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© NOVEMBER  01, 2004 

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A New Challenge in Locomotive Building

The Electronic Steam Locomotive Part 1


Builder Jeff Badger runs a double header with his much modified Meg Steam “Wendy” along with the new Climax Locomotive at the Bitter Creek & Western Railway. Arroyo Grande, CA

Written by Jeff Badger          

At a local Live Steam Club meeting, a visitor with his young son were admiring the work on my locomotive, a much-modified Meg Steam “Wendy”.  During our conversation his son reached out to touch the engine and let out a shriek after making contact with the hot boiler.  I felt so sorry for the child and after comforting him and seeing that there were no burns, the father challenged me with this question: “Most children love the sights and sounds of a steam locomotive, but live steam can be dangerous for them.  Are there any steam locomotives that adults can operate with little or no experience, and children won’t get hurt?”  I explained to him that I had seen a few internal combustion and battery powered steam outline locomotives, and continued to tell him that model railroading in this large of a scale has its inherent dangers.  Yet in the past few years many parents with young children are entering this hobby without proper instruction and awareness of safety issues. 

That was in February of 2002.  I went home that night and mulled over the words and the situation that had occurred earlier in the day and decided to take on the challenge since I had no other projects lingering at that time.  I would build a steam locomotive that young and old alike could operate with little or no experience.  I set some goals for myself first though:

  1. I would not sacrifice my family or work priorities. 

  2. I would find as many off the shelf parts available. 

  3. I would have a budget – both monetary and time. 

Beginning the next month in March and with the completion 8 months later of this project in October, I feel a sense of accomplishment and astonishment.

I set about looking for a prototype to model.  In early March I received a copy of the new Climax Locomotive Book.  Being a true aficionado of all things steam powered and gear driven, I found the locomotive that I would build: a 22-ton Class A Climax.  I decided it would be battery powered with a sound system installed.  I drew up some sketches and scaled it in 2.5”, 3”, and 3.75” to the foot.  I settled on 3” to the foot.  What I ended up with is a locomotive that I can ride in, is very powerful, and to my knowledge no one else in the hobby has built.

The next week was spent gathering steel and wood, while working only 2-3 hours per night for 3 nights a week.  At the end of March the project was taking shape.

The Climax begins to take shape in the shop

I built the frame using 1X2 channel with a 1X3 stinger running the full 82” length.  The overall width of the locomotive is 24”.  I used mostly scrap Oak from old pallets to build the cab.  The boiler is 10” diameter schedule 80 steel pipe.  The truck side frames are a slight departure from the Climax prototype, but are more common to the Gilbert / Dunkirk style of geared locomotives that were the forerunner to the Climax.  I found these frames while visiting Craig Adams in Medford, Oregon.  I purchased Roll Models 6” spoked wheels, axles and 5:1 gearbox/motor combination.  Both trucks were assembled in two nights and surprised me how fast everything adapted together.  Chain and sprockets allow for all wheels to be powered from the main drive axle.

Power Truck nearly completed on workbench

Building the boiler was easy.  Provisions were made to house two of the four deep cycle gel-cell batteries inside using a slide tray.  I welded on a steam dome and firebox side sheets.  RMI supplied a firebox door ring, sand dome, balloon stack and base along with a headlight and brackets from the Sweet Creek line of products.  The smokebox door and ring are from Meg Steam. 

After mounting the trucks to the completed frame, it was time to develop a wiring diagram and harness.  I decided to use a 24 volt 4QD 200-amp controller from the UK.  It is compact and has variable dynamic braking with regenerative power to recharge the batteries.  I used circuit breaker protection on each lead to the motor rated at 50 amps.  The wiring used was purchased from the local marine supply store.  It is a high quality rated wire and able to handle the amperage along with being very flexible. 

Boiler nears completion and ready to mount on frame

I  built the water tank large enough to hold the remaining two batteries and controller. I left enough space between the tank and the cab so my size 11 boots can get in and out easily. I tested every circuit carefully and made sure that all wiring had plenty of movement for curves and was fastened in securely. Extra measures were taken to place all wires in a split loom to protect from weather and blend in with the black frame. I built my own throttle using parts available from the local Radio Shack. I used the 4QD fuel gauge, which lets me know when the charge is getting low.

Written by Jeff Badger      

continued in Part 2

the end


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