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Sir TophamHatt

Why Didn't Live Steam Take Off?

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My railway modelling career, now just over 60 years of it, has been a constant attempt to get 00  (and 009 for a while) locomotives to run in the same way that real ones do, with smooth starting and stopping and infinitely variable slow control, with no jerks or snatches.  Modern RTR is not bad in this respect but the perfection I have always sought still eludes me.  My opinion, which is only my opinion and cannot be backed up by certifiable objective fact or reasoning, is that it cannot be absolutely achieved with any system that relies on current being picked up from the track.  This is, I reckon, because the electrical contact between the railhead and the wheel, and that between the wheel and the pickup, is bound to be compromised if the wheel is rolling. It is exacerbated (autospell wants 'exasperated', which sort of works as well) by the braking effect of the pickups.

 

Performance is thus good, but not perfect, and even if perfection is only for Allah*, can be improved.  How?  My thoughts on this many years ago were based on batteries on board the loco as the power source, but control of the power supply to the motor being arranged with servos aboard the loco, powered from the track.  In the 1980s when I was thinking about this, my standard was that the system needed to be capable of being installed aboard an Airfix 14xx, in those days my smallest loco, and completely housed within the loco including the battery leaving the cab space clear for me to put detail in, and the loco had to be able to haul a prototypical load.  In the case of the 14xx, 2 auto trailers, but a Westward 64xx, not much bigger, needed to sandwich between 4, and a 57xx, not much bigger again, needed to be able to haul a 20 wagon loaded mineral train on the flat.  Batteries had to be rechargeable from the track and live aboard the loco, and the loco had to be completely autonomous and independent from other vehicles; batteries carried in vans, coaches, or shunter's/match trucks permanently coupled were unacceptable as the loco has to be able to run light engine.

 

This was a big ask in the 1980s and I doubt it could be done today in 4mm, but is probably possible in 7mm.  It fulfils the requirement that only one control system is used for all locos on the layout, and has the advantage that it is fully compatible with conventional wiring and DC control.  It requires 'proper' driving as a loco can proceed under battery power out of control, and approaches to termini, or shunting, have to be done with a degree of skill and caution, so this is realistic and challenging, but means that untrained drivers can cause a lot of expensive damage...

 

Radio control was demonstrated to me at the time in a kit built 7mm Hunslet 0-6-0T, but seemed a bit jerky and imprecise.  It would not have met my requirements in 4mm as I would have had to have a different transmitter/controller for each loco; too expensive.  This led to my considering a sort of ersatz DCC in which current was picked up conventionally from the track but an on/off switch on each loco isolated it,  single action repeater push button down the chimney operated by a cocktail stick.  This would have eliminated most of the layout wiring for DC control, wouldn't it?  Well, no, because you still need it for points, and in those days I was using electrofrogs, so that scheme was abandoned as pointless.  I wouldn't consider it now; conventional switched isolating sections are easier, cheaper, and more reliable.

 

It was not long after this that Hornby announced that they were going to produce a live steam loco in 4mm.  As soon as this was announced, I realised it was going to be absolutely hopeless for my purposes unless it was small and cool enough to be put into a 4mm 14xx and was perfectly controllable down to the finest degree.  That was never going to happen, and when the A4 appeared, an already large prototype by UK standards which extra room inside because of the streamlined casing, it worked, but not particularly well in the sort of stop-start operation I needed.  It did what Hornby intended, which was run at realistic speeds with a string of LNER coaches around a continuous circuit, but it accelerated too quickly and could not be brought precisely to a stand in a required position.  It was a bit of a gimmick, and recreated all the basic problems of clockwork mechanisms.  It put me off 4mm live steam very effectively.

 

In the intervening years. two things have changed.  Firstly, live steam with radio control has been perfected for narrow gauge locos in 16mm scale, with gas, coal, and paraffin firing.  The locos look superb and work beautifully, and precise shunting operations can be carried out with them.  They are masterpieces of miniature engineering, and justifiably priced accordingly, beyond my pocket or space restrictions.  I suspect that this is about as small as one can practically go.  

