IBLS Journal 1933
Purinton held what was the first annual meeting of the Brotherhood of Live Steamers, on October 15, 1933. Mr. Lawrence, who was from England, proposed the concept of a Brotherhood of Live Steamers, and suggested that Purinton start one in the United States.
The Miniature Locomotive, September-October 1953
In The Miniature Locomotive for July-August 1952 I told a little about the first BLS meeting in 1933 and at which there were fifteen Live Steamers present with nine exhibits, five of them in operation.
A Long Look Backwards
Live Steam Magazine, April 1983
The "BLS" Fifty years! My word, what a change! Lots of folks and lots of locos at the meets shown in the 50th Anniversary documentary (Live Steam Magazine, April 1983). I remember when (perish the thought...I should be writing the history which I remember!) a meet was a big one if three or more engines ran successfully. Foster put it succinctly when saying, "Gone are the days..."
To me it has been, and always will be, the "BLS". It was of international scope at its inception; Father was corresponding with fellow "conspirators" in the U.S., Canada, England and New Zealand before its conception, and the card file grew even before its birth. "Brotherhood" intrinsically implies no boundaries; be that as it may, whatever the name, the intention is the same.
The few days and evenings before the first meet were busy ones at our house - in the kitchen, in the cellar and in the yard. Fish chowder for lunch, the tradition which was carried on for many years, entailed the making of many delectable provisions in the kitchen. Boiled haddock, fried salt pork scraps, seared onions and hard water crackers soaking in milk. Then, when all were combined in the big kettle - most difficult to resist, but resisted it must be - no snitching, no sampling, no eating (maybe a taste), since fish chowder is at its best warmed up the next day. It must be the best for such an auspicious occasion!
And coffee, too. The meet was in the fall and the days could be chilly. A huge coffee pot which had been handed down to Father from his grandmother was cleaned and retinned for this special event. It was a special coffee pot. There is a photograph of an old family gathering; the only piece of hardware shown in the photo is the coffee pot.
Remember sugar bags? One of these, suitably washed clear of "Domino", filled with "coffee-coffee" (we must be wide awake and alert so as not to miss anything) was suspended inside, boiled and then simmered. There may have been a few egg shells to clear the brew, but no fish skins, as we expected some "furriners" - non-"Marbleheaders," to the uninitiated. We were very parochial cosmopolitans! The landlubbers benefited from this decision, no doubt, as did the fish!
This sounds as though Mrs. Murphy made the coffee, not the chowder. It must have been good - there was none left over for us.
In the cellar: Most of us know what a worked-in shop looks like, but Father's came equipped with a largish coal-bin, a large gravity hot-air furnace, drafting table, water and gas meters and two youngish children. To add to all this, it should be realized that the lathe, drill-press and grinder were all driven by one electric motor through overhead countershafting and belts. (The motor is still driving Father's drill press.) Everything must be "all-present-and-correct-sergeant." The "old man" was ready for "captains' inspection."
In those olden days, locomotives were usually kindled just the same as in the furnace - paper, kindling wood and, then, coal. Charcoal briquets were an innovation; we'll get to them subsequently. Thus, "sticks" must be made. California orange crates were the best; Florida ones just weren't in the same league. Knock them apart, pull out any nails, saw the slats to about four inch lengths and split away. These father did, as a ten-year-old was deemed too young for the tool - a big jack knife. He was detailed to the briquets.
Two ten-pound bags of these - "Ford" charcoal briquets, the best ever made - were enough to keep this lad busy for the evening. A largish wooden box (to me it looked large), a very short piece of rail, and a cross-peen hammer were the order of the evening. Bang, band, crack and "ouch!" Eventually all were split into eight parts. 2-1/2 inch gauge engines have small fireholes. Twenty years later, I made a crusher. Some of us smarten-up slowly. These were a wonderful fuel. They were made of charcoal, not Portland cement, stones and a combustible glue!
