History of IBLS

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History of the IBLS

One often wonders how an auspicious World-wide body such as the International Brotherhood of Live Steamers (IBLS) gets its “start” in the first place. I was asked to provide the reader with a little background history on how all of this took place so many, many years ago. So let’s take a look back to the very early days of our great Live Steam hobby …

Gauge 3 has a long history, in fact a very long history, as model trains go, dating back to 1891 when it was among four original model track gauges created by pioneering German toy maker Marklin (Gauges 1, 2, 3 and 4). Known more commonly in the United States as simply 1/2" scale or 2.5" gauge, it was very popular among live steam enthusiasts during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

Gauge '3' (or No.3, as two and a half inch gauge was originally known) was one of the five standard gauges recommended by a subcommittee of the Society of Model Engineers (in England) on February 1st, 1899.

Gauge '3' (G3) is therefore now over 100 years old. At the time, 2.5 inch gauge allowed the construction of fairly successful (and reasonably to scale) live-steam locomotives. Bing and Carette, both Nurnburg-based toy-manufacturers provided locomotives and rolling stock for these standardized gauges. However, it was Bassett-Lowke, together with other British producers like Jubb, Bonds and the Model Dockyards that marketed the largest range of models for G3.

During this period, what we may call the "golden age" of Gauge 3, several locomotive kits were offered, H. J. Coventry, and Carl Puriton of Massachusetts, among others. An extensive collection of designs for generally British prototype 1/2" scale locomotives were published in the Model Engineer magazine by Lillian "Curly" Lawrence under the pseudonym LBSC.

Charles A. "Carl" Purinton (1898-1999), of Marblehead,Massachusetts, was an early day Live Steam hobbyist, who, like H.J. Coventry and others, provided a few Live Steam “kits” for modelers to try their hand at. “Carl” was an excellent modeler who had a number of Live Steam models, some to LBSC’s designs.

In 1932, at the suggestion of LBSC himself, ‘Carl’ formed a loose-knit organization known as the Brotherhood of Live Steamers or simply BLS. Its goal was to put one live steamer in touch with another, to connect "lone hands" in the live steam hobby with others in their vicinity and throughout the continent. Another goal was to have live steam "meets" each year where all the brothers could "meet".

The first meeting of the Brotherhood was held at Mr. Purinton's home in 1932, where dozens of men came to operate their 2-1/2" gauge locomotives on Mr. Purinton's 140' long "back and forth track" in his driveway, and to show off their "works in progress". Meets were held at the Purinton home annually until 1937. On September 18, 1938, the Brotherhood's annual meets began being held at the brand new New England Live Steamers track at Danvers, Mass.

The track was 620-feet in length and was constructed in less than a month on property owned by Lester Danforth Friend assisted by several Live Steam “brothers”, which included Carl Purinton and his 16-year old son, Charles S. Purinton (Charlie) … Despite the absolute worst kind of New England weather (known as an “Easterly spell”) the activities continued. However, there was trouble, the alternating drizzling and pouring rain kept the rails too wet for good traction. The track could accommodate both 2 ½ and 3 ½ gauge locomotives and rolling stock.

A large turntable, with its stalls, and an ample service track adjoined the loop, with which the latter connected by an ingenious transfer table device.

Despite a driving rain, the first engine to run that historic day was “Carl” Purinton’s 4-4-4 tank engine, followed by a 3/4 inch scale Timken “four aces” 4-8-4 built by Fred Jerome of Toronto.

When lunch was served to all of the day’s participants, the members and visitors had a chance to see some of the models and chassis under construction, which were all exhibited under cover. The work that was done by those early day live steamers on those engines was deserving of the respect by anyone who admires fine machine work. Speaking of “lunch”--- the main entrée for the day’s historic event was Mrs. “Carl” Purinton’s memorable fish chowder which she was well known for. “Carl” said it was officially known as “Marblehead Chowder” . Evidently, as always, it was the hit of the day !

The meet at Danvers was the sixth Annual Live Steamers meet of which many were to follow in the ensuing years, during the course of the BLS existence.

Meanwhile, out on the West Coast of the United States, within the geographical area of California in particular, there was not very much Live Steam activity going on as on the East Coast.

However, one particular individual stands out among all, as the “guiding light” for all live steamers everywhere. That individual was Victor Tom Shattock, a long time employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad, at the company’s large classification yards and shops in West Oakland, Calif.

