The Steam Dream

After a summer of trains pottering round my little circuit of track, and tinkering with rolling stock kits, the prognosis is fairly clear: I have the garden railway bug, and it does not appear to be curable.

I need a live steam loco.

With winter works to extend the line in prospect, it’s clear there will be little left over in the budget for this, though live steam doesn’t come cheap. I’ve been researching the sub £500 end of things – where all the locos are ‘freelance’ (i.e. not based on any prototype) but some are closer to toys (two speeds: lightning fast and stalled) while others are interesting models.

My priorities are:

  • Good slow running
  • Aesthetics: detail can be added, but the loco must be pleasing in outline
  • Sounds: I’d like to fit a chuff pipe and a whistle if possible (sound is a big part of the appeal of live steam for me)

I don’t think I need radio control (no gradients at the moment) though it would be nice to have the option to fit it (gradients are planned). I don’t think I need to be able to re-gauge (I don’t know if I’ll go a-visiting, or if I do whether I’ll go to 45mm gauge lines). It would be nice to extend running sessions by topping up the water while in steam.

One class of loco to look at are the Mamod types – the original was something of a toy, and a variant of this design is still produced by MSS (the MSS Saddle Tank), with Mamod themselves producing updated versions with higher pressure boilers and better running characteristics (the Mamod Mk III). They are small locos, suited to an industrial setting – there are saddle tank variants too (MSS & Mamod), and Mamod produce the Telford, a slightly larger slide-valve version. Unfortunately I find these new Mamods rather ugly, while the MSS locos reputedly run rather poorly – slow running is out. Upgrades are available, taking them from a bargain £185 to between £252 and £410 but if paying this much, the Roy Wood Models Janet looks a better bet – the same charm as these original locos, but almost every component upgraded. There are videos of some impressive slow running, she can have chuff pipe fitted, but… I talked to Roy Wood at the Exeter show, who was fantastically helpful and informative, but he did not make fitting a whistle sound easy – the small size means there’s just not much room for it! Still, Janet is easily the best contender from this lot.

Mamod and Roy Wood also produce vertical boiler locos, for which prototypes exist (though they’re not common). I find these curiosities charming, too. Regner is another manufacturer who makes these – several, in fact. All of these except the Roy Wood loco are geared, which makes for excellent slow running – but this means even those to which a chuffer can be fitted don’t do a nice slow chuff. On balance, I’d take the good slow running over the chuffing, if I have to choose. Although Max is a bargain (only £220 as a kit) it needs an upgrade (£40) even just to change direction (£100 for gas conversion). I’d take the Regner Willi as my contender from this batch.

Regner also do a couple of geared locos with horizontal boilers (Konrad and Vincent). I’m fairly sure this is not prototypical, but so what? If physics doesn’t scale down neatly, fair enough. I think Konrad looks terrific, the optional spectacle plates make it a little more British in appearance, and it seems like a great slow runner taking gradients in its stride without the need for radio control. Another contender.

Finally, going over budget slightly, the big names in 16mm live steam – Doncaster based Roundhouse, and Chinese manufacturer Accucraft – both produce entry level locos. Roundhouse have two basic offerings, both with slip eccentrics (i.e. to reverse them, you have to push in the direction of travel) and gas fired, one externally (Millie) and one internally (Bertie). The Accucraft locos (Jedrig and Ragleth) are internally fired and reverse with a lever. Unlike all the previous locos, radio control can be easily fitted to these locos, but only on the regulator for the Roundhouse locos. All of these would be contenders, if I could justify going over budget! In particular, the Accucraft loco can easily be fitted with chuff pipe and DJB whistle, and lots of modifications are available – even coal firing (at a price!) and I’ve seen lots of videos of it running very well slowly (although these may have been using R/C). But then again, the Accucraft in particular is quite large for a 2′ gauge loco. I’m trying to think of that as an advantage – a good test for all the clearances on the line!

So, which should I get?

  • RWM Janet – charming, well-equipped diminutive Mamod-inspired oscillating cylinder loco, with chuffer but no whistle
  • Regner Willi or Konrad – superb slow running vertical boiler locos, optional whistle
  • Roundhouse Millie or Bertie  – good reliable runners, can be fitted with a chuffer and probably a whistle, but a bit over the budget!
  • Accucraft Ragleth – excellent slow running, options for R/C, whistle, chuffer, and other possibilities too, but quite large and beyond my budget!

And that’s only the easy decision… I’ll still have to choose the colour!

Appendix: The Specs

I might as well share what I’ve collated about these locos – though I may have made mistakes (and don’t necessarily understand all of it – what is a simulated Stephenson’s link?) Please let me have any corrections!

