November 7, 2008

A letter from Don Mason

Here's some more info for you regarding the engine.

First, this was the first (and only) live steamer I ever built (I think in 1991 or 1992), mainly because it was the only way in which I could afford a USA-type steamer at the time. Roger Loxley's SR&RL No. 24, which he had recently introduced, was way outside my budget at the time. So I figured if I built it myself, it would be a) cheaper and b) I could make it look more like WW&F No. 6, which I preferred as a prototype. I built half a dozen passenger cars (from Bachmann kits) to go with it, which were actually sold to Roger Loxley at about the same time I sold the loco.

The only previous loco building experience that I had in large scale was heavily modifying the body only of a Roundhouse 'Lady Anne'.

Anyway, the entire thing was built (literally) on the kitchen table, using nothing but simple hand tools. I had no machine or power tools of any kind in those days -- not even a Dremel back then. So everything was done the hard way.

For example, the panelling on the cab was cut out by first scribing the various panel lines onto a sheet of brass, then drilling hundreds of tiny holes all round on the inside of the 'scribe,' effectively perforating the panels, a bit like postage stamps. As I had no power tools, the holes were drilled by hand with a little pin-vise, twirled manually between finger and thumb!

Then, when suitably perforated, the panels were pushed out and small needle files were used to file the metal back to a straight line along the original etch mark. All the panelling was done in this way -- somewhat time consuming (and finger damaging) but I got there in the end and it was the only way I could do it with no better tools. I guess I was just determined to get the job done.

Likewise the tender was done in much the same way, drilling out all the rivet holes by hand with the pin-vise before inserting brass rivets. It was all done in the flat, as it were, and then bent up to shape afterwards. I remember bending that tender wrapper was a bit of a heart-in-the-mouth moment. I had just one chance at it unless I wanted to drill alll those holes again. But it was OK.

The chassis is essentially Roundhouse, assembled myself from basic castings, cylinders, etc., supplied by Roger. I remember having doubts about my abilities to set the timing, as I had never done such a thing before but, to my surprise, I actually got it spot-on first time.

The boiler is slightly more complex than suggested on your page:

It was professionally made specially for me to my own specification and is essentially indeed a normal single flue type, but it also has cross water tubes (4, in 2 groups of 2) running through and across the flue space, effectively taking the water actually through the flue space, to give a degree of superheat, or at least speed up and maintain the heating of the boiler. Tests had suggested that this made a significant difference and I am personally quite sure from the subsequent performance that this is so.

The boiler is also fully lagged with 1/8" cork sheet -- that which you can see being only the exterior cladding. I am sure that this also made a significant difference in terms of conserving and minimising heat loss and it also enabled the boiler fittings -- domes, handrail knobs, etc. -- to be soft-soldered on. It also means that you can just about pick the thing up by its boiler when in steam (although this is not generally recommended).

The smokebox was a bit of seamless copper pipe, silver-soldered in my garden over the bird-table! I had never silver soldered before, so it was a case of learning on the job. I made three before I was satisfied everything was tight and safe. The rivet holes were all drilled as before, with the rivets silver-soldered in on the inside. Everything was then tested to 2.5 times working pressure and found to be OK. before finally being assembled.

My thinking regarding the handrail knobs not being attached to the smokebox was that, since the other knobs were only soft soldered to the boiler cladding, there was a risk that the very hot copper smokebox might conduct heat back through the smokebox knobs and along the handrails and loosen the soft-soldered knobs on the boiler cladding. So I soldered the smokebox knobs to the actual handrails at the appropriate angle but left them JUST clear of the smokebox itself, with just a very tiny air gap between the two, so that there was no direct contact between knobs and hot smokebox. Whether it would have been a problem we will never know, but it seemed to work anyway. Nothing ever came loose.

I originally built the engine to 32mm gauge but Dick Schafer changed it to 45mm after I sold it to him (via Dave Pinniger, who ran it for as week or two on his Ambledown Valley line before shipping it to the USA). The drivers were adjustable but Dick put new tender trucks and new loco-truck wheelsets on.

I regretted selling it, but financial needs at the time dictated that and I needed to finance my next project, so it was with some reluctance that I let it go.

I gave up large-scale in the garden a year or so later for all sorts of reasons, although the disused tunnel and one length of track embedded in one of our front steps still remains. I also kept the depot building, although someone stole it a year or two later, despite it being embedded in thick concrete!

Nowadays I concentrate on modelling the Maine two-footers in On30, rather than the strictly more correct On2 and (somewhat to my embarrassment) appear to be considered something of a guru at it amongst fellow Maine O-scale modellers on your side of the pond.

--Don Mason, Gedling, England