Is the large price difference in locomotives ($400-$5,000+)
because of a difference in quality?
Most (if not all) small-scale-live-steam locomotives
produced today are built to a high standard. The difference in price comes
primarily from the complexity of the model locomotive. Entry-level 0-4-0
locomotives, for instance, which are often freelance models without a lot of
detail or features, cost the least. A large engine that is an accurate scale
model, with a wealth of detail and a number of features (including
correct-scale valve gear, a tender pump, etc.), will be at the top end of the
My new live steamer sprays water up the stack and is
difficult to move at the start of run. Is this normal?
Yes. At the start of run, when steam first enters the cold
cylinders, it immediately condenses into water. With the cylinders full of water instead of steam, the locomotive
won’t move. Once the cylinders are warmed up, the steam does not condense and the
locomotive moves normally. Full-size locomotives, as well as some more
sophisticated models, have cylinder drain cocks that allow the water to be drained
from the cylinders until they are warm. With most little live steamers, you
must gently move the locomotive back and forth along the track for a few feet to force the water from the cylinders.
Ifound that buying the small lighter-refill butane canisters
for my gas-fired locomotive is very expensive. Is there a more economical
Butane can be purchased in larger canisters at significantly
lower prices from a number of other sources. These are sold in camping/outdoor
supply stores as a fuel for certain types of cooking stoves. The canisters have
a screw thread for use with the stoves, so an adapter must be used to fill the
locomotive’s gas tank. Adapters are readily obtainable from
small-scale-live-steam suppliers. Also, one locomotive manufacturer, Roundhouse
Engineering, produces them.
What is the best fuel for small-scale live steamer—gas,
alcohol, or coal?
One fuel is not better than another, as each has merits and
drawbacks. I like to think of them in terms of the order of complexity. Butane
gas is the fuel that the most locomotives use today. It is perhaps the easiest
to use and is ideally suited for beginners. Alcohol (usually denatured ethyl
alcohol) requires a bit more skill, as the wicks must be set up and maintained
well so that they produce a proper flame. Alcohol, unlike gas, burns silently.
Unfortunately, an alcohol flame is almost impossible to see in bright sunlight.
Coal is the most prototypically accurate fuel for a live-steam locomotive, but
it is the most complicated to use. Certain skills must be learned to produce a
good, even-burning coal fire. Also, a fair amount of interaction from the
operator is required during a run, as the fire must be stoked with coal every
10 minutes or so. And, of course, the ashpan and smokebox must been emptied of
cinders, and the fire tubes cleaned with a brush at the end of each run.