There was something special going on in the back yard on Alabama Avenue. One man was creating a miniature train that would bring happiness to hundreds of kids in the Twin Cities. The following information was researched by Lyle Wandrei, who was a student of Larry Sauter and later a teaching colleague at Hopkins High School.
Lawrence W. “Larry” “Dusty” Sauter was born on February 22, 1907, the son of a railroad engineer. In 1926 he graduated from Hopkins High, and in about 1930 he graduated from Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Some time between 1936 and 1939 he moved to 4053 Alabama Avenue, where he lived with his wife Leona. The 1939 phone book indicates that he worked at Minneapolis Moline where he set up production machines and trained workers in the machine operations. By 1942 he taught at Miller Vocational School in Minneapolis.
During World War II, he was an inspector and supervisor in machine shops of a war plant (War Production Training, Board of Education). In 1947 he was hired to teach industrial arts at Hopkins High School. While he was there, he designed and built a telescope, now located in the Lawrence W. Sauter Observatory at the Hopkins Eisenhower building.
But in his spare time, Sauter built a perfect 1/6 replica of the Twin Star Rocket train of the Rock Island Line in his one-car garage. The train consists of an engine and five cars. This beautiful miniature train was christened on July 4, 1947 at an American Legion picnic at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis by neighbor girl Sandra Barnes (4072 Alabama), who broke a bottle filled with water from Minnehaha Falls. In August 1947 the train ran in Powderhorn Park, and in October 1947 it was written up (and highly praised) in the Rock Island News Digest.
The train was run at various venues for over four decades. In the early 1960s the train was run at Queen Anne Kiddie Land in Bloomington (near 494 and Normandale Road). One of the last times it ran was in 1993, when it was set up by Byerly’s. Joe Dudycha, a custodian at Hopkins High School, helped him transport the train, and Dale Feste helped him fix the engine after it had been mothballed for several years. Dale Feste was also a colleague of Sauter’s at Hopkins High. He taught Automotive Shop and later opened his own repair shop in Hopkins. Wallace Gears, another Hopkins teacher and an avid model railroader, was also a helper.
Larry Sauter died on September 28, 1995. At his death, the Rock Island Co. wanted the train very badly, but the estate was convinced to donate it to the Minnesota Transportation Museum. It is now at the Jackson Street Roundhouse in St. Paul. It is in working order, and is used to give short rides at the Roundhouse during the summer months. Many new feet of the special narrow track are laid every year, and it can be upwards of a five minute ride.
At Sauter’s death, neighbor Ed Engelkes rescued several of his hand made machine tools from a dumpster. The tools, made while Sauter was a college student at Stout, included a miniature jeweler’s lathe, drill press, band saw, sander and table saw. In 2005, Mr. Engelkes donated these items to the Hopkins Historical Society.