Loco Price Fuel Type Multi-gauge
MSS
Side Tank
£185 Solid fuel Oscillating cylinders No
MSS
Saddle Tank
£215 Solid fuel Oscillating cylinders No
Regner
Max
£260 Gel Oscillating cylinder, geared Yes
Mamod
MkIII
£320 Gas (E) Oscillating cylinders No
Mamod
Saddle Tank
£320 Gas (E) Oscillating cylinders No
Mamod
Brunel
£420 Gas (E) Piston cylinder, slide valve, geared Yes
RWM
Janet
£445 Gas (E) Oscillating cylinders No
Mamod
Telford
£430 Gas (E) Slide valve, slip eccentrics No
Regner
Willi
£480 Gas (E) Oscillating cylinder, geared Yes
Regner
Konrad
£480 Gas (E) Oscillating cylinder, geared Yes
RWM
De Winton
£545 Gas (E) Oscillating cylinders No
Regner
Vincent
£560 Gas (E) Oscillating cylinder, geared Yes
Roundhouse
Millie
£599 Gas (E) Slide valve, slip eccentrics No
Roundhouse
Bertie
£599 Gas (I) Slide valve, slip eccentrics No
Accucraft
Jedrig
£625 Gas (I) Simulated Stephenson’s link valve gear Yes
Accucraft
Ragleth
£660 Gas (I) Simulated Stephenson’s link valve gear Yes
(E) Externally fired
(I) Internally fired

 

Loco Pressure
gauge
Water
top up
Chuffer Whistle
MSS
Side Tank
No* No** SC £25 Yes
MSS
Saddle Tank
No No SC £25 Yes
Regner
Max
Opt (£29) ? No No
Mamod
Mk III
No ? SC £25 No
Mamod
Saddle Tank
No ? SC £25 No
Mamod
Brunel
Yes ? No No
RWM
Janet
Yes Yes SC £25 fitted No****
Mamod
Telford
? Yes SC £25 No
Regner
Willi
Yes Opt (£23) No*** Opt £33
Regner
Konrad
Yes Opt (£23) No Opt £33
RWM
De Winton
Yes Yes SC £45 fitted Yes****
Regner
Vincent
Yes Yes No*** Opt £33
Roundhouse
Millie
Yes Opt SC £25 Maybe
Roundhouse
Bertie
Yes Opt SC £25 Maybe
Accucraft
Jedrig
Yes Opt (£8) SC £25 DJB £90
Accucraft
Ragleth
Yes Opt (£8) SC £25 DJB £90
SC – Summerlands Chuffers, makers of chuff pipes which amplify the exhaust acoustics
DJB – DJB Model Engineering, make resonator whistle kits (among other things)
* only with the full upgrade kit, brings the cost to £410
** with any of the upgrade kits so bringing the minimum price to £252
*** I’m not convinced it’s worth fitting chuffers to geared locos, though people have fitted chuffers to both Willi and Vincent, the former being rather conspicuous.
**** When I spoke to Roy Wood he thought it would be hard to find space on Janet for a whistle; I have read he has added a whistle to at least one De Winton

 

Loco Length (mm) Width (mm) Height (mm) Weight (kg)
MSS
Side Tank
218 95.25 127 1.1
MSS
Saddle Tank
218 95.25 127 1.1
Regner
Max
195 80 150 2
Mamod
Mk III
230 100 120 1.3
Mamod
Saddle Tank
230 100 120 1.4
Mamod
Brunel
250 115 175 1.9
RWM
Janet
200 80 120 1.85
Mamod
Telford
265 110 130 1.8
Regner
Willi
211 105 175 2.3
Regner
Konrad
232 105 165 2.3
RWM
De Winton
215 95 175 2.15
Regner
Vincent
240 105 160 2.2
Roundhouse
Millie
280 108 145 2.2
Roundhouse
Bertie
270 118 145 2.1
Accucraft
Jedrig
262 116 155 4.1
Accucraft
Ragleth
262 116 160 4.1

Image: “Rail-buskerville-railway-amoswolfe“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

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Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

9 thoughts on “The Steam Dream”

    1. It’s not my photo – I don’t have a steam loco! It is, according to Google, the only Creative Commons licensed picture of any of the locos I’ve discussed – it’s the MSS Saddle Tank (or possibly the original Mamod Saddle Tank, which is very similar).

      I’d welcome your opinion on any of the locos, of course 🙂

  1. Can I Ask? Where Did You Find a Ralgeth That Costs £660?

    (Sorry If It Sounds Rude, I’m Italian And My English Isnt Very Good)

    1. Your English is fine, you don’t sound rude. In the early autumn of 2015 there were several suppliers offering Ragleth at that price, including Track Shack and Anything Narrow Gauge if memory serves. By Christmas, no Ragleths were available, when the new batch in April came through they were all at £800. I think the prices do fluctuate, but especially with the drop in sterling they cost more now then when I wrote this post.

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