Vic was a foreman on SP’s Western Division in the “water service department”, which took care of everything from general plumbing and sewer maintenance, fire protection, HVAC repairs, Pumps, windmills, sanding towers, water and fuel lines, air and steam lines and so forth. He was born in 1886 in Culmstock, Devonshire, England. His father was a Station Master on England’s famous “Great Western Railway” (GWR) for 47 years. He got married in 1906 and in 1911, he emigrated to Alberta, Canada.

While in Nanton, Alberta in 1913, he constructed his very first Live Steam locomotive and rolling stock. He had already built several models of steam traction engines and a big model of a Canadian destroyer which he would sail on a nearby lake. His layout ran outdoors and around his barn with a branch thru his wife’s “chicken coop”. She got mad because the train would scare the hens off the nest.

Vic operated a local plumbing shop in Nanton and had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in WW I where he was shipped off to France. He served with a batallion known as the 8th Railway Troops and while there, oversaw the construction of a two-foot gauge steam railway.

Upon returning to Canada after the War, Vic started hearing glowing tales about life in California from a close friend of his. In 1923, Vic and his family (and his steam trains) moved to California and eventually settled in Oakland where he then got a job with the Southern Pacific. After residing in a number of homes, Vic and his family became pretty well settled into a large two-story Victorian home in East Oakland, Calif at the corner of 38th Avenue and Foothill Blvd. Vic and his two sons, Ronald and Jim, built a 2 ½ inch gauge railroad with about 400 feet of track and twelve turnouts. The mainline encircled the 45 x 32 foot basement.

This was the age of the amateur machinist, working in his small home workshop with a minimum of tools, a box of sand castings, a tube of blue prints, and a great deal of grit and determination. In this case, Vic had a small 6” Atlas lathe and an Atlas bench-style drill press and many hand tools of various types. Yet, what he created with his own two hands, have been referred to by many as works of art. Building exact scale replicas of steam locomotives from raw materials.

Shattock's railroad filled the basement of his Oakland, California Victorian home where alcohol fired Southern Pacific 4-6-2s, 2-8-2s, a consolidation and an 0-6-0 switcher pulled a full compliment of 1/2" scale freight cars about an oval track--to the delight of visitors, fellow model-rails, and even SP brass! The oval mainline connected to a small yard complete with an electrically operated 110' turntable, working water tank and a steaming bay. Mr. Shattock's railroad hosted foreign locomotives from time to time and even boasted a connection with another one of the pioneers of model railroading: It's brass rail was custom made by O scale legend Rollin Lobaugh.

Vic Shattock entertained thousands of visitors over an almost thirty year period. Live steam enthusiasts, railfans, civic groups, railroad officers and employees, churches, schools, scouts, fraternal organizations, and various convention delegates such as from the NMRA in 1947. Hollywood celebrities too. The list is endless. Many news media organizations got word of what Vic Shattock had in his basement and they wanted to see his layout and write stories about it. Thousands of people have had model trains running in their house—however, the idea of STEAM engines pulling strings of cars around a scenic railroad was completely unheard of.

Many visitors wanted to learn how to build locomotives like Vic and how to get started on the right foot to do just that. They asked many repeat questions. They wanted to know if “kits” were available. The questions got so numerous and the visitors kept increasing, that Vic and two close friends decided to form a Club and dispense this information in an easier format. The result was the formation of the Golden Gate Live Steamers , in Vic’s basement, in 1936.

The years rattled on, including the WW II years, and after the war was over, several members spoke of the desire to operate their locomotives outdoors in a similar manner as Carl Purinton on the East Coast was doing. After some very diligent searching, the new GGLS club was able to secure the use of a large piece of land in Oakland’s Redwood Regional Park on which to build an outdoor track. This took place in 1948. The BLS was already sixteen years old by this time. After two long years of construction, the Gold Spike was driven on September 2, 1950. The track was approximately 1330 feet in length and had four rails for accommodating 2 ½, 3 ½ and 4 ¾ inch gauge locomotives and rolling stock.

In September-1951, the 19th Annual BLS meet was held in Oakland, Calif and was hosted by the Golden Gate Live Steamers. Both Carl Purinton and Lester Friend attended from Massachusetts.

