The Blackstone Valley Railroad
by Richard Mercer Crocker
The Miniature Locomotive, November-December 1954
Nestled in the Blackstone Valley of Massachusetts and Rhode Island is the most fascinating 800 feet of railroad I have seen for some time.
Located on Route 126 a short distance from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in North Bellingham, Massachusetts, is the Blackstone Valley Railroad, owned by George and Thelma Lakeman. Starting two and a half years ago as a hobby, it has since become a commercial operation catering to the unfortunate children (and adults) who have never seen the greatness of a full scale reciprocating steam engine. Since that time it has carried nearly 15,000 fare paying passengers.
Mr. Lakeman has built three smaller live steamers, but this present Pacific type power is his latest.
For the benefit of technically minded steam fans, the following was supplied by the builder. The locomtive is a 1-1/2 inch scale Pacific. Her boiler is 10 inches inside diameter and carries from 75 to 100 pounds pressure. Cylinders are 3 inch by 3-1/4 inch. Weight of the locomotive, according to Mr. Lakeman, is 1400 pounds in running order. Her frame alone, without boiler and cab, is 650 pounds. The forward coupler is an authentic working type, while the others are strictly link and pin units. The tender for Number 476 carries 100 pounds of coal and 20 gallons of water in addition to a seat for its combination fireman and engineman. The unit as a whole pulls seven tons.
Rolling stock in addition to the locomotive includes 3 SKB roller bearing bench type cars and one gondola, all of which are equipped with combination arch bar and Bettendorf trucks.
The locomotive building hobby of Lakeman was started about 1935 and has been growing larger with each new addition.
The name, Blackstone Valley Railroad, may strike a fond note in the heart of juice fans, for it was along in front of this steam locomotive's engine-house that the old Blackstone Valley Line formerly operated. (It was, way before the author's time, so he cannot help you on details of the latter).
Mr. and Mrs. Lakeman would, of course, be very happy to see any live steam man and his or her family.
Bear in mind that this locomotive is not a toy, not one of those amusement park devices made of stamped sheet metal with an electric motor under its bonnet for power. This is something that might well please any mechanically-minded person and more especially those who appreciate fine crafstmanship in steam locomotives.
If you can, get down to the Blackstone Valley Road and experience the thrill of clicking 3/8 inch by 1 inch rail, the sound of the exhaust as Number 476 goes into a grade, or the smell of valve oil and coal smoke as she rolls around one of those curves!
East to West
George Lakeman Pacific
by Patrick Fahey, Waushakum Live Steamers, 21 January 2015
Here is the story of how the George Lakeman's Pacific locomotive found its way to California, as told to me by George Sherman and Richard Bourinot.
What happen to George Lakeman's Pacific after he passed away? Well the story goes like this.
The engine and all the track was sold at action, during the mid 1960’s. The engine and all the track was sold to Ron’s Cycle Shop in Mendon, Mass. Ron had an idea about running the railroad around his property in Mendon and making a few dollars. Once all the equipment was moved to Ron’s, he set up the track and was going to pull passengers with the equipment. Now, Ron had no idea how to run a miniature Steam Locomotive, or much less, how to lay track. A very good friend of mine, Mr. Richard (Dickey) Bourinot heard about the railroad from Mr. George Sherman of Holliston , Mass.
Now a bit about George Sherman. George already had his own miniature railroad in his back yard. The railroad was located about a half mile from my house on Route 16. The railroad was inch and half scale, but with a five inch track gauge. He had a steam locomotive, a New Haven Atlantic, and a few passenger cars. George worked at the Milford, Mass B&A engine house as a Hostler during the days of Steam.
Now to get back to Ron’s Cycle Shop railroad. As I said earlier, my friend Dickey went up to look at the new railroad. Dickey said the track was laid like a roller coaster with no ballast. The track, which was around either 500 or 700 feet, was laid down with very sharp curves.
The Pacific was sitting outside in the rain, not even covered. Dickey heard that Ron was looking for someone to operate the equipment because Ron did not know how to run a steam locomotive.
Dickey said that he would be happy to run the locomotive for Ron, if he did the following: put some ballast down, re-lay the track and fix the curves so the locomotive would not derail. Ron declined the offer.
Ron did figure out how to steam up the locomotive and how to get water into the boiler. The first day of operation, while pulling the first load of passengers, Ron scalded some of the kids riding behind him. He had put to much water in the boiler, and when he pulled the throttle the hot boiling water shot up the stack and onto the kids.
Ron was subsequently sued and the railroad was shut down.
Again the equipment was put up for sale, this time to help pay for the lawsuit. The equipment was bought by George Sherman for a song. George brought the engine and all the track to his home in Holliston. George began making any repairs to the locomotive and tender that were needed. The engine was steamed in place to check the injectors and steam brakes. George never did put track down to run her. The engine was about to have a another new home.
The engine was packed up and moved to California to the home of Louis S. Sherman, George’s brother . The engine ran for a number of years at Lou’s private home track . After Louis passed away the engine and tender was donated to the California Railroad Museum in 1981.
I contacted the railroad museum via email to find out if what I heard was true. Here is the reply, received October 26, 2010.
- Dear Mr. Fahey
- Thanks you for your e-mail inquiring about 1-1/2 inch scale live steam 4-6-2 locomotive and tender. Yes, the Museum has this locomotive as part of its permanent collection. Louis S. Sherman donated the locomotive to the CA State Railroad Museum in 1981. It is currently in storage in one of the Museum's collections facilities. We have in our accession files a 1994 letter that provides additional information about the locomotive's builder, George Lakeman. The tender no longer bears the name "Blackstone Valley." We would be delighted to have copies of any photographs that you have of the locomotive in operation while in the possession of Mr. Lakeman.
- Ellen Halteman, Director of Collections
- California State Parks
- Capital District, Sacramento History and Railroad Sector
- California State Railroad Museum
Well, that’s the story of George Lakeman’s Pacific.
Dick Bourinot at The Blackstone Valley Railroad, Bellingham, Mass in the mind 1950's. George Lakeman is tanding beside the engine. Photo by LuLu Bourinot. From the Patrick Fahey collection.
The Blackstone Valley Railroad engine, Bellingham, Mass. Photo by LuLu Bourinot. From the Patrick Fahey collection.
George Lakeman with his Pacific, The Blackstone Valley Railroad. Photo by George Hildreth. From the Patrick Fahey collection.
Pat Fahey wrote, April 2018:
- My friend Bob Foster had some shots of the Blackstone Valley RR, taken by his mother and father, back in 1959. The photos are of the George Lakeman Pacific, taken from the left side of the locomotive.