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Connecticut S Gaugers

For Scale, Hirail and American Flyer S Gauge Model Railroaders



Bill Krause And The Connecticut S Gaugers

by Craig S. O'Connell

from the NASG "Dispatch", December 1999

In 1981 Bill Krause created the Connecticut S Gaugers. By placing ads in S gauge magazines and by reaching out to fellow modelers, Bill created a strong and diverse club that grew from 4 to 50 strong. But the story begins before that.

In the early 1960s Bill Krause, like so many other S gaugers, was an American Flyer enthusiast. At that time the A.C. Gilbert Co., the New Haven based manufacturer of AF trains, was on the decline and many S gaugers were looking for other options and ways to maintain and expand their S gauge empires. In 1964, in the days before the NASG had much presence, Bill placed what was known as a "booster ad" in the S Gauge Herald, a resourceful magazine edited by Frank Titman, that often contained articles on how modelers could add more detail and realism to their Flyer equipment. Booster ads networked folks from around the country who would then communicate and share their ideas with one another in what were known as "circuit letters."

A circuit letter was appropriately titled and might take the following form: one person on a circuit of perhaps a dozen people would write up an idea about how to modify let's say an AF depressed center flat car. That person would send the letter onto the next person who might add comments while forwarding it to the next in the chain until the letters completed the circuit. Bill Krause belonged to no less that four circuits at the time.

Responding to Bill's booster ad was a highly skilled machinist named Joe Scales, who was living at the time in nearby Monroe, CT. Joe belonged to the Bridgeport Society of Model Engineers, a club of primarily HOers, but he was modeling in S finescale. Joe had also built one of the early line of scale locomotive kits on the market at the time, a Mogul by Rex, but his primary initiative was to create a Berkshire. It was at this point that Bill Krause met Joe Scales. Joe was to have an enormous influence on Bill.

Realizing that his American Flyer trains were incompatible with Joe Scales's layout, Bill set out to create a new dogbone layout with closed frog turnouts that would accommodate scale and Flyer equipment. This one layouy set the stage for some of the basic tenets of operation that would eventually become the core of the Connecticut S Gaugers' modular layouts with the capacity to run everything ever made in S gauge.

By 1981 Joe Scales had returned to his childhood home in Virginia, and Bill Krause embarked on a plan to put these principles of operation into action by bringing a modular club layout to area train shows for the enjoyment of the public. Among the earliest members were some familiar names including our current CSG Treasurer Dave Pool and Don Ross, a student of the Joe Scales Berkshire project, who had met Bill 15 years earlier.

Dave Pool remembers the club's first formal meeting at Bill's house in the spring of 1983. "Almost from the beginning Bill was talking about building his own home modular layout but was saddled with the dogbone layout he had from years before," recalls Don Ross. As things happen, around '85-'86, a newcomer to the club named Bill Fuhrman offered to buy the layout from Bill, thus providing him with the opportunity to go modular, and allow him to create a layout that could be removed table by table and rebuilt anywhere in any other configuration.

Modular layouts owned by many individuals, unlike sectional portable ones, Bill reasoned, could be pieced together in any fashion provided that the members all followed the same set of rules. Along with Don DeWitt, Bill engaged in the task of creating a set of rules for modular operation which became known as the NASG S-MOD Standards, thus allowing any S gauger around the country to mate his module with one belonging to another.

Thus began the CT S Gaugers public presentations of its traveling layout with members building individual modules and matching them up at area train shows, a tradition that this club has continued ever since. Pete Prizzi first became acquainted with the club at such a show in Guilford in the late '80s. It was Pete's first contact with modular layouts. Now an important contributor with modules of his own, Pete recalls, "Bill was always there to greet me with a warm handshake. He was that kind of guy who just made you feel welcome." In the years to come the Connecticut S Gaugers became regular participants at train shows around the state. Bill used these opportunities to appeal to families and children, and soon the CSG layout became a drawing card. "Showtimes" were set aside to give children a hand at the throttle while Bill delightfully recounted the story of "The Little Engine That Could." As Larry Hally has pointed out, this is what makes the CT S Gaugers so special.

In 1990 Bill was honored by the NASG, receiving the coveted Bernie Thomas Award for his long and dedicated service to the S Gauge community. It was an award well deserved. As Bill Fuhrman recently reflected, "I personally have never met nor do I know anyone who had anything bad to say about Bill. He was truly 'loved' by all the members of the CT S Gaugers. If ever there was an ambassador for "S" gauge and model railroading in general, Bill was that person."

And now, as difficult as it is to believe, Bill Krause is gone. His legacy, however, is strong and enduring. The train shows continue, our club modules are on display and the kids are still at the throttle operating our trains - S gauge trains! We learned a great deal from Bill and his Lester Central Railroad. He seemed to know everything there was to know about model railroad operations without ever a hint of pretension or superiority. He taught us about everything from trackwork to the electrical and even the soldering. Many of us are far better model railroaders today than we were years ago before our introduction to Bill Krause. But aside from all the technical knowledge there were the intangibles - the warmth, camaraderie, selfless dedication and sincerity. These are what truly made Bill Krause a giant among men. "Everyone looked up to Bill, but he never looked down on anyone," said Norm Rieger. "Bill always made you feel like your questions were important."

Today I turn on my computer to read the latest thoughts from many an S gauger on the internet, and I am distressed by the rancor and acrimony that persists within our minority gauge. There are some scale folks turning up their noses at the Flyer guys. There are some Flyer adherents zealously impugning the work of the "rivet counters." It is distressing. We can all take comfort, however, in knowing that the CT S Gaugers have never been a safe haven for this sort of bitter divisiveness. Bill Krause would not have it that way. We are a club that encourages tolerance. The legacy of Bill Krause was that our modular layout should incorporate all aspects of S gauge model railroading where the Flyer tinplate trains run side by side with finescale highly detailed models - where nostalgia and modern craftsmanship flourish together - where the novice and the expert work hand in hand.

As I look back on my fist communication with Bill dated March 7, 1990, there is a handwritten letter in which he describes this club..."We have no experts," he wrote, "...just some that have made many mistakes that others shouldn't make." Amen.

To Joe Scales whom I had the pleasure of meeting just once, my apologies for any inaccuracies. To Don Ross who provided much of the background for this report, my heartfelt thanks, for this piece could not have been written without you. And to Bill Krause - thank you for being our friend, our leader and our mentor.

--Craig S. O'Connell, November, 1999.




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