Rocky Mountain Live Steamers

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Arthur Wegner running his 3.5 inch gauge 4-4-2 Atlantic loco at J. B. Squires' track, Colorado Springs, CO, June 1961. Photo by Ken Scheer.

by Ken Scheer

November 2015

Arthur Wegner, running his 3/4 inch scale, 3.5 inch gauge 4-4-2 Atlantic, June 1959. Photo by Ken Scheer.

The Rocky Mountain Live Steamers was a casual "Club" organized in 1950, in Denver, Colorado, by a small group of like-minded individuals who shared a common interest in building and operating scale models of locomotives powered by "Live Steam". Arthur Wegner, an active "live steamer" since the early 1930's, was the Founder and Honorary "President" of the RMLS; Bob Elsea, an active live steamer since the early 1940's, and Karl Friedrich, an active live steamer since the late 1940's, were both also Founding Members of the RMLS. The RMLS was one of the very rare Live Steam Clubs known to exist in the central regions of the U.S. in the 1950's and 1960's.

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

This Club eventually attracted, and consisted of, most of the known "Lone Wolf" live steam hobbyists in the greater Denver Region, and enjoyed having a slowly growing Membership into the 1960's. The only RMLS "Conditions" for joining the Club were: to own a scale model live steam locomotive, either fully-built and operating, or a locomotive under construction; and preferentially to join the national live steamer group organization, the Brotherhood of Live Steamers, which they all did. And, at least Arthur Wegner, for one, had early-on established correspondence with Mr. Carl Purinton (Founder of the BLS), and made contact with other live steamers, and had also attended a few of the early "BLS Annual Steam-Ups". This led Arthur to form strong bonds and friendships with innumerable "Brother" live steamers on both the Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast.

Basically, nearly all of the interest and participation in the RMLS operations was heavily centered upon live steam locomotive models in 3/4 inch scale x 3-1/2 inch track gauge. During these years, unfortunately, much interest and activity in 3-1/2 inch gauge live steamers was beginning to wane, displaced by the growing interest and popularity of larger live steam locomotives in 4-3/4 inch gauge and 7-1/2 inch gauge. Art Wegner had the only known outdoor 3-1/2 inch gauge track in Denver, this was an 80-foot long, elevated "back & forth" tangent, along one edge of Wegner's backyard. Arthur always enjoyed sharing his track, and small shop, for "Trials & Testing" purposes, and to host impromptu "Steam Meets" and Bull Sessions with other local live steamers. Those others, over a vast region, seemed to have simply "made-do" with either outdoor or indoor portable "Test-Track Panels" for their live steam operations.

J. B. Squires at his Colorado Springs home track

RMLS Member, J.B. "Byron" Squires, was a very prolific builder of 3-1/2 inch gauge live steam locomotives in Colorado, who by 1956 had constructed a 60-foot by 118-foot elevated-oval track, about 304 feet in length, which he named the "Colorado Short Line RR", in the backyard of his new suburban residence in Colorado Springs. This little Railway then, was the only 3-1/2 inch gauge "closed-circuit loop track" known to exist in the entire Colorado Front Range Region. It was a simple oval, without having any separate "steaming bay facilities", except for occasionally using 2 inch by 8 inch planks laid on the ground or a bench -- but no one ever complained about it. Byron, and his wife Elizabeth, were very sociable and friendly-natured folks, who thankfully, always took a kind interest and derived a great pleasure in sharing their Colorado Short Line RR with all fellow "live steam" enthusiasts. Participation in most live steam operational events at the CSLR was typically made by "RMLS Member Only-RSVP", in order to keep the fun "Steam-Up & Pot-Luck Luncheon" events small, to be more manageable & enjoyable for all "Guests". And, the Squires' also hosted the "RMLS Annual Steam-Up & Picnic", usually every June, which was the high-steaming event of the year. The General Public was typically uninvited to CSLR activities, but nonetheless welcomed to politely & discreetly observe from the nearby street, if an event was discovered while "passing-by".

