Category Archives: 7/8ths Estate Railway

Fixing the Decauville

The live steam community is a small one, but it’s incredibly supportive. When there’s a problem, members of the community come together to help each other fix it. This is a good example: a story about a product that didn’t live up to expectations – and what the community has been doing about it.

Decauville - delivery
(Maybe THIS year it’ll actually get to run?)

It’s been more than a year since Peter Foley and I picked up our 7/8″ Accucraft Decauville locomotives while attending a steam-up in western New York – yet due to a number of engineering issues with the models they still haven’t turned a wheel under steam.

That’s about to change, however: on Saturday, Peter and I took our beautiful – but mechanically unsound – steamers for a visit with Jeff Young.

Jeff and Peter
(Jeff and Peter in the workshop at the start of our day. Four hours later, those smiles were harder to coax out of hiding – but we had locomotives that might actually steam! Note the black rectangles in the lower left: those are the replacement gas tanks.)

Jeff has been working his connections in the live steam community since last year to secure upgraded parts to turn these shelf queens into track-worthy models. They had a number of problems as delivered from the factory, including a poor burner design and a gas jet that was too aggressive. Most challenging, the gas tank was located right next to the boiler, which meant when the boiler heated up (as they do), it would actually boil the butane in the tank. Not a good thing.

The fixes included:

– Installing a new burner. This was straightforward: a single screw holds the burner in place, so one simply removes that, swaps the burners, and replaces the screw.

– Installing a new gas jet. From the factory, the Decauville was fitted with a #5. Jeff picked up #3 and #4 jets for us. They’re a screw-in replacement.

– Removing and replacing the gas tank with a new one designed by Accucraft UK and built by Accucraft in China. This was the big project for the day.

Ex-works, the gas tank was located in the right-hand water tank. (This was not used for water, which goes directly into the boiler through a valve under the steam dome.) The new tank would go under the floor of the cab, between the frames.

While the old gas tank could’ve stayed in place, we needed to remove the body so that we could unscrew the connector on the feed line. This required finding and removing about a dozen small bolts… loosening the lubricator… disconnecting the steam pipe from both ends (throttle and cylinders, via the lubricator)… and removing the gas regulator (disguised as a brake stand). We also had to remove the throttle handle, which was in the way for drilling the floor to accept the new tank.

A variety of metric and BA tools were required. This set from Wiha came in handy, and I will pick up one at my local tool supplier:

Wiha Tool Set
(Tool collecting: the hobby within the hobby!)

With everything in pieces, we used a marking template supplied by David Mees at AbbyBach Engineering Services to locate the three holes for the new gas tank:

Template
(We labelled the template with a marker before sending it on to the next Decauville owner – as explained below.)

This is cleverly designed with two pins that line up with two screws in the cab floor. These would be drilled larger to accept the mounting bolts for the tank – one of which is hollow, and designed to mate with the connector on the as-delivered gas line.

Decauville - cab interior
(The cab interior, as delivered: Note the two screws in the floor. The original gas tank is in the near side tank: the filler valve can be seen in the shadow across the top of the tank.)

The third hole – upper right in the photo above – is the location for the gas tank filler valve. With the holes marked, we put the Decauville under the drill press and carefully created the new holes – enlarging them in three or four steps to the size we needed.

Here’s the new butane tank in place between the frames:

Decauville - butane tank

We then annealed the gas delivery pipe so that we could bend it to connect with the new tank. It’s not pretty, but it’s out of the way of fingers, and it’ll work just fine.

Decauville - piping
(The tank has two threaded rods which pass through the footplate. Two nuts secure it in place. One of the threaded rods is hollow and designed to mate with the gas delivery pipe. The shorter pipe in this photo will connect to the gas jet in the burner. Note the gas tank filler valve on the floor to the left of the far bolt. Also note the hole to the right of the near bolt: we accidentally had the template turned 180 degrees, which resulted in an extra hole in the floor. We marked the template for the next user(s), and I’ll add a bucket or other detail to cover the hole.)

The procedure took the best part of four hours, and – frankly – put our already impressive vocabulary of swear words to the test. But it’s done, and we celebrated with a late lunch on the patio at Cuchulainn’s Irish Pub.

I know that in addition to those people mentioned here, many others in the live steam community – including other Decauville owners, but also those who have no skin in this particular game – have been working over the past year or so to address the shortcomings on this model. While I can’t give them a proper shout-out here, I’d like to thank them for their help: Much appreciated!

Thank you, Jeff and Peter, for turning a daunting project into a fun day out, and turning a frustrating locomotive into something I look forward to running!

