Steam and trains have always been in my family; a great great uncle who built express passenger coaches for the London & North Eastern Railway; a great uncle who toured Scottish farms with a Burrell traction engine to power threshing machines; my father worked for Queensland Railways, and my brother still does.
But the biggest influence on me was the business that dad ran from the mid-eighties, to the early years of this century; a portable miniature steam railway that travelled to school fetes, carnivals, festivals, and all manner of events throughout South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales. So of course it was only natural that I got involved; I first learnt to drive a steam loco when I was five years old, started helping with maintenance when I was seven or eight, and started building my first steam loco at 15.
Dad always had bigger and better things he wanted to do; and he did them. He wanted to own his own railway, done. He wanted to get a permanent track into a theme park, done at Aussie World on the Sunshine Coast. He wanted to get his railway into the Brisbane Miniature Train Show, done. He wanted a permanent track at the North Pine Country Markets, done. There were times that our miniature railway even stood in for the full size railways: when the Rosewood Railway museum didn't have a steam loco of their own, it was dad's - my family's - portable railway that provided one. Our train gave rides to people of all ages, from newborn to ninety seven years old, we've given rides to several state premiers, their children, celebrities and news readers, and even several national rugby and football teams.
But eventually dad retired, my brother continued on with his petrol powered loco for a while, but with rising insurance costs - despite never having made a claim in 20 years of operation - it eventually got too expensive to keep the trains running. So we laid some track around the house, and kept to ourselves for a while. But then dad's health started to decline, and most of the railway was sold off; one steam loco to Tasmania, another two to Redlands and Toowoomba, a fourth to Victoria, the self-drive battery train we used to run at North Pine stayed in the family though; I redid it's control system and my nieces and nephews got some fun with it in my brother's back yard. Eventually we even sold off some of the workshop equipment, tools and machinery that had built, rebuilt, and part-built several steam loco's, a petrol powered loco, a couple of battery electric locos, several kilometres of track, and dozens of passenger carrying and works carriages.
Dad and I amused ourselves with model railways around the lounge room, but otherwise the trains were all gone.
I miss having a steam loco to drive, to work on, to talk to late at night when the neighbour's cat's walked off in a huff. So I want to see if I can go for my dream, and maybe, just maybe it'll help dad a bit too. Dad's got dementia now, he doesn't remember much that's happening, but he can always talk trains; that's been such a big part of our family for so long that I guess it just got buried in him good and deep. So maybe if I can build a new loco it'll help dad, help get him more active, get him thinking more.
And maybe this time I can build that large scale tank loco I always dreamed of.
So what are we aiming for with this?
Build a brand new 15" gauge steam locomotive, an 0-4-2 side tank inspired by the works of Sir Arthur Heywood and Henry Greenly. The exact loco to be built will be something akin to Roger Marsh's smaller "Tinkerbell" class loco, that is popular on 7.25" and 7.5" gauge railways throughout the world. But to a larger scale on 15" gauge. The finished loco will measure about 3 metres long, 1.2 metres wide, 1.8 metres tall, and weigh in at around 2 tons.
To do this I'll need a new lathe, and some other machine tools, plus iron castings for at least the cylinders, crossheads and wheels, a boiler designed and built, laser cutting services, lots of steel, and a whole lot of time. Fortunately time isn't that big of an issue, as I now care for dad and he's always happy to watch me work. But money for the rest is where we really need your help.
$50000 is an estimation for a complete loco, but I can start work with less. At $10000 there'll be enough to get a really good start, and I'm hoping that by leaving this campaign open, and with updates as construction progresses, that I'll get enough to finish the loco. With full funding I see the loco being complete by 2017-2018; about 24-36 months.
What if you don't get enough money?
Well then it'll just take longer. I've wanted to build this loco for a long time now - since my first introduction to 15" gauge railways in the early '90s - and have built myself up slowly toward it; working with smaller gauges, and gradually building and working on larger gauges and loco's. So one way or another it's going to happen, but without help it will likely take twenty years instead of just two.
So where will the money go?
A rough breakdown, that will allow the loco to be gradually built as funds become available is:
$1000: Purchase several mechanical drawings needed to finalise the design, build 4x3m track sections to build the loco on, and to help get materials into the workshop from the street.
$10000: loco chassis frames and valve gear transfered to CAD, parts laser cut, delivered, and platework assembled.
$15000: new bandsaw, start on platework (smokebox saddle, cab floor) sheetwork (cab, water tanks).
$20000: iron castings for wheels, crossheads and cylinders.
$30000: new lathe. Can then complete axles, wheels, fly cranks, axleboxes, get the loco standing on its own wheels
$35000: new mill. Can then complete cylinders and valve gear. Generally get the chassis to a running state.
$45000: final boiler design and construction.
$50000: brass for fittings, feed water injectors, pipework, paint.
Some of this is based on rough quotes, others on material estimates, distributor catalogues, and so on; all put together from personal experience in loco building. Some areas will cost less, others more, but the total will work out. Also the list above is broken into Big Things, it doesn't list all those little things that cost more than you'd think (bolts, rivets, grease, cutting fluid, linisher belts, etc), but they are included in the costings. Some things are also a bit out of order, but are arranged to keep costs together and lower where possible.
Could it be done cheaper?
Yes and No. Some things could be done cheaper, but would add to the workshop costs, such as manually instead of laser cutting the chassis frames and siderods. While laser cutting costs quite a bit, it also saves on additional lifting, fitting, and cutting equipment that wouldn't be used again, and gains on higher accuracy than doing it by hand. On the other hand, buying a lathe big enough to turn the wheels, flycranks, axles, axleboxes, and flycut the cylinders, is expensive, but it's not a once off use like the frame cutting, so works out cheaper to do it myself. Besides, why build a steam loco if someone else does all the building, right?
What if you get more money than you need?
Then I'll get insurance for an open day, and invite all of you donators to spend a day with the finished loco. Actually, I'd probably try to do that anyway. More money would also lead to the possibility of more track and some passenger carriages, so I could make a move toward getting more of a railway for the loco than just around the house. There's also the possibility of doing a tour of 15" gauge railways in the UK.
So you build a steam loco, what then?
Short term, there's room for a track around the house, with sufficient clearance and just-barely-not-too-tight curves. This will give dad something familiar too, which is a big chunk of the reason for starting the project now. Long term, there's a number of volounteer and charity wildlife parks around that I'd love to be able to offer a railway to and get a long term track into. There's also other possible venues to look into as well if none of those work out, but the ultimate goal is to build a working railway somewhere useful and/or scenic.
I'm also quite attracted to the idea of an educational railway, such as the Leipziger Parkeisenbahn in Germany, where the railway is a training and work experience facility for schools.