Byron Squires was considered to be the Honorary "Vice-President" of the RMLS, and his wife Elizabeth was considered to be the "Secretary", of sorts. She acted as the "Editor & Publisher" of the "RMLS Journal", a small club newsletter which was distributed only three or four times per year amongst the Membership. The newsletter contained details of the latest "Steam-Up"; anticipated, planned, and gave notice of future "Event" dates; and often included information any Member may wish to relate about machining or construction techniques, the current progress on any locomotive under construction, and other fun bits of news. All of the RMLS Members and their families enjoyed a pleasurable camaraderie in the occasional Steam-Up Events, Bull-Sessions, as well as other get-togethers and throughout the years.

At it's peak in Membership during the Club's "Golden Years" of the late 1950's to the late 1960's, the local participating Members included:

  • Arthur Wegner, of Denver, CO; a retired U.P.R.R. Locomotive Engineer; who amongst other early stationary and locomotive live steam projects, owned a nicely-proportioned 3-1/2 inch gauge 4-4-2 Atlantic locomotive having "Southern" valve gear and piston valves (Arthur had acquired this locomotive in about 1949 from Norman Steele of the NELS--).

[[File:RMLS-- Bob Elsea running his 4-4-0 'Virginia', at Squires' Track, C. Spgs, CO, June 1961 (Photo by Ken Scheer).jpg|thumb|right|300px|Bob Elsea, of the Rocky Mountain Live Steamers, running his 4-4-0 'Virginia, at J. B. Squires' track, Colorado Springs, CO, June 1961. Photo by Ken Scheer.]]

  • Robert "Bob" Elsea, of Wheat Ridge, CO; a Small Appliance Repairman; who had constructed a very nicely detailed 3-1/2 inch gauge 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive, a fine 3-1/2 inch gauge 4-4-0 American "Virginia" locomotive, and a very nice Cole's 2 inch scale "Case" Steam Tractor.
Arthur Wegner and Karl Friedrich with Karl's D&SL 4-4-0 at J. B. Squires' Track, Colorado Springs, CO, July 1962. Photo by Ken Scheer.
  • Karl Friedrich, of Denver, CO; a Postal Carrier: who had constructed a well-done, freelance 3-1/2 inch gauge "Denver & Salt Lake Ry" 4-4-0 American locomotive, and somehow had acquired a massively impressive 3-1/2 inch gauge "South African Ry's" 4-8-2+2-8-4 Beyer-Garratt locomotive (which Karl rarely attempted to steam-up & run).
  • J.B. "Byron" Squires, of Colorado Springs, CO; a Professional Machinist; who had constructed, all in 3-1/2 inch gauge: all by 1956, a coal-fired 0-8-0 Switcher, a 4-6-2 Pacific, and a 4-8-2 Mountain; by 1962, a 4-6-4 Hudson, and a 4-4-2 Atlantic; by 1964, a 4-6-6-4 Mallet Articulated; and by 1965, had a 4-8-8-4 "Big Boy" under construction. All of Byron's locomotives were constructed having steel boilers with copper flues, and all except one (the 0-8-0 Switcher) were gasoline-fired.
  • Ralph Heikkila, of Denver, CO; a Radio & Electronics Engineer; who had constructed a beautifully polished, smooth running 3-1/2 inch gauge 4-6-4 Hudson locomotive.
Rocky Mountain Live Steamers member E. "Temp" Templeton running his 0-6-0 at J. B. Squires' track, Colorado Springs, CO, July 1962. Photo by Ken Scheer.
  • Earl W. "Temp" Templeton, of Henderson, CO; a General Contractor; who had constructed a nicely done, smooth running, 3-1/2 inch gauge 0-6-0 Switcher.
  • John W. "Jack" Adams, of Lakewood, CO; a USGS Geologist; who had a 3-1/2 inch gauge 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler under construction.
  • Ken Scheer, of Westminster, CO; a teen-aged Employee and RR Road Foreman at the Colorado RR Museum in Golden, CO; who had a 3-1/2 inch gauge LBSC 0-4-0T "Tich" under construction in Art Wegner's shop; and in 1966 had acquired Squires' 3-1/2 inch gauge 0-8-0 Switcher, minus it's Tender, in a "well-used, but serviceable" condition (from a third party).

