Models help keep steam engine interest alive

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steam engine

Well, steam nuts, your engines ought to be drained, dried out and put in the shed by the time you read this.

Most clubs are planning for 2017 and getting their advertising copy to the magazines, especially if they have an early season show. The boiler repair shops are busy and we have a Russell engine boiler there waiting its turn for the torch and some new metal.

Shrinking hobby

As I read through the three magazines I get regularly, I see more and more references to model engines, and I think I can say without much argument that their size is the primary factor making them popular.

Full-size traction engines are a problem to haul, requiring a low boy trailer truck, and the bigger ones need a permit to be legal in most places. And this all costs money.

A half or quarter size scale engine that can be hauled in a heavy pickup truck or on a trailer behind one, takes a lot of the pain and expense out of the hauling situation.

In addition, a new boiler simplifies inspection procedures and eliminates potential repair costs.

Still functional

Of course, the amount of power we get from a model engine has to be less, but not really to a crippling degree.

One of the nicest engines I’ve seen is a half scale of a 110 Case traction engine and it definitely is big enough to do most of the jobs at a show. If it is to scale, it would have a 6-inch bore and stroke and with a new boiler with 150 pounds of steam, it would put out considerable horsepower, certainly enough to run a baler or smaller thresher, most shingle mills and a scale model sawmill.

Among the most popular activities at most shows is parading, and even a quarter scale of a 16 horse traction engine will pull the operator on a wagon behind it. In fact the last time I was at the Mount Pleasant, Iowa, show, an operator of a quarter scale Case hooked on to a chain and pulled a full-size traction engine with it. On level ground, of course.

There were some 25 scale model traction engines there in a group, a welcome addition to any show.

Case copies

Many such models are of Case engines because Case allowed a set of blueprints to be copied and circulated, and some ambitious men who like mechanical drawing scaled them down. For that reason, drawings are available for their engines in one-, two -, and three-inch scale, which is one quarter size, and six-inch scale, which is half size.

There may be other scales available, but the mathematics would be a lot tougher.

We are left wondering how many of these scale engines have been built. I also wonder when the first drawings were done. If someone knows, maybe they will let us know.

Room for error

In addition to the drawings, a couple companies are advertising sets of castings for sale and I hear they are quite well done, in some cases.

Pattern making and molding are needed, of course, and that is another big job and a possibility for error.

My machinist buddy, Tom Jones, has made a couple stationary gas engines this way and has assured me that he had to be careful with measurements since the different parts of the drawings did not match.

Other models?

Another experience I had many years ago was with the late Lyle Hoffmaster from Bucyrus, Ohio. He was a strong Reeves man and had patterns for, I think, quarter scale parts. I don’t know if he made them or bought them, but his molder let the cores for the valve passages float and the beautiful castings I saw in his junk pile were quite worthless.

I have seen a couple scale Russell engines, but they are not nearly so common.

When I was working on my book I corresponded with a young lady from Manitoba, If I recall correctly. She had made patterns and from those, castings and did the machining and built the engine. Half Scale I think.

Now I am wondering what other makes of engines have been modeled.? I have seen some British models, Burrell’s, I think, but I don’t think when I was over there in the early ’70s.

The show notes in Steaming magazine are listing the numbers of models now and it is quite interesting to read.

Building full-size engines

Back in the early 1970s, some men over there decided it would be nice to build some new full-size traction engines. They chose a real oldie of a design by Savage Bros. of Kings Lynn, if I recall correctly. I remember at the time seeing the ads in the American magazines but I don’t think any were imported.

Apparently Savage Bros. cooperated by giving them the specs and they did complete two traction engines and a center engine, according to the Traction Engine Register.

A center engine is the power unit for a Merry-Go- Round, so called because it is built in the center of the ride. I think they call the whole thing a Roundabout. All three are dated 1975.

Rather expensive project I imagine and that is probably why not more were made. The company that did the job was called Belmec-International LTD which I presume was an engineering company.

I recently got an email message from one of my steam buddies asking if I had seen the new Traction engine. I had seen it on the shop floor at JS Boiler works up in Middlefield, Ohio. It is not a scale model, but a full size replica of a six horsepower Advance engine.

I’m not sure where they got their specs. That is, was it on paper from Battle Creek records or from an actual engine they duplicated piece by piece. Somebody is doing some first class molding work, with spokes cast into the rear wheel rims and cleats on the outer surface.

I’m not sure what pressure they carry, but an article I saw claimed it made over 40 horsepower on a prony brake. A prony brake cannot lie since it is working on the actual mechanical parts of the machine. The old-time descriptions of horsepower were mostly for advertising purposes and often bore little to no relationship to reality of power output.

Thank goodness for such as these and the new boilers being built. With a little care, someone will have a nice engine to play with for many years to come.

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