Louis Lawrence

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GGLS Member

Kenneth Shattock knew Louis Lawrence for many years, and wrote the following:

If there is anything you want to know about steam locomotives, steam whistles or steam gauges then the man you would talk to had to have been GGLS Life Member Louis Lawrence. When Louis was nearly 80 years old he admitted that he had never worked on a railroad but his knowledge of railroads and their equipment appeared to be limitless. He explained his liking of railroads by simply saying that he grew up around railroads as a kid and he really liked them. A life member of the Golden Gate Live Steamers in Oakland, CA, Louis was a scratch builder and had three working engines at home. He had a 1/2-inch scale 4-6-2 Pacific, a 1/2-inch scale Hudson and a 1 1/2-inch scale Early American 4-4-0 locomotive #870. This live steam locomotive reached a length of six feet with the tender and stood twenty-one inches high. It took Louis five years to build the #870. Although he had a fifty year old lathe he used to make most of his stuff by hand including the nuts and bolts. Another of his working locomotives, although not powered by steam, is an Illinois Central electric powered locomotive, also in 1 1/2-inch scale which took 30 volts of direct current to operate. The electric locomotive could take power from an overhead wire through a pantograph or from an outside mounted third rail shoe. All of these engines plus five box cars, two hopper cars and a caboose could run on his 160 feet of oval track which circled his back yard. Unfortunately, Louis was never able to operate his inch and a half scale equipment at the GGLS track in Redwood Park. Why? Because he had constructed them to a strange track gauge of approximately six and three-eighths inches which was not compatible at Redwood Park. It's a lot of work making one of these he used to say. You really had to like it! It's amazing that Louis never got into model building on a grand scale like so many other hobbyists around the country because as he put it, by riding what he builds he could get a better feel of it. And it's a beautiful feeling he always used to say!

Louis Lawrence grew up in the depths of West Oakland, CA and lived for many years on 32nd street only a short distance from the Key Route's "Yerba Buena Yard" on the Oakland/Emeryville border. As a young kid would do in those olden days, Louis and his friends would visit the Key Route's yard, shops and carbarn frequently and probably see what kind of mischief they could get into. The "Key Route" was the original nickname for the electrified transit system in the greater Eastbay area of Oakland and Berkeley and later became the famous Key System Transit Lines. They operated a vast assortment of local streetcar lines as well as suburban commuter trains from the Eastbay to San Francisco.

One time, Louis climbed on top of a boxcar which was made of wood and touched the 600 volt trolley wire directly above his head while sitting firmly on top of the brake wheel. The current could have killed him but fortunately, the electrical shock spun him around and loosened his contact with the hot trolley wire. Another time he stuck his finger into the hole on the front of an old streetcar, where the motorman would plug in a large peg to connect the headlamp. In quick order, the resulting current flow finally hit home and young Louis never tried those juvenile antics ever again. One thing he did do, however, before getting into the live steam hobby, he built several 3/8-inch scale models of the Key Route's 500-class wooden interurban cars that were perfect in every detail. In later years he passed those over to his personal friend, GGLS member Al Boyd of Alameda, CA. After Al had passed on, the author lost track of where those beautiful Key Route models ended up.

Louis also collected various whistles and gauges. Just a few whistles in his collection included a whistle from a Shay logging locomotive, one from a steam tractor circa about 1880, a factory whistle from an engine in San Leandro, CA, a whistle from a Navy Supply Base in Fairfield, Utah and a 1912 Santa Fe Wrecker whistle called a "bull horn". He had a whistle from an early 1900 vintage Key System train. In later years, Louis sold his brass gauge collection to another live steamer in the San Francisco Bay Area. The gauges ranged from two inches to twelve inches in diameter. Why would a man sell something that he had cherished for many years? He said he was getting too old to keep everything polished and in tip top shape. The gauges now have a good home with somebody who will take proper care of them for future generations of Bay Area historians to admire.

GGLS Water Tower

LouisLawrence GGLS WaterTower 1957.jpg

From The North American Live Steamer, Volume 1 Number 10

I would like to submit a picture of your fine magazine. It is a picture of Louis Lawrence with his beautiful 1/2 inch scale Pacific taking on water at our new water tower. This water tower was built, donated and installed by Mr. Lawrence at the Golden Gate Live Steamers track in Redwood Canyon, Oakland, California. Louis is one of our most active members.

William Brower
1 Vista Del Moraga
Orinda, California