Alva Trook

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Alva B. Trook was a live steam enthusiast in Lafayette, Indiana. He built a large 3/4 inch scale layout on his farm south of Lafayette, Indiana. It was the second largest such layout in the United States in 1956. Alva also built locomotives and equipment.

Trook and Hurst

"Model Railroading with Live Steam"

by Floyd Lacy

Photos by Don Beeson

From Magic Circle, December 1957

In the steaming bay, Hurst stokes firebox and Trook lubricates main steam cylinder. Booster, connected to stack, creates a draft.

Model railroading knows no age limits. Its followers range in age from five to 75 - and then some! It's a powerfully fascinating hobby that somehow takes a firm hold on the pre-school-age youngster and maintains that grip for years to come. Once addicted to miniature trains, you're hooked for life.

Realism is the goal of all model railroaders and, for some, the electrically-operated layouts leave something to be desired. It is this rabid, dyed-in-the-wool rail fan who has turned to live steam. In the United States and Canada there are now more than 6,000 live steamers (as they call themselves) who have reached the ultimate in model railroading.

Live steam models aren't to be found on the counters of stores. These intricate little machines are built from the wheels up, with $100 to $250 worth of parts and up to 3,500 hours of a labor that borders on devotion.

With these live steamers, the locomotive is it. Very few bother about adding rolling stock except for a flat car on which the engineer rides. Designed for power rather than speed, some of the miniatures are capable of pulling a load consisting of twelve adults.

A portable rail table delivers the model from steaming bay to main line. Trook prefers tables to space-consuming roundhouse.

Among the ranks of live steam enthusiasts are a couple of Hossiers, Alva Trook and Clarence Hurst of Lafayette and West Lafayette, Indiana, respectively. Both are members of the international model railroaders' group, the Brotherhood of Live Steamers, and between them they have one operating steamer and two a-building.

The model they fire up when they get the urge to railroad is a 4-6-4 Hudson-type locomotive, the prototype of which once made fast passenger runs for the New York Central. Trook constructed the engine and assigned it number 5297. It is built to the scale of 3/4 inch to a foot and was completed in 1954 after almost five years' work.

To own such a locomotive and have no place to run it would be frustrating. Trook overcame this problem, faced by nearly all the live steamers, by purchasing three acres of ground south of Lafayette. There he and Hurst have constructed a 1200-foot layout, the longest in the Midwest and, at last report, the third longest in the country. It's a popular place with the members of the brotherhood. Three times each year Trook is host to fellow enthusiasts who descend on Lafayette from as far away as Massachusetts and Missouri. At one of the meets this summer, the Trook Line accommodated 28 locomotives and some 55 rail fans.

With a roaring fire and a full head of steam, No. 5297 is ready to take engineer-building Alva B. Trook for a spin around the 1200-foot Trook Line.

Trook's layout is L-shaped and utilizes two of the three acres available. Because a round-house would take up too much space, the ingenious builder has arranged a series of rail tables to serve as steaming bays. On these the model builders make minor repairs and adjustments to their engines and fire up the boilers before moving out onto the main line for a run.

The 4-6-4 Hudson-type locomotive, built to an exact scale of 3/4 inch to one foot, hauls two adults over elevated track with ease.

"It's a 30-minute job getting an engine ready to roll," Trook pointed out as he prepared No. 5297 for a spin. From the roof of the clubhouse, rain water is collected, filtered and stored in an underground tank of 2,000-gallon capacity. By means of an electric shallow pump, it is piped to the steaming bay and main line for use in these small locomotive boilers.

Moving parts are lubricated and the engine given a general cleaning up. Charcoal is spooned into the tiny firebox. To give the initial blaze a good start, kerosene is squirted onto the flames. To create a draft, a booster, fabricated from a discarded vacuum cleaner, is connected to the smoke stack. As the pressure reaches 25 psi, the booster is removed and coal (usually stoker coal) is added to the firebox. When the steam gauge registers 90 to 100 psi, No. 5297 is ready to move from the steaming bay for a fast run around the circuit.

To provide housing for his equipment and to serve as headquarters for his thrice-yearly steam meets, Trook built a clubhouse of concrete block construction. "Live steamers usually get so wrapped up in operating their engines they refuse to take time off to run down the road for a bite to eat," says Trook. His clubhouse, therefore, is equipped with a complete kitchen where sandwiches or meals may be prepared.

The amateur engineer rides side saddle behind his locomotive and to accommodate the dangling lets the Trook Line is elevated. The rails, like everything else associated with model railroading, are to scale and made of extruded aluminum. Even the tiny spikes, which hold the rails to creosote-treated ties, are scaled.

Hurst is at the throttle as the miniature engine completes a sweeping curve. Track is located on a three-acre plot south of Lafayette.

Wherever possible, Trook gives his layout the authentic air. On the side of a pedestrian bridge over the track are mounted small metal emblems of various nationally-famous railroads. "Clarence and I ate cereal until it was coming out our ears to collect a complete set of those emblems," Trook recalls with a grin. From the bridge hang two railroad lanterns. Inside the clubhouse are mounted reproductions of railroad scenes provided by the Monon.

An engineer's view of the Trook Line shows pedestrian bridge and portion of track in background. Passing siding is at the right.

What does all this cost? "I Don't know," Trook confesses. And he doesn't want to know, for he adds, "I just feel fortunate that I'm able to do it."

Like many live steamers, Trook and Hurst graduated into live steam railroading from electric train hobbies. The two rail fans met at meetings of a now-defunct "O" gauge model club in Lafayette several years ago. When Trook's interests turned to steam, he persuaded Hurst to make the switch with him. Since then they have worked as a team in live steam.

