Our History: "The Lost Years" 1980-2007 What I was doing during years in which the designs of Yankee Shop/Friends Models and H.J. Coventry were off the market.
I first saw live steam when I was about 11 years old (early 1980s), at an HO/Lionel model train show near my home. It was at the Minuteman Vocational High School in Lexington, Massachusetts. Three "live steamers" were running on "back and forth" tracks outside. One of the engines was a "Yankee Shop" 4-4-2 Atlantic, owned by Richard Symmes, running on a portable "highline".
In the weeks or months later, I found a "Little Engines" ad in either TRAINS or RAILROAD MODEL CRAFTSMAN magazines, and I ordered their catalog. I later ordered a "Railroad Supply Catalog". Through the Railroad Supply catalog, I was able to contact Bob Hornsby, then the East Coast Secretary for the Brotherhood of Live Steamers.
In August, 1984, Bob invited me to attend my first "live steam meet". It was for the North East Live Steamers at the private track of Roy Spencer in Danvers, Massachusetts. I was 12 years old.
At this meet, I met Brotherhood of Live Steamers founder Charles A. "Carl" Purinton, then in the final years of his life; and several others, including Charlie Purinton (Carl's son), Bill VanBrocklin (of the "steam pump" fame), and of course Bob Hornsby.
My first live steam meet. August 1984. Click to enlarge.
Another view at my first live steam meet. Click to enlarge.
My father at my first live steam meet. Click to enlarge.
At age 13, my Dad took me to visit Little Engines at Lomita, CA; and also took me to visit Railroad Supply Corp. in Burbank, CA.
At age 14, I took a night course (for junior high school students) at a local vocational school that covered the setup and operation of South Bend lathes
In 1986, at age 15, I met Railroad Supply Corporation part-owner J. Nicholas (Nick) Edwards. I was invited to attend the Gold Spike meet at his new track in Nashua, NH.
This is Bob Hornsby, former East Coast Secretary for the Brotherhood of Live Steamers, running Charlie Purinton's 3/4" scale 4-4-2 at the former Norfolk Street tracksite of the Waushakum Live Steamers in Holliston, MA in 1985. The DORK sitting behind him is a 14-year old 9th grader who happens to be "me". This was about 1 month before I began the 9th grade. Bob used to refer to me as a "little twirp". He certainly wasn't wrong.
Some high school freshmen were into girls and sports, some were into trains. This photo ought to tell you all you need to know about MY interests at age 14. Here, in the fall of 1986, I was tending to the fuel and water needs of Walter "Bud" Hansen's 3/4" scale 0-4-0 Camelback. Bud is in the background. It was this experience, and experiences like this one, that began my love for "small scale" live steam and its preservation and availability.
I did venture out to to larger gauge/scale steam meets from time to time, and here is an example. This is page 34 of the July, 1987 Modeltec magazine and it shows a very young "me" (on the left) at Nick Edwards' home in Nashua, NH. Nick was part-owner of Railroad Supply Corporation at the time and the occasion was Nick's "Gold Spike Meet" in October, 1986. I had just turned 15 years old. Mr. Frank Coughlin is on the right. Not only was this "large scale" to me, but this was a 7-1/2" gauge track that was located DEEP up in 7-1/4" country!
At Nick Edwards' 1986 Gold Spike Meet, I had my camera with me. Here is Bill VanBrocklin Jr. (of the "steam pump" fame), running VanBrocklin #28, an 1-1/2" scale 4-4-0. (October, 1986 at Nashua, NH. Photo by John Kurdzionak).
I joined the North East Live Steamers in winter 1987, and that spring, bought a Friends Models locomotive from the widow of a deceased member of our club, the late J. Drennan "Doc" Lowell. It was a 3-1/2" gauge "Boston and Albany tanker" that had been built in 1954 by Phil Wunder, and was bought with money saved on my paper route. This locomotive solidified in me, a love for the small scale designs of a prior era.
The locomotive needed minor repair by the late 1980s, and I sought out and met the Friends Models owner Dick Boucher when I was about 18 years old for this reason. I tried to convince him to reopen "Friends Models", and he declined. I offered to buy it from him (I was only 18!) and he warned me what a financial disaster it would be. Nevertheless, he supplied the parts and drawings that I needed, and from then on, a friendship began that led to (several years later) my acquisition of the Friends Models/Yankee Shop line of live steamers.
June, 1987: I have lost the dorky looks. At a meeting of the North East Live Steamers at the track of Richard Symmes in Litchfield, NH, I (2nd from right, age 15) and my younger brother David (on the right, age 10) look on as Rob Quagan tends the fire on my 3/4" scale Boston and Albany 4-6-6 tanker. I bought this locomotive with my paper route money about 2 months prior to this photo. That's Railroad Supply Corporation owner Mike McClure on the left, with his son Stephen (now in his 30s!). This locomotive, and steam-up scenes like this, inspired me to do something about availability of castings for small-scale live steam.