Windus
(While visiting Jeff’s workshop, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of his scratch-built “Windus”: If I’d only stuck to clockwork…)

Steam up at Tom’s

On Saturday, some friends were headed to a live steam meet about an hour outside of Buffalo, New York, and invited me along. Our host was Tom Bowdler, who has a lovely outdoor track with both 32mm and 45mm gauges represented. The weather was beautiful – sunny enough to be comfortable but with just enough chill in the air that we were comfortable in jackets. The cool air gave the locomotives lovely plumes of condensed steam, too!

My friend Jeff Young brought along “Ursula”:


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

“Ursula” is a 1/12th scale model of the 15″ gauge locomotive built by Sir Arthur Heywood in 1916 for the Duke of Westminster’s Eaton Railway in Cheshire. The model is a bespoke construction designed by Peter Angus and built by Mike Lax. It uses Roundhouse Hackworth valve gear to replicate the unusual Heywood valve gear, and runs on a single flue gas-fired boiler. A batch of three were built – one for Peter Angus, one for Jeff, and one for the fellow who owns the full-size replica Ursula.

Carl Berg ran some terrific, but unusual, live steam locomotives of his own design:


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Carl built the locomotives seen in this video using vintage Marx “Commodore Vanderbuilt” O gauge tinplate models. They’re powered by a single cylinder oscillator in the cab and a butane boiler in the tender. And as the video shows, they are pocket rockets. I’ve never seen anything faster on 32mm track: any faster and the railway right of way would need to be built with banked curves. These were a delight to watch.

Many other fine examples of the Live Steam hobby had a chance to polish the rails, either on Tom’s permanent garden railway or on his portable exhibition track, which was also set up for the occasion. Here’s a sampling:


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

In addition to several hours of running trains and socializing, the steam-up featured a gathering of three examples of the new 7/8″ scale (1:13.7) Decauville locomotives from Accucraft. These are beautiful models, although they come with bad news and good news. The bad news is, they’re poor runners as delivered. The good news is, the live steam community has been working to solve the issues and it appears there’s a fix. So, with some work, they should turn out to be lovely models that also run well, and offer modellers a perfect locomotive for a 7/8″ estate railway.

Three Decauville engines - Tom's

Decauville - Tom's

Decauville - Tom's

Decauville - Tom's

Tom was a wonderful host – I had a great time. He also has a terrific sense of humour. I was pleased to find this wonderful piece of rolling stock on display in his living room:

Hoser Car

It made me feel right at home. Thanks for hosting us, Tom!

McCarthy - Banner

We ended the day with a trip to Gene McCarthy’s – a brew-pub in the Old First Ward in Buffalo. Here, Jeff demonstrates an interesting, historical feature of our table:

McCarthy - Table

A small shelf under each corner provided space to securely stow one’s pint while playing cards. This would keep condensation on the glasses from getting the table wet (and of course prevent one from accidentally tipping a pint onto the cards or any money involved).

McCarthy - Table

Following a nice meal and a pint or two of craft brew, we headed home – and I captured this glimpse of Toronto across the lake from the tall bridge over the Welland Canal in St. Catharines:

Toronto from Garden City Skyway

Thanks to Peter Foley, Jeff Young, and Mike Walton for a grand day out: I’m looking forward to the next one!

Video of the Accucraft Decauville


(You may also view this directly on Youtube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

I’m a little late to the party on this one, as the video was published in May. But here’s some footage of the 7/8ths (1:13.7) “Decauville” live steam locomotive being produced by The Train Department and Accucraft.

I’m very excited about this one. I have several pieces of 7/8ths scale rolling stock for an estate railway, but no locomotive to pull them. My order has already been placed…

By the way, if you want to see the prototype, here’s a video of it on the Sandstone Estates in South Africa, which really illustrates just how small the prototype is:


(You may also view this directly on Youtube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Enjoy if you watch!

Thanks to The Train Department for making this project happen. I can’t wait!

Forthcoming Decauville 3-ton loco

 photo Decauville-Sandstone-2_zpss4vzrxpe.jpg

Exciting news for those, like me, who are contemplating a 7/8″ estate railway in the garden and looking for something small to pull their stock. Jason Kovac at The Train Department has teamed up with David Fletcher, with plans to bring a 7/8″ (1:13.7) scale model of a Decauville Type 1 3-ton locomotive to market.

 photo Decauville-TrainDept-01_zpspi3pnrx2.jpg
(Click on the image to visit The Train Department’s page for more information)

The model will be based on measurements and drawings of a restored locomotive at the Sandstone Estates in South Africa.

 photo decauville_bathala_sandstone_zps1meoh6hy.jpg

This butane-fired model will be available in Maroon, Green and Black. While the website doesn’t explicitly state it, the model is listed on the “Accucraft” page so it’s safe to assume that Accucraft is the builder. The model will be gauge adjustable for both 32mm and 45mm railways and at just over 8″ long and 7″ high, it’ll be perfect for puttering around an estate railway or small industrial line.

