John has a wife and 2 children, ages 8 and 12, and runs a clock repair business, often creating long-out-of-production parts from scratch in his machine shop. He is building, in his spare time, a 3/4" scale "Raritan" live steamer.
But at Friends Models, he is bringing “the good old days” back to life as he produces designs that date back to the 1930s and that were once believed would never be available again. With a brand new shop at the Cummings Center in Beverly, Mass., John has doubled his space from where he was located until 2017. He now has adequate space for an ever increasing inventory of thousands of castings. I know, because "CAP" Purinton and I, volunteer one day a week, to help sort and store this treasure trove of historic patterns and castings.
I well-remember the decades when none of this material was available, and when it was accepted by pretty much everyone, that these designs would never see the light of day again. But you can now order brand new drawings, castings and more…..for designs from the 1930s and 40s, some of which were off the market for 50 years.....and have them shipped to your door. Take my word for it: these designs would have been lost forever, and forgotten about, had John not resuscitated them.
What John has done on behalf of the live steam hobby for "small scale castings availability" is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for today's hobbyists to enjoy these designs. Don't miss out on it.