Meg Steam Inc
MEG STEAM – THE REAL STORY!
A "from the horse’s-mouth" account hopefully clearing up questions and misconceptions on the web about this company and its products.
by Tony Hubner, Vancouver Island Model Engineers
It all started in the mid nineteen seventies with the workshop. My father, a retired machinist of the old school, built a modest house on top of a generous shop space. The house was on 11 acres of secluded woodland, shared with my family in our own separate house, a five-minute walk away. Dad built shelves, a solid bench with drawers, big and smaller vices and bench grinder as well as a fine collection of hand tools.
Some years later he and I went halves on a fine navy surplus 15 inch lathe with many accessories including a set of collets from 1/16 to 1 inch and a built-in taper turning attachment. This was wired in with a 220 volt service. The dealer who provided the lathe also sold us a bench-top drill press. Among Dad’s tools were a “buzz box” arc welder and an oxy-acetylene set. We were well equipped for loco building.
Papa was not a steam buff as such, but he and I collaborated on a pair of smaller engines, which was my chief education in metal working.
My father died in 1996, in his 94th year.
About a year and a half later, our son Dougal found himself between jobs, and in discussion with us and Wendy, his ever-supportive wife, made the plunge into full-time locomotive building. It was on the 90 minute ferry trip between Vancouver Island and Vancouver with Margaret (Meg, my ever-supportive wife and his mother) that the locomotive “Wendy” was conceived. Not sure it wasn’t on a coffee shop napkin …
The idea was a 7-1/2 inch narrow gauge 0-4-0 reduced to simplest terms within the bounds of good taste, we settled on an English industrial shunter (switcher) appearance as these were the best for bottom-line simplicity: plate frames, sketchy cab, no sand dome etc. Among the genuine innovations was a two-wheeled riding “sulky” as tender. The nominal scale was 4 inch to the foot, 7 inch drive wheels, 2 X 3½ inch bore and stroke. Hackworth valve gear, three-point suspension using a cross-equalizer on the lead axle, with neoprene blocks as shock absorbers instead of springs.
The only reservation about the design was the choice of a stay-free cylindrical fire box in keeping with the principle of simplicity – how would this steam? This practice was extensively used on almost all the little engines produced by the Bagnall Company, with notable success. The first engine, the prototype “Wendy” was to be coal-fired.
The process was that I would produce detail drawings to full size on squared paper as needed which were then fabricated in metal as the engine grew. While this was going on Dougal got an inexpensive drafting program for his new computer and set about finished working drawings. Looking over a set today I marvel at the quality of these documents – I spent most of my earning life at the drawing board so I know whereof I speak!
My other contribution at this time was the production of patterns for cylinders and slide valves, cast iron being chosen as the best material for these components. The local foundry at that time was geared to the production of man hole covers and were only just able to manage a cylindrical core. No fancy cored-in steamways for us! Having said that, the quality of castings was good, free machining without blowholes.
During the first Wendy’s construction we had no milling machine, the cylinders were fully machined on the lathe. The ports were done with a milling cutter in the chuck, the cylinder bolted to the compound rest on a series of spacers which were juggled as needed to produce accurately spaced ports.
Air tests on the rolling chassis proved the valve gear a success. The boiler was designed following the British Columbia code with an approved working pressure of 100 pounds PSI. Blueprints were turned over to a long-established metal fabricating shop who gave us a fine example of the welders’ art, tested to twice working pressure, which was accepted by our local club, an important consideration for final testing.
Having dealt with all those fiddly little things that make for impatience to see success, the engine was rolled on to Dougal’s pickup for the long-awaited trip to the track. Once on the rails, the fire lit and the wait for steam began. Our friend Bob Walker showed up with his video camera to record the event as did my own Margaret and Dougal’s Wendy. After the first wisps of steam, the blower was turned on which soon had enough pressure to try the injectors. The first Wendy’s boiler feed was simply a pair of injectors, both of which worked well.
