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© November  25, 2002 

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A Father and Son Start
“Live Steaming”

by John Pappas
photos by John Pappas and Dan Morris
click any image to enlarge

Live steaming is a great hobby, but it is so much more too.  For my son Stathi and me, it has been an activity that has kept us together and brought us lots of joy. 

Ever since he was a baby, my son Stathi has loved trains.  His grandmother claimed that Stathi’s first word was “track!”  When he was about 7 years old, we had a custom we shared.  Each night before he went to bed I would read him a chapter from some book.  One night in 1985, I began to read him Donald Duck’s Toy Train, a story based on Ward Kimball’s famous cartoon Out of Scale. That caught his imagination.  Stathi loved the idea of Donald being a live steamer and able to actually ride on his train!  He stopped me reading and said, “Dad; why don’t we do that?  Can we get into that hobby?  Can we?”  Well, I said, “You really want to?  Why not! I’ve always wanted to do that too.” 

That week, I bought a copy of Live Steam magazine, and did some research. In Live Steam, I found Golden Gate Live Steamers and the Sacramento Valley Live Steamers listed and learned where and when they met.  We joined both clubs.  We’ll never forget our first ever visit to Golden Gate Live Steamers.  Within a half hour we had met Herman Volz and were riding on his train with him.  My wife was watching us ride behind Herman, and she said she had never seen two people with such large grins on their faces!  We’ll never forget Herm!  People like him and so many others have been especially helpful to the youngsters like Stathi

Well, I started saving some money, and in 1987 we bought a West Valley Live Steamers Consolidation from Dennis Gramith, then president of Sacramento Valley Live Steamers.  Stathi used his entire life savings to help pay for it.  He only had about $250, but I told him the engine was half his.  We were partners.  After we got the engine, little by little we made changes and improvements.  We always had some trouble with maintaining enough steam for longer runs however.

Now, though, Stathi has taken a leadership role in making improvements.  He laid about 120 feet of track at our house and built a stub switch and a siding.  He used a full size Southern Pacific switch stand to control the switch.  While we don’t have enough space for very much track, ours is the only house in the neighborhood with a point to point 7 and 1/2 inch gauge railroad in our yard.  Also, for the past 2 or 3 years, Stathi has spearheaded changing all the plumbing on the engine.  We also changed the engine from burning coal to propane.  He designed the burner system we use.  He changed all the fixtures on the backhead, made a new Johnson bar, and built a new headlight.  He built a new steel drive rod to replace one of the aluminum ones that were original to the engine.  He said, “Ever since I was little and we first got the engine, those aluminum drive rods bothered me.” We tested the new rod, and it worked as great as it looked, so now he will make one for the other side. Stathi also built the new tender deck for the engine and we had a stainless steel tank made to fit.  He has several other projects for our engine in the future too.  He has learned to use a lathe and also a milling machine, and it is wonderful to see how far he has come in the hobby.

  Photo by Dan Morris
Our newly refurbished 2-8-0 had its maiden run at the S.V.L.S. Fall Meet just last weekend, October 18 - 20.  Together we had designed and built a wooden boxcar to hold the large propane tank.  We also built an LS Manufacturing gondola.  Our train now consisted of the refurbished loco, the new boxcar, the new gondola, the V & T style wood flatcar that Stathi built when he was in high school, and the bobber caboose we built together about 11 years ago.  For the first time, we had no trouble with steaming, and our train was able to handle the new larger track area that the club put in a few years ago.  Our engine was a great success.  Stathi was grinning all weekend!  But so was his dad!  I was very proud of this young live steamer, my son.  He had worked so hard for so long to make our engine a good runner and a good looking engine as well, and all his work had succeeded.

I’ve watched my son grow from a little boy who asked his dad if we could get a train like Donald Duck’s, to a young man pursuing a doctorate in archaeology.  He has become an expert in railroad and steam technology and quite a live steamer too.  Together, we’ve enjoyed this great hobby, and the neat thing is that we still have many more of these activities to share together.  Everything we have done has been the result of the two of us working together.  These have been  great experiences for this father and son.


Written by: John Pappas
photos by John Pappas and Dan Morris
(see Dan Morris's site South Shore Communications)


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