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Live steamers, hobbyists: Left, David Passard. Photo by Rick Parker. Right, Walt Permann. Photo by Carla Brand Breitner.

While there’s no plan to make this space an on-going obituary column, recent deaths of live steamers and a manufacturer shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Aristo-Craft Toy Trains — provider of 1:29-scale rolling stock, 45mm track and at least two live-steam locomotives — said in October it would close its doors at the end of 2013 after 78 years in business. Longtime railroad engineer, enthusiastic collector of railroad memorabilia and small-scale live steamer David Passard of Van Nuys, Calif., died in late September at age 73. Garden railroad enthusiast Walt Permann, who started Custom Model Products Inc. to provide 1:32- and 1:20.3-scale hobbyists with accurate locomotives and rolling stock, died in late October at age 83.

The cupola view

Passard started his railroad career as a diesel fireman with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe in the late 1950s and was later an engineer with the Southern Pacific (and subsequently Union Pacific), retiring in 2004. He then switched full-time to his avocation: collecting railroad equipment. Passard’s passion was described by American Heritage magazine in 2009: “The house, garage, yard and outbuildings were crammed with antique locomotive generators, lights, bulbs and books stockpiled over four decades.”

Passard started his railroad collection while still a teen growing up in Antioch, Calif., his brother Jim Passard said. After graduating high school in the mid-1950s, David went to work for a can maker, across the street from a locomotive-laden scrap yard. Jim said that David would finish a shift at the can company and walk across the street and liberate locomotive fixtures like gauges and whistles.

Portions of David Passard’s collection were used to restore Denver & Rio Grand Western Railroad’s No. 315, according to American Heritage.

An avid live steamer, Passard was known for his Aster GS-4 in Southern Pacific “Daylight” livery. He advised Accucraft Trains Co. on developing a variety of small-scale live steamers. In addition, Passard was a longtime member of the Morse Telegraph Club of Southern California.

“Dave was full of stories, as well as opinions about why this or that engine wasn’t running quite right,” said fellow Southern California steamer Gary Woolard. “The thing was, give him a micrometer, a pair of needle-nose pliers and 15 minutes, and sure enough he’d have it running better than you thought it could.”

Jim Passard has donated much of David’s collection to Central Callifornia’s San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum.

Permann was a founding member of the Bay Area Garden Railway Society in 1988 and participated in the group’s first major activity, the Fifth Annual National Garden Railway Convention in 1989. A successful businessman, Permann founded his Control Master Products Inc. — a purveyor of electrical wire and cable — in 1968 and sold it 40 years later to a Wisconsin-based wire and cable company.

Permann then switched focus to another CMP — his model-train business, Custom Model Products, which he had founded in 1964. Since “retiring” to Custom Model in 2008, Permann had developed a large inventory of both Gauge One mainline and narrow-gauge rolling stock and live-steam locomotives.

But the business of model railroading remains perilous: Nat and Irwin Polk founded Polk’s Model Craft Hobbies Inc. in New Jersey in 1933 and that business in turn created Aristo-Craft Toy Trains two years later. Though Aristo-Craft at first specialized in HO-scale trains, in the 1960s it shifted to 45mm track and pioneered the use of 1:29 scale. The company marketed two live-steam locomotives: in 2005 it sold a 1:29-scale 2-8-2 Mikado and in 2009 it sold an 0-4-0 switcher with a slope-back tender.

In an Oct. 1, letter to customers, the Polk family said it was to shut the business’ doors on Dec. 31, because of the “continued depression” that has “caused us to fall into debt that is unsustainable.”

Lewis Polk, son of the company’s founders, said he would “pay out of his own pocket” the costs of keeping alive the Aristo-Craft online customer-support forum indefinitely. The Crest Electronics business, which provides digital train control and maintenance, is being spun off and will continue.

Passard, Permann and Aristo-Craft will all be missed. The small-scale, live steam hobby is better for their contributions.