Choosing A Loco
The North American Live Steamer, Volume 1 Number 7, 1956
Since the hobby of Live-Steam railroading seems to be growing by ties and rails there are a great number of men, who by virtue of their newness to the steam locomotive, are to be classed as beginners. This is no evil thing; for even the most experienced were once green. As in the building of the first engine there seems to be a great interest in the construction of small locomotives; and at first we must put a class distinction on just what is a small locomotive. I would say that anything that is not a 0-4-0 would be immediately out of this class; and upon further reasoning there are a great many 0-4-0's that are not small. It seems to be the item limiting the size classification of an engine is the great area. So simply to take a number let us say that a small locomotive is an engine having a disadvantages of small locomotives; and also what might be a disadvantage at the start may improve the age. The age of the engineer, not the locomotive.
I think the biggest advantage of the small locomotive is the portability of the engine. The idea of carting around 200 pound Hudson and all the necessary equipment doesn't appeal to the fellows who are not trying for the Olympic weight lifting team. The second advantage is the easier construction, again by the virtue of size and small engine will save much time in getting out on the track. The cost of construction is the third major advantage, and this is not the least of the gains in the advantages of building small live-steam locomotives, and the continual rising prices of brass, copper and all types of ferrous metals make this an item to be considered. As far as the complication of design the larger engine is usually a greater collection of similar parts, but all engines are basically the same, you just have more pieces to make on a big locomotive. I think this will generally cover the best things contained in a small locomotive, there are others, but these are the best and most important items.
All things being a compromise the red side of the ledger items are just as important. The first and greatest disadvantages of the small engine is the difficulty in operation. Now, before someone begins to look for the shovel handle to hit me, let me explain. I am talking to those of us who are the raw beginners in the live-steam game. In any hobby or business the real expert doesn't have any great difficulty. To a new engineer the little engine with it's necessarily small grate can, and has been, an exasperating and sometimes frustrating man-defying thing. As stated before this is the key to the fire-door, the steam generating machine called the boiler.
The next disadvantage is the lack of power, and this is a real problem to consider if your track has any kind of a grade. Such things as tight rails on curves, sharp grades aren't too much of a problem with the larger engine, but with one of the midgets they become the final difference between a lot of fun, and a lot of trouble. A small TICH-sized engine is really a one-man hauler on anything but a pool-table level track, on such a track I have moved over 500 pounds, but this was done under ideal conditions. If you have the misfortune to operate on dural rail in wet weather the lack of weight becomes a huge barrier to the business of having any fun.
Of course, simply because there are disadvantages doesn't mean nothing can be done about them. The first we can, but the second is a weight compromise and you're stuck with it. Let's use a real example of a small engine, and the engine I'm most familiar with is TICH. This is just about as small as I care to go, as the cylinders are 11/16 diameter, with 1-1/8 inch stroke, but perhaps with a little careful firing and watching we can get her over the road without too much trouble. The grate is 2-1/4 by 2-1/4 inches, which comes to a little more than one inch. This doesn't give you much to go on. The margin of error is extremely small, and to get real success in firing this type of engine is the using of the correct type and size of coal; and the constant use of the shovel. From my own experience, I would say the correct size is just about the size of your thumnail, and with not too large a thumb. In fact, the lumps should to easily through the fire-door, and as it is small, this isn't easy.
From watching most of the larger locomotives being run, the usual firing technique is to "fill 'er up" and there it is. In the small engine, the exact opposite is the thing, insofar as you simply do not have much to fill up, and this means the constant use of the shove. L.B.S.C.'s advice on the "firing when she pops" is particularly true, as the popping indicates the fire is at its peak and will begin to die unless more fuel is added. I have found, by experience, running on Alva Trook's 1200 foot track at Lafayette, Indiana, it is necessary for me to fire about four times to keep a full 80 pounds on the clock. About half of this coal is consumed on the down-grade with the blower on, but these midgets only run well when you work them hard. Steam is sometimes difficult to keep when the engine is drifting.
