Modellers go large

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Size is not important, as we all know, but sometimes one just has to go for the max. And so it was recently that your intrepid reporter and an almost-as-intrepid-and-definitely-more-sensible chairman volunteered their services as trainee drivers of a Quite Big Engine at Southport Model Engineering Club.  he occasion was one of their periodic familiarisation evenings, designed to help novices get acquainted with the fine art of coal firing a 5” gauge steam locomotive.

A small select group gathered in the early evening as two locos were rolled up to the steaming bay ready for us to experiment with. Under the expert guidance of Ben and John we learned how to apply water, coal and oil to their correct orifices, and when all was ready, to light the blue touch paper to set it all in motion. In reality, with a powerful fan applying suction to the open end of the chimney, and the firebox filled with paraffin-soaked charcoal, a burning coal applied several inches away from the open door was sufficient to ignite the mixture.

In a remarkably short time a warm glow from the rear of each locomotive indicated that combustion was well under way, despite the dampening effect of a passing shower. Unfortunately at that point a faulty clack valve on Southport rendered the loco incurably short of water, despite vigorous operation of the hand pump. Apparently the effect of steam on brass is to remove zinc from the alloy, to the point of mechanical failure. One solution, also apparently, is to make small fittings from phosphor bronze. Another new thing learned. 

So we persevered with the John P Tavener, and soon sufficient steam was raised for Ben to try a test run. And their was our turn. One by one we were sat in the driver’s seat, given a miniature shovel to apply coal to the left, right and centre of the firebox, and instructed in just how far to open the regulator for smooth running. And where to set the reverser for optimum cut-off and the axle pump bypass for adequate replenishment of the boiler water. Once all was committed to memory, or so we hoped, we were released into the wide open spaces of Victoria Park, with only a few curious caravaners and a patrolling cat to watch our hesitant progress. 

In the event it all went smoothly, with no kangaroo starts or wheelies to prompt ribald comments, and no embarrassing incidents involving lack of steam, water or fire. After a supervised circuit we were allowed to go solo, with two revolutions of the track in quick succession, complete with on-the-fly firing to show we could multi-task with the best of them. Fish and chips, followed by tea and cakes, kept the energy levels up during an enjoyable and worthwhile evening.

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