Remember the days of steam locomotives, coal smoke, distant whistles in the night, the snorting of a mighty engine pulling a heavy train out of the station? Those days are alive today… in miniature… at Ridge Live Steamers RLS in Dundee Florida. The trains are 1/8” scale, 1 ½” equals 1 foot of full-size steam engines. Most of the trains are owned by club members who keep them secured in the various warehouses on property and take them out to work and play during the year. The area is private and not open to the public. However, rail enthusiasts often come and share in the operations.
After enjoying a ride on a live steamer railroad, I spoke with Dana Bliss, vice president of the Ridge Live Steamers Club. “This operation” he said, “has evolved from the tabletop scale type of operation to a larger scale. We do the same things they do, only we actually ride our trains.”
Construction began in 1975 on property owned by an older couple named Jenks north of Auburndale, Florida. By 1982, the track was forced to move, so they built on property across from Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. The first loop of track was ready by February 1983. It provided a 2,300 foot mainline, over 6,000 feet of track, 22 steaming bays, a hydraulic lift and camping hook-ups.
“It takes many hands to keep the area running. Every year, more and more people join our group. You do not have to own a train to join the RLS,” Bliss said.
The RLS helps those who are new to the hobby. “We are a 501(c) 3organization so we do allow other groups like the boy scouts to come and work with us and ride our trains. We are not an amusement park, we are a working miniature railroad.”
The weather in Florida is perfect for those who live up north and enjoy this hobby. One man from Wisconsin told me he has his own outdoor railroad up there. He keeps another engine here and works on it during the winter. “We work together, building small model houses to create something to look at while the trains run the tracks.”
The time it took for me to ride on a chair secured to a flat bed car pulled by a miniature steam engine seemed way too short. We chugged over one mile of track with working railroad signal lights and track switches, through a tunnel, over several bridges, and around an orange grove. An owl roosted in its little home in the tree looked down at me as my choo-choo passed by. He seemed to say “Wh…oo are you? Come on back ya’hear.”