I have listed the correct type and size of coal as being important to the ease of operation, and almost everyone has his own special witch's brew; and mine makes no claim to being the best, although it has worked well for me in a small engine. The use of Welsh Coal is almost a necessity, but this in itself is not enough. I have found that because a small engine will almost always be worked hard, the pulling of cinders through the tubes to the smokebox is inevitable, and at first there doesn't seem to be much that one can do about it, except, and somehow there always seems to be a way out. Without too much of a scientific explanation, the addition of soft coal to the Welsch will, to a great extent, prevent this, simply by making use of the fact that soft coal will contain impurities to keep the cinders from being carried to the smokebox and choking off the tubes.
Of course, the selection of the soft coal is fairly particular, as care must be taken to make sure you get one with a high fusion point so as to make the formation of clinkers less likely. This is something you can determine by talking to you local coal dealer (as I did) and getting the correct information as to the exact fusion point of his supply of coal. The temperature in the fire is over 2000 F., so get the coal with the highest possible fusion point. The best mixture I have found is about 3 parts Welsch to 1 part of soft coal. The stoppage of tubes is far more serious than the sooting you will get from the use of this small amount of soft coal. The term "fusion point" simply means the temperature at which the impurities in the coal will fuse into clinkers. This filling up the smokebox with cinders is due to the fact that a really small engine is always working hard even under the best conditions and the heavy exhaust blast has a tendency to suck the small coal particles through the tubes and into the smokebox. Do not misunderstand me, the addition of soft coal will not completely stop this, but it will increase the operating time between smokebox cleanouts (while running) about three times.
Aside from the fact the firing of the midget firebox requires constant attention, the water level in the little engine's boiler must be watched and held to the best steaming level for the production of the much needed steam to supply those hard-worked cylinders. I have found as long as I can keep the water in sight "TICH" will steam well. IN the matter of comparison with the 4-=6-4 Hudson the loss of one-half inch of water in the glass is not a particularly serious matter. The level is still a long way from the crown-sheet, but in the pint-sized boiler the loss of one-half inch of water means the water has disappeared from the glass and no one can tell just how far down the water has dropped in the bottom of an already empty glass. I think the biggest difficulty in this is the fact that real beginners simply don't know just what they are looking for in a water glass, and it is a bit hard to see the level with the little engine bouncing over road coupled with the up and down movement of water in a 3/16 inch diameter glass. One of the two extremes will usually exist, too much or too little. I, personally, like the appearance of small diameter glasses and their neater appearing fittings, but the advantage of a large glass, true a great deal out of scale, but holding a more constant level of water, is my advice to the new builder and engineer. The scale appearance of back head fittings on small engines shouldn't be adhered to anyway, because the first thing is to get the engine to run well.
It is a good thing for a beginner to fire the engine up on the bench several times before taking her out on the track. The operation will help considerably in the matter of firing and taking some of the bugs out that you are going to find. IN the first few times on the track this firing and running of a steam locomotive will be so new it is a good thing not to have too many new things at once. You can get a good idea of your engine's steam-generating qualities without having so many other distractions.
In summing the situation, the case for the really small locomotive is a good one, and even having passed the beginner stage (I think) I intend to build and operate them. I have under construction an Atlantic which is not a small engine. The small engine will definitely be the most difficult to operate, but if the other factors mentioned are the most important, then start your small engine. If advice is wanted, I would suggest a medium-small engine such as JULIET for the first locomotive. Here again is a problem, the limited availability of American designs in little engines. Most Americans usually want and end up with the biggest of everything, but when you have to carry it---and there we go again. The really pint-sized locomotive such as a TICH, or any engine with a bore less than one inch is a bit more of a running problem, and form observations and experience the JULIET will handle more tonnage than you will care to make cars for; plus the ability to make enough speed to satisfy the most speedy engineer. If the design is a little too British for you, it is possible to alter the shape of the cab, side-tanks and stack to Americanize it a little. At any rate---try the small engine, and I'm sure you'll not be sorry.
- R. W. Maynard
- 3831 Virginia Court
- Cincinnati 11, Ohio