Chet Peterson

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History of a Locomotive

Steve Stevenson

Newtown, CT


ChePeterson UP2.jpg

This morning I noticed 2 photos of which I have intimate knowledge. The photos were taken at the LALS track in Los Angeles, California. Not sure when but it is relatively recent (past 10 years) since I don't recognize any of the people.

The engine was built by Chester Peterson in Glendale, California in the years approximately 1959 through 1964. I lived across the street from Chet and helped (mostly moral support) build the engine. I was a high school student at the time. The castings were bought originally from someone that had started the project but had given up right at the beginning. Chet very faithfully worked on the engine nearly every night from 7 till 10 pm for five years. His shop was originally a two car garage loaded full of machine tools - a hobbyists dream. On the garage door was a blueprint of the original that he referred to from time to time.

He was a fanatic on detail. For example the original stack he had was a single. Not satisfied he designed the had the pattern made for the dual stack. This modification was made after the engine had run for awhile. The engine was oil fired. He designed the burner, which did work very well. The burner was started on compressed air then ran on steam after the pressure built up. He had a spark plug next to the injector for a quick start in event the fire went out. In the beginning the engine was very loud from the fire. The ground nearly shook. Chet wasn't happy with all the noise so he put clay in the fire box to muffle some of the noise. Most everything on the engine was operational, steam powered bell, 2 air compressors, steam generator for the lights (he ran it often at night), steam whistle, 2 injectors, I believe an axle pump for backup (always ran on the injectors). He was very careful to have the weight balanced on all the wheels rather than all the weight on the drivers as some of his friends had done.

I believe that there may have been some friendly competition with Dick Priest who owned the SP Daylight. Dick's engine was a real standout. Chet learned from the experience of others with respect to maintenance. Not looking at the prospect of replacing boilers which Dick seemed to be doing on a regular basis, Chet would purge his boiler with nitrogen after every run. As far as I know it is still using the original boiler.

ChetPeterson UP1.jpg

Before the first run he put a bicycle speedometer/odometer on it. If anyone has the chance to check it out, you can see the its total mileage. A few other pieces of trivia. The metal number plate on the front was a gift from a friend and it is made from solid silver. The centipede trucks on the tender were cast from patterns made by an older man. Chet got use of them to make his truck and returned them. A couple years later he thought he would like to make more castings and was disappointed to learn that the man had a fight with his wife and she burned all his patterns. As far as I know these are the only or one of very few trucks from the patterns.

The first firing of the engine was done in the shop. Only Chet and myself were there. Chet bought some stove pipe to vent the smoke out of the garage. All things considered it when very well. A few leaks here and there. As time went on he did a lot of work on the injectors, air compressor, and smoke box valve. He had a lot of problems with them in the beginning and ended up redesigning them. He published an article about his solution to the smoke box valve problem. There was a local company that impregnated carbon on all moving surfaces. No more sticking problems after that.

The original colors of the engine was silver and black. Later he painted it the current colors. I believe he also added elephant ears which are not in the photos. After completing the engine he built a set of passenger cars. I keeping with his attention to detail they were real beauties. At about the time he was finishing the passenger cars he decided to retire from his job at Garrett Air Research and start Railroad Supply Corporation. He was able to get the Griffith Park Railroad concession which is at the Los Felis entrance to the park. He made a lot of improvements to the ride. He used RSC to build engines for other parks around the country.

He did a lot besides working on his engine. He was president of the local sports car club, president of the LA Live Steamers, and active in the Los Angeles government. Not sure of his actual position but he was some board. He did have the opportunity to consult on a Hollywood movie that had some train scenes in it.

I'm now living of the East coast and I little out of touch with what's happening. As far as I know he is still alive in a rest home somewhere in the LA area. The engine was sold a number of years ago for a relatively small sum provided the new owners would not take it from the LA area. Hope this rambling is helpful to you.

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