New England Live Steamers

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The New England Live Steamers was a live steam club that existed from 1938 until about 1962.

Founding

The founding of the New England Live Steamers is detailed in a letter written by Carl Purinton to Bill Leggett, dated 7 February 1938.

Carl Purinton letter to Bill Leggett, 7 February 1938.

Carl wrote:

Yesterday (6 February 1938) we held a meeting at Lester Friend's house for the purpose of getting a group of the local boys together to discuss a continuous track. Friend has room behind his box factory in Danvers for a 600 foot continuous run and we decided to start the erection of a track there. This group will be known as the "New England Live Steamers" and we are also going to incorporate it. Everett Ryan was made president, Les Friend the vice-president and myself the secretary which fits in very well with my job with the (Brotherhood of) Live Steamers. It will be a good location as it is handy and easy to get to.
This will also solve my problems of holding the annual meeting here, as the one last fall showed me that they had out-grown my facilities. We can hold the annual meeting there and on the invitations we can say that luncheon will be served for 35 cents each. This will make a little money for the NELS and at the same time will keep a lot of them from bringing all their friends for a free feed. At the same time it will give the boys a real track to try out their engines on. How many times do you suppose Doug's great engine will go around. Maybe this track will tempt him to come down again and show us.


From John Kurdzionak, 1 October 2006:

This track was owned by Lester Friend of the Friend Box Company, and it was located along the Porter River in the Danversport section of town, on the Friend Box Company's property.
The track was also located directly behind "Yankee Shop", which was Lester Friend's machine shop. A "side business" of Yankee Shop, was Lester Friend's live steam casting business which later became known as FRIENDS MODELS.
The early Brotherhood of Live Steamers meetings were held annually at Danvers, MA starting about 1937, as they had outgrown the ability of Mr. Charles "Carl" Purinton's home and track in Marblehead, MA, to host them.
The N.E.L.S. track was located at the Danvers site from approximately 1936 to approximately the 1960s, give or take.
The box company still exists, but is not owned by the Friend family. The "Yankee Shop" building still exists, but now houses a liquor store.
But few traces of the N.E.L.S. track out back, exist today. The passage of time, the building of Massachusetts Rte. 128 on the edge of the property, and commercial/residential development, have erased virtually all traces of the huge live steam facility that used to exist there.

John K further writes:

In 1938, Lester Danforth Friend built the New England Live Steamers track on the property behind his box factory in Danvers, Mass. It was a 2-1/2" and 3-1/2" gauge elevated ("highline") loop of track some 600' in length that went out to the bank of the Porter River, a tidal marsh, and then returned. On its return, it crossed a "high trestle" over part of the tidal marsh. This "High trestle" was about 8 feet off the ground.
The late Charlie Purinton, the son of Brotherhood of Live Steamers founder Charles A. "Carl" Purinton (1898-1999), once told me that he and some local live steamers of the era (and several of Lester Friend's employees of the box company) helped to build the NELS Danvers track, and that it was built in less than a month! Charlie was 16 years old at the time.
After its 1938 beginnings, the heyday (or "golden era") of activity at the NELS track was during the 1940s and early 50s. Each year, several running meets would be held during the spring, summer, and fall; the New England Live Steamers "Annual Meet" (which was also quite often the Brotherhood of Live Steamers Annual Meet) would be held for 3 days each September.
One of the popular occasions at the Danvers track was 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” .
Then, in the late 1940s, when 1" scale was becoming popular, Lester added a "dual gauge" outer loop to the New England Live Steamers track. It had 3-1/2" and 4-3/4" gauges, and the previosly-popular 2-1/2" gauge size was not included on the new loop.
About 1950, this outer loop was substantially extended across the Porter River to Lester's property on the other side of the river. The track went over a bridge, turned left and made a loop, and then it came back across the river over the same bridge.
The New England Live Steamers track no longer exists. Old timers have told me that by the late 1950s, maintenance on such a long live steam track was becoming a problem, due probably in part to the fact that Lester Friend was "getting older" as well as developing other hobby interests (antique cars, for one; and a "park railroad" he operated at the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield MA, were competing for his attention). And also, the track suffered a fate that happened to so many live steam tracks over the years, including (perhaps) some today: everyone wanted to "run trains" but few people wanted to "repair the tracks". As such, the New England Live Steamers track was becoming a maintenance nightmare that was being used less and less, and was dismantled sometime in the late 1950s.

