Rebuilding the Shay (part 9) – setting things on fire again

More work on my Steamlines Shay locomotive. At the weekend, I took it to the outdoor line at Brambleton model railway club, and it attracted a lot of interest. With much assistance from David Jones, we managed to get a bit of flame inside. Initially, we did this by moving the smokebox forward and pushing a lighter into the gap. We weren’t able to raise steam, but after a few minutes, lots of things on the smokebox started to bubble, and some of the detailing fell off … it seems that the chap who originally built it had used soft-solder. We also concluded that the locomotive has never been fired – it certainly hasn’t ever seen any heat.

This evening, I had another go. The flame lights, but goes out again – sometimes after a few moments, sometimes after a bit longer. (a short video here shows this in action I tried various combinations of moving the jet backwards, or forwards, restricting the air flow (with the dodgy-looking collar that I added – see pic below) but it doesn’t seem to make any difference. After half an hour and getting no pressure in the boiler, I tried something else. 

Once everything had cooled down, I removed the boiler and lit the burner on its own. The picture below shows the flame in action (resting on a spare piece of steel to protect the frames – they are probably soft-soldered as well). This is normally inside the tube inside the boiler – bit it’s fascinating to see it in action.

The next step is to find out why the flame keeps going out. Watch this space.

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Rebuilding the Shay (part 8) – bogies

It’s been a few months since I did anything with the Shay – life is like that.

I believe that the wheels of this locomotive were originally designed for G-scale. I say this with reasonable confidence because the flanges are too big, and they bump on the sleepers on 16mm Peco track. Here is one of the bogies, seen from underneath.

I tried a few times to get the bogies apart. Unfortunately, the gears are a tight fit on the axles and won’t come off. Also unfortunately, the bogies are soldered together, and I didn’t want to have to rebuild them, So I investigated how I might reduce the flanges whilst the wheels remained in the bogies.

I made a wooden jig to hold the bogie, and attached various bits to a board to support my cordless drill and the jig. There is also another piece of wood that holds the trigger on the drill. Using the driveshaft and gears seemed like a logical thing to do, but when I held the file against the flange to wear it down a bit, I quickly realised that this was putting un-necessary stress on both the universal joint and on the gears. The grub screws also kept coming loose.

So I rotated the bogie-holding jig through 90 degrees and held the axle directly in the cordless drill. This worked much better. It involved removing a boss from the left end of the bogies and tightening the screws that hold the wheel to the axle, but this was much more satisfactory, and in the space of a few minutes I had filed down one wheel sufficiently that it no longer bumped along the track.

Repeat with the other wheel on the same axle.

The jig was adjusted to drive the other axle, and its two wheels were similarly filed down. The exact diameter of the flange is not critical. A bit of filing on the sides of the flange removes any burrs.

Repeat with the other bogie, and the wheels now run properly on the track.

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Rebuilding the Shay (part 7) – setting things on fire

If you have been following my previous posts, you will know that the boiler and gas tank are both sound. A friend from my local model engineering society encouraged me to try lighting the loco to see if it will run.

One loco that I own is lit by applying a flame to the chimney. The flame blows back into the burner flue. Another is lit by opening the smokebox door and poking a lighter in there. The Shay’s smokebox door doesn’t open. However lighting the chimney didn’t have the intended consequences.

I asked online, and another Shay owner tells me that the loco is lit from under the smokebox. There is a small hole. I tried this, and get a nice blue flame around the base of the smokebox. Again not really what we want.

Apparently the fix is to add a sleeve to the burner air intake (like on a Bunsen burner). That involves removing the gas tank, which involves removing the Osmotor, which involves removing the lubricator. To make this easier, I intend to take the opportunity to put a union joint in the gas pipe to make it easier to remove the jet without doing a full strip-down-and-rebuild. Another job for another day.

Justin – 15 July 2022

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Rebuilding the Shay (part 6) – fiddly bits

In my previous post, I described getting the boiler and gas tank tested, and promised to start putting the loco together. This has proved to be quite fiddly.

The first fiddly bit relates to the bolts in the bottom of the lubricator. The bolts are soldered into the bottom of the lubricator, which is rather useful, as it means they fit and I can’t lose them. As you might be able to see in the photograph below (which is taken from underneath), the holes for the nuts are directly in line with a piece of brass – and they are a bit fiddly to install, and there’s barely enough space to get a spanner in there to do them up. For the record, these are M3 nuts.

