The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 148


© March 6, 2010   

 ©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.


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From Zero to Steam In 124-¾ Hours
(part I)


Written by Terry D. Spahr


About thirty years ago, my two sons and I discovered something exciting! We found the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum in Griffith Park near the LA Zoo! What an exciting place for us to spend Sunday afternoons! It had operating miniature steam locomotives that burned coal and pulled cars for us to ride and had the smell that I never forgot, coal smoke! My sons loved to ride but I remembered my childhood and thought to myself, “Wow, wouldn’t it be a wonderful hobby to own and operate a live steam locomotive?”

I’m 67 years old now and six months ago I started thinking about the Los Angeles Live Steamers (LALSRM) again and my dream to own and operate a coal burning locomotive.  I joined the club and began my research on the internet looking for the types of trains, the sizes of trains, and the track gauges. I remember asking Jim O’Connor from Discover Live Steam the difference between scale, size, and gauge. He answered me with a quick email and suddenly it was clear!

I knew that I wanted a steam locomotive, but as I searched the internet there were many decisions that I was not ready to make. There were castings, partially finished projects, used equipment, and other choices. Someone at the LALSRM said that they had been working on a locomotive for 5 years and it wasn’t running yet! I had had enough projects in my life; I wanted to play with trains again! A member said to me that OS Locomotives makes a 2-6-0 Mogul that can be assembled with hand tools and a member of the club, Bob Crone, is the national sales rep for OS! I went looking for Bob the next day! Bob had a locomotive as a demonstrator from Japan and had been using it trouble-free for over 2 years! He told me that it could be assembled in about 100 hours! That’s what I wanted! So I wrote Bob a check and we placed the order!

Four weeks later, 7 boxes arrived at my shop on a pallet. Each was four feet long and 12 inches tall and wide. Each box was numbered and banded for security.  I couldn’t wait to start! I asked my neighbor, Jerry Bushrow, a retired American Airlines Captain, to help and he said he would. Of course, for all of those other projects that I had done over the years, Jerry was always there to help. So I knew from the start that he would be in!

We began on November 23, 2009 and opened the first box! Inside the first box was an instruction book full of pictures, diagrams, warnings, and a million little bags neatly marked. Each bag contained nuts, bolts, washers, gaskets, and all of the miscellaneous hardware necessary to complete the assembly of the locomotive.  There was also a stern warning to not open any box, bag, or wrapped part until told to do so in the instructions!  It was like Christmas morning every night for the next month!  I’d open the small packages, Jerry would read the instructions and look at the pictures, and then I would do the assembly per his instructions.   To make a long story even longer, on December 23rd, after 15 nights of working together and one night working alone, the project was complete! We had assembled a working steam fired locomotive in 124 ¾ hours with hand tools.
Thinking back, I can trace my interest in railroading to my childhood in rural Pennsylvania where steam trains were a part of the landscape. We had the “Pennsy” and the Reading Railroad! K-4 locomotives double heading, barking, and belching black smoke, M-1s, train stations, Enola yard, the Rockville Bridge, iron bridges over main lines, tunnels, the Horseshoe curve, railroad crossing signs, engines, cabooses, tank cars, gondolas, box cars, hopper cars, flat cars and even cattle cars could be seen everywhere!  We watched the trains go by when we traveled by car at railroad crossings and always counted the cars! Wow, that one had 40, 50, 60 cars! That was a long one! The engineers always waved and so did the conductor in the caboose! What fun they must be having riding on the train! 
Down on the farm, the railroad crossed the fields and gave us more opportunities to see trains than living in town. Often we saw double headers pulling coal trains that stretched in a child’s eyes forever! So many that we lost count!  We stood on the iron bridge on the farm and watched wide-eyed as the locomotives approached and then passed just under our feet!

Little Hank written by Alice Sankey, pictures by Ben Williams. Whitman Publishing, 1948.

Mom and Dad bought me little books and read to me daily. One that I remember specifically was called Little Hank written by Alice Sankey! It was 1948 and I was 6 years old. The railroad name I will never forget is the Weehawken, Hoboken & Troy Railroad.  It was natural for my Dad and Mom to buy me a Lionel Train for Christmas. Dad always set up a platform, simple at first, and then more complicated as years passed, so that we could play with trains. The train was set up for Christmas and then carefully put away in the correct boxes after the tree came down, ready for the next year. They are still in the family in the orange and black boxes from that first Christmas!  Every year since then, with a few exceptions during college or when traveling during the holidays, there have been Lionel, LGB, HO and even N gauge trains under the tree at our house (right).

But now I need to think of a name for the new steam locomotive.  After researching the engines of the late 1800s, when the Baldwin Locomotive Works built the real 2-6-0 Mogul, I discovered that many were named after people.  In loving memory of Mom and Dad who read to me and to Alice Sankey, who wrote over 150 children’s books, the locomotive is the A D Sankey, and the rail name is the Weehawken, Hoboken & Troy!
We took the A D Sankey to the LALSRM on the 30th of January to be certified and inspected by our club inspector. Following his inspection, we built the first fire in the boiler with coal and ran her successfully for about four hours off and on!  Everything worked perfectly, except the engineer who had to learn how to fire the boiler, add the water, and all of the other tasks necessary for “continuous running” as the instructions state. Fellow club member, Peter Bowen, got me through the first day with a few issues, but the locomotive worked perfectly!   The next day, Bob and I ran a doubleheader for six hours stopping only for lunch, coal, and water. We pulled two passenger gondolas with passengers and a caboose! What fun!

After trying a couple of different types of coal, we decided that Pocahontas #3 from Eastern West Virginia in pea size burns the best in this boiler. It is soft coal and has that never-to-be-forgotten smell when burning.  Videos of that day can be found on and you can see by the smile on my face that running the A D Sankey was just the most exciting thing that I had done in years! Bob agreed!

Mom and Dad passed away a number of years ago at the ages of 89 and 90. Author Alice Dahlberg Sankey died peacefully in her sleep on Wednesday, April 28th 2004, at the age of 94. She left behind wonderful memories for a young boy who watched and played with trains and who now plays with trains again!  Thanks, Mom and Dad! Thanks, Alice!

Continued in part II

From Zero to Steam In 124-¾ Hours (part II)

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