1938

Jim Leggett posted several photos taken by his grandfather, A.W. Leggett, at the New England Live Steamers meet in 1938 at Danvers, Mass.

1939

The following photos were placed for auction on eBay in November 2018. The seller claimed they were taken in 1939. Please note that at least one of these photos was reversed (mirrored), others seem to be mirror images as well.

1940

Here is a photo showing some of the activities of our big meet. We always make it a special point to try and get most of our pictures in the early morning before crowds get around. The result is that we have a little better luck.

South Roundhouse
Arthur Wegner, a U.P. (Union Pacific) Engineer of Denver, viewing locomotives in the steaming-bays, at Danvers, MA Oct. 1940

I think our Brotherhood (New England Live Steamers, Inc.) meet which was held on October 3rd and 4th, 1940, was probably the best one we have had yet. Five members shipped their engines in from long distances, such as Illinois and Indiana. Some came much further by rail to visit, as Arthur Wegner from Denver, Colorado. We had ten states registered as against eighteen states last year and seventy-six railroaders registered as against one-hundred and thirty last year, which goes to show the boys do get around to follow their hobby. Of course practically none came by auto, most all by rail--other than those living close at hand.

One peculiar thing I noted about the meet, writes Lester D. Friend, is that of the eighteen engines participating, the engines did a considerable amount of actual running, some of them continually for the two days of the meet. We had twelve chassis on display, each demonstrating some point of construction. The weather was ideal both days for both the railroaders and photographers.

NELS Meet Danvers 1940.jpg
  • (Upper left) -- 4-6-4 3-1/2" gauge. Otha Hege and B. D. Kinney with one of the Southeastern Live Steamers locos.
  • (Upper right) -- 4-4-2 3-1/2" gague. W. S. Van Brocklin, Jr., builder. Al Milburn running the engine with Billy as passenger.
  • (Center left) -- A group of locos at the upper end of the loops at Danvers.
  • (Center right) -- 4-4-0 3-1/2" gauge. William Moorewood, Bryn Mawr, Pa.
  • (Bottom left) -- 4-8-4 3-1/2" gaguge. Roland Morton, builder and engineer in the photo.
  • (Bottom right) -- 4-4-2 3-1/2" gauge. Fred Wise running his engine.

1944

From The Model Craftsman, July 1944

Lester Friend Pays Us A Visit

The editors were pleasantly surprised recently when Lester Friend paid us a visit. Lester, as you know, is the president of the New England Live Steamers Association and they have several meetings scheduled for this Summer and Fall, one on Aug. 6th, (one was held June 4th) while the big Brotherhood Meeting will be held on October 7th and 8th. At that time "live steam" enthusiasts from all over the East will wend their way to Danvers, Mass.; those who cannot make the trip may send their engines to Danvers, Mass., in care of the Friend Box Company. The engines should be sent prepaid and should be very carefully packed to avoid breakage. If you can't get there yourself, be sure to send a sheet of operating instructions, if the locomotive is to be run by proxy.

After the War, Lester said that the New England Live Steamers expect to add two or three thousand feet to their present trackage, this new section to be railed for 3/4 inch and 1 inch scale engines. Far greater activity in Live Steam roads than ever before was predicted by Lester, once hostilities cease. His intimate contact with live steamers all over the country lends weight to his option, and the editor's correspondence with model rails tends to show a similar favorable reception for live steam models.

Lester has promised to give us plans and instructions for building an Atlantic type live steamer, a finished model of which has proven very successful. We hope to publish the first article on the Atlantic engine in an early issue. This will be a simple type of engine, well suited to those making their first start in the live steam field.

1945

From The Model Craftsman, June 1945:

The first outdoor meet of the New England Live Steamers was held on Sunday, May 6th. Twelve engines were shown, two of which were new--they were Carl Purinton's "English Mogul" and Charlie Kingman's "Free-Lance Tanker," both 3/4 inch scale. It was decided to hold future meetings on June 3rd, July 1st, August 5th, and September 2nd. The 13th Annual Brotherhood meeting will be held on october 6th and 7th. All live steamers are invited to bring their engines or just their enthusiasm.

1951

N.E.L.S. Annual Steam Meet - Danvers, Mass.

