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© June 28, 2005 

This article originally appeared in First & Fastest, a quarterly publication of the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society
This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission. ©Shore Line Interurban Historical Society


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Traction Modeling in 1:8 Scale

In a setting reminiscent of Gulliver’s visit to Lilliput, here’s Bruce Moffat alongside his custom-built 1-1/2” scale model of CA&E 10 at Illinois Live Steamers (alright wise guys, that’s not “Moffat Tunnel” in the background!).

Written by Eric Bronsky

It was a rainy Saturday in May when Bruce Moffat and I headed southwest on I-55 to visit the Illinois Live Steamers. Bruce, who is the expert on the Chicago Tunnel Company and Chicago Rapid Transit history, had invited me to see his latest project.

As his Dodge minivan sped towards Will County, the clouds miraculously parted and the sun quickly dried the wet pavement. Bruce wryly attributed this to the “Shangri-La Effect” as he steered onto an unmarked gravel road. Across the tall prairie grass a maze of 7-1/2" gauge track magically appeared.

ILS is not open to the general public. In fact, except for a few members who were there to perform mundane tasks, we had the entire railroad to ourselves. We strolled over to the carbarn, where Bruce unlocked and raised an overhead door. With the pride of a parent showing off a newborn, he rolled his Chicago Aurora & Elgin car 10 onto the transfer table and removed the tarp.

Not only does this extraordinary model look realistic, it also happens to be large enough to ride. Bruce explained that he has always had a casual interest in miniature riding railroads (zoos, amusement parks, etc.), and he is fascinated by narrow gauge railroads in general. Articles in Traction & Models about "large scale” clubs in the Detroit and Toledo areas, whose members built ride-on models of interurbans and streetcars, inspired him, but Bruce did not have the resources to tackle such a project back in the 70s.

The bug bit harder when Bruce and Bill Shapotkin visited the LaPorte County Historical Steam Society in Indiana during 1980. Among the various operations was a 7-1/2" gauge line. Later they visited the Prairie State Railroad Club in Big Rock, IL. But it wasn't until the late 1990s that Bruce decided to take the plunge.

Car 10 and its not-so-CA&E-like passenger trailer pause on the transfer table in front of the car house. Doesn’t the model appear almost full-size when seen from this angle? Note the fine craftsmanship and the wealth of detail, especially the illuminated headlight.
(click image to enlarge)

Lacking a workshop or the expertise to handle a project of this magnitude, Bruce researched various live steam publications and posted a query on an Internet bulletin board seeking a custom-builder. David Bunts, who lives near Los Angeles and is affiliated with Riverside Live Steamers, took on the job.

The hinged clerestory roof of car 10 swings open to reveal its array of inner workings, which are clearly too large to fit beneath the car floor. An air compressor and tank flank the brass whistle in the foreground. Electrical components nestle between the two automotive deep cycle batteries. The large brass gong is visible at the far end.
(click image to enlarge)

The carbody is completely scratchbuilt of wood and, like the prototype, is reinforced with a steel underframe. The car siding consists of individual boards. Trucks, couplers and various other parts came from Cannonball Ltd., a live steam supplier. Two 12-volt automotive batteries power four axle-hung wheelchair motors and the motorman operates the car from a controller attached through a cable. For sound effects, a compressor and air tank are connected to a brass whistle and a large brass gong completely fills one of the motorman’s cabs.

The car is liveried in CA&E’s deep red and tan of the 1920s-30s and special custom decals were made. During the early 30s, 10 was briefly in funeral service and the stained glass window arches had just been paneled over. This is the era that Bruce’s model depicts.

To take delivery of the car, Bruce met the builder “halfway” in Albuquerque. CA&E 10 made her maiden voyage at ILS on May 17, 2003.

Though sturdy, this model is not designed to support the weight of riders, so Bruce purchased a frame and trucks and had these assembled into a flat car with a long bench seat that can accommodate the motorman and up to two passengers.

Getting back to our excursion, Bruce and I rolled the transfer table over to the connection with the mainline and he carefully guided the train off the table, one axle at a time. Then we boarded. Bruce tooted the whistle and opened the controller. As the car began to move, the four axle-hung motors and their gearing hummed just like … well, an accelerating interurban car! Bruce ran one complete round trip to familiarize me with the ILS mainline and then he asked me if I wanted to operate.

Did I want to operate? I eagerly grasped the controller, actually a model railroad-style rheostat knob that springs to the “off” position when you let go—a deadman device—hit the gong twice, released the “brakes” (lifted my feet off the ground) and away we went. By the time we reached the straightaway, the knob was against the post and we were bouncing and swaying at a respectable speed. The wheels clattered over frogs and wood deck bridges with a remarkably realistic sound. We soon entered a long tunnel, where a loud rumble reverberated against the curved walls. The gong and whistle sure sounded different in there!

Emerging back into the open, you could hear the motors hum louder as we began to ascend a steep grade. Suddenly and unexpectedly, CLUNK! The head end of our train lurched and began to bounce on the ties.

“Shut her off!” Bruce yelled. I immediately dumped the air (put my feet back on the ground). Sure enough, the front axle of CA&E 10 had derailed. I was a bit red-faced but Bruce was charitable, surmising that the track gauge might have been a smidgeon wide at that spot. Luckily there was no damage and the model weighs just 150 lbs. so we didn’t need to dispatch a crane. Bruce grasped the underframe, eased the wheels back onto the track, and I promptly resumed my motorman training.

The ground throws at most junctions are within reach of train operators. This made it easy to explore several different routes including some infrequently used trackage. After operating for countless scale miles the batteries needed recharging and I gingerly backed the train through some rather intricate specialwork to the “ice house” (where an electrical outlet is located) without derailing. This was by far the most fun I’ve had since operating the crank handcars at Kiddieland!

The prairie foliage, gently rolling terrain and bridges along the ILS mainline are not unlike the CA&E’s old right-of-way west of Wheaton. This trestle is one of the more scenic photo locations. The dummy trolley poles are for appearance sake only because onboard batteries supply the power.

7-1/2” gauge is typically associated with “live steam,” but it certainly holds much appeal for traction modeling. Unlike the trains that we once rode at amusement parks, these are scale models that share characteristics of both the smaller scales and full-size railroads. The size is small enough that you can assemble rolling stock in your basement or garage and lay some track in your backyard, yet the dynamics are closer to the real thing when you consider mass, inertia and, of course, the sensory experience of riding.

Incidentally, Bruce was also bit by the live steam bug. A 1:8 scale model of South Side Rapid Transit locomotive 46 is in the works.  Read Bruce's article Steam on the Alley “L”.

Of course other traction modelers besides Bruce have taken the plunge into large-scale modeling (my own “plunge” will be the topic of a future column). If you want to learn more about 1:8 scale modeling, pick up a copy of Live Steam Magazine or surf the Internet for various clubs and manufacturers. The Illinois Live Steamers site is and Cannonball Ltd. is at

Photos and article by Eric Bronsky

This article originally appeared in First & Fastest, a quarterly publication of the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society Used here by permission.

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