The J. E. Harmon Manufacturing Company came about as a result of the efforts exerted by John E. Harmon to realize his dreams of
combining the realism of scale modeling and the nostalgia of classic era Standard gauge tinplate toy trains.
John Harmon was an active collector of toy trains for many years, and had built layouts and scratch built engines in Z, N, TT, HO, 'O' and 1"
live steam, both scale and tinplate. Harmon had also reproduced some of the Boucher Standard gauge trains in the 1970's.
As well, he had been in and out of collecting Standard gauge tinplate several times. He decided that what he really wanted
were large sized semi-scale models and set out to develop an articulaled steam engine in Standard gauge.
Shortly before Christmas of 1977 John made a full size drawing of a Union Pacific 4-6-6-4 Challenger steam locomotive in 7/18 scale, 2½
inch Standard gauge. The decision to model a 4-6-6-4 was based on the fact that it employed large drive wheels, and that available parts and
repro Lionel Bild-A-Loco motors could be easily obtained and used. Having wheels and various side and push rods available
would save Harmon from a major tooling effort but still allow the finished product to retain the desired tinplate appearance. It was logical to incorporate
as many of the recognized tinplate components as possible. Harmon spent four months experimenting in design and application using the metal crafting skills
he possessed. For the first unit built, the boiler, cab, and tender were hand rivetted, and constructed of 25 thousands copper. All of the various subframes
were hand built from 1" thick aluminum plate. The project took it's first step toward becoming an item for commercial production at this point in time.
John Kresse, a close friend and fellow TCA member, assisted Harmon in the creation of the dies to manufacture the stack domes and the boiler front.
A local paint shop provided an excellent quality copper and brass spray paint for the domes. A source was discovered to obtain castings
of illuminated classification and marker lamps. When the engine was finished it was put through its paces. After fellow train enthusiasts
expressed an interest in owning a copy of the Challenger John Harmon had built, it was decided to utilize the dies to reproduce additional units.
Limited financial backing forced Harmon to use aluminum sand castings rather than stamped steel as Lionel
typically used in manufacturing their tinplate Standard gauge locomotives. Despite this change, the locomotives still retained much
of the tinplate appearance. By using a rolled metal boiler, individual hand rails, copper pipes and domes, and assorted brass gadgetry,
the 30's look could be retained. The effort associated with the process was a great deal more complicated than Harmon had expected. A tremendous
amount of hand finishing became necessary to build each engine. Harmon knew that something would have to be done to reduce the labor involved in
order to establish a price range that would be acceptable to hobbyists. The engine was first introduced
at the Spring 1978 Train Show in York, PA and was met with great enthusiasm.
Subsequent units were built with the cab, firebox, sub frame assemblies and tender in cast aluminum. The boiler front, domes,
stack, and lights were cast babbit. The boiler was rolled copper with brass bands. The locomotive was powered by dual reproduction Bild-A-Loco
motors made by Andy Kriswalus. A subframe extension was bolted onto each of the dual axle Bild-A-Loco motors to
add the functioning blind driver at the rear of each power unit and provide the appearance of a 6-wheel drive. The 3rd axle was not geared to the Bild-A-Loco
motor, but distributed drive via the side rods. The wheels used on the third axle also did not have flanges. The massive 4-6-6-4 Challenger
stretched 4½ feet and the engine and tender together weighed about
35 pounds. The six-wheeled tender trucks were cast and rolled smoothly on stamped metal wheels. Both the classification and marker lights were illuminated
with tiny 18 volt bulbs. The engine would negotiate Lionel 42" radius curves, but poorly. However, wide radius, 72" diameter track, which at that time was also
being manufactured by Andy Krislwalus, allowed the 4-6-6-4 articulated loco to snake through direct S turns with ease and great beauty.
By the Fall of 1978 Harmon was not only into production
of the Challenger, but also a 4-6-2 Pacific and a 4-6-4 Hudson as well. The utilization of individual parts for the 4-6-6-4 Challenger, as opposed to a one piece boiler cab,
made it possible to build these other locomotive types as variants. Harmon offered the Challenger, Pacific, Hudson, an Atlantic and a 10 Wheeler. The plan was to make only 50
units of the Challengers and 100 of each of the other locomotives. All the engines and tenders came with a production number stamped on the bottom.
The engines sold well and John Harmon decided to consider developing Standard gauge rolling stock. Being a fancier of passenger equipment
he began working on a set of smooth side modern passenger cars that were each 28 inches in length. The cars were targeted to be ready by the Spring 1979 TCA
Eastern Division York Train Show. Other plans were considered to offer a very limited quantity of special sets with a streamlined NYC Hudson and 5 smooth
side passenger cars in the three-tone gray NYC paint scheme. A Standard gauge Southern Pacific GS4 daylight loco with passenger cars was also envisioned.
