Do you have a live-steam log book?

Keep track of locomotives, runs, make notes, and more
A collection of the author’s steam log books, documenting years of small-scale-steam operation in the garden.
Jeff Young
Steam-era railroading was a paper-intensive exercise. I recall reading an article entitled “A Railroad Runs on Paper” from a 1940s magazine about that very subject. Train orders, wheel reports, and locomotive-maintenance records were a part of everyday operations.

I am not a fan of paperwork (perhaps something to do with spending a good portion of my working life in government) but it does have a useful place in the live-steam hobby. There is one item of paperwork that I do favor, and that is the steam log book.

A steam log book contains a record of the performance of your live-steam locomotives every time you run them. This can provide a wealth of information on how well a particular locomotive is operating. It can also provide entertaining reading to look at your log over the years and be reminded of wonderful steam runs in the past.

A number of items can be recorded in a steam log book, much of which comes down to a matter of personal taste and interests. These items can include the locomotive’s name or number, the date, train (or number of cars) hauled, ambient temperature, weather conditions (rain, wind, etc.), duration of the run, quantity of water and fuel consumed during the run, and any problems encountered.

The log book can also be used to note particular items with respect to the maintenance of a particular engine. My steam log book is full of comments such as “safety valve adjusted,” “radio receiver batteries replaced,” “reverser-linkage nut tightened,” and so forth. I also note maintenance items that I must later attend to, such as “replace cylinder-gland packing” or “clean partially blocked gas jet.”

Entries can be as simple or as elaborate as you desire. The more information you record, the more valuable (and interesting) the log becomes. You can see how much a particular engine has been run, how its performance has changed since it was new, and it may provide an indication of when maintenance is due. At a minimum, I would recommend recording the locomotive, date, train hauled, and any special notes or observations on performance. One friend of mine in the UK takes the steam log a bit further, keeping a record of not only his locomotive runs, but all visiting live steamers that run on his garden railway.

Any sturdy, pocket-size notebook will do for a steam log book. I favor those with waterproof paper, as I tend to run my locomotives on outdoor railways. As there always seems to be water and oil in the steamup area, it’s a logical choice. I found weather-resistant notebooks used by surveyors to be a good choice. They are roughly 4" x 7" and tuck nicely into a jacket pocket or my steam tool kit. These can be found at drafting-supply houses or college bookstores that have civil-engineering or surveying courses. Another alternative is notebooks with waterproof paper, stocked by camping-supply stores. In this day and age, I suspect a few folks may even favor electronic media over paper, recording their log on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

It takes little time to update the steam log book after a run. Typically, I update the log between the time the run ends and when I do post-run maintenance and servicing, while the engine cools down.


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