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The author's Climax on its display stand.

Class A Climax

by Bert Horner
Zwischenwasser, Austria
Photos by the author

June, 2013

I have always had a soft spot for American industrial geared engines. The one I liked best was the class A Climax. These "mobile chicken sheds" had, to my eye, an agricultural look about them, but they also had a good reputation for following the track, no matter how bad it had been laid.

At the end of the 1990s I contacted David Bailey of DJB Engineering, after hearing he had produced a kit for a class A Climax. He responded by saying, "Sorry, they are all long finished, but there are a few bits and pieces left." In the meantime, I had been reading an article in Garden Railways that included a drawing of a class A by the late Al Armitage. It was stated that the drawing had been done from the remains of a derelict class A, which was 75% rotted away in a swamp in Alaska, and also from a second one rotting in New Zealand.

No drawings were left after the Climax company closed. The main dimensions could be determined from the remains but the plumbing, etc was guesswork.

I set about building my chassis using the same materials as the prototype, largely wood, as far as was practical. In the meantime, I had also managed to get a set of trucks and a few other bits from David Bailey, and I set about building my Climax to the drawings from Al Armitage.

I had a vertical boiler laying around in the workshop, which came from a project that had been shelved for some time, so this was used instead of the T-boiler shown in my drawing. Also, DJB managed to get a two-speed gearbox together for me and I procured one of the recommended Gage 2-cylinder vertical engines.

A ceramic burner was fitted under the boiler and a gas tank on the foredeck, disguised as an oil tank. An expansion chamber was fitted under the rear, round water tank. I joined the parts together with plumbing and, surprise, surprise, my steam-powered chicken shed worked.

The engine is manually driven. It is equipped with a sight glass, a pressure gauge, a safety valve set to 40 psi, a hand-wheel steam regulator, a displacement lubricator, a water level plug at the top of the boiler, and a drain plug at the bottom. The reverser is integral with the steam motor and can be notched up. I have only run the engine in full gear because it quickly gets "lumpy" as the reverser is moved towards the middle. Boiler capacity is 180 Ml.

A run
Today is not ideal weather for being out in the garden playing trains. Easter was two days ago and Father Xmas delivered the Easter eggs because it was just too cold for the bunny.

I set my engine up on the treadmill rollers. As usual, I first filled the gas tank. Then I oiled around (not forgetting the steam oil) and I filled the boiler with filtered rain water.

I opened the Cheddar gas regulator, and lit the fire at the chimney. This caught straight away and, in a few seconds, the ceramic heated up, becoming a nice, bright red.

A couple of minutes later the safety was bubbling and the gauge was showing almost 20 psi. I opened the regulator and the pressure gauge showed "0" again. After another four-minute wait the gauge was showing 40 psi and, again, I opened the regulator. The engine turned over a couple times then stopped. I reversed it back and forth until it settled down to even running. Then I opened the water tap on the expansion tank and, with the regulator full open, blew the water out and reclosed the valve.

Having a wood frame, the engine does not get too hot to handle. I lifted it onto my track, hung a short log train onto it, set the gears in high gear, and opened the regulator. After a couple of jerks, the engine got down to steady, slow running the gears making themselves prominently audible. This does not bother me because, if what I have read is correct, class A Climaxes were noisy old bone shakers in reality.

Now because this engine runs slowly and evenly, it is manually regulated, and my present line is very short, I just pour myself a glass of wine and thoroughly enjoy watching it run around my railway. This engine is particularly pleasant to watch because, though the machinery always seems to be very busy, the movement along the track is very sedate. It reminds me of a duck swimming against the stream. Above water, all is still and peaceful; underwater, it's paddling like mad.

After just over 20 minutes, a look at the low level in the water glass shows this run is nearing its end. I have not fitted a Goodall-type valve so I cannot replenish the boiler, so I decided to kill the fire. The engine ran for just about one minute further before stopping on an up-hill curve.

I opened the drain taps on the expansion box in the water tank and the displacement oiler and, with the last bit of steam, blew out the water. Today it is only 6 degrees C (46 degrees F) and I was beginning to feel the cold, so the engine was taken indoors to clean off before putting it into its wooden box. After a long cold winter, it was a real pleasure to have an engine running again. I am now looking forward to better weather.

One point I should perhaps mention is that I had used 3mm piping for the steam line. This caused problems starting. The line from the boiler to the steam motor is long and condensed water was a problem. Increasing the line to 4mm has solved that problem effectively.

Builder Bert Horner, Austria
Date completed May 2005
Gauge 45 mm
Scale 1:20.3
Boiler type Vertical; ceramic burner
Fittings Gas regulator (diaphragm type -- regulates gas pressure, not the amount of gas); steam regulator ; pressure gauge; water glass; safety valve
Blowoff pressure 50 psi
Fuel Butane
Cylinders Two, double-acting D-valve
Reversing gear Hackworth on steam engine; two-speed gearbox
Lubrication Displacement
Dimensions Length, 435mm; width, 115mm; height, 190mm
Weight 3.85 kg
The right side of the locomotive.
The engine from the front. Note the multi-hole coupler pocket.
The rear end. The large, round water tank is a distinctive feature.
Many of the parts of the locomotive. At the top, left of center, is the Gage engine. The vertical boiler is at the upper right.
Here can be seen the steam regulator (mounted on the side of the boiler), the gas tank disguised as an oil tank, and the gas pressure regulator just in front of it. This regulator regulates the gas pressure, not the amount of gas flow, keeping it constant regardless of the temperature of the tank. This means that readjustment during a run is a thing of the past.
The dummy water tank is used as a condenser, collecting water from the exhaust steam. The Gage two-cylinder steam motor has Hackworth valve gear. The displacement oiler and the vertical boiler are seen at the right.
The steam motor, with the reverser pointing towards us in the middle of the motor, between the two cylinders. Note the pinion on the front end of the crankshaft. This takes the drive to the two-speed gearbox below the deck. This is not radio controlled but could be quite easily be made so.
The two-speed gearbox with the drive train, from below. The circular radiant gas burner is just in front of it. The small valve above is the drain from the displacement oiler.
The front drive shaft and truck. Note the skew-cut gears and the brake gear. The rods were left off after problems of them catching some switches were experienced. It took some time to get the gears to run smoothly. When at last they did the author just wanted to run the engine first and paint the trucks later. That was some time ago and they still have not been painted. They may never get painted but they still look great.

Also, in this photo the gas piping to the ceramic burner can be seen under the top (right hand) chassis rail, which, as per the original, is made of hardwood, as indeed is most of the engine. Metal has only been used next to the burner or where a lot of oil is to be expected.

The engine from below, showing most of the moving parts.
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