I think that everyone
that's looked into this hobby has considered building a live steam locomotive.
Many folks take a pass, some go ahead and start one and others never seem to get
started. Daniel Kautz
and Larry Simoneau are building locomotives from scratch. I've asked them some
basic questions on building locomotives. Here's what they said....
Jim: Why did you gentlemen decide to build working steam locomotives?
Daniel: There is a certain romance to steam locomotives. I am old
enough to remember them. Maybe that has something to do with it. There is also
a lot of exposed action like rods and pistons moving. The sound, the bulk, the
beast coming alive under the power of hissing steam. The heat and the smell of
oil and coal smoke. If a steam locomotive has a gender it should be masculine.
(Although I am sure there are many with female names.) Mostly I want to
capture a bit of history in the form of one of the worlds most interesting,
self powered, hard working machines ever built. It also scales down to
manageable size very well.
Aside from the romance, a steam locomotive project provides a serious
challenge as well as a great opportunity to put my hobby machining skills to
the ultimate test. There are a lot of exposed as well as hidden machined parts
on a steam locomotive. It is a showcase of the builders skill. If you don't do
everything correct, the evidence will be in the operation. Even the parts that
don't show have to work correctly.
Larry: My interest in the live steam hobby is in steam locomotives.
If the hobby only included diesel (gas/electric powered) locomotives I would
not be involved. That isn't to say I look down on non steam locomotives, just
that they don't interest me in the way that steam locomotives do. Why build
one? Because of the cost of a running steam locomotive. I thought I could
build one at a reasonable cost by scrounging for material and hogging parts out
of solid pieces, weldments or silver soldered assemblies.
Jim: Why not just purchase a steam locomotive already built?
Larry: Last year I did. I found a reasonably priced steam locomotive
that I had seen running over the course of a couple of years. I bought it
because it was taking so long to finish my scratch built Shay. I thought it
would give my son and I something to run while we waited for the Shay to be
completed. I didn't realize how much maintenance would be involved to keep the
locomotive running. That is partly because the locomotive I purchased had
suffered from a lack of attention. We have learned a lot about what works and
what doesn't work on live steam locomotives. This knowledge has been
incorporated into the building of my Shay and will make it a better locomotive.
The time spent on maintenance of the purchased locomotive has also delayed the
completion of my Shay, something I hadn't planned on.
Daniel: My hobby is machining, not collecting. No fault with the
collectors. They fund the builders! I would rather people admire what I built
in my own shop with my own hands than what I was able to purchase. However, we
all admire a well built locomotive, no matter how it was obtained. There is
almost no one who can say they built their brand new automobile from scratch,
yet we all admire and compliment the owner on his selection.
Jim: Many folks are interested in diesel locomotives, why not you?
Larry: As I said above, diesels just don't excite me the way a steam
locomotive does. I scratch built a GE 44 ton battery powered locomotive while
working on the Shay. It did allow us to attend meets and have an engine
to run. However, after a few times around the track I find the diesel boring.
Not much to do. A steam locomotive needs constant attention. Even when
everything is going smoothly you have to keep an eye on the boiler pressure,
water level, status of the fire, blower air, atomizer air (if oil fired) and
amount of fuel / water on the tender. The steam engineer has to tend his engine
at all times and if he does his job well he has steam when he needs it yet
keeps his safeties from blowing. It is so much more satisfying to complete a
circuit around the track while controlling a steam locomotive.
Jim: What attracted you to a build it from scratch project when so
many kits are available?
Larry: Price! I thought I could save a lot of money by building
without using expensive castings. It's true, one can save money. But you do so
at the expense of your time. If I were to do it again I would use castings. For
the Shay there are two good sources of castings, one being
Ken Schroeder and for a larger Shay
there is LocoGear. Both
sets of castings are reasonably priced and will save the Shay builder a lot of
construction time making the probability of successful completion more likely.
I had no machining experience when I started the Shay, so I had some doubts as
to whether I would be successful. I could start construction without the
expense of castings and if my skills did not meet the task I wouldn't have
ruined some expensive castings. It would probably have been wiser to
start with a single cylinder stationary steam engine kit and if it was a
satisfactory experience then consider a locomotive project.
Jim: I understand you are both building a Kozo locomotive. Who is
Daniel: Kozo Hiraoka is simply an amazing self taught Japanese
builder of 3/4 inch scale live steam (mostly geared) locomotives.
Larry: Kozo Hiraoka has written several construction series in Live
Steam. All of which are now available in book form.
Building the Shay,
Building the Climax,
Building the Heisler and the
Pennsylvania A3 Switcher. I have all the
books, they are excellent references.
Daniel: Not only did Kozo build these locomotives, but he published
the plans and wrote down the details in a language not even his native
tongue. There is sufficient detail provided, that many others have be able to
build from his information. In many cases, changing the size to larger and
smaller scales. The size of his shop (in his apartment) and the extent of his
tools (as shown in his books) tells everyone, it is not the size and brands of
machinery you own, but the desire of the builder, that gets locomotives built.