From The Live Steamer, November 1951

The NELS held their Annual Meet at Danvers on October 6 and 7th, but the weather rained it out for the most part, the first time this has happened in a good many years of the Meets. In spite of the cold rainy uncomfortable weather, some of the men ran engines and of special notice were two new engines seen this year, by Frank DiSantis and Bill Van Brocklin. Frank's new 3-1/2 inch gauge #999 4-4-0 was a beaut and was fitted with steam brakes and all the blobs & gadgets that Frank knows only too well how to hang on his engines. it hauled four passengers at speed on the inside loop grade and took everyone's interest greatly, especially Tom Noonan of New Haven who has started building a similar one himself. Bill's new ten-wheeler, a Southern Railroad type, was also a perfect job that drew much favorable comment and Your Editor had the privilege of operating this engine and can say that it more than fulfilled expectations on performance. it steamed so well that it was hard to keep the Pop from blowing most of the time, even with axlepump and injector feeds on. About the only time it did not blow off, was when fuel was added, but in a few seconds the firedoor would have to be opened and she wanted to keep razzing the Pop.

Some of the friends that came from a distance, included Fred Wise of Gates Mills, Ohio with his fine 3-1/2 gauge Atlantic which had an automatic steam blower on it which Fred demonstrated to the Editor and it worked fine too. Ralph Knox of Dayton, Ohio ran his 3-1/2 gauge Tom Thumb in good style. Ralph has a 3-1/2 gauge 0-4-0 switcher project well along. Others that attended were Harry Hansen and Hild Brothers representing the Jersey group. Harry Sait From Old Orchard, Maine. bill Mark from Schenectady, Roy Stewart and B.H. Cox from Nashville, Gordon Buchanan from Washington, D.C., Harry Turnbull from Montreal had his 4-6-4 Tanker along and Art Howarth of Providence with his familiar stainless jacket 4-8-4. Earl Nelson of Miami also attended and Jack Fesco of Calif; got a taste of what Eastern Dew is like and when last seen by the Editor Jack was hugging a hot cup of coffee at the Canteen (sorry about the bum weather Jack, better luck next time you come East). Jack came to the meet with Charlie Hadfield, one of the Connecticut men we were glad to see in attendance. Ray Peck another of our Connecticut steam boys, livened things up in his own inimitable way (thanks for the fine Saturday report, Ray). Al Milburn was greatly missed at this year's Meet, but Carl Haglund, Tom Noonan, Harold Schuele & Fred Bohn showed a good turnout from down-state Connecticut.

"Scotty" Gardner took over the Editor's Juliet for a last run with "Julie" before leaving our shores two days later for England where John will make his future home. We were sorry to bid John farewell and will miss his ready Scotch humor. The Saturday night movies at Les Friend's Box Factory were much enjoyed by everyone. Color reels of the Norfolk & Western Railroad were shown after Les's welcoming remarks to members and guests. The following day, a group of cars went up to the Topsfield Railroad and were given rides behind the new diesel job, the weather being too bad to steam up the Hudson which was rolled out for inspection. The usual talking & visiting among all those that attended the Meet, which is an enjoyable part of the doings. Thus ended another Danvers Meet.

1953

From Jim Leggett:

I thought some of you might enjoy a 16mm film shot by my grandfather, A.W. (Bill) Leggett, at the 1953 Danvers meet. This is classic New England live steaming, all Tinkerbell scale, all coal-burning steam engines. Bill started in the hobby in 1925 and was a close friend of Carl Purinton and LBSC, building nearly a dozen locomotives in his lifetime.
The silent film is shown as he edited it, titles and all but I added a low-key music score. There are glimpses of Billy Van Brocklin, Mrs. Purinton, my grandmother Myrtle Leggett, Gene Stevens and more.


From Steaming Don:
I wish I had met your Grandfather, he has been a inspiration to the TINKERBELLS. He was a great photographer and historian. I see Lester Friend, Ed Burgh, Carl Purinton, I`m sure there are others.
From Keith Taylor:
Some great shots showing Bill Morewood on his PRR 4-4-0 and Frank DeSantis. What I find interesting is the Hild brother's Sparkie is still polishing the rails at the PVLS!
From Ken Shattock:
Jim-- That film is priceless. Thank you for sharing it.

1957

The North American Live Steamer, Volume 1, Number 9

We have had three good Meets since our last news note. Saturday, November 10th at Yankee Shop, with a little better than a dozen members present, we read and accepted our lease for the land the track is now on. The Secretary read the report on cash and dues, which looks more encouraging than it has in the past. Our bank account is beginning to show a decent balance. Two members were elected to the Club and have been duly notified.