Honorary "Remote Members" of the RMLS Club, naturally included:

  • Carl A. Purinton, of Marblehead, MA: BLS Founder & National Secretary, and NELS President.

In 1965, Byron Squires retired, and moved his residence out to a few miles NE of Colorado Springs, to rural Black Forest, CO. And, by 1966, Byron had constructed a new 3-1/2 inch & 4-3/4 inch Dual-Gauge, elevated, closed-circuit extended-oval track loop, which also had convenient "Steam-Bay & Service" areas. This track accommodated the ever-growing interest in 1 inch scale live steam locomotive activities. Byron and Elizabeth Squires continued their generous hospitality, and still took a great pleasure in hosting Steam-Ups, Picnics, and Annual Meets. Participation in the Live Steam Hobby in the larger "ground-riding" scales was quickly growing in Colorado.

However, during the late 1960's, and on into the decade of the 1970's, unmercifully, the "Grim Reaper" sadly, and relentlessly, took a devastating toll on the 3-1/2 inch gauge Rocky Mountain Live Steamers Club. The RMLS first lost both Arthur Wegner (age 83) and Ralph Heikkila (age 58) in 1969; then lost Bob Elsea (age 65) in 1972; then both Earl "Temp" Templeton (age 62) and Karl Friedrich (age 63) were lost in 1977; by the end of 1977, only three RMLS Members were remaining. Likewise, active interest in, and participation with 3-1/2 inch gauge live steam locomotives had drastically dwindled to near zero. Unfortunately, only a few years later, all live steam activities at Squires' Black Forest tracksite ground to a halt by 1981, as explained below.

Rocky Mountain Live Steamers member Karl Friedrich running his D&SL 4-4-0 at J. B. Squires' track, Colorado Springs, CO, July 1962. Photo by Ken Scheer.

In the interim, while the Steam-Ups and Events were in their "Heyday" at the Black Forest track, several live steam "Brothers" active in the larger scales & gauges had formed a new "Club" in Denver, called the Colorado Live Steamers. This organization was officially incorporated in 1969, but unfortunately was forced to move out of their first tracksite located in Downtown Denver. In 1971, the CLS was graciously invited by Byron Squires to use his Black Forest facility as their Club "Headquarters", where the CLS Members then built a 7-1/2 inch gauge track. This arrangement lasted for a few enjoyable years, until 1981, when tragically, and most sadly, the "Grim Reaper" took Byron Squires (age 82--). This ended what little remained of any RMLS accommodation, as well as any CLS accommodation at Black Forest, and after the tracks were removed, the Squires property was sold.

It took until 1983 for the "Original" CLS to locate and lease their own scenic acreage for use as a Club Tracksite. This was found on the property of the Denver Water Board (ex-fresh water filtration plant) southwest of Denver, at Waterton (aka Kassler), where the mouth of the South Platte River exits the river canyon in the foothills. There, they built another "Phase" of the CLS, with the construction of a new Club Track, having very nice facilities-- but these stories are other than the topic of the Rocky Mountain Live Steamers, told above. Perhaps some kindly present Member of the Colorado Live Steamers/Bijou Creek & Western RR, with a knowledge of that Club's History can be persuaded to tell the Tales of the CLS.

So, the Rocky Mountain Live Steamers Club has never officially expired -- rather, the Club just dwindled naturally into unremembered obscurity -- until now, when it's own simple, uniquely steamy, but nonetheless important story has finally been told. The Spirit of Brotherhood and Camaraderie enjoyed in those Golden Years of the Rocky Mountain Live Steamers will live on forever. It is hoped that this story of the RMLS will provide some nostalgic historical information, some enjoyment, and perhaps a bit of inspiration to all those kind folks who participate in the various realms of "Live Steam" activities.

The above Article was compiled by: Kenneth E. Scheer, Delta, CO, 16 November 2015.