Great Northern Railroad's
"Little Bubba"

Steaming up!

I was making up an instruction book for running our steam engine and thought ... why not share with others what is involved with running one of these things. This is the first rough draft of just steaming up the boiler and getting the engine ready to run. After every one else goes home ... my fireman & I go through just as many steps blowing the boiler down and drying it out ... draining all the water out of the many pipes, tender tank, etc. ... I will put that up here later too when I get around to it. This is only for the true train nut Tech Heads. Because our train is an original prototype ... non- scale, with original one of a kind plans we can go down to the hardware store and buy full sized gate & lever valves, etc. makes it nice. We also used all commercial size copper pipes, etc. This is another great thing about the larger trains.

Visits Since counter updated 12/29/03

  1. Tightly close the boiler drain gate valve at the bottom front of engine's boiler on the Fireman's side. It is easiest to lie down on the ground on your right side to do this.

  2. Be sure the gate valve in front of the check valve on the water injector copper pipe on the top front of boiler is off.

  3. Close the valve at the base of the 50 gallon Stainless Steel water tank inside the tender.

  4. Put filtered water (with the hose) in the top front of the boiler in the plug hole just behind the smoke stack. Watch the water site glass on the engine fire wall till the water gets about 1/2 inch from the top.

  5. Wrap the plug clockwise with a couple wraps of white plastic pipe thread tape. Start the plug by hand into the hole to see it is NOT cross threaded. With the large wrench tighten it only a couple turns past finger tight pressure. This is to keep the brass plug from being over tightened and stretching the brass threads.


  7. Top batterys off with chargers during these 2 hrs while steaming up.

  8. Open the propane valve in the tender very slowly so the automatic shut off valve doesn't activate. Then the pilot valve ONLY! in the cab. NOT THE MAIN BURNER VALVE YET! Then open the front smoke box, light the torch, stand away and to the side, put the torch into the fire tube to light off any residual propane that might be left in the tube. Then open the pilot valve to the 1 o'clock position and light the pilot with the torch. Look to see that the pilot is staying lit for a few seconds, move back to the fireman's side of the cab . VERY GENTLY open the main burner valve .. if the pilot hasn't gone out you will hear the loud roar of the main burner when it lights . If you don't hear this IMMEDIATELY shut the burner valve back off and turn the pilot valve off up front in the smoke box. Wait 5 minutes for the excess propane to dissipate. Repeat procedure. After the main burner valve is lit, set it to 15 - 20lbs pressure, then IMMEDIATELY go up front and turn off the pilot valve ... we found the yellow flame from the pilot caused 90% of the soot to build up in the tubes and it interfers with the main burner effeciency!

  9. Leave front smoke box door open about 2 inches for 15 minutes, then close tight. It will take about 2 hrs. for the steam pressure to build to 130lbs. It is important not to rush this to keep the propane tank from cooling off. Now, while the boiler is steaming up there is much to do and check!

  10. Check to see the main valve on top of the steam dome is closed and the manua saftey valve off the steam dome is slightly open. When you finally see steam coming out of that safety valve you will shut it. This leaves only steam and water in the boiler and bleeds out excess dead air.
  11. Check that the gate valve from the water tank in front of the Penberthy Steam injector is open all the way and then set to one turn toward closed.

  12. Close the drain plug at the base of the Penberthy Steam injector. (It is opened after blow down at the end of each run). See that the lever valve on top of the Penberthy Steam injector is fully closed (at right angle to the Pipe)

  13. Check the heavy steam oil level in the cylinder oil pump the square box in front of the cab on the Fireman's side, slide the little round cover back check for oil. ADD ONLY! Steam Cylinder Oil in a 5 gallon container in the garage. This is a VERY THICK mineral oil (they used to use whale oil). These steam mineral oils go a long way as in 10 years we are still on our origina 5 gallon can. And especially since our railroad is run only occasionally for our & our friends only use.

  14. Turn the manual wheel along side the steam oil pump (toward the boiler side) 5 to 10 times to fill the oil lines and get some oil into the cylinders

  15. Add Cylinder rod oil to the little oilers on top of the steam cylinders. Use water soluble mineral oil here too .. biodegradable. Be sure the little oiler levers on top are sideways till you are ready to go and then lift them up straight to start the oil drip. If they need adjustment set the oil drip in the little sight glass to one drop every 2 seconds. These must be on when train is moving. Always look out both front windows to see these are dripping and there is no cylinder binding. These are an extra safety precaution in case the graphite packing is too tight around the cylinder rods. When too much steam is escaping around the cylinder rods, more packing must be placed.

  16. Check for loose bolts or screws everywhere sometime during the 2 hrs steam up on the engine. And hand oil all the moving joints that don't have zert grease fittings. Monthly grease zert fittings.

