Friend Box on High Street has a steamy past that begs to be brought to light.
Although primarily known as exactly what it is, a box company, founded in 1884 by the Friend family, in 1938 Lester Danforth Friend built the New England Live Steamers track on the land behind the box factory.
The track was a big hit with fans of “steamers” and the NELS track was host to many events that included the Brotherhood of Live Steamers. You can find many pictures of the track and the riders at Friends Models.
Live Steam Model Railroading is a hobby that continues to this day, with groups all over the United States and around the world. What makes this hobby so unique is that it takes model railroad tracks and engines that are built to accurately represent locomotives, and can actually be rode on.
Charles Purinton, the son of the Brotherhood of Live Steamers founder, assisted in the building of the Danvers track, and has reported that it was built in under a month. John Kurdzionak of Friends Yankee Shop Models graciously shared a picture of Charles riding a model steam engine.
Lester Friend also owned and operated Yankee Shop Machinists right next door to Friend Box. The building is presently the home to the Merchants Liquor Mart. Although the shop was primarily used to make parts to support the war in 1940, they also began production of castings to sell for a line 3/4" scale live steamers.
In the 1950’s Lester Friend became a close friend of Walt Disney and named his son Walt after his good friend.
Later in the 1950’s, maintaining the track became too cumbersome a chore for many reasons, including Lester’s age, health and people turning to other, newer hobbies. It was consequently disassembled.