The Milwaukee Light Engineering society had its beginnings in a very small group of friends and acquaintances. Fred Balsinger, Harry Bindas, and Ron Kerkes were well acquainted with each other and had the initiative to build their own 1-1/2in scale railroad and Live Steam locomotives. Fred built a 0-4-0 American. Fred and Harry have gone the way of all great railroaders, but Ron was still an active active member as of 2004. In 1965 Frad and Harry bought an acre of land in Washington County. Ron met Harry through a friend at work who lived next to Harry. The three enthusiasts invested several years of manual labor moving dirt to build a 600ft oval on their acre of land.
In 1967 Dr. Jack McKenty, another local another local live steam buff contacted the publisher of Model Engineer (?) a British publication, for a list of subscribers in Wisconsin. Ron Kerkes's name was on that list. The roots of the MLES were formed. “Doc” as Jack McKenty was often known as, began a newsletter, to keep the fledgling organization informed. The group met in individual's homes through early 1968 when their number had grown to 21 members. A new member, Hugh Crain an instructor at the milwaukee School of Engineering, made arrangements to meet there. With MSOE acting as a fertile source of new members, the first issue of the MLES “Bulletin”, newsletter, was published in February 1969, “Doc” was the editor.
During 1968 the “group” had expressed an interest to acquire a site for a club track. This also prompted the incorporation of the MLES as a non-stock corporation of the MLES as a non-stock corporation in the State of Wisconsin, in 1969. Several sites were considered for a possible track, among them were Kearney & Trecker in West Allis, denied, as an “attractive” we were thought of. Another site was “old McDonalds Little Farm” located along Hwy 41 near Slinger, WI., again, talks were terminated. A third site was investigated at Milwaukee Gear, which offered a parcel of land 100' by 300', this was gracefully turned down. The logical choice approach the owners of the land adjoining “Fred and Harry's” barn loop track. Ron kerkes “volunteered” to get the information.
1970 was the year of action. The MLES had just become incorporated, enthusiasm was high, membership was growing, a decision was going to be made on a track site. The MLES organization was patterned after an English tradition of a society, were there were subdivisions under the parent organization. The MLES would have that with the formation of the Railroad Division, which would incur the responsibiliities and expenses of operating the future Railroad Park. Other subdivisions were thought of to be Marine, Tractor, and Stationary in nature, however as the years went by they never materialized. The Railroad Division did purchase the 6.5 acres of land adjoining Fred and Harry's loop in October of 1970, for the sum of $3,500.
The formation of the RR Div. 'Stack Talk' letter appeared in November of 1970 as a second page to the Society's 'Bulletin'. The 'Stack Talk' would not last more than two years as a separate page as the editor Hugh Crane would seek opportunities elsewhere with his full size Crab Orchard and Egyptian steam powered R.R. in Southern Illinois. Also the monthly publication would soon alternate months with the Bulletin as well did the monthly meeting schedule.
The annual elections for the MLES were held in October 1970, the following individuals were seated: VP: Robert Sedgwick,
Secretary: Jack McKenty,
Treasurer: Herb Markweise,
Directors: Len Kamradt, Robert Klubertanz, Randy Quinlan.
The membership had grown to 59 members. The RR Div. Pro-Tem officers were:
Way Clerk: Hugh Crane
Paymaster: Ron Kerkes
Division Supervisor: Tom Artzberger
1971 would see the beginnings of RR Park, the Town of Jackson granted a private park permit. The Society saw a need for a uniform boiler code, for model boilers, in the state of Wisconsin. Fencing the property and the movement of earth fill to improve the proposed right of way. The Town's granting of the park permit would require more than a simple application form and a rubber stamp. The april 1971 town board meeting brought out a lot of the adjoining neighbors from the subdivision to the south of the RR Park. They feared an amusement park atmosphere would result and “the air would be fouled with noxious fumes of coal smoke”. To alleviate the public fears the RR Div held an open house demonstration hosted by Harry Bindas, Hugh Crane and Tom Artzberger all operating their steamers for the town board and neighbors. The noxious fumes dissipated, the roaring crowds stayed away and everyone had a great time. We have the permit (Somewhere).
The next thing to do was survey the land, see adjoining map, and plan a railroad. The major projects for 1971 included fencing the land, survey it, and begin some grade improvements. The RR Div purchased a small 5 yard dump truck at a Milwaukee County auction for the sum of $200.00, well used but she ran. Ron Kerkes and Tom Artzberger from 6” to 5' of fill in spots. Jack Mckenty lead a team that installed the wire fence and planting trees. The weather was not very cooperative in 1971, it was a very wet year, but a rough grade was established along the North lot line. Bob Segwick headed the committee that worked on the miniature boiler code proposal, preparing it for submission to the Wisconsin State Industrial Commission for approval and encatment. The MLES boiler code was loosely based on the MODEL Boiler Code of Australia (MBCA), which was regarded as a very good standard.
1972, Work continued on the boiler code standard, through the winter and spring. Meanwhile the RR Division was busy. In February MSOE model railroad club hosted it's annual Train Time show, at which the MLES was represented. A Milwaukee Journal reporter attended and was so impressed by the MLES activities, that he wrote an article that ran during March. As a result of the newspaper article, a swarm of 15 new members joined in April, swelling the membership roseter to 81. In June a club outing was planned, a visit to the Sandley Light Locomotive Works and a 15in guage railroad in the Wisconsin Dells. In September another tour to visit Elliott Donnley's 15in guage railroad near Chicago. November 1972 saw the 1st Trainfest at the Wisconsin State Fair Park, 23,000 railroaders attended and the MLES was there too.
The railroad crews got busy in 1971, the earth fill at the site of future North Phlats yard had settled over winter and more grading and fill was added along the driveway/roadbed to the parking lot making it wide and flat. It was noted in the March Stack Talk that there was minimal support for 3/4” and 1” scale tracks, only one or two members had expressed their desire for these tracks, construction of trackes in these scales were not under-taken at this time. The boiler code committee had completed its work by October 1972, submitted it to the State of Wisconsin and was waiting for its approval at year end.
1973, The boiler code committee was waiting patiently for a response from the Wisconsin-State Industrial Commission on the status of its proposed model boiler codes. An answer was received, Finally in May, nearly 7 months later. REJECTED! A letter from the State Boiler Inspector explained the reasoning. The response loosely stated that boilers under 12” in diameter are exempt from a code inspection in Wisconsin. However it is good practice to preform an annual inspection regardless of size.
Meanwhile Bob Sedgwick was not idol, additional data sheets and drawings were coming off of his drafting table, simple, easy to make boiler fittings, a water glass for a boiler, a steam/oil lubricator for steam cylinders, a single acting hand pump to put water in a boiler, and a telescope using optics from a binocular. Bob helped point the way for simplicity and practicality in design.
The RR Division was ready for track work in the spring of 1973, rail, ties, tie plates, stone and other material needed to install 500' of track. Victor Miller was the rail and tie plate supplier. A turning wye had been built built during 1972 at the southwest corner of the barn loop. The wye track was quickly extended past the shed, several switches were built, one provided a spur to the new shed, the other pair were used to create a crossover at North Phlatts. The RR Division was also making plans to build its first bridge across Kressin Brook, as the stream in named, the East double track bridge would be the first. The beginning groundwork of the foundry class at MATC was being laid, in December of 1973, Ernie Schnook, a foundry instructor at MATC as a guest speaker.