Pricing and delivery to be finalized so I won’t provide specifics on either here, other than to say “Contact Jason if you’re interested”.

Groundskeepers wagon (7/8ths)

Estate - Groundskeepers wagon - side photo Seven8ths-Groundskeepers-01_zps814f2323.jpg

I built this 7/8ths scale model of an open wagon for a freelanced estate railway. This wagon is loaded with tools and supplies for the groundskeepers on the estate. It looks like a new sculpture has arrived for down by the pond.

I built the model from an I P Engineering laser kit. The loads are various details I purchased at The Little Dollhouse Company, a local retailer that serves the dollhouse hobby.

Estate - Groundskeepers wagon - top photo Seven8ths-Groundskeepers-02_zps253cffd2.jpg

Items on board include the wading bird statue, a lawn mower, ladder and wheel barrow, shovels and rake, a Green Man, and a pair of rubber boots.

Kitchen wagon (7/8ths)

Estate - Kitchen wagon - top photo Seven8ths-Kitchen-02_zpsdfaaaa47.jpg

I built this 7/8ths scale model of an open wagon for a freelanced estate railway. This wagon is loaded with supplies for the kitchen, plus some luggage – apparently, new staff members have arrived today.

I built the model from an I P Engineering laser kit. The loads are various details I purchased at The Little Dollhouse Company, a local retailer that serves the dollhouse hobby. I particularly like the crates of produce for the kitchen, so I call this one the Kitchen wagon.

Estate - Kitchen wagon - side photo Seven8ths-Kitchen-01_zpsa59d42ef.jpg

Estate carriage (7/8ths)

Estate - Carriage photo Seven8ths-Carriage-01_zps6ee58a69.jpg

I built this 7/8ths scale model of a carriage for a freelanced estate railway. This carriage would be used to transport the family members of the household.

I built the model from an I P Engineering laser kit. I’ve added a removable roof covered with metal tape, which will be easy to clean after trips behind a live steam locomotive. I’ve also added side lights for the convenience of the family. These are powered by a 9v battery that tucks under one of the seats inside.
Seven8ths Coach Light photo Seven8th-CoachLight_zps459ca719.jpg

I have more details to add to this carriage, including handrails next to the compartment doors.

Estate carriage with guard’s compartment (7/8ths)

 photo Seven8ths-Guard-01_zpsa6c7f911.jpg

I built this 7/8ths scale model of a carriage with guard’s compartment for a freelanced estate railway. This carriage would be used to transport the “downstairs” members of the household.

I built the model from an I P Engineering laser kit. I’ve added a removable roof covered with metal tape, which will be easy to clean after trips behind a live steam locomotive. I’ve also added side lights for the convenience of passengers, and a larger coach lamp on the rear of the carriage for additional safety when running after dark. These are powered by a 9v battery that tucks under one of the seats inside, with separate on/off switches for the side and rear lamps.

I have more details to add to this carriage, including handrails next to the compartment doors.

Estate Goods Van (7/8ths)

 photo Seven8ths-Van-01_zpse2abf270.jpg

This is my in-progress 7/8ths scale model of an enclosed goods van for a freelanced estate railway train. I’m building this from an I P Engineering laser kit.

This van would be used in inclement weather to transport guests’ luggage and supplies for the household.

I have several details to add, including door handles and other hardware.

The roof is covered with metal tape. It’ll be easy to clean when pulled behind a live steam locomotive.

Estate Railway coach light

Seven8ths Coach Light photo Seven8th-CoachLight_zps459ca719.jpg

A couple of years ago, I built some 7/8th scale estate railway equipment – including the above coach from an IP Engineering laser kit. These run on 32mm gauge and look wonderful in the garden.

I thought it would be fun to add a coach light to each side of the carriages, to make it easy for guests of the estate to alight in the evening. I found suitable lights at The Little Dollhouse Company – a local store for those in the dollhouse-building hobby. A 9v battery under the seat in each coach supplies power.

(While ready for service, it has been a while since I’ve worked on these kits and I see some more detailing to do…)

As a footnote…

I hoped to acquire a Sabre Steam 7/8th Angwen locomotive to pull my estate equipment, but the company folded its tent. I’m still looking for a live steam, 7/8th, 32mm loco suitable for estate service – but I’m in no rush. Something will appear when the time is right…