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#1 Shultzy Jan 14, 2013 04:11 PM

Ideas & Thoughts
I am new to steam and am currently planning my first steam boat. I have studied the subject a lot and still have a few questions. I tend to plan and think things out for long periods of time before building. Buying a new lathe next month and looking to start the construction of the engine/boiler.
1, On model steam boats is there a device that will transmit or relay the boiler pressure and water level back to the controller?
2, I am thinking of using propane to fuel my boat. Is there a system that will use boiler pressure to control the flame? If not could i use a pressure switch off an air compressor or well pump to control a solenoid valve to turn the propane on and off. I know to do that it would need a pilot light or electric lighter device to work that way?
3, Is there a automatic pump to keep the water level up in the boiler?
Just a few things I have been pondering, not a lot of information on these things online. Thought I would ask. also if anyone has tips on hobby lathes as to what ones a good and what to stay away from and such I would love to hear from you.

#2 Steam up Jan 14, 2013 04:57 PM

1 Attachment(s)
The answer is probably yes to all of your questions.
I use LPG to raise steam and control this via an attenuator this controls gas supply and flame in relation to pressure.
To my great surprize it works really well.
The engine is a Borderer built using a Chinese lathe.
Saltwell Park model boat club steam launch (1 min 45 sec)

#3 Brooks Jan 14, 2013 05:55 PM

Steam is different. For an electric boat, you can assemble parts from a kit, and the boat will likely perform fine the first time out. My electric VacUTug worked on her maiden voyage. With steam, even if you have a kit, you will likely not achieve instant success, at least I didn't. There are skills to learn to run even the simplest steam boat: Fire management, Fuel management, Water management, Steam management, Safety, Tools needed and Tools nice-to-have pondside....in short, you have to be as knowledgeable as a real steamboat engineer. You can read all you like about these topics. But, reading and doing are not a given. Experience is necessary. Mistakes will be made.

When I see a new guy starting out with a complicated design, I worry that he will be overcome with problems and quit. Debugging a steam power system is not a trivial matter, even for experts. This is true even for the simplest system.

If the builder adds complication, the debugging process balloons. I saw this all the time over on the live steam RR site....posters were true steam and machining experts, with years of experience. They had to use every bit of their knowledge to achieve success with their complicated models. Admittedly, it was stunning success :-). It was fun reading how they debugged, I learned a lot. Unless you love debugging something for which you have no experience, think twice before diving into a complicated steam setup.

I recommend starting with the simplest system, no automation: eg. Midwest Heritage engine/boiler package. It works, it has more power than most people expect, it is a lot of fun to run, and you learn steamboat skills. Then, if you are having fun, and getting your boat to run satisfactorily, branch-out and add the fancy dodas to your next boat.

The dodas are not necessary for enjoyment. They let the boat act more like an electric boat (turn it on and forget about it). But, if that's your goal, then why not stick to electric? The joy of steam is that it Does require skill. Gain the skills of operation, with manual control of everything. They will provide a sound foundation for branching out with your next model.

In my own roundhouse I have complicated and simple locos. I find I enjoy the simple, do everything yourself, models as much (and maybe a little more) than the complicated ones. My 3 steamboats have all been simple; my enjoyment has not been hurt at all by their simplicity. Examine your own goals. If complication is your thing, then Great! I think you'll have a more enjoyable journey towards Complication if you get a little steaming time under your belt first.

#4 Shultzy Jan 14, 2013 06:24 PM

I have had a few old Wilesco desktop toy steam engines. They all have the same issues. no power, and no way to know the water level in the boiler, granted they are old and I bought them used, one has been previously been ran dry under heat and the solder has melted out of the joints. I see your point about getting too complicated out of the gate, (bad habit) I was trying to think of ways to keep this from happening. how do you guys/gals tend to these issues?

#5 mogogear Jan 14, 2013 08:37 PM

I am some where between the tow previous answers to your query.

Since steam boats tend to "worry" you ever so little about what might be going on "under the hood" so to speak , I tend to steam for no longer than 20-25 minutes. Regardless of how the boiler level is doing or the gas supply or to check the pressure gauge- You still might need to drain and refill the lubricator.

So coming in for a pit stop is part of the enjoyment for me really.

I do have an burner attenuator on my most recent steam boat and really like it. It keeps the boiler at a nice constant even pressure. It has the secondary benefit of allowing me to slow down and linger a bit in the pond- practice maneuvers without setting off the SV. As my newest boat is a paddle tug- I like to dink around with barges and such and this allows the burner to switch down to "pilot light" level if I am not consistently using the steam supply. Or moving around at "scale speed" in the harbor etc.

Now to boiler level monitoring--I am with Brooks on this part. Nope - I just check it when I swing in to top off the oil etc. A site glass and my eyes are the best boiler monitor in my book. Then I don't have to worry if the system is working correctly and I am not "asleep" at the controls.

Steam takes some tending to.

To me that is the joy in it

Hope this helps

and welcome to steam--it is very rewarding...I am no pro but now have 3 working steam boats with 2 more under construction...and two more needing restoration....Yep, HOOKED

#6 mogogear Jan 14, 2013 08:38 PM


Originally Posted by Steam up (Post 23814737)
The answer is probably yes to all of your questions.
I use LPG to raise steam and control this via an attenuator this controls gas supply and flame in relation to pressure.
To my great surprize it works really well.
The engine is a Borderer built using a Chinese lathe.