  17. Be sure the valve to the big brass steam pressure gauge inside the cab is always open! .... Never turn this off.

  18. During steam up as the pressure rises, first oil the sight glass valves and blow the water down inside the sight glass. this is hot water & exhausts out the under the engine. There is a brass lever at the top and the bottom of the glass that can be opened and closed to blow any debris out of the line. There are also 3 levels of these check valve cocks beside the sight glass so that in case of the sight glass failure one can open each one from the top down to manually show the water level in the boiler.

  19. Close the water valve at the base of the stainless steel water tank inside of the tender. Then add filtered water to this water tank with the hose. This can be done after the train is steamed up in hot weather since cold water works best with any steam injector. On re filling the water tank during operation with guests present we use the unfiltered water out of the 14' hight water tower tank for the old time train effect. By using mostly filtered water we keep the scale build up inside the boiler at a minimum.

  20. The Engineer or Fireman must walk the entire track first, removing any gravel, Pocket Goffer mounds, tree limbs, etc over the track that may cause a problem.

  21. If using lights, be sure the battery has been charged at the beginning of the whole procedure. To turn the lights on, close the green plastic wheel on the negative side of the battery. Our train is equiped with a full sized automobile head light ... very bright and lasts for a few hours of night travel.

  22. Run the initial pressure to the limit of 145lbs and check both emergency pressure release valves manually to see they are working properly! The first is a smaller diameter and set at 145 lbs. The second is large diameter and set at 150lbs. Do this every time! Then use the Penberthy Lifting Steam Injector to replace water to the boiler, to cool it down and lower the pressure to 120 lbs. Save energy for the train rides. Or lower the main torch pressure accordingly. This we do all day while running the train too! (This is the Fireman's job) We keep the boiler water level at optimum for maximum stored energy for steam generation. If no water is needed we lower the main burner to 5 to 10 pounds pressure to regulate the heat & steam pressure. Or even turn it off .. it is very easy to relight when resuming steaming.

  23. Now crack open the main valve on the top of the steam dome that delivers steam to the cylinders, this will slowly run steam thru the system and carefully heat up the cold cylinders.

  24. Before running the first time we must open 2 front cylinder cocks on both sides and blow the water out of the cylinders we run the train frontward & backward about 40 feet till only steam comes out. Then close the valve cocks. This keeps the water from going up through the smoke stack and all over the passengers. We also have secondary exhaust valves below each cylinder that can drain water out of the steam too ... it does modify the stack talk though ... but looks really great with steam coming out of each cylinder and the stack too!

  25. Clear water out of the whistle and adjust the steam pressure to the whistle for the sound you want. We are using a 3 chime Buckeye whistle. Check the bell cord, tighten clapper, it loosens.

  26. We now have added our new caboose built by and thanks to Jay Snavely and Jerry Nash who built the water tower and train station ... our Caboose is a built to scale = 1/2 of a 36 " gauge caboose. .. it is 18 feet long and 8 feet tall. It has an electric to hydrolic = braking system. The engineer can push a button in the cab that activates the disk brake on one of the trucks on the caboose. This works very well when used properly and at the lower speeds required when coming down the little grade into the station area.

  27. When finished steaming up and before the guests arrive we must now fill the propane tank with liquid propane at our filling station located in the locked fenced area. This now puts warm propane back into the tank and raises the tank propane pressure into our main burner gauge to around 80lbs in the winter and much more in the summer ... we can now run the boiler at the necessary 40lbs to 60 lbs full time operating pressure without any icing problems from the propane tank for 4 hrs full time running .. at that time when the propane tank pressure ever falls below the 40lbs main burner pressure required, we just add more liquid propane thus warming it all back up again for another 4 hrs use. It has taken me 3 years to get the steam up time, operating time and engine performance perfect!
  28. When filling the propane tank we obviously turn the burner completely off. Turn the main valve from the big propane tank on ... turn the propane tank valve in the tender off. Hook up and pump the liquid propane into the tank in the tender till the needle on the gauge reads at about 3 O'clock.
  29. When we are finished running for the day, we turn off the main propane tank valve, the pilot and main burner valve .. we then run the train around the track with the main burner off and no fire till the pressure gets down to 50lbs or less ... we then blow the boiler down ... we open the main boiler drain valve we first closed when starting and watch the show as it blows water and steam about 80 feet out the right side of the boiler near ground level. The steam after just one to two feet from the boiler is only warm and not hot ... it expands so fast it cools its self down.

    The train nuts will enjoy this the rest of you I lost long ago,
    Cheers and shinny rails to all my train buddies,
    Doc Hemp

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