Lake Forest’s Bud Buker, 101, has been on track with steam engines
Edward “Bud” Buker, 101, of Lake Forest sits on steam Engine 326 he completed in 1960 at age 49.
Updated: July 22, 2012 6:08AM
Steam railroading is the spine on which Edward “Bud” Buker of Lake Forest built his life. With other enthusiasts, he created one of the nation’s rare opportunities to teach how to operate a steam locomotive.
The Deerfield and Roundabout Railway emerged when a group of like-minded enthusiasts built a one-eighth-scale coal-fired locomotive on Kennedy Road in Lake Forest, now part of the Lake Forest Live Steamers Railway Museum, Inc.
Buker, 101, former president of the Coach and Car Equipment Company, now in Elk Grove Village, built the group’s first steam engine in 1977, subsequently joined by four others and about 10,000 feet of track upon which to operate scheduled runs. This is not a Lionel train circling the living room floor, but rather heavy-duty equipment an adult can sit on to operate.
Said Robert Kurth, one of the volunteers who helps maintain the railroad, “He was 89 years old when he finished his last engine. I started with him in 1991 laying track and taking care of engines.
“There is always somebody out there on Saturday,” Kurth said of the group of 10 adults. “They run the trains on a schedule. We’re part of his railroad. Everyone has a talent, and they can share it.”
The group created a not-for-profit organization, the Lake Forest Live Steamers Railway Museum (www.lflsrm.org). The museum is not an amusement attraction, but rather an educational experience for those with a serious interest to maintain and operate a steam railroad.
Buker -- who at 101, was not able to sit for an interview -- was described in positive terms by those who know him and work with him on the trains.
“These words come in to play: officer and a gentleman,” said Jeffrey G. Hook, chief train dispatcher.
“Bud is a gentleman’s gentleman,” said Kurth. “I have known him about 21 years. He was always a gracious guy. We think very highly of the guy.”
He said these personal character traits emerge during the operation of the railroad. Buker remains calm, he said, when things go wrong while they are operating the trains. Problems were something they could all work to solve — a group effort, not them working for Buker and his railroad.
‘Willing to learn’
Hook said, “He had respect for people’s ideas and was always willing to learn.”
That, also, he said, seemed to be the way he operated his own company, Coach and Car Equipment Company.
Operation of this smaller-scale version of a steam locomotive rail system includes all the real problems of steam engines and railroading in the past.
“Full-sized railroad equipment suffers from the same issues that ours does. It wears out,” said Hook. “We’re rebuilding a lot of the equipment. It’s hard to keep a steam locomotive going.”
For that reason, the museum program is about building a proper bed for track, gandydancing rails for proper spacing, maintaining engines, running on a regular printed schedule, knowing the terminology, engineering, and capabilities of the equipment, and replacing worn-out parts.
“It’s not like art work on the mantel to look at. It has to be maintained,” he said.
“It was always interesting to talk to Bud. He has created a legacy for other people. Absolutely,” Hook said. “This is not a shrine for Bud’s models, but, rather, his appreciation of the full-scale versions. Once he completed a locomotive, he started another. Bud was interested in how it all works. It is not an amusement park. Bud has left a remarkable legacy, and it is up to us to keep it going and take care of it.”