Trook is in the construction business but had worked as a machinist during World War II. He experienced few problems in machining parts for his first model. Hurst, a wire chief for Western Union, had no previous machine shop experience when he started his Hudson-type locomotive. Now, after 2,000 hours of working with close tolerances on small parts, Hurst can hold his own with the best.

"What we get are rough castings. Nothing is finished and we must do all our own machining," Trook explains. "Some model builders start from scrap, even going so far as to make their own screws and rivets."

"Making the set ups accounts for many of the hours of work that go into an engine," Hurst adds. "For example, we'll spend a lot of time setting up a lathe to machine just one piece. Then we tear it down and set up for another."

There are no kits available to help these model builders although there are two supply houses that provide plans and rough castings for a few models. One part that isn't available is the boiler. While these may be fabricated by a boilermaker, if the modeler so desires, most live steamers construct their own. According to Trook, most modelers prefer the more expensive copper boiler to steel since it eliminates the rust problem.

Trook and Hurst share more than just an interest in live steam railroading. For some time now they have had a combined machine shop, located in the airy, well-lighted basement of Hurst's new home. Between them, they have all the machine tools necessary to construct a live steam locomotive - two lathes, shaper, milling machine, band saw, drill press, grinder, welding equipment and a multitude of small tools and accessories.

Trook and Hurst have combined equipment to provide themselves with a complete machine shop in the basement of Hurst's new home.

The two Hoosiers work in the machine shop when and as the spirit moves them. Currently most of Hurst's time is spent on completing his Hudson. Trook recently started building a 1-1/2 inch scale model 4-4-2 Atlantic-type steamer which is hundreds of hours from completion.

Already 2,000 hours have gone into chassis of Hurst's Hudson-type locomotive, with many more required before completion.

Trook explains that most live steamers have but one locomotive, mostly because of the time involved in constructing just one. Too, maintenance and repair of existing rolling stock is no little matter. And where the model builder has a track, as Trook does, much maintenance is required to keep the "iron pike" usable.

When time permits, Trook has plans for improving his layout south of the city. Some day, "much in the future," he says, Trook will add a passing siding, devise automatic switches and erect a new building to house the Trook-Hurst machine shop. In the meantime, he will continue to high ball over the Trook Line with No. 5297, keep up the track, work on his Atlantic steamer and repair Lionel electric trains for Lafayette stores.

A close-up view of Trook's No. 5297 shows detail of authentic model. Prototype of replica once made fast passenger runs for NYC.


From The Miniature Locomotive, Volume 1 Number 1, May/June 1952:

NEWS FROM INDIANA: C. L. Hurst, Robert Bates, and Alva Trook were building three 3/4" scale Hudsons and were running monthly on Alva's track at Lafayette, Indiana.

1956 Meet

The North American Live Steamer, Volume 1, Number 6, 1956

Attention All Midwestern Live Steamers

Come out to Alva Trooks

October 6 and 7

1200 foot loop 3/4 inch scale. Steam bays for 30 locomotives. Rest rooms - Meals served. Everything for a wonderful two days.

AlvaTrooks ThreeQuarterLayout LafayetteIN 1956.jpg

Alva B. Trook and Otto Klutzke of Lafayette, Indiana pose with a couple of their engines, all fired up and ready to go. From Steam News, Volume 2 Number 1, Fall 1959

Bill Yoder posted on Chaski.Org:

This brings back memories. I was at this track for the summer meet in 1958, I believe. That was along with my Dad, Enos Yoder. He should still have an 8 mm movie of that visit. The scenes included a spiffy, C&NW-style 4-4-2 as well as a PRR K4.

"Pre-Season Get Together", Farm Collector, July/August 1956:

Alva Trook, who invited everyone to his tracks for model steam locomotives the last Saturday and Sunday in May and October. His tracks are the second longest in the United States and are located south of Lafayette, Ind., on State Road 43. All those who owned steam engines were introduced, and they told what kind they had. One of the wives who was introduced said, 'I don't care anything about steam engines, but I think that steam engine people are the nicest in the world.'

From "Mud Ring Monthly", Cinder Sniffers, November 2014:

Larrick pointed out that the Cinder Sniffers didn't just appear in 1956 with a “big bang”; there were, in fact, fellow live steamers nearby in 1952, and maybe earlier. There was the Lafayette Indiana group with its cast of characters: CL Hurst, Robert Bates and Alva Trook.
I have in my possession the partially completed 3/4" Hudson begun by Clarence Hurst (or was it Hearst). I saw Alva Trook's track in a derelict state when I went up to Lafayette to get the Hudson from Clarence's widow. We drove by the house. The site was all overgrown something like my garden railway now. That was somewhere around 1980 maybe

1957 Meet

Model Train Meeting

The Times, Hammond, Indiana, Friday, 23 August 1957

Lafayette, Indiana (UP) -- Scores of model railroad enthusiasts from 10 states and Canada were expected today for a three-day invitational "live steam" meet. The coal-burning models of famous steam engines will be run on a 1,200-foot track on the Alva Trook farm south of here.

1972 Meet

Denis Larrick wrote in Mud Ring, October 2014:

I remember meeting Alva during my first visit to our track in Dover. It was a Lafayette Bunch reunion in September 1972.

Machine Shop

The following information is from "Railroad Magazine", April 1959, Volume #3:

Trook & Hurst Machine Shop; Lafayette, Ind.; Alva B. Trook; Clarence Hurst; William H. Dempsey; Ward B. Kilby

Personal Info

Alva B Trook was born on August 24, 1907. Alva married Dorothy DeLong 25 June 1937. He died on December 13, 1991 at 84 years old. Alva B Trook's last known residence is at Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indiana.