 

Secondly, while DC control had already reached a peak it has since not surpassed in the form of the very good Gaugemaster units (I have two of these, a power controller 40 years old and a recent HH, both of which are first class products which enable me to get the best out of my RTR fleet), back in those days the standard of RTR motors and transmissions left a lot to be desired.  Bulky underpowerd pancake motors, spur drives which induced excessive friction, and poor materials led to poor and noisy performance, appalling pickups compromised by Satan's Snot, traction tyres, overgearing in the case of Lima and undergearing in the case of Mainline.  My best performer in terms of slow running and smooth starts and stops was a Mainline Manor, which succumbed to the dreaded axle muff disease.  My worst current RTR loco could perform rings around it,

 

This is an indication of how well modern RTR performs in 4mm scale.  There is room for improvement, but both miniature engineering and pricing are subject to the laws of diminishing returns, and that improvement is by and large not necessary except for zealots like me who have no say in the market (this is probably just as well for the future of the hobby!).  And I think it strikes to the heart of why 4mm live steam has all but died the death; it is expensive and cannot provide the performance required on a typical layout, whatever that is.  There may be health and safety issues around the concept of boiling water in a pressurised container and a heat source hurtling around a living room at high speed on (hopefully on, that is) train set curves, and there may be issues concerning emissions in an indoor environment; this is a matter I am unqualified to comment on, but you can see why some SWMBOs might be sceptical...

 

Live steam requires some input from the operator; fires or burners have to be managed, boilers filled, lubrication attended to, and cleaning done after the loco has cooled off.  Live steam enthusiasts will love all this, of course, but the rest of us just want to run trains with the least possible bother.  4mm live steam cannot provide a range of locos; the best that's ever been managed is one class whose prototype operation was mostly restricted to the ECML with some action elsewhere in Scotland in the mid 60s.  Develop, build, and market a live steam 57xx that I can control, and that will run slowly, and that won't dribble oil all over my clean track that I need for the other locos to pick up power from, that won't get too hot and blister it's paintwork or potentially burn me if I pick it up at the wrong time, and that I might be able to pay for, and come back and talk to me then!

 

On top of that, Sir Topham, it doesn't deliver realistic steam effects or sounds; I'll allow that the olfactory experience is realistic enough.  Sounds can be supplied by DCC, though to my mind are much more effective for diesel outline models as real steam exhaust sounds are not just bursts of white noise, and steam/smoke effects that look or behave anything remotely like the real thing are a monstrously big ask (they'd need to be thick, the correct colour(s), to move at scale speed, not make a fallout mess, be non-toxic and environmentally acceptable indoors in small spaces, and not smell of anything, and to react correctly to the load on the loco, which is not always the same as the load on the motor).  Don't hold your breath...

 

But you might be able to eliminate some of the problems associated with live steam in  the smaller scales using compressed air.

 

 

 

 

*I'm told that Master Persian carpet makers always include a deliberate mistake stitch somewhere in the carpet, for this reason...

Edited by The Johnster
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1 hour ago, Nearholmer said:

The answer to the OP seems self-evident: nobody was interested; they wanted to talk about something else instead.

 

 

Not unusual on RM web but the hijacking by the battery discussion in this thread is extreme.

 

 

Tin hat secured ;)

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I noticed the new model shop in sheringham has two secondhand live steam sets for sale 

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For me the reason why live steam did not take off is impatience.  In a world where a 10second delay in loading a web page s a catastrophe, waiting for water in a boiler to get up to temperature is a non-starter for the average modeller.

Edited by Andy Hayter
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Johnster has hit most of the nails on the head (its meths, not paraffin, BTW), but Im not sure physics has been mentioned: physical laws of nature don't scale, and it happens that they bite steam engines badly at somewhere around the sizes we need in models.

 

Steam engines can be made to work in very tiny sizes, there is a chap around who makes some very good ones for 009 for instance, but the laws of physics make it very challenging, and therefore either time consuming (if you DIY) or expensive (if you buy other people's time in a pre-made item) to get the build right, and potentially equally challenging to operate.

 

Oddly enough, now might be a better time, because digital manufacture can reduce the cost of precision, and because control electronics have advanced, but it might be better done with a gas-fired boiler and wireless remote, as in larger scales, although whether that would pass the H&S test I'm not sure.

 

And, as Johnster says, getting significant current through rolling contact is always difficult - I'm an electrical engineer by profession, and know well that 'real' electrical kit, from tiny relays to huge circuit breakers, is always designed with 'contact wipe' (not roll) ...... no roller contacts on pantographs or collector-shoes on real trains (although I think street railway trolley poles, operating at relatively modest currents, did use them in the post). Lionel use rollers on their 3rd rail 0 gauge, and they are nowhere near as good as the wipers that British and European tradition uses.

 

 

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No roller contacts on pantographs or collector shoes but the return circuit is through the wheels.

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True, but generally many of them, which distributes currently nicely, and under mechanical forces that keep them clean and in intimate contact with the rails.

