adopt a small toy steam engine there are a few
important things to consider and a number of things
to keep in mind as long as you own the little machine.
Chances are you are the proud owner of an old toy engine,
or you are contemplating buying one someday. Before
you make the jump, let's talk about the safety issues
involved. Yeah...I know.... BORING!! But since a few
minutes of boredom hurts a lot less than a physical
injury, humor me for a few minutes and pretend it's
- Steam Engines get HOT!!. I mean really hot.
Getting careless, even with a healthy steam
engine, is a great way to learn truth of the
previous statements. Steam can cause extremely
serious burn injuries and touching hot
metal parts can leave a nasty naked burn where
your skin used to be.
- Always visually inspect your steam
engine prior to firing it up. You never know
when old age, years of careless handling or
lack of proper maintenance may sneak up and
attack your little friend. The same little engine
that ran perfectly yesterday might not be ready
to play today, so give it a good visual inspection
before you even fill the tank with water.
Look for cracks, pinholes, loose fittings, unsecured
linkages and even cracks in the flywheel. This
is also an excellent time to oil the engine..
- When filling with water, (Distilled Water
Only, Thanks) watch for leaks in the boiler
vessel. These indicate that the boiler is unsafe.
Firing up a leaking boiler can have several
undesirable consequences. Super heated steam
expands rapidly and creates pressure in a confined
space. Your tiny leak might be blow water level
letting the pressure create an aresol can effect
which is likely to spray boiling water on any
nearby objects. If said object happens to be
you.... get the picture?
If the leak
is above water level it might seem rather harmless,
but think gain. You've got pressure escaping
along a cracked and aging solder joint. Each
time the pressure is applied, the crack gets
a tiny bit larger. Since you have no idea how
many times this process has repeated nor how
long it's been getting larger, are you
really willing to gamble that this is not the
day it fails totally? You can't out run
the expanding steam if the boiler ruptures violently.
electrically heated steam engine with a water
leak is not to be run at all, especially if
the water could come in contact with the
heater. Electrocution is no fun and since it
generally leaves you with a shorted heater,
it's hard on the little engine too.
Rule #1 ....DO NOT run the engine if there
are indications of physical problems or structural
- Check the relief valve for proper function
as this is most important item between you and
the possibility of a rather potentially exciting
explosion. A boiler that cannot relieve pressure is
a potential hand grenade level event, with
the addition of scalding hot steam. Not much
fun when violently introduced right where you
happen to be sitting or standing. It's true
that few small boiler ever explode, melting
down being much more common. However, seeing
your name and the word "explosion"
in the same headline of the local newspaper
is not an experience for the faint of heart.
Rule #2 ....DO NOT run the engine with
a malfunctioning relief valve until the problem
- Many older toy engines were constructed
using lead solder. As they age, the many heatings
and coolings they've experienced can take a
toll on the solder joints. Many of these old
engines have been stored in attics, barns and
other hostile environments which may have allowed
them to freeze repeatedly, sometimes with water
in the system. Others were exposed to acidic
water which may have weakened the joints. All
of these things may have contributed to cause
sometimes serious unseen damage. Always approach
an old engine, especially the old European engines
with caution if you intend to run them.
Basic Rule #3 ....Treat
every old toy engine as if it is potentially
dangerous... much as you would treat any gun
as if it is loaded.
All of this is, of course, worst
case scenarios presented to get your attention. They
are real dangers to those who ignore their potential.
That being said...with a healthy dose of common sense,
due caution and a healthy amount of respect for the
potential dangers, many old engines can be operated
without any problems. It's the toy engine you take for
granted that will get you hurt.
the very best teacher in this hobby. After you've run
a few engines, no one has to tell you that a toy engine
is fragile or that overheating or heating a dry boiler
is a big mistake. This information is all very
basic in nature and not intended to cover every possible
problem one might encounter. It is presented to give
a beginner a fair shot at avoiding completely rookie
The final couple of rules are pretty
#4 ....When in doubt about the condition of an engine,
DO NOT run it. Consult with an experienced steamer
and ask him for advice. You'll find several online and
most of us...er uh....them are always happy
to pontificate on the subject of steam...(grin)
Basic Rule #5 ....If you are not experienced with
steam engine repairs, contract the work with someone
who is experienced and capable of executing repairs
properly. Not a plug for work... just sound advice.
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