“Fortunately”, I told myself, “I only need to do these up once”.

With the lubricator installed, I then looked at installing the boiler next to it. This was relatively easy: two bolts on the angle iron at the back into the frame (also M3), and it fits snugly on the smokebox at the front.

Then I realised I had forgotten to bolt in the burner. So I unmounted the boiler, bolted the burner in place, and re-mounted the boiler.

Then I mounted the steam motor, which is fiddly because there is a steam pipe that comes out the back and needs to fit inside the exhaust pipe that runs alongside the boiler. It is also fiddly because the gap in the frames is only just big enough.

At this point, I looked to see how the pipe from the lubricator connects to the steam motor, and realised that the screw that holds the banjo cannot be done up because it faces the boiler. I also realised that the gas tank has to be mounted before the motor, because of how the gas pipe runs to the burner.

All was not lost. I didn’t need to remove the boiler – just the steam motor and the lubricator. Remember those M3 bolts I said I would only ever do up once?

With the lubricator loose, the gas tank installed, and the motor back in its right place (but not bolted down), I took the opportunity to re-shape the pipes so they are neater. I also checked that they don’t get in the way of the cab.

Bolting everything down again was relatively straightforward. I undid the nuts on the lubricator three times in the end. A few weeks ago, I had looked at the nuts and bolts that hold down the steam motor and gas tank, and found that some of the washers and nuts were missing.

This is the second fiddly bit.

  • The two at the burner end of the boiler are M2, and they only hold the steam motor in place.
  • The two bolts between the steam motor and the gas tank are also M2, and hold both to the frames.
  • The two bolts at the front end of the gas tank are tiny. Possibly M1.6, or possibly 10BA.

I purchased a pack of 8BA washers, and substituted 8BA washers for M2.

I also purchased a small pack of ten nuts, washers and bolts in 10BA from Macc Models (via their eBay shop), but I couldn’t get a 10BA bolt through the hole in the frame, though the bolt that was supplied with the kit does fit. This leads me to suspect that these bolts are supposed to be M1.6 (which requires a 1.6mm hole) instead of 10BA (which requires a 1.8mm hole). However I was able to get a 10BA washer and nut on the bolt-that-is-probably-M1.6 … and it seems to do up.

A note on small bolts – if you are purchasing such a thing, only buy one size at a time. None of my packages came with a delivery note, so it would have been very difficult to tell the difference if I had bought multiple sizes from different eBay shops at the same time.

Oh, and open the tiny bag over a lid (the lid of a Chinese Takeaway container for example) to stop the bits rolling away.

Justin – 16 June 2022

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Rebuilding the Shay (part 5) – boiler and gas tank

Since the last update, I have had the boiler tested by the helpful people in my local model engineering society. They also had a look at the gas tank. 

Garden-gauge steam locomotives, particularly those with commercially-made boilers, don’t normally need annual boiler testing. However, this kit languished in a cupboard for 20 years, and there was no certification paperwork with it. So I felt it would be a good precaution to get it formally pressure-tested before I try to run it.

The boiler is sound, which is a relief. 

The gentlemen who did the boiler testing also inspected the gas tank. Although they aren’t able to pressure-test it (being a gas tank, it is tested in a different way to testing a boiler), they were of the opinion that the gas tank was professionally made. The tank itself seems sound, but there was a leak coming from the valve. There is a slot on top of the valve by which it can be tightened, but this needs a special screwdriver (see picture). In the picture you can also see the screwdriver bit which I modified (with a hacksaw). With some gas in the tank, I immersed it in luke-warm water, and confirmed that there aren’t any bubbles.

The next step is to put everything back together again, complete the assembly, and put some fire inside it.

Justin – 11 June 2022

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Rebuilding the Shay (part 4) – variations

I have been discussing the Steamlines Shay with various other owners of this kit in the 16mm Association. The kit was sold by Tom Cooper in the 1990s under his “Merlin” or “Steamlines” brands. The contents of this kit varied slightly over time.

On some models, the bogie frames have different detail. Mine (on the left) with real (though non-functional) springs and D. Hunt’s (on the right) with fake spring etch detail.

This particular Shay model is powered by a “Steam motor” – a compact two-cylinder device, which is sometimes called an “Osmotor” (because it oscillates). Some “Osmotors” on the Shay included extra step-down gearing to achieve slower running. Mine (on the left, not geared down) and P Mason’s (on the right, showing extra gearing to slow down the motion – there is a third axle hidden behind the lower one).