Harmon intended to produce only 15 of each set.
Bob Thon of Roberts' Lines completed negotiations with John Harmon and the Harmon Manufacturing Co. was subsequently
absorbed by Roberts' Lines. The entire Harmon operation was moved from Huntington, NY to Rochester, NY where the Roberts' Lines Standard gauge trains were made in the old
site of the famed Penn Central RR car shops. It was hoped that use of the Harmon tools
would someday make it possible for Roberts' Lines to offer a wider range of Standard gauge locomotives, including an 0-4-0 Dockside,
Pacific, 10-wheelers, diamond stacks and Hudson configurations. Now in the hands of Bob Thon, the 4-6-6-4 Challenger loco has lived on as a staple of the
Roberts' Lines catalog and roughly 125 have been produced as of 2017.
Beginning in the early 1980ís, John Harmon and John Kresse built their own version of the GS-4 Daylight 4-8-4 locomotive in Standard gauge 3 rail.
A lot of work and detail went into these models and it showed in the final product. It took about 3½ years to complete the four units they set out to make.
John Kresse then began to build models of the Norfolk & Westernís J-4 and NYCís Dreyfus Hudson. Harmon and Kresse also collaborated on the 4-8-4 N&W J and
4-6-4 Dreyfuss Hudson model. These near-scale models are incredible works of art. Kresseís workmanship
on these locomotives is impeccable and a sight to behold. Complemented by Harmonís fine painting and finishing skills, these locos are as good as they
come. Of course, they arenít just for looking at, they are engineered to run very smoothly too. John Kresse created a total of 5 Norfolk and Western J-4 locos,
5 Dreyfus Hudson locos and the 4 GS-4 Southern Pacific Daylight locos.
John Harmon also designed a Standard gauge 400AE 2-6-6-2 locomotive for Mikes Train House for their 2001 catalog. This loco was
proposed to be part of the MTH Tinplate Tradition series around the same time period that they released their Standard gauge Olympian set but never
actually went into production. The hand built operating prototype was articulated and was used in the
pre-offering ad. The production model was supposed to be equipped with a baked enamel finish, metal wheels and axles, operating metal latch couplers,
a constant voltage headlight, metal handrails, a decorative bell, a decorative metal whistle, an operating ProtoSmoker system, brass trim, stamped
metal chassis, a precision flywheel equipped motor, and a Proto-Sound 2.0 system with the Digital Command System Featuring Freight Yard Proto-Effects.
It was planned to sell for $999.95. The prototype unit measured 37" x 55⁄8" x 4½". It featured an oil type 12-wheel Vanderbilt tender, and was
decorated in NYC livery. The one of a kind prototype sold at auction in 2016 for $2,300.
John E. Harmon eventually moved to Williamsport, PA. He had been an avid TT scale collector since 1968 and to help fund the
construction of his TT scale layout made and sold TT scale model railroad building kits and 85' modern smooth side passenger car kits. The passenger car
kits consisted of a milled wood floor, milled wood roof, pre-printed and decorated card stock sides, and cast ends, plus full under frame details,
all grabs, roof vents and other details including marker lights with jewels on the observation car, and windows with individual preprinted details
such as shades (but not silhouette people). All hardware was also included along with comprehensive instructions. The hardware included some metal
details and screws for trucks and couplers (although trucks and couplers were not included). The cars were sold in sets for $75. The six car types in each set
were a Full Baggage, Combine, Day Coach, Pullman, Diner, and Observation. Road names offered were Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, Norfolk & Western,
and New York Central.
The building kits consisted of
resized color copies of HO scale kits, detailed plans, and some wood or resin parts depending on the complication of the kit. The HO scale color copies were originally
produced by Ideal Models in the 1950's. The Harmon kits were simple to construct. A printed paper sheet was
provided for the walls that was to be glued down to a sheet of card stock. Some of the kits included clear plastic windows with black mullions.
There wasn't a great deal of other details provided, but many modelers would construct the buildings differently. Some would cut out the printed windows
and doors and use cast pieces instead. There were 38 different TT scale structures available representing a complete city. The kits were available via
mail order and shipped in cardboard tubes, rolled up inside.
Other TT scale products offered by Harmon were Tractor Trailers, 1950's automobiles and Weston TT
scale hand painted figures, including an engineer waving, a brakeman on a ladder, and a brakeman sitting on top of a box car catwalk.
A TT scale UP Gas Turbine originally designed by Larry Sayre was also offered. It was offered with the number 51 or 59 and came with a round tender.
It featured a cast resin body and tender, twin motored brass Kemtron Alco trucks and a brass chassis. They were sold painted and ready to run.
The locomotives were priced in the $600 to $700 range.