BTW- Steamup- nice work on the Border engine- -welcome to you and Shultzy as well. I almost forgot my manners..:D

#7 Brooks Jan 15, 2013 07:06 AM

I use a stopwatch to help avoid running the boiler dry. Measure the amount of water you put in the cold boiler. Heat up, and run motor for 5 minutes. Stop, drain and measure amount of water left. Water start-water left/5=ml of water used/minute. Figure out how much water you want to leave in boiler, then divide the rest of the water volumn by your ml/min to get your minutes of run time. Be aware that bench-derived minutes will be different from on-the-pond minutes. Running w/o pond water resistance on the prop or paddle will use up boiler water faster, so bench derived minutes-to-run are probably conservative.

Plan to leave 1/4" of water in the bottom of a simple, tubeless boiler. Plan to leave at least 1/8" over horizontal tubes in a horizontal boiler, don't worry about vertical tubes or horizontal tubes if they are in a vertical boiler. It'd be better to leave 1/4" over horizontal tubes, but a model boiler may be so small that you won't get much steaming time. You will just have to be more careful when running a horizontal boiler since you are leaving yourself less latitude for mistakes in timing.

By shutting off the fire before all the water has evaporated, you will protect your soldered joints from melting. A silver-soldered boiler is more resistant to dry-boiler damage than a lead-soldered boiler....but it's never good for any boiler to run dry, so don't push your luck. Be conservative (run for short times only) until you get a feel for actual boiler water usage. This will depend on what you are doing on the pond, the air temperature, how well you lubricated the machinery, and other factors. So, every pond run will be a little different to a lot different...all part of the steam operator experience you will gain if you pay attention to what's happening each cruise.

With gas fuel (propane or butane or a mix), you can make an rc gas cutoff. That way, if you find that the boat is in the middle of the pond when it's time to stop steaming to protect the boiler, you have a way to shut off the fire. You may need a rescue boat to retrieve your steamer in this case. The gas cutoff is a "braces and belt" recommendation; if you pay attention to your watch, you won't need it. See the Steam Tramp thread for details.

I agree with all Mogogear said. Controlling the fire allows you to run longer because you are not losing water due to the safety valve blowing. As he said, this is a problem for start/stop activities peculiar to tugboat ops. It's also a problem if you set the gas valve too high at the start of your cruise. The way I handle that one is to keep the first cruise of the day close to me so I can bring her in and turn down the fire (or turn it up) if I guessed wrong about steam production rates needed for the day.

Steam tramp

#8 Brooks Jan 15, 2013 07:16 AM

Welcome to the Forum!

A note of caution: Rcgroups is very popular. It's not that uncommon for their server to get overloaded. When that happens, your reply to a thread may get eaten. I handle this by copying my text to a junk.txt file (ie Notebook) before posting. That way, if my reply is eaten, I at least have a copy I can repost. "Junk.txt" is my personal code to designate temporary files that can be overwritten once transfer to Rcgroups is accomplished.

#9 Brooks Jan 15, 2013 07:17 AM

That, in fact, just happened this morning, hoho.

#10 bgnome Jan 19, 2013 08:26 PM

The heritage and the Mark IV from midwest are great, simple, and cheap little engines to learn steam management on .

they obviously don't have all the bells and whistles as more advanced set ups. But, really good for getting a handle on the situation. though, if you are used to the Wilesco static sets, you should be well on your way.

unless you have ready machining experience, I would just go with a kit engine and prefab boiler set up to start. Perhaps a TVR1a

#11 Shultzy Jan 20, 2013 08:11 PM

Thanks for the responses, I have a bad habit of diving in the deep end before I learn to swim. I have decided my first engine will be a 1/2" oscillator.
I plan to buy a new 7x10 lathe or a used craftsman model 109 next month. I am still unsure of which lathe to get, I have about $800 to spend, That gets me a new Chinese 7x10 and no tooling, or a used atlas/craftsman lathe and some money left for a little tooling. I have one 109 lathe, well most of it, it was a gift from a old man who made a new cross-slide and tool post for it. the feed screw has been replaced with threaded rod and the half-nut is broken off, Also power feed is all busted up. Anyone used one of these lathes, are they good when properly assembled with original parts. What about the Chinese lathes are they as cheap as they look.I like that the atlas is made of cast, steel, and aluminum, no plastic! there also are no electronics to go bad. What Are Your Thoughts?

Looking forward to hearing from you,

#12 Shultzy Jan 20, 2013 08:21 PM

I also have a pre1920's Prentice Bro's lathe, It is all there, but needs a little TLC. It is a 12"x 48" lathe and runs off a line-shaft. If anyone knows thing about these lathes it would be great to hear from them, I could really use a pic of the gearing behind the apron, especially the power feed for the cross-slide.


#13 Steam up Jan 21, 2013 04:29 PM

I was given a Myford by a friend and have never used my Chinese lathe since.
I know that this might not be an option for you but I would go for a good second hand lathe.
The electrics on the Chinese lathes can be a pain.

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