In 1950, the club officers for the GGLS were Vic Shattock, President; Tim Reardon, Vice-President and Harry L. Dixon, Secretary. Harry Dixon was the person that secured the production of rail for the new club track. As he was the Secretary, he corresponded with many visitors, guests of the club and especially, other Live Steamers from around the North American continent. One day, Harry started to correspond with “Carl” Purinton in Massachusetts on a fairly regular basis and they became very good friends that lasted for many years. Carl told Harry about the BLS concept and the “mandate” that LBSC had inflicted upon him. He told Harry that the amount of correspondence was really increasing and he asked if Harry would be able to take over his duties for the Western part of the country. Harry readily agreed and right then became the new BLS secretary for the “Pacific Coast Region”, a post he held until early 1973.

During Harry’s reign, there were live steamers corresponding with him from various Western states and just not those on the Pacific Coast. So, the name of Harry’s region of responsibility was changed to the "Western Region”—BLS …

In early 1973, Harry Dixon was well into his retirement years and had a number of health issues. He approached a young man in the GGLS club to take over his responsibilities. He already knew of this man’s reputation and qualifications to take over the position. The young man’s name was Ken Shattock.

Yes, it was Vic Shattock’s grandson who Vic had raised as his own son for the first fourteen years of Ken’s life. Ken definitely knew about the Live Steam hobby-- after all, he had a “good teacher” … However, shortly thereafter, Ken got married and as the pressures of married life mounted, he decided it would be better to resign his post from the BLS. Ken held the position during the 1973-1976 years and then Harry Dixon took it back temporarily and then passed it over to the late Dick Thomas who held the position until his passing in early 2008.

In the Summer of 2008, Ken Shattock celebrated his 35th wedding anniversary as well as forty-three years of working in the telephone industry. He was still an avowed Live Steam hobbyist. He was also a long time member of the NRHS and a well respected railfan on the Internet providing historical information and photos to younger fans in areas around the country. He also started to produce railroad videos.

One day while wanting to ask one of the BLS secretaries a question and knowing that Dick Thomas had passed away, he contacted the Editor of Live Steam magazine to find out the address of a secretary to write to. To his utter surprise, he was informed that the four regional BLS secretaries in the U.S. and Canada were no more. They had either passed on or had retired with no replacements.

Ken was also informed that most Live Steamers in the U.S. and Canada did not believe that the BLS was even needed anymore especially because of the modern day Internet. As it turned out, the “other” BLS secretaries located in Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand did not harbor those same views.

Ken then decided right then and there that he would endeavor to bring back the BLS as its Founder, “Carl” Purinton, originally envisioned. After discussions with Clover McKinley, Editor of Live Steam Magazine, and with Clover’s personal encouragement, Ken decided that only ONE new BLS secretary was required, for the North American continent which included the U.S. and Canada.

Hence the new “North American Region—IBLS” was born. Things, of course, have really changed from past years. The various Live Steam “meets” still take place here and there, either at Club tracks or at private facilities elsewhere. Most of the hundreds of small size locomotives have somehow disappeared from the scene overall and have been replaced by 1 ½ inch scale equipment, running on either 7 ¼ or 7 ½ inch gauge track. The Live Steam pioneers from years ago have all passed on. Even the famous “Marblehead Chowder” lunches, once served at the East Coast meets have disappeared. What a pity too as they were extraordinarily delicious.

Who knows what the future holds for the International Brotherhood of Live Steamers (IBLS) in the years to come. Will it succeed ? Is it needed ? Is it wanted ? How can it overcome feelings of disdain ? Is their hope at all or is the re-instatement of the BLS a complete waste of time ?

Ken Shattock states that he cannot sit back and see Carl Purinton’s old organization fall apart. Some say it is too bad that folks like “Carl Purinton” and “Vic Shattock” still can’t be with us in these trying times. Well, that “might” be true-- but please consider this historic fact in the year 2008 ---

There are two well-known Live Steamers still living and in good health who just “might” know something of the history of the BLS ….and these two Live Steamers are about the same age today… One lives in Salisbury, MA …. His name is “Cap Purinton”…. The other lives in Federal Way, WA (in the Seattle area) …. His name is “Ken Shattock”.

They are the paternal grandsons of “Carl Purinton” and “Vic Shattock” … Maybe history can repeat itself once again --- maybe even the “fish chowder” lunches will return… Only time will tell !!


Submitted by Ken Shattock
North American Region—IBLS

Brotherhood of Live Steamers, 1950

by Charles A. Purinton

The Live Steamer, May-June 1950

(also appeared in The North American Live Steamer, Number 1, Volume 1, 1956)


Sometime previous to the year 1932 the well known successful builder of small steam locomotives, Mr. L. Lawrence of Surrey, England, better known to us as L.B.S.C. made the suggestion that a Brotherhood of Live Steamers be formed. Also, that some Live Steamer should volunteer to act as secretary with whom all the others might register. Charles A. Purinton acted on this suggestion by assuming the task of being the self-appointed secretary of the Botherhood of Live Steamers on this side of the "Pond".


