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His Hobby Is Restoring Steamer Trunks

When Harold Heil rescued an old steamer trunk that his wife’s family was going to burn, he had no idea it would be the first of many. Decades later, at almost 90 years of age, the Zearing, Iowa, retired farmer figures he has restored 30 to 40 trunks.
  “It’s a tedious job. Some have to be almost completely rebuilt,” he notes. “But they are pretty nice when I get done with them.”
  Heil finds most of the trunks at auctions and flea markets, and says he pays no more than $40 for them. He prefers to keep the more than 100-year-old trunks as original as possible.
  Though they are typically made of hardwoods, some have decayed and need to be repaired with plywood. The inside paper covering usually needs to be removed.
  “I take them outside and soak them to get the paper off. Sometimes I take the trunk to the car wash in the back of my pickup,” Heil explains.
  After the trunk dries, he restores the necessary wood parts and removes rust with a rust removal product. He replaces the old paper with cotton cloth glued onto paper before gluing it to the inside of the trunk. If salvageable, he oils the leather strapping and handles several times to soften them up. If they are rotted, he purchases new 1/4-in. thick leather from a local Amish man. His daughter orders hinges, locks and other parts from an online store.
  “The biggest challenge is painting them,” Heil says. He bleaches the wood and cleans it with a steel brush before topping it with a clear sealant. He paints other parts of the trunk that were originally painted. He makes new trays to go inside.
  “Some trunks are big enough to crawl in and curl up. I haven’t had two that were alike,” he says. Heil has given away most of the trunks he has restored to family and friends, who use them as decorative furniture.
  At his age, Heil notes he has no plans to restore trunks as a business. But he has eight of them that still need restoring, and with the help of his daughter, Dee, he will work on them at his own pace.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Harold Heil, 312 North Olive St., Zearing, Iowa 50278 (ph 641 487-7824).

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2018 - Volume #42, Issue #2