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The railtruck returns home after the early morning track-inspection run.
(Photographed by Rick Parker on Sony Wizelman's railway.)

A live steam, Model T,
stake-side railtruck

by Howard Maculsay
Claremont, California
Photos by the author unless otherwise noted

October, 2011

In building my steam-powered railtruck, I was originally inspired by Matilda, a steam-powered truck I first saw at the Diamondhead steamup in 2008. Matlida was built by my steam-up friend, Sonny Wizelman. When I saw him at the next steamup, I got a most helpful first-hand view of his creation.

I made the decision to keep as close to a 1:20.3-scale Model-T as I could. My research eventually took me to the August. 2004 issue of Garden Railways magazine, specifically Ted Stinson's plan for a 1927 Model-T oil truck. I obtained the plans from Sidestreet Bannerworks. All of this led me to Northeast Narrow Gauge's (NENG) Tin Lizzy series of kits. They had a 1927 Model-T stake-side truck that was right in line with what I had envisioned.

At this point I didn't have any evidence that the Model-Ts were used on the rails but I finally ran across this video from the Ford Motor Museum, which showed a Tin Lizzy out on the tracks.

Of course I wanted to make my Model-T steam powered, so my primary task was to find steam components that would fit the dimensions of the 1:20.3-scale truck. Again, Sonny Wizelman came to the rescue with his little Lutz Hielscher “Pepper” locomotive's steam components, which he no longer needed. Needless to say, we made a deal. That's how it all started, now I could get on with the design.

The model
The primary undercarriage is made from brass, while the truck bed is sits on an oak frame. The boiler, burner, and butane tank are isolated from the brass frame by an insulation layer made from circuit -board material. This prevents the boiler and burner heat being transmitted throughout the brass undercarriage.

The cab and hood are all brass and are easily removed as a unit. The 2”-tall stake sides of the truck bed are walnut and the 5-1/8” long x 4-1/4” wide truck-bed floor is laser-scribed plywood.

I used the radiator, steering wheel, and headlight castings from the NENG Tin Lizzy kit. The four, 12-spoke wheels are castings from Sulphur Springs, turned down to replicate the wood-spoked wheels in the NENG kit.

Power comes from a single cylinder, single acting, oscillating steam motor. The steam motor is integrated with a geared drive train containing a flywheel and six gears, to achieve a 40:1 reduction. The final gear in the train is on the rear axle, which sits in ball bearings mounted in the journal boxes.

The 1-3/8”-diameter boiler is 2-1/8” tall (plus a 1-1/16”-tall chimney). It has a single, L-shaped, 3/8”-diameter flue. The blow-torch-type burner sits just outside the flue and shoots a nicely-shaped flame into the flue. Butane is housed in a 1-3/8” long x 7/8” wide x 1-/1/8” tall plastic pressure vessel that has a Ronson-type filler valve and a self contained fuel-shut-off and gas-flow needle valve. It also has an integrated, flexible gas-feed hose with a jet attached.

Initial testing and first public outing
My initial firing was with the truck up on blocks. The butane tank was filled to just over half full. Since the tank lays on its side, the liquid level must be kept below the gas outlet, and to allow the liquid butane space to gasify. I only filled the boiler with 20ml of water (instead of the 30ml specified) to allow for steam space.

After I filled the lubricator and lubed the steam motor, gears, and wheel bearings, I fired it up. In about five or six minutes steam and bubbles started to appear in the tubing leading to the steam motor. I flicked the flywheel in the correct direction a few times and it took off.

It sounded like a bumblebee. It ran, as advertised -- 15 minutes -- but not under any load, so I could expect something under 15 minutes run time when it was on its wheels on the track.

I used the second run to calculate the model's potential speed on the track. The drive wheel turned 135 times in one minute. At 135 rpms, with a 40:1 gear reduction, the result is over 5,000 rpm at the steam-motor end. That's what generated the bumblebee sound. So, when considering the wheel diameter, the model's scale speed is around 12 mph. Not bad!!

My next test was on my home test track in preparation for a trip to the 2008 National Summer Steamup (NSS) in Sacramento , California in July of that year. You can see a video of it here. The first public outing was at the 2008 NSS. You can see videos of it running at the NSS here and here.

Builder Howard Maculsay
Date completed 2008
Gauge 45 mm (gauge 1)
Scale 1:20.3
Boiler Vertical, with a single L-shaped flue and a blow-torch-type burner
Fuel Butane
Blow-off pressure 15 psi (approximately)
Cylinders One, single-acting oscillator with 40:1 integrated gear train; piston dia., 3 mm; stroke 5 mm
Reversing gear None
Lubricator Displacement
Weight 2 lbs. 9oz., dry
Dimensions Length, 10-1/4“; width, 4-1/4“; height , 5-1/4“
The left and right sides of the railtruck. Loads of extra detail adds lots of character to the vehicle. On the right side, the fire-suppression water pump can be seen, mounted on the running board, with the fire hose hanging above.
Left: The headlights are pearlescent buttons mounted in the headlight castings from NENG. The radiator is also a casting from NENG. The butane tank is refilled through the hole in the front of the radiator. The windscreen, a microscope slide, is pivoted at the top so that the driver in the cab can stay cool.
Right: A view of the high-RPM steam motor, with its integrated gear train and small flywheel.

You can also see how the oak truck-bed frame is protected from the heat of the boiler. The brass surround contains two layers of high-temperature gasket material sandwiching white ceramic-insulation material.

Silicone tubing is used to connect the steam line to the steam motor.

The butane tank barely fits under the hood and extends into the cab. The gas-flow valve is at the feet of the driver, with the gas-supply tube going through the cab to the burner, which can be seen at the right, just behind the cab. The top of the cab is removable, as shown here. The driver is removed to fire the boiler.

Louvers were cut using custom-made hard tooling. Wheels are 12-spoke, cast iron, lost-wax castings, turned to the dimensions of the Model-T's wood-spoked wheels.

A top view of the bed of the railtruck, showing the boiler insulation, water tank (at the right) for the fire suppression water pump, and assorted tools.
The underside of the front axle. The brass cowcatcher, attached to the front axle, is from Brandbright (UK), and was reduced in width to fit between the wheels.
The drive axle is integrated into the gear train as the last stage of the 40:1 gear reduction. Ball bearings have been incorporated into the Ozark Miniature's rear journal boxess and into the machined-aluminum front journal boxes.
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