Our first Cellar Meet was held at the home of Stan Younie in Quincy with Stan and Otto Hosman as hosts. There were almost fifteen members there. We enjoyed a sound and color film on the "Steel Fastener" which was very educational. The meeting was enjoyed by all who attended.

Our last meeting was held January 5th at Jeff Roberts'. Two films were shown: a new film of Disneyland by Les Friend and the Nickel Plate Story by the Nickel Plate Railroad. Steam engines, diesels, steam automobiles go a thorough discussion along with the various aspects of boring cylinders, etc.

Our next Meeting is to be held on Saturday, February 2nd, at the home of Carl Purinton in Boxford. Carl always has lots of interesting steam engines, pictures, etc., for all to see. We may also have a sound and color film on railroading or a film of mechanical interest.

We hope that everyone enjoyed a pleasant holiday season and wish you the best for the New Year. We are planning a Spring steam-up, to start the season with a bang, on May 25th and 26th; thence we return to our regular meeting schedule the first Sunday of the month until our Annual Eastern Fall Meet in October.

Joseph P. Friend, President

New England Live Steamers

The North American Live Steamer, Volume 1 Number 11, 1957

A short business meeting was held and our new officers for the year are as follows:

  • Joseph P. Friend, President
  • Reobert Gardner, Vice President
  • Paul Sanger, Secretary-Treasurer

Directors

  • T.E. Shimeld
  • Harold Hanson
  • Frank Batchelder
  • Les Friend
  • Otto Hosman
  • Fred Merriam

A new member was voted in the club - Charlie Coskery.

The meeting was then adhourned and all returned to active live steaming.

Les Friend, who suffered a mild heart attack in Anaheim, California while visiting Disneyland, is coming along fine and thanks everyone for their cards.

Don't Forget - the track is here, it is your track, use it to its fullest, the more the merrier and the more interesting it is for all.

Joseph P. Friend, President

Danvers Track

The Danvers Track was located behind Friend's Box Factory, 90 High Street, Danvers, MA. The photo below is a watercolor painting of the layout circa 1950.

Watercolor of Danvers layout, 1950

Jim Leggett wrote:

The original track was the inner loop. The expansion crossed over the tidal river and doe-si-doed around on the far bank, then crossed back over the same bridge. The bridge approach embankments, concrete abutments and supports are all that is visible of the layout today.

Another excellent drawing of the Danvers track was published in The Model Engineer. See A Fine Track Layout in U.S.A.


End of Danvers Track

John Kurdzoniak posted the following on Chaski.org, 27 December 2010

What contributed to the demise of this railroad?
As told to me by people who were there:
Lester Friend, the owner of the property and defacto "boss" of the club, began having other hobby interests.....antique/classic cars, for example. Also, a park railroad that he owned/operated at the Topsfield Fair called "Joy Town RR" (7-1/4" gauge), and his 7-1/4" gauge RR around his private estate in Beverly Mass., used up a substantial amount of his time and were becoming his main "train" interests.
Maintenance. I have been told that by the 1950s, everybody wanted to run, and few wanted to repair the tracks. The wooden track structure was painted, and rotted from the inside out. Told to me by a kid, now an older gentleman, who was one of Lester's track-painters. At the end, he said, the paint is what was holding the structure together.
Lester's Health. He had a heart attack in the 1950s (while visiting Walt Disney) and died in 1962 at age 67.
Once his emotional & financial support for the NELS/Danvers track was going elsewhere, and once the tracks began failing; and once poor health started getting the best of Lester, the fate of the track seems to me to have been sealed. Even if it (the track) had gone on a little longer, Lester's death, and the sale of "Friend Box Company" (owner the whole property) to non-family ownership, would have sealed the deal. However the track was gone and the club disbanded prior to Lester's death; late 1950s is the date that the old timers with whom I have discussed this, seem to agree upon as to when the the tracks were pulled out. "1960" is the absolute latest date anyone has claimed to me, as for how long the track lasted. Take your pick of years. 1958-1960 would be my guess. Anyone know for sure?
When Les died, all his "stuff" (machinery, locos, etc.) was auctioned off at Edaville RR in Massachusetts, with the exception of the castings business "Friends Models", which his son Joe was operating. I have been told that much of the track material, as well as the canopy over the steaming bays, went to Pioneer Valley Live Steamers in Massachusetts. Dont know the status/disposition of the rails, or if they truly ended up at Pioneer Valley, but the NELS/Danvers corrugated canopy is still there (Pioneer Valley/Southwick Mass.) covering the steaming bay area.

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