Dougal climbed aboard and with the camera rolling declared “An historic occasion,” blew two short blasts on the whistle, opened the throttle and was off!
The run went very well, but did turn up two shortcomings: she wouldn’t notch up worth a darn and the coal fire tended to die at the fire-door end. We all had rides, I got to drive, and with swelling hearts the fire was cleaned, the boiler blown down and we returned to the shop.
Analysis showed a small error in the valve gear: the position of the pins on the vertical lever off the return crank were not correct when at dead centers. New levers were soon produced and gave near perfect valve events at all positions of the reversing arm. Astonishing (to me) was what a profound difference the error of less than 1/8 inch made! With the new arrangement, the reverse lever can be moved to one notch off center as soon as the train is moving, and this with a train of 30 or so folks behind the engine.
As for the fire, with the marine-style firebox the rush of air coming through the smile-shaped space under the grate just went straight to the front of the grate, missing the back completely. A short length of angle forming a baffle midway across the underside of the grate gave us a nice even fire at the next steaming.
Thus was the launch of Meg Steam. A company was inaugurated, ads were run and customers appeared. Locomotive Wendy accompanied us to a lovely meet at Sacramento, where much interest was generated and fun was had.
A truly American version was called for, so out came the squared paper. We hoped no one would notice the plate frames and Hackworth gear. If they did, they haven’t mentioned it … not to us, at least!
Domes … she’ll need domes… a sand one, if we put the steam dome back a bit and house it in a generous American style cab a la Porter. Add to that a Porter-ish gothic-arched saddle tank and she’ll pass! As for the bell, Dougal found a reasonably-priced brass bell at a marine supply just the right size, I buckled down to pattern making for dome base and caps as well as a bell harp, and we’re in business. To finish the stack we added an appropriately shaped sheet metal funnel top with cinder strainer.
With a prototype “Uncle Sam” on board we attended a model engineering show in Eugene, Oregon where our engine gained favorable attention, and we learned a lot ourselves about the scope of this great hobby.
Orders came in, for plans, casting, bolt-togethers as well as the odd complete engine, and friends were made. While this went on developments and improvements came along: crosshead driven feed pumps, a very good propane burner to Dougal’s design and vacuum brakes among others. For me the best feature of a Meg Steam locomotive is driver comfort. One can sit upright on a soft cushion with a clear view of the road ahead, the controls falling readily to hand.
One thing we were not very good at was record keeping. We think there were a total of 14 or so engines built and running, with many more sets of plans and castings out the door. Sadly as an income generator the project as set up was not feasible, so a choice was made to wind things up. It was either that or take a more corporate path and become administrators running a company removed from the day-today hands-on we like.
Dougal and I remain true-blue steamers and active Model Engineers, but stay right out of anything that smells like commerce. We’re both presently very involved with smaller-scale steamers with me sometimes straying into marine and steam automobile projects
Regrets? Speaking personally, It was a great ride, at times quite stressful (especially for Dougal; I had a day job!) and we can certainly look back on all our satisfied customers and owners with pride. I see on the web, one of our engines was recently a restoration project! We made damn good little steam locomotives!
It only remains to salute those who bought and built our locomotives and wish them many years of satisfied steaming.
- "Cylinder Passageway Designs with Slide Valve", Chaski.org
- "Little Engines Wendy?", Chaski.org
- "MEG Wendy suspension", Chaski.org
- "Wendy suspension vs. 'normal' springing.", Chaski.org
- "MEG Wendy on Coal", Chaski.org
- "Wendy vs Ten Wheelers Drive-train", Chaski.org
- "Restoring a MEG steam Wendy", Chaski.org
- "Wendy Boiler coal firing questions", Chaski.org
- "Coal fired Wendy back head pics needed", Chaski.org
- "Drawings for MEG Steam "Wendy", Chaski.org
- "Live Steam article about MEG brand engines", Chaski.org, see also Live Steam & Outdoor Railroading May/June 2008