Ray's steam locomotive.

July 31, 2015.

After 10 years I got tired of working on trying to build a live steam locomotive and not getting very far. So in March 2015, I bought one from a member of our train club (the Alberta Model Engineering Society) who has built 7 different steam locomotives. After much cleaning and maintenance (and some repairs) it was as operational as I could get it in our garage. So I brought it out to our train club's track. After a couple of hours of fiddling (these things are tricky and don't come with a manual), my friend Derek Beatson, and I got it going.

It was able to pull me around a half KM short track. The run identified a number of issues which I have worked to resolve. I hope to have it running early next summer. I will try to get a video to share from this page.

But for now, here are a few photos.

My locomotive and me. This was built by Dr. Eric Mortis of Calgary around 2001.

The car behind is where I (and a second person) can sit. It also holds a horizontal propane tank. I am in the process of building a car like this one this winter.

Driving one of these locomotives is very tricky. See the red vertical line? That is the water gauge. You must make sure there is proper water level in the boiler at all times ...so it does not blow up. Really!

Update. Fall, 2016

I spent most of last fall, winter, and spring building a propane car for my loco. I am quite happy how it turned out (see movie below). I think it looks quite nice and will look even better once I get the name and number graphics on it. And, check out those 520 rivets which had to be drilled out twice and installed. I'm quite proud of that.

The main purpose of the propane car is to, of course, hold a 30lb horizontal propane tank. However it also contains a water pump (and accompanying car battery, and charger). The water pump sucks water from the tender, and pushes it into the locomotive boiler against a pressure of about 100 PSI. This whole system works quite well but my train is somewhat slow going up hills. This can likely be improved without me having to lose 80 lbs (which I probably should anyway for other reasons).

I ran it three days this summer, and each day were multiple runs on the 1.6 km Track. And each day identified more issues which needed to be fixed. But that's all part of the challenge and joy of owning and running such a locomotive. The loco has now been put away for the winter. All the pipes had to be "blown out" to make sure there is no water left which could freeze and burst the small copper pipes.

The main project this winter will be to build a new propane burner for the boiler. Currently there is a blow torch in the firebox to provide heat. That why the loco sounds a bit like a jet engine in the movie below. This new burner should also provide more and better heat distribution and should also be much quieter. The throttle valve in the smoke box also leaks steam and I plan to replace it.

But for now, here are a few more photos and a link to a very short movie.

Getting ready to run. Electric exhaust blower on the smoke stack is to draw the smoke out until the steam blower can do its job. This is a better view of the propane car I built.

Am I having fun, or WHAT!! Photo by Nick Janzen.

Having just negotiated the hill to the "Thomas Switch".
Click the above movie icon to view/download. It is only 10 seconds long. Movie by Nick Janzen.

Entering the main station area.
Another short movie. This one 15 seconds long. Movie by Dave Judd.

Update, June 2017

The burner was completed over this past winter. In addition, a number of changes were made including the replacement of the throttle ball valve in the firebox with a new high temperature ball valve (fingers crossed). Some piping in the firebox also needed to be replaced or changed. All the gaskets and o-rings in the steam pump were replaced. (Pump photos yet to be included).

The burner had to be built in 2 parts so that it could be fitted into the Fire Box through the bottom. The problem is that the axle of the rear wheel is in the way. It took me quite a while to figure out how to best resolve this problem.

Here it is assembled. All Nice and Shiny and silver soldered.

...and installed on the engine. I tried the burner June 7, 2017 and it works like a charm. Nice blue flame with lots of heat, ...and much quieter.

Here is a view of the smokebox before making any changes. I knew there was a leak in the right hand side of the photo of the valve. Although the valve is somewhat protected from direct heat by the petticoat pipe, this standard brass valve did not survive terribly long. It had to be replaced with a valve rated for a higher temperature. I also discovered a severe pinch in the copper water heater pipe on the left. Additionally, the split steam pipe going to the 2 cylinders had a small inside diameter which I though should be made larger.
Working in the smoke box cannot be achieved without its complete removal. This proved Tricky business indeed.

Smoke box removed and stripped down to parts not to be replaced left untouched.

A new steam pipe splitter was build with almost 70% larger Inside Diameter. I hoped this modification would lead to more steam power to the cylinders.

The results of the changes before the steam box was reinstalled.

Update, January 1, 2018

Although all of the changes made so far were in a positive direction, there remains a number of issues which I plan to address during this winter season. I will not elaborate them here and now because I am honestly not sure how many I will be able to get to. Gotta manage expectation.

But one key issue which occured on the last run day was the Die Block and Bolt on the left hand side falling apart. This has now been fixed but led to a rather unceremonious end to my 2017 run season.

I will aim to keep updating this page as items get resolved.

Update, August 2020

Well, I have not been very dilligent with regards to keeping this page up to date. I have not had a chance to do much in 2019 because of other priorities. I did not even run the engine at all that year.

But I finally got down to business in the spring of 2020. I got help from a young member of our club named Josh who made a few suggestions. As part of our my boiler test we re-certified it so it could operate at 120PSI instead of the former test for 100PSI. We noticed the flame was not as blue as it could be so we changed the nozzed for one with a smaller hole diameter, #59 Drill bit size. Josh also tweaked the timing. In his words:

"The admission was late late due to the eccentric being slightly out of position. This causes the ports to open when the piston had already passed over TDC, which reduces the speed and power and can cause other issues. This also caused the cut off to be late, which wastes steam. You can see that it all adds up to a poor performing engine!"

Finally, I completed a video which I started back in 2018. Back then I filmed the drivers Point of View" footage while running on our club's long (1.6KM) loop. I had always meant tio supplement this with some trackside views. Ray Gibbs took most of those and here is the final result as oisted on You Tube. I had hoped the quality would have been better but, not too bad for a first try.

What's all in that driving car anyway....?

That will be the subject of my next post entry. Hope it's done quicker than my last post above.

Some historical facts.

The locomotive was modeled on an actual locomotive called a Fitchburg Northern. This locomotive represents the general class of narrow gauge locomotives that ran on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. As a narrow gauge loco, the whole locomotive is smaller. However the train crew is, of course, the same size and the cab reflects this. This makes the cab look larger and somewhat out of expected proportion. But this is also what gives the look of this locomotive its particular charm.

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Contact ray@verdone.ca