 

Incidentally, and nearly as OT as battery power, in the very early years of electric traction, two rail electrification was tried on real railways, and aside from the current leakage and potential short-circuit nightmares that it created, it proved problematic in current collection terms. Siemens and Hlske  developed their overhead current collection system, the first in the world, in the 1880s "on the hoof", as a result of current collection problems on demonstration railway with two-rail electrification in Paris.

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Clearly nobody commenting here has owned one and had the joy of using one properly they are a marvel and highly addictive.

The thread is about live steam and not batteries!!

If you want to discuss other things then please start an appropriate thread.

I am assuming the OP is referring to Hornby OO live steam and the reason it didn;t catch on at the time was because it was a lot of money at the time to outlay and needed a dedicated track/control system.

It now has a dedicated following and many locomotives commanding a far higher price than originally sold for.

For more info please visit this website https://www.oolivesteam.com/

 

 

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Out of interest, what current do they draw?

 

Someone "up thread" said 40A, which seems a heck of a lot to me; might he have meant that they have a power of 40W, which seems more feasible?

 

I've seen the 00LS track at an exhibition, and very interesting it was.

 

 

Edited by Nearholmer

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46 minutes ago, loickebros said:

Clearly nobody commenting here has owned one and had the joy of using one properly they are a marvel and highly addictive.

The thread is about live steam and not batteries!!

If you want to discuss other things then please start an appropriate thread.

I am assuming the OP is referring to Hornby OO live steam and the reason it didn;t catch on at the time was because it was a lot of money at the time to outlay and needed a dedicated track/control system.

It now has a dedicated following and many locomotives commanding a far higher price than originally sold for.

For more info please visit this website https://www.oolivesteam.com/

 

 

One of the things that put me off at the time (other than cost which was way out of my reach) was the third hand reports that if run for anytime on a shared layout,  I.e. one with regular electric trains everything ended up with a thin veneer of steam oil. I've not been able to verify but having had limited experience of 16mm where the cylinders are lubricated by oil in the steam it seemed highly probable.

 

What's the reality?

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8 hours ago, Ross34 said:

 

Exactly... a 1:76 scale model with 1:1 scale steam doesn't work.. bit like representing "scale water" using H2O

Not to mention the fact that commercial live steam was only just possible in large pacific locos. A long way from being practical, in your average 0-6-0 or any typical tank loco.

Yes I do know that skilled model engineers have built working steam in N gauge, but AFAIK, only of large US prototypes.

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I had an A4 back in early 2008. Great model, and yes, potentially addictive. Sadly I had to get rid in a hurry for much less than they were regularly going for, as I was, well, flat broke after a massive change in personal circumstances... (A euphemistic "Dear John", but by email, whilst I was some 2000 miles away at sea...)

 

Mark

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I suspect a number of reasons combined to ensure the Hornby offering's demise. 

 

Expense. Not, in itself a killer, when you look at what folk are willing to pay for other, top grade r-t-r, but a bit more serious when combined with... 

 

Incompatibility. It didn't work with anything else, so you needed a dedicated layout, temporary or permanent, on which to run, bringing in the issue of... 

 

Space. A Gresley Pacific with loads of haulage capacity and not very precise control needs a big roundy-roundy, or a very long end-to-end to make it worthwhile. How many people have enough room to dedicate to any layout, let alone a secondary novelty? A big loop in the garden would work for some, but garden layouts involving electricity are a fair bit of faff if they're going to be reliable enough to be fun. 

 

So I'd see the system as being great if you're willing and able to commit the necessary resources to it as a standalone, but less so as part of a "proper" model railway. Presumably there weren't enough buyers in that position. I do wish I'd had the foresight to lay down a few sets when the last were discounted though. 

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For me it was lack of compatability with anything else, coupled with the expense, that put me off and that was before I learned that they were difficult to control.

 

Perhaps if research continued the cocompatibility and control issues could be resolved.

Edited by Colin_McLeod
typo
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9 hours ago, Nearholmer said:

Out of interest, what current do they draw?

 

Someone "up thread" said 40A, which seems a heck of a lot to me; might he have meant that they have a power of 40W, which seems more feasible?

 

I've seen the 00LS track at an exhibition, and very interesting it was.

 

 

They draw 7 Amps at 16 volts

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For me they didn't capture my imagination . I think the boiler in the tender put me off. The 16mm live steam scene is thriving. I think this is because the boiler is the boiler, the valve gear is the valve gear, the pistons actually drive the wheels and plenty of steam comes out the chimney. Obviously this sort of thing just isn't possible in oo. The Hornby effort was a good try but not close enough to a real steam engine for me.

