Some Random Observations by an Old Hand

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Some Random Observations

The Live Steamer, September-October 1951

by "An Old Hand"

Having built quite a few live steam locos in my time, a number of them for resale some 15 to 20 years ago, and believing that I may have been the "first" with the "first to pull a live passenger" stunt back in 1910 (although I would not be sure I was the first) when an Atlantic that I built, hauled me laborously on the old 3-1/4 inch gauge in Brantford, Ont., perhaps a few personal observations of what I have found after building some fifteen locos from 3-1/4 inch gauge up to 1-1/2 inch scale size, will be of interest. These observations are entirely my own personal viewpoints.


u just can't beat good Cast Iron for cylinders, rings and pistons if you are careful to see they are well oiled, especially when not working. My one inch scale Atlantic's cylinders and pistons and rings are just like silver and perfectly steamtight after eleven years of running and these are all in cast iron with stainless steel rods.

I beleive builders would do well to build engines to suit local fuel conditions as near as possible. Here in B.C. we need large fireboxes and grate area and flues must not be less than 1/2 inch diameter. Because of our bad fuel situation we must depart a bit from "Curly's" words and music in the tube size used. Two of the "Hielan Lassie's" here with the smaller flues that ordinarily are very successful get plugged flues in about two hours running, but a GWR "King" and my old NYC Hudson with 1/2 inch flues, team for six to eight hours without a flue brush. Last year I got a bit of the Cardiff smokeless coal off a freighter and it was a treat to use. When Carl Purinton visited here last summer he left me some of what I believe to be "anthracite", what wonderfuls tuff. A friend tried it in his "Lassie" and remarked that it was fired with Atomic Energy. Yes! fuel quality is a big factor in performance.

Piston valves are definitely easier on Valve Gears, but I think they should be of the double ported type to get more wearing surface. Of course, Piston Valves must have a relief valve on back and front cylinder covers, as they cannot lift off ports like a slide valve, when cylinders are full of condensate. A slide valve engine is hard to reverse with throttle open. Slide valves if well fitted outlive piston valves and give less trouble.

I have noticed that engines with short smoke boxes give a sharper blast from exhaust than long smoke boxes, assuming valve gear and pressure to be approximately the saem. I think this is due to the difference in volume of the smoke boxes. The small one gets a sharper vacuum at the moment of exhaust and the larger, having more reserve volume, a more retarded vacuum (at least that is My theory).

Have also found that boilers with a preforated drypipe and front end throttle are less liable to prime than boilers with a throttle in the dome, since the vertical dome pipe has a tendency to lift the water as steam is admitted to the drypipe. The perforated drypipe disperses the lifting tendency over more surface of the water, thus making it less liable to priming.

The old reliable axlepump gives the least trouble and is the best bet for reliability. I have the best results using bronze balls in pumps and check valves. Rustless steel balls seem to have tendency to collect a kind of white deposit and if left standing for some time unused they stick to the seat so firmly a pressure of 100 pounds or more won't budge them. No! it's not the water. I have seen a lot of trouble among the boys here and elsewhere due to the stainless balls and was cured by replacing with bronze. Stainless are OK for oil lubricators, etc.

Tender handpumps in my opinion are a nuisance, you generally blow up the hose when you have to use them. I put my pump on the engine under the cab deck thus no pressure on the hose, suction only.

By using an exhaust nozzle tip of multiple jet type on my locos I can nearly double the nozzle area thus reducing back pressure and the boilers steam just as well. Two of my engines used to have 5/16 inch orifices, now they are nearly 7/16 inch in area.

If one has a track with a lot of curves it pays to fit "free-wheels" to the carrying wheels on engine, tender and trolly cars. This does away with the hard flange grinding and makes a wonderful difference, eliminating the wheel drag due to different radii of the rails. (You might have some fun if you tried this on the loco dirvers too (chuckle).