I now laugh when remembering, but it wasn't funny then. The broken briquets lived in a coal hod. Henry Kimball was building a fire in his lovely little 2-1/2 inch gauge Atlantic. He tried to put a bushel in a peck. The leftovers went back into the bed. I was his helper. "Need some more, Charlie."
"Okay." I reached into the lot and many of them were alight. "Wow!" Those things could really burn!
Henry's engine was a real dandy - I liked to run it very much. He would run for some time and then ask if I'd like to. You bet I would! The fire might be down a bit, and the water low in the glass. I would discover the tender was mostly empty and the lubricator nearly empty, too. Clean the fire, fill the tender, etc. - everything back on line. "I guess I'll have another run now." Boy, did I learn a lot!
The track consisted of 80 feet of permanent track and 60 feet of portable permanent way. This sixty feet must be assembled requiring several hours of toting, bolting, and lining-up. Also, shelves were built in the garage to hold the displays of expected bits and pieces. A side track had been constructed for the steaming and storage of dead engines. That this side track was between the main stem and a row of raspberry bushes may explain the enginemen's alert expressions!
We were ready.
I hardly slept a wink that night. Maybe others were visited by the sandman; I wasn't. My bedroom window looked out over the back yard, and it was well watched.
Morning. Up and at-em! Breakfast was served, but not much for me. Out to the railway! At 6:45, the first visiting "Live Steamer" arrived. Ed Bergh from Diamond Point, New York, was the first attendee of the first BLS meet, dressed as though he just slid down the grabirons of a locomotive rather than clambering from his LaSalle touring car. Those of you who have had the honor of knowing Ed will appreciate the impression he made on a ten-year-old boy. Maybe he's forgotten by some, but not by me! Tall, sparse, gangling and wearing an aura of wonderful great humor. He had brought a 2-1/2 inch gauge Rutland 4-4-0 gasoline fired. A beautiful little engine. He may have had some breakfast with the folks, but my eyes were for the engine only. LaVerne Langworthy and Harry Sait were not far behind Ed in arriving.
Harry Sait from Old Orchard Beach, Maine, with his 2-1/2 inch gauge 2-8-4, was another early arrival. That was some locomotive. It (hardly a she!) managed a load of over 1400 pounds. Might have taken more, but we ran out of cars and laps!
A story or two about Harry: He was an "old timer." He had two locomotives. His method of steaming an engine was different from Father's. No paper, kindling and tire pump for him. Lay the coal fire, water in the boiler, tender disconnected and a gasoline blow-torch in the fire hole. Steam up, fire alight, blower on and tender recoupled. Away we go! One day, when his back was turned, the torch went out. I think he and Father were having a discussion about the merits of superheaters vs. good valve events. "Oh, oh! The torch has gone out." Pulled out. Relighted and stuck back into the fire hole. BOOM! Dust, smoke, fire and ashes in all directions. "Well," says Harry, "that's an easy way to clean the smokebox and ash pan."
After a day's running came time to pack'em away. An old blanket was spread on the cement cellar floor, the loco near one end. Over and over she goes! All rolled up snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug. Short smoke stacks required!
I'm most happy - no, very privileged - to have a locomotive which ran many times where the first and several subsequent BLS meets were held. There aren't many of them around. My son is slowly rebuilding his grandfather's first - a 2-1/2 inch gauge Coventry B&O "President Washington." This was at the first meet. There aren't many of these around, either! Father has a rebuild of his second - another 2-1/2 inch 4-4-2. This was a chassis at the first meet. Some of the local 2-1/2 inch gauge lads were most surprised at this little guy's performance last season; very few have seen what a good 2-1/2 inch gauger can do, nowadays. There are very few tracks which can accommodate them. I have one. Father checks out the rails from time to time.
When the Pennsy 0-4-0 and I are out on the track for a run, we are never alone. The ghost engines of Ed, Harry, Henry and many others seem to be there. Sometimes I think they are there, too.
Does BLS not mean also "Bless Live Steamers"?