At age 19, I bought a South Bend 10K lathe, and bought a kit of "Raritan" castings from Mr. William Morewood, its designer, at about the same time.
In 1992 (age 20), I began work on the Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire. I was hired as a brakeman in June, 1992; I was promoted to Fireman in 1994; became an Engineer in 1996. I worked there for 3 years full time, and about 7 years part-time, during the 1990s and early 2000s. I "retired" from the Cog Railway in 2001 when I was 29 years of age.
By 1992, I had heard perhaps 100 times that "there were no more foundries", and heard even more laments that Friends Models (closed since 1979) was never going to go back into business. Of course there were the constant stories that most designs of HJ Coventry were "lost" and could never be produced again.
Respite seemed to come when a little later I heard the good news that a group of volunteers out west was going to "bring back" castings for a couple H.J. Coventry designs. Later came word that the patterns they were using were destroyed, and that the effort was finished permanently. Interestingly, I heard a dozen times or so, that the destroyed patterns "could not be replaced". This all had an effect on me, and got me to thinking that I should "do something about it".
This is me with my friend Angela, on the summit of Mt. Washington, sometime in the mid-1990s. I'm holding the handle on the side of the cab, which of course is out of sight to the right. I was certainly a Fireman at this point and may have already become an Engineer.
In 2000 and 2001, I took 3 semesters of machine shop classes, and CNC machining classes, at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I knew that it was "then, or never" for the small-scale live steam castings of Yankee Shop/Friends and H.J. Coventry. Friends Models wasn't reopening. Most designs of H.J. Coventry seemed to be condemned to be stuck the past: lost, destroyed, disposed of, mismanaged into oblivion, and forgotten about, for various reasons. Only to be seen in old photos, and in advertisements in 1930s, 40s, and 50s era magazines.
The time had come. I knew that all the old designs would be lost permanently and forgotten about, gone forever, unless someone did something. So on a whim to "do something", I began seeking, and acquiring, what remained of HJ Coventry's estate, in the early 2000s. The search required ads in magazines that sought information about Coventry's materials, dozens of phone calls and faxes, asking around and investigating leads, endless Google and eBay searches, travel to several states and Canada, and ultimately, tens of thousands of dollars expended......just to locate, to buy, and to transport to Massachusetts....what remained of H.J. Coventry's estate. I did it, because it needed to be done. I did not want these designs lost or forgotten about.
In 2007, I acquired "Friends Models" from Dick Boucher. I changed the name to "Friends Yankee Shop Models", to include the original 1938 name of "Yankee Shop", as well as to maintain the 1950-era name change to "Friends Models".
"Friends Yankee Shop Models" seemed the perfect way to do so.
Meanwhile, I continued to seek any other "long lost designs from Yesteryear" that may still exist and be available for purchase.
Around 2007, Friends began marketing the 3/4" scale P7 "President Washington" design for its owner, Miniature Power Products of Canada.
Also about 2007, my first designs were released: critical castings for the 1" scale Coventry 4-4-0 American; the 1" scale 4-6-0 Ten Wheeler; and the 3/4" scale 0-6-0. Then in 2009 I produced bronze couplers from 1931, as well as a VanBrocklin duplex pump in 1" scale. In 2008 and 2009, customers were asking me to produce "Kozo Hiraoka" castings, so I did. In 2010 through 2012, initial castings were produced for the H.J. Coventry K4 and the famous "Laverne Langworthy" 3/4" scale Hudson. In 2011, Friends acquired the 3/4" scale "P7 President Washington" by H.J. Coventry from Miniature Power Products.
This is one of the first sets of castings that I produced. The 1" scale, 4-3/4" gauge "Ten Wheeler" by H.J. Coventry. Castings had not been available for this engine since about 1970.
This is me in 1997, at the extreme left, at the last run of Richard Symmes' highline in Litchfield, NH. The locomotive, a Yankee Shop 4-4-2 owned by Symmes, was the first live steamer I ever saw. It was one of three engines running in 1982 at Minuteman Tech High School in Lexington, MA, as described above in the text.
Twenty two years after 1986, in October 2008 I returned to Nashua NH for a steam meet at Nick Edwards' former home. My son has joined me in this photo taken at the same spot where the "1986" photo (seen above) had been taken. Mr. Coughlin, who was with me in the 1986 photo, passed away some years ago.
It's January 2009, and I am here with my beloved Boston and Albany tank engine. I had not owned it since 1995 but had the opportunity to visit it in Jan. 2009. Later in 2009, I bought it back, and it is now home......permanently!
Richard Symmes' Yankee Shop 4-4-2. Richard had sold it in 2000, but in 2018, Richard and I arranged to "buy it back", and it now lives at Friends Models. It is an honor that Richard wanted it to live here. For me, I cannot put into words, what it's like to own the first live steamer I ever saw, from that "long-ago summer yesterday" of 1982. I am truly blessed, thankful, and humbled.
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This is me in 1997 on the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. My several years on the railway had a substantial and profound influence on my character. It is the best job I ever had.