Larry: Kozo presents much more than just a set of plans. He provides
pictorials which show how to construct complex shapes by machining material in
simple steps. This technique is of great value to the beginner. He also
uses silver soldered assemblies to build components that would be difficult to
machine. I machined the crankshaft for my 1-1/2 scale Shay out of a solid piece
of metal by following his excellent instructions. It took me many hours to
accomplish, but in the end I had a beautiful one piece crankshaft.
Photo of the completed crankshaft. Photo by Larry Simoneau.
Larry: When I started thinking about an engine to build I was
immediately drawn to the Building the Shay
book. I had built an HO gauge Shay and enjoyed watching it run. I had ridden
behind the Shay at the Georgetown Loop Railroad in Colorado. I had also been to
the Cass Scenic Railroad. I planned to build a track through the woods at home
so a Shay sounded like a natural, able to take sharp curves and undulating
|Daniel: I have all of the Kozo
publications. I felt the A3 offered the
new builder a simple design and the best chance to build a successful first
project. The step by step instruction is great.
Pennsylvania A3 switcher 0-4-0 (right)
by Tamehito Nakahara.
Photo courtesy of http://ww91.tiki.ne.jp/~hkimu
Jim: What scale are you building in and why?
Daniel: I am building in 3/4 inch to the foot scale. I like the size
of the parts. They fit my shop and tools. It is a bit of a maverick scale here
in the USA and Texas. Operation is not my concern at the moment. The material
cost is also a lot more reasonable than larger scales. A major point is the
finished project will be a lot easier to transport and display in the house and
elsewhere. I also considered the Gauge #1 in 7/8 scale. The Kozo step by step
process sealed my decision with 3/4 inch scale. Just read the book!
Larry: My background was in HO gauge model railroads. Tired of
working with the small parts (not helped by aging eyes) I went to a hobby shop
and bought all the model railroading books that were available, to look for
another scale. At first I thought I would move to O scale. But one of the
magazines I had purchased was Live Steam. I was immediately impressed with the
1-1/2 scale models. I thought that a ride on model railroad in the backyard
would really be fun.
Larry prepares to steam his new shay for the first time.
How excited do you think he was?
Photo by Will Simoneau.
Jim: Do you have any advice for someone interested in building a
Daniel: The best advice I have is to get started! I know many folks
who have visited my website say they have been sitting around for years wanting
to get into machining and/or locomotive construction. Many are afraid of taking
that first step because they may do something wrong. They don't want to be
considered foolish for starting off with a poor decision. So they make no
In reality there is no one keeping score but yourself. If you start out to
make a part and it isn't right, start over. We all do it. It is how we learn.
It is to be expected.
You don't have to own a complete machine shop to get started. Read the Kozo
books. Purchase at least one edition if you haven't yet done so. Even if you
don't build to Kozo's plans, there is a wealth of construction information in
every design. Each one shows it doesn't take a lot to get started. I was amazed
at what Kozo has accomplished with his modest workshop.
No live steam model locomotive is an easy project. It's like the old adage
about, How do you eat an elephant? The answer of course is, One bite at a time.
My slogan is, One perfect part at a time.
Unless you are retired with a lot of time, consider construction a long term
project. Ed Hume took five years (part time) to build his 3/4 inch scale A3.
Building your own locomotive is for the person who likes the journey as much or
usually more than the destination.
|Larry: Be prepared for a long term time commitment. Try
to spend time on the project, even if only an hour here or there. Find a mentor
so you can get advice on where to buy materials, tooling, machinery, etc. in
your area. Join a live steam club or a metalworking group. Bring a part you are
making to a meeting, it's a great ice breaker and you will receive much advice.
Get Nelson's book "So You Want to Build a
Live Steam Locomotive", it has a lot of information for the locomotive
builder. It makes a valuable companion to Kozo's books. If you are new to
metalworking then "Henry Ford's Shop Theory Book" has a lot of information in
one inexpensive book. Reprints are available from Lindsay's Technical Books. So is "Running
a Lathe by South Bend", a good reference for lathe operation. Old Live
Steam and Modeltec magazines are valuable references for every aspect of
It Works! Congratulations Larry.
Photo by Will Simoneau.
|Build your own collection (via eBay.com or the
Steam For Sale page) or maybe that live steam club has a library. The
Internet is also a great source of information. Discover Live Steam has a
Support Group and the Chaski Message Board
is good . There are many Yahoo Groups, too many to mention here, visit
Yahoo to see what they have to offer. Learn how to do Internet searches, start
by searching "Live Steam Trains", you will find lots of places to visit.
Will Simoneau, Larry's son, gets a turn.
Photo by Larry Simoneau.
During construction test the fit of every part. If it doesn't fit properly,
fix it right away. Make sure nothing binds. Beginners tend to make things fit
too tight. Every part I make I try to work dimensions to within .001, even if
that accuracy is not needed, it's great practice. Then when you need to be
accurate you can do it. Same with the surface finish quality. Learn what you
have to do to make parts that look good, even if the surface is not visible on
the finished product.
Jim: I want to thank Larry and Daniel for answering these questions.
If you have questions for Larry and Daniel, please fill out the form below.
If you decide to start your own locomotive, Have Fun!
Larry Simoneau, Daniel Kautz and Jim O'Connor