The universal-joints on most models are different to those on mine (see my previous post). The upper version in the photo below seems to be unique to my Shay, whereas the lower version (also included in my kit of parts) is clearly to be seen on everyone else’s version of this kit.

It is likely that the Shay I purchased in 2020 (as a part-built kit that had sat in a box for 20 years) has been modified from the original plan. Some of the cosmetic parts, such as the lamps, are placed differently to the instructions. The universal joints on mine do not match with any photographs of other Steamlines Shay that I can find online, so I suspect a modification or deviation from the kit here too.

Justin – 19 May 2022

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Rebuilding the Shay (part 3) – The instructions

The Shay kit that was sold by Steamlines in the 1990s was accompanied by a VHS cassette showing how to build it. There are also paper instructions – mostly on A3 – with some guidance, but a lot is left to the interpretation of the builder.

The quality of the video is not great by today’s standards, but was presumably par for the course in the 1990s when it was made. I had it digitised so I can watch it on a laptop (I have never owned a video cassette player).

Maybe this was also par for the course in the 1990s, but I was rather surprised to see the presenter with a lit cigarette whilst discussing how the gas tank works. To be fair, he does explain that you should never do this … but later in the video he repeats the exercise whilst the burner is burning.

The video answers one of my earlier questions: what type of U-joint is used on the flexible couplings. It seems that the later models used a simpler U-joint rather than the prototypical one with outer rings.

Justin – 6 May 2022

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Rebuilding the Shay (part 2) – Linkages

One of the great things about a Shay locomotive is the unique drive train – a flexible axle running along one side of the locomotive from the power unit (crankshaft) to the bogie trucks. This Wikipedia page has more information on how it works.

I purchased a part-built Steamlines Shay model (manufactured in the 1990s) in 16mm scale (approx 1:19). Today I took most of it apart: I unmounted the gas tank, the boiler, the lubricator and the power unit from the frame. Small boilers under 3 bar-litres like this one don’t need annual testing. However, because the boiler is probably 30 years old, I am planning to get it re-tested just to be on the safe side.

The bogies are already made up. The crossbars were upside-down (there should be countersinks in the top to hold the heads of the bolts that fix the coupling arm – but they were in the bottom) so I corrected this, and also mounted the coupling arm on the rear bogie. The kit assumes LGB couplings, but also gives instructions for other coupling types if preferred.

The linkages connect the power unit to the bogies like this (biro for scale):

Several other owners of this same Shay seem to have different universal joints. In the kit that I purchased, there are parts for two varieties. The upper variety are already made up. The lower variety was in a bag of parts and are not pinned together (see bottom left). There are no instructions on how to make them up.

The upper one seems to match the prototype. The lower one is visible in other incarnations of this kit, for example:

So my question is: which one is correct for this model? I will update this page when I have found out.

Justin – 2 May 2022.

Update 6th May 2022: I have been in email contact with a few people over the last week. It seems that the upper image of linkages was the original version that came with earlier versions of the kit, and the lower image shows a later option, possibly more robust. Every other model of this kit that I have seen, including the one shown in the instructions video, use the later (lower) option.

Alongside this discussion, I have found that later versions of the power unit (see picture at the top of this post) had additional gearing so that the locomotive would run slower. More in a future post.

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Rebuilding the Shay (part 1 of many)

About 18 months ago, I purchased a part-built kit for a Shay locomotive. The kit was originally produced by Steamlines (the brass fret is marked “Jan 1990”).

This particular kit was purchased new by Mr Evans of Llangadfan near Welshpool, from Tom Cooper (of Steamlines) on 17 March 1990 as indicated on a receipt in correspondence from the time. It was advertised in “16mm Exchange” (a publication of the 16mm association) of May 2004. Mr Kitchenman purchased it from Mr Evans on 10th May 2004. Mr Kitchenman collected it sometime later on a visit to Wales. When he collected the model it was obvious, sadly, that Mr Evans was in very poor health.

Mr Kitchenman sold it to me in 2020, saying “The only reason I’ve decided to sell is because I find I’ve got too many other loco build projects on my ‘to do’ list“. It was listed in several editions of Throwback Modeller (a publication of heritage steam locos in 16mm scale). I purchased it on 23 October 2020, collecting it two days later at the Bedford Model Engineering Society track. It then sat in my cupboard for 18 months.