It is very discouraging and small pleasure to work alone without the encouragement and congeniality of other Live Steamers. By means of registering ones name and address with the secretary, it is possible to get in touch with others in your vicinity, if there are any who have registered, for the mutual benefit of all. The "Lone Hand" can build good small working steam locomotives, but mistakes can be avoided, corners cut and a great deal more fun and education from our hobby by working together. But, please remember that to accomplish our purpose it is essential that you and your friends register, otherwise a "Lone Hand" from your vicinity writing to the secretary would be told there were no brother Live Steamers near him.


A formal set up of a president, vice president, etc. is not necessary with this type of mutual benefit society. All there is, is a volunteer secretary. There are no expenses except postage and there are no dues. All the secretary does request is that return postage be included when writing in for information.


The annual meeting is held in the Fall for three days for all members of the Brotherhood of Live Steamers. This Meet is looked forward to as it provides the means and place to get together, become acquainted and see the locomotives brought by the other Live Steamers. Since 1938 this annual meeting has been held under the auspices of the New England Live Steamers at their 3-17/32 inch gauge track at 90 High Street, Danvers, Mass.


Membership is open only to those who have built, are building, own or are seriously contemplating the construction of a small working steam locomotive.

Interview with Carl Purinton, 1989

Year by Year Journal

Past Meets

Name Change

When did the BLS change its name to IBLS?

See IBLS Journal 1972


  • "BLS Secretaries: Thanks to These BLS Sectretaries", Live Steam Magazine, Sept 1972
  • "Live Steam; Aug 1973; Register for BLS", Membership drive, Live Steam Magazine, Aug 1973
  • "BLS Wheel Standards: Detailed Proposal", Live Steam Magazine, Oct 1974
  • "1975 BLS Meet", I. Douglas Alkire, Live Steam Magazine, Aug 1975
  • "Open Letter to the 'Committe of Five'", William C. Fitt, Concerns addressed to the BLS, Live Steam Magazine, Aug 1975
  • "IBLS Wheel Standard: Back by Popular Request", Chart, Live Steam Magazine, Oct 1981
  • "IBLS Plus 3 Part 1: Starting with RLS and LALS", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazine, May 1991
  • "IBLS Plus 3 Part 2: Montecito & Pacific Coast Railroad", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazine, Jun 1991
  • "IBLS Plus 4 Part 1", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazine, Nov/Dec 1995
  • "IBLS Plus 4 Part 2", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazine, Jan/Feb 1996
  • "IBLS Plus 4 Part 3", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazine, Mar/Apr 1996
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report: 40th AALS Convention", Keith Watson, Live Steam Magazine, Nov/Dec 1997
  • "Montreal Live Steamers - IBLS '97", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazine, Mar/Apr 1998
  • "IBLS 2000 - Burnaby, British Columbia Part 1", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazine, Jan/Feb 2001
  • "IBLS 2000 - Train Mountain", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazein, Jan/Feb 2001
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report - Steamfest 2000", Keith Watson, Live Steam Magazine, Mar/Apr 2001
  • "IBLS 2000 - Burnaby, British Columbia Part 2", Joe Rice, Live Steam Magazine, Mar/Apr 2001
  • "Waushakum Live Steamers; IBLS 2001 Meet and 30th Anniversary", James B. Abrams, Live Steam Magazine, May/Jun 2001
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report: News of New Zealand Region", Donald A. LeComte, Live Steam Magazein, May/Jun 2004
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report: Tasmania's Bush Mill", Keith Watson, Live Steam Magazine, Jul/Aug 2004
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report: Sinsheim, Germany; World's Largest Indoor Steam Engine Meeting", Klaus Rabensdorf, Live Steam Magazine, Sept/Oct 2005
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report: Austrialia Association of Live Steamers 49th Annual Convention", Keith Watson, Live Steam Magazine, Sept/Oct 2006
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report: Burrell Special is the Theme", Donald A. Lecomte, Live Steam Magazine, Nov/Dec 2006
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report: Beyer Garratt Locomotive", Keith Watson, Live Steam Magazine, Jan/Feb 2007
  • "IBLS Secretary's Report: Outdoor Railroading in the Middle of Europe", Klaus Rabensdorf, Live Steam Magazine, Mar/Apr 2007