Steaming Along with Victor Shattock
Boomer Pete Finds That Live Steam Can Run a Model Railroad After All
By Boomer Pete, Model Railroader, January 1939
Photos by Lloyd Combs
All good model railroaders have been brought up to believe that live steam and model railroading are two separate and distinct hobbies. But I've just found out that this is not always the case. I put in an evening last month as brakeman on a pike that really ran trains, did switching, included scenery in the layout, and was in every other way a true model railroad--but the motive power was honest to gosh steam. What a thrill it was to see the hogs push a white feather out of the cylinder cocks and with a rhythmic "whoosh-whoosh" walk away with 15 or 20 cars!
Now understand, the difference between live steamers and model railroaders is not that working steam locomotives do not run or cannot pull loads. Any visitor to a live steam meet can tell plenty about the 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch scale locos that pull men around the outdoor track, responding instantly to each touch at the throttle or Johnson bar. But that isn't model railroading, which we always consider as the hobby of reproducing a complete railroad system or portion of a system in miniature and to scale. The live steamers, to me at least, always seemed out of the question for any type of layout work, and the men who build live steamers are usually not interested in more than the immediate loco and that as an engineering project.
So when I went to Victor Shattock's house at 1877 38th Ave., Oakland, Calif., I expected to see more live steam locomotives, a fairly complete machine shop used in making them, and a little track on which they could be tried out. What I did see was this and a lot more, all of which surprised me plenty and provided one of the most fascinating and unusual model railroad evenings I've had in a long time.
First thing I saw while going down the stairs was a main line of 2-1/2 inch gauge track apparently circling the entire basement. The total right of way was 30 x 45 ft., and the main line oval took up this entire space. Along one 45 ft. side was three-track section and a number of spur tracks into each corner, making a quite workable yards which could be switched from the center. It was not a large layout, as can be seen by reducing it to 15 x 22 ft. O gauge, but the simple track arrangement and wide curves made it very practical. I was to find out later that the entire railroad was very practical, more so than electric drive fans would think.
Back of the furnace was the roundhouse, as real a roundhouse as ever graced a model layout. It was fitted with turntable and several tracks out in the open, including one apparently used for fueling and watering the engines. Shattock lost no time in getting a stick with hook on the end (much like the grocery clerk uses to pull your breakfast food off the high shelves) and using it to pull a brisk looking Southern Pacific 4-6-2 out of a stall and onto a turntable.
At snap of a switch the turntable motor started to buzz and the table very slowly and sedately started to meander around to the fuel track. The engine was pushed off under the water spout, and it pushed easily too, with no sliding of wheels as with our worm drive small gaugers. There was only a gentle whooshing of the exhaust as the locomotive rolled along the track.
Up beyond the water plug I noticed an odd looking fixture consisting mostly of small rain spout pipe running over to the chimney. I found this was an exhaust pipe mounted with an electric fan so as to exhaust smoke and gasses while the loco was steaming up. The boiler was filled with hot water, to lessen the time for raising steam, and the alcohol burner was lighted. Shattock uses alcohol burners of his own design in all his locos. The fuel is converted into gas in the burner and burns without any odor or harmful smoke, thus making it ideal for indoor operation unlike the coal and oil used by most live steamers. But while the burner is heating there is some gas, and that's the reason for the exhaust arrangement.
Enough steam was soon raised to move the engine by itself, and after three toos of the whistle it backed off the service track onto the turntable and was turned to the outbound track. Two more toots and it eased over to the main line, backed across a crossover and a double slip switch (all complete with scale switch stands and other detail), and ran forward down into the stub tracks in the corner of the room where some freight cars were parked. All this sounds as if the engine were as easily controlled as if by electric power from a control board, and it looked every bit as easy, too. The throttle lever extended just the least bit out of the open ventilation hatch in the cab roof. The Johnson bar (or reverse lever to the uninitiated) was handily inside the right hand cab window. And the loco moved so smoothly and slowly that it was simple to keep up with it and work the controls--just as simple as riding the cab and doing it from inside.
By this time steam was almost up to popping point and the switch crew went to work with a vim to make up a hot shot through freight. Half a dozen cars were pulled out of one corner of the room, left on the middle track of the three-track line, and the engine then went to work on the cars stored in the other corner. Gradually the train took form, box cars, flags, gons, all to the kind of detail that can only be had in 1/2 inch scale or larger. Finally a 60 ft. suburban coach and a caboose were tacked on the rear end, the suburban coach being for the comfort of a visiting delegation of model rails. (Perhaps I shouldn't let the cat out of the bag, but this was the line's only coach. Being a model railroader yourself you'll understand.) All cars use full working automatic couplers and they work out quite a bit better than in O gauge. The increased size allows just enough more latitude in the parts so that on every coupling the pin drops and holds.
The skipper, Mr. Shattock's son Jim, checked his waybills and found he had 18 loads of freight and the coach full of brass hatted deadheads. Everything was O.K., the train was on the main stem just outside the yards, so he waved a highball to the engineer, who was Mr. Shattock's other son, Ron. "Toot, toot," came the acknowledgement from the front end, there was a gentle oozing of steam and whoosh-whooshing of the exhaust, and without fuss the train took up slack and started to move. Out of the yards it went and banked into the 15 ft. curve leading around into the single track tunnel shown on our front cover.
The sound effects of live steam in 1/2 inch scale are remarkable. There's no grind of gears, no excessive baseboard or car noise. The locomotive sounds like a steam engine and it ever smells of oil and steam. The whistle beep-beeps a little too shrilly, but it's none the less a real steam whistle which can give the short staccato notes of the various signals used in train maneuvers.
With one train out on the road I turned my attention to the roundhouse, and found there were several other engines in it. One was a fine looking SP Mikado that was all finished except for the paint job. It was a much traveled Mike for all its newness. A month or so before it had gone to New York for the Hobby Lobby, and had then been displayed in the SP's New York ticket office. Mr. Shattock told how he took the engine right along with him as baggage rather than ship it, and how between trains in Chicago a red cap did drop it, but it was packed so well that no harm was done. A New York Central Hudson built by Walter Brown, another member of the live steam club, was on one of the outside tracks. Over in the back shop was an SP six-wheeled goat getting a new frame and another Mike, chassis finished and boiler under construction. The goat was Shattock's and the Mike belong to Budge Garbett, genial secretary of the group.
The shop included a homemade lathe on which the earlier work had been done and an Atlas 6" modelmakers' lathe, which was a recent acquisition. A lathe is No. 1 tool with the live steamer, and incidentally is a mighty handy tool in any model railroader's shop. It should be purchased even ahead of a drill press, for after all it can be used for drilling as well as machining operations.
The 20-car train was still romping around the main line, engineman Ron following it on a pathway just inside the loop. We decided to check its speed, and computed the main line length as almost exactly one-half scale mile. The train was running over it in 35 seconds or about 50 scale m.p.h., and it looked just right. After a little more switching in the yards we made up a 10-car all box car train, ran that a while, and then sent out a special with only the coach full of visitors. To give them a ride for their money Ron really opened up to 90 scale m.p.h. Somehow on the live steam road the scale speeds seem more in keeping with appearances. Many an O gauger runs trains 100 or 150 m.p.h. and still thinks they go too slow. But not here. That 90 m.p.h. really did seem fast.
Finally we tucked all the cars back into the yards, ran the loco back into the roundhouse, and called it an evening. I went away from there with my nostrils still seeped in steam and my mind whirring and an entirely new conception of live steaming.