Willis Light Engineering
Willis Light Engineering of Perth, Austrialia, was founded by Ian Willis. They designed and/or manufactured several narrow gauge live steam locomotives, including the RMI "Sweet Creek" (Dulce), Stuart No 9, and Sarah.
- Keith Watson was born in the UK and migrated to Australia as a young man. He is very passionate about live steam and narrow gauge locomotives in particular. Being British he was influenced by LBSC and his design principals derive from this. After building a couple of smaller 3-1/2 inch gauge locomotives he built two small narrow gauge 7-1/4 inch gauge live steamers. After seeing Roger Marsh’s large scale ride in 7-1/4 inch gauge locomotive “Tinkerbell” on a visit to the UK he returned to Australia and built a similar locomotive.
- The philosophy behind these large scale models was to recreate the experience of riding in a locomotive, rather than build a fine scale model of a particular prototype. Keith went on to build similar 7-1/4 inch gauge locomotives but of American outline in appearance. He was particularly influenced by two foot gauge locomotives exported to Australia and Hawaii.
- Keith’s designs carried over some British practice such as non equalized suspension and mounting cylinders and other parts off the frames rather than the boiler. He also became an advocate of the Briggs dry firebox boiler design after some Australian state government authorities restricted the operation of model boilers and he helped a volunteer group write an acceptable boiler code around the Briggs type.
- At some point Keith began selling plans and drawings of his locomotives, particularly his Stuart No 9 and one of his smaller locomotives based on a German prototype under the name “WATO”. Later he added a smaller 2-4-0 locomotive name Lil Lima. Keith developed his designs to be easy and quick to build in a home shop.
- Ian Willis a fellow live steamer with an entrepreneurial spirit, while still in his teens set up a company, Willis Light Engineering (if he had known how his business was going to develop he would have dropped the “Light” from the name). Ian began building Keith’s designs and selling them through WATO.
- As Ian’s engineering business built up he continued to build locomotives as a fill in job between industrial projects and evolved the design to suit batch manufacturing to the point where Keith agreed Willis locomotives were no longer WATO designs and Willis could market them independently. Willis continued to buy WATO castings but paid no royalties on the design. Willis built his locomotives to be suitable for commercial operation. Heavy operation is typical of Australian clubs where a less litigious insurance industry allows this and clubs are able to build on public lands in return for giving public rides.
- Sweet Creek was built as a chassis on air by Willis but sold by WATO to its owner. My guess is that the Sweet Creek design is a stretched Stuart No9 and not a model of a particular prototype. But this is no different from the way Baldwin designed locomotives and they sold so many I am sure you could find a near match if you looked.
- Willis also built a stretched Stuart No9 2-6-4 tank engine (named “Sarah”) for himself on a similar chassis to Sweet Creek. This locomotive is now in New England. Willis went on to build a number of 2-6-0 tender locomotives of this size as well as the smaller La Quintas.
- The La Quinta design is basically a stretched Lil Lima but has no common parts with the WATO design except for the castings.
- I do not know if Willis still builds locomotives. Ian became involved operating full size railroads and Willis Light Engineering went on to perform heavy industrial work for the mining industry.