Category Archives: Steam Ups

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!

Fired Up! with Jeff Young

My friend Jeff Young is well known in the live steam community and he writes the live steam column for one of the major hobby magazines devoted to railroading in the garden.

So I’m thrilled that he and I have been able to work together on Fired Up! – a new series on TrainMasters TV that explores the world of live steam. Fired Up! covers choosing, setting up, running and servicing garden scale live steam locomotives. It’s aimed at those new to live steaming, but I hope even experienced water boilers will enjoy it.

Here’s a preview for the first episode, which will be available for viewing this weekend:

We’re doing six episodes this season – and if it’s well received we have the outlines of six more for season two. And of course if it’s really well received we’ll create additional seasons.

Yes – there’s a reason for the spinning barbecue in the opening credits. To find out more, you’ll need to watch the series – and to do that, you’ll need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV. But here’s the good news: membership is quite reasonable and you’ll be able to watch a whole lot of excellent hobby-related content, created and presented with top-quality production values.

Think of TrainMasters TV as an all-singing, all-dancing glossy magazine about railway modelling, and you’ll be surprised at how affordable it is.

Enjoy if you watch – and happy steaming!

UPDATE: The full first episode is now available for viewing.

Water Boilers display track

Doors Open 2008 - Display Track

I’m an occasional member of the Wednesday Night Water Boilers – a talented group of live steam enthusiasts who, as the name suggests, gather on Wednesday evenings to run trains on their garden railways. As the photo below above, the group also has a portable display track, which they can set up at exhibitions.

This picture was taken in the event hall at Steam Whistle Brewing, which is located in the historic John Street Roundhouse. The above photo was shot during one of the many appearance by the Water Boilers as part of the annual Doors Open Toronto event.

The great thing about doing this type of event is that most of the visiting public are not members of the model railway community. As such, the demographic range is much broader and – frankly – I find that the interest level on the part of the public is much greater and more respectful than that of people who have found their niche in the hobby and are simply not that interested in what happens beyond their chosen scale/gauge/prototype and so on. The questions asked tend to be very insightful – the nit-picking is non-existent – and everybody has a good time.

Live steam is particularly popular with the public at large:

Doors Open 2010 - Display Track
(That’s me in the blue shirt, explaining something about my Accucraft Garratt to visitors at Doors Open Toronto 2010, as Water Boilers Jeff Young (left), Peter Foley (seated) and Bill Shipp (right) look dubious)

Doors Open 2008 - Display Track

(Jeff Young adds water to his coal-fired locomotive “SWMBO” as visitors and other exhibitors watch closely during Doors Open Toronto 2008)

While this track is used primarily for exhibitions, I think such a track would be an ideal home track for someone, like me, who has a small garden in the downtown of a major city. It could be set up for a few days at a time when the forecast called for a stretch of nice weather, then stored safely in the garage to allow the garden to be put to other uses.

I hope, some day, to build such a track – especially since I find it increasingly difficult to get to Water Boiler events so my locomotives and rolling stock tend to slumber away in their storage boxes. Maybe I’ll get one built in time for the 2015 steaming season…

Summer interlude on the Isle of Man

Isle of Man Indian Red photo Peveril-01.jpg

Yesterday, my wife Mairi MacDonald and I visited friends Jeff Young and Dawn Brightwell for a barbecue, some ball tossing with our border collies…
Twist and shout photo Gotcha-Reunion2011.jpg

... and his bottom's made of springs photo Jack-Reunion2011.jpg

… and a chance to run some live steam trains on the beautiful garden railway that Jeff and Dawn have in their backyard. For me, it was an extra special day because it was the first time my wife had seen garden steam trains in action… and the first run for my latest live steam locomotive acquisition – a 1:20.3 scale model of the Isle of Man Peveril, from Accucraft.

Here are some photos from Peveril’s first two runs, pulling a rake of Accucraft’s IoM “Pairs” carriages:
Return trip photo Peveril-02.jpg

On time for Douglas photo Peveril-03.jpg

Peveril at the corner photo Peveril-04.jpg

Accucraft has done a beautiful job on this locomotive – it’s well detailed, wonderfully painted and lined, and very easy to steam. It came up to working pressure surprisingly quickly, has a lovely chuff and ran forever on a modest amount of fuel and water. Well done!

Pictures do not convey the charm of garden scale live steam… so click on the image below for a selection of video from yesterday’s fun:
Peveril-VideoHeader photo Peveril-VideoHeader_zps2f315292.jpg

Thanks again, Jeff and Dawn!