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Old Jan 05, 2010, 09:56 PM
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peconic steam's Avatar
Long Island, NY
Joined Dec 2007
508 Posts
Cold weather steaming

Has anyone had any particular problems with small steam plants in really cold (like near freezing) temps? I've found that if you even exhale on a small engine in normal (65 deg.?) temps it will immediately slow down noticeably, then pick up rpms again right away.
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Old Jan 05, 2010, 11:48 PM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
Bozeman, Montana, United States
Joined Aug 2003
3,464 Posts
I've run my locos in 27degF. The biggest problem for me was keeping the fuel (gas) warm enough - Butane has zero pressure at 30, but propane is still usable. I took care not to leave the loco out in the cold once I was done steaming, for fear of ice in the small steam pipes.

When I ran the A.J.Goddard outside on the bench at about 32degF, even the 30/70 propane/butane mix was affected - I could get an increase in rpm merely by placing my warm hand on the cold fuel tank.

I've never made the blow-on-engine experiment, I'll have to try that one next time :-). It makes perfect sense. Anything that removes energy (heat) from the system will affect it.

For the duckpond cruise, we were blessed with no wind. There was a little ice on the paddlewheel supports when I took her off the water at the end of the cruise. I did not measure the air temp, but the water temp was probably 32 since there was all that ice on the pond. So, Midwest engines can run in temps at least near freezing, if the boiler and burner can deliver steam. The boat had been taken from the car, so cold-soaked only about 10 minutes before steam was up (7 minutes of walking to pond & prepping boat, and 3 minutes of firing before launch). Steaming a boat that had reached freezing temperatures before firing up might be hard, unless you had an external source of heat to warm up the engine and free it from internal ice.
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Old Jan 06, 2010, 11:29 AM
3 Blades to the Wind
Shaun Hendricks's Avatar
Atascadero, California, United States
Joined Oct 2004
4,085 Posts
Well, one thing steam systems have is a lot of 'waste heat'. If you could recapture some of that waste heat and direct it back to your butane tank, you might be able to keep it warm enough to give good pressure.

This could be done with a water system, air ducting system, etc. Choose your poison. There is no mechanical reason any fuel system couldn't work in the cold. There are 'scale' and 'beauty' reasons such a system might not be installed though.

I've run natural gas, propane, white gas, and alcohol camping burners in sub zero temperatures.

PS: I've found high altitude to be a bigger challenge than temperature.
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Old Jan 06, 2010, 06:52 PM
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steamboatmodel's Avatar
Toronto, Canada
Joined Nov 2004
1,285 Posts
I have run a coil or two of copper tube from the engine exhaust around the fuel canister in cool weather. You just have to be very careful you don't heat the tank too much.
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