CANAL FULTON: There is something about old steam railroad engines that has always gotten to Daniel Lukac.
Maybe it was growing up in suburban Cleveland in the 1920s and 1930s when he saw them regularly.
Since retiring as a Department of Defense inspector a quarter century ago, Lukac methodically has hand-carved two basswood engines and is working on a third.
The latest one is a project that has taken a half decade — and might take another year or more to complete.
“It’s a relaxation thing,” said Lukac, 89, a World War II Army veteran who fought in several battles in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded by shrapnel in France.
Usually he works on his carving projects at night.
One of the engines that is complete is The Berkshire, an engine owned by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society out of Fort Wayne, Ind. Lukac volunteered with the organization when he lived in Van Wert, Ohio.
The other is known as the Blue Comet, a steam engine from the Central Railroad of New Jersey.
The carving he has been working on for several years is called the Union Pacific’s Challenger engine.
When Lukac finishes the Challenger, he plans to begin work on a fourth engine: the Union Pacific Big Boy.
Along with volunteering at the museum in Fort Wayne, Lukac also has volunteered on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and is a member of the veterans group the Marlboro Volunteers.
He is a member of the VFW Post in Canal Fulton and an American Legion post in Cuyahoga Falls.
“I was always fascinated by trains,” said Lukac, who shows a visitor to his Canal Fulton home myriad wooden pieces he has made that one day will be glued together to become the Challenger. “What is so fascinating is when you actually see it in motion.”
When he is preparing to start a project, he makes detailed drawings of the locomotive.
“I take my time slowly. I don’t do it as a production,” he said.
“I am more or less old-fashioned,” he said. “I like to carve.”
Because he has been spending lots of time lately caring for his wife, Marilyn, who has health problems, Lukac said he hasn’t been able to devote as much time as he would like to his engines.
He figures each engine took at least 500 hours of work to complete and countless parts.
“If I counted all the pieces, I’d go berserk,” he said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.