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From my end of things, I was always extremely interested in grabbing a live steam loco in 4mm, but the astronomical price when new mean that I literally did not have enough money to make the purchase.
 

Having since seen them in operation on several occasions now, I’m afraid that I can’t see any real difference in operation to the electric locos, certainly not enough to justify the still very high cost from my side. The incompatibility with other power systems was also a serious issue for me.

 

nice idea on paper, but in reality there is nothing really too impressive about them for me (this is my own view, please don’t throw bricks or anything else :) ) 

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Niks got it spot on.

 

 

Hornby said it was mainly economics of the late 00s that put a nail in its coffin ( if we are mainly referring to Hornby OO livesteam )

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I think Hornby missed a trick with live steam locos. It needs to be comparable with normal DCC, and sold as a one off. How many people have these odd prototype locos? A good selling one would have been a live steam big boy that was DCC compatible for the US market. Or maybe a model of a garrat ?

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A huge proportion of them were bought and never run. Must admit I’m guilty of this and mine is still untouched in the box 15 years on. If you look at the sales of the sets on eBay, the majority haven’ been out the box either.

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Hi all,

Just to throw  a quick spanner in the works on 2 fronts. My main model railway running these days(until I build my new 00 gauge layout) is 16mm garden railways. I have posted the layout several times here on RMweb for any one who wants a look. Most of it is run by battery/radio control engines with a few steam/radio controlled engines for more interesting running. Yes they start very well and are immensely controllable until it comes to stopping them. One of the problems you get is over run where you turn off the control and the engines keep rolling on. This seems to weather dependant and may result in the engines rolling on by several feet. Not good if you are stopping at a set of buffers. Big heavy 16mm engines can take the odd bump like this but I am not so sure that the more delicate 00 engines can.

The other spanner is as has been pointed out here that electrical pick up is not really best served by rolling wheels. Well maybe we should go back to the good old days of 3 rail similar to the Marklin  style track with small electrical studs and slipper contacts. The studs are fairly well hidden in the track.

Another point/question on the original subject for every one who loves chassis detail is how much detail will you get in with a live steam boiler pumping out a lot of heat and steam that will not if plastic either melt or distort.

Just a couple of things to think about.

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There's an easy answer to stopping them, presuming you're using R/C - use the reverser, ease it towards mid-gear and they stop. Pronto if needed.

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Hi Neil,

It is not a case of putting them into reverse to stop them, But it seems to be a lag in the engines taking the command to stop. We are using Timpton controllers.

Edited by cypherman

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Has anyone done radio controlled brakes in the larger scales?

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20 hours ago, The Johnster said:

My railway modelling career, now just over 60 years of it, has been a constant attempt to get 00  (and 009 for a while) locomotives to run in the same way that real ones do, with smooth starting and stopping and infinitely variable slow control, with no jerks or snatches.  Modern RTR is not bad in this respect but the perfection I have always sought still eludes me.  My opinion, which is only my opinion and cannot be backed up by certifiable objective fact or reasoning, is that it cannot be absolutely achieved with any system that relies on current being picked up from the track.  This is, I reckon, because the electrical contact between the railhead and the wheel, and that between the wheel and the pickup, is bound to be compromised if the wheel is rolling. It is exacerbated (autospell wants 'exasperated', which sort of works as well) by the braking effect of the pickups.

 

 

Secondly, while DC control had already reached a peak it has since not surpassed in the form of the very good Gaugemaster units (I have two of these, a power controller 40 years old and a recent HH, both of which are first class products which enable me to get the best out of my RTR fleet), back in those days the standard of RTR motors and transmissions left a lot to be desired.  Bulky underpowerd pancake motors, spur drives which induced excessive friction, and poor materials led to poor and noisy performance, appalling pickups compromised by Satan's Snot, traction tyres, overgearing in the case of Lima and undergearing in the case of Mainline.  My best performer in terms of slow running and smooth starts and stops was a Mainline Manor, which succumbed to the dreaded axle muff disease.  My worst current RTR loco could perform rings around it,

 

 

 

 

To achieve the style of running  you ably describe we may  need to replace  the fixed ratio gearbox drive train with a continuously variable  wide range (CVT) gearbox. the highly regarded Toyota Prius Synergy CVT (at least by engineers and not that Top Gear chappie) may be our inspiration

Edited by Pandora
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