Today I put up a large table in the spare room, and set out the loco and parts to see what we’ve got. The main bulk of the loco has been built (it is predominantly soldered brass construction). The two bogies are made up and painted in black. The cab is constructed and painted in primer-red. There are various other parts ready to be installed. Most of the model is still unpainted in brass.

16mm Shay locomotive kit

I worked my way through the instructions to get an idea of what has been completed and what is still to be done. There are several A4 sheets on general operation, oiling guidelines, running and steaming. The instructions themselves are on A3 sheets in clear plastic sleeves, as follows:

* Pages 1 and 2 (both on same A3 sheet)
    Fret contents and front elevation.
* Page 3 
    Assembly Instructions overview, advice on bending, paiting, gluing etc. 
* Page 4
    Step 1, 2, 3: frames (all done)
* Page 5 
    Step 4 make up bunker (installed)
    Step 5 make up sandbox (NOT DONE YET)
* Page 6 
    Step 6 Bunker light (installed)
    Step 7 Servo Assembly (NOT DONE YET)
    Step 8 Bogie Mounts (installed)
* Page 7
    Step 9 Motor Assembly (pre-built, installed)
    Step 10 Lubricator (installed)
    Step 11 Servo (NOT DONE YET)
* Page 8
    Step 12 Boiler Sub Assembly (mostly installed EXCEPT GAUGE)
* Page 9
    Step 13 Banjo from lubricator (NOT YET ATTACHED)
    Step 14 Blast pipe bending (done)
    Step 15 Blast pipe construction (done)
    Step 16 Front Lamp (installed)
    Step 17 Blast pipe installation into smoke box (done)
    Step 18 Smokebox door (glued on - IS THIS CORRECT?)
* Page 10 
    Step 19 Gas tank (pre-painted grey) (installed)
    Step 20 Gas Tap (working)
    Step 21 Regulator (UNCERTAIN - WHERE IS IT ? )
    Step 22 Trial Steaming (NOT YET DONE)
* Page 11 Steps 23,24,25 Bogie assembly
* Page 12 
    Step 26 Assemble bogie and wheels
    Step 27 Over-wheel strip (NOT YET INSTALLED)
    Step 28 Couplings (NOT YET DONE)
    Step 29 Running in using a bench drill (NOT YET DONE)
* Page 13
    Step 30 Mount Bogies on frame (NOT YET DONE)
    Step 31 Shafts (NOT YET DONE)
    Step 32 Fit buffers (already installed too early)
* Page 14
    Step 33 Cab (made up and painted)
* Page 15
    Step 34 Boiler Bands (NOT YET DONE)
    Step 36 Weight diagram (NOT YET DONE)
    Step 37 Motor Cover (NOT YET DONE)
    Step 38 Gear Covers (NOT YET DONE)
* Page 16, 17
    Pages on Radio Control setup

Several points to note:

  • There seem to have been two versions of the same fret: one thicker than the other. Mr Kitchener mentioned that some parts are duplicated.
  • Various bits of fret and brass are left over, which might be useful at some point. Going through these along with the fret contents (pages 1 and 2) I identified a few pieces that have not yet been made up, including the sandbox.
  • There are several bags of parts in packaging that look like components from Roundhouse Engineering.
  • The kit has not been built in the order of the instructions: for example the buffers and steps are already installed though other major parts have not yet been carried out. The steps up to the cab get in the way of the rear bogie motion.
  • I found enough replacement brass angle of the right size to replace the damaged rear buffer beam.

Justin – 27 April 2022

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Slate wagon kit roundup

A quick look at the slate wagons kits available in 16mm/ft at the moment (Autumn 2021)…

‘uss_Raven74656’ on ebay – £8 – 3D printed model of the steel slate wagon

The Lineside hut – £9 – Laser cut plywood 3-plank
(A resin slate load is also avaialble for £5)

PDF models £9 – Plywood 2-plank
(bulk discounts available)

Binnie Eng (Approx £13, but not currently available) Colin and Peter’s original 3-plank wagon.
Peter’s FAQ says that he’s in the process of making new moulds –
How Colin Binnie made the originals

Resurgam £18-22, MDF or Plywood – FR 2-ton steel waggon

IP Engineering – £20 – Laser cut plywood 3-plank.
(Note: Search engines may give you this page, listing the Binnie wagon at £13. This page is quite out of date and these wagons are not available)

Slaters – £20 – £26 – – Dinorwic or Festiniog wagons, may contain brass etches.

Bole Laser – £30/£35 – 3D printed 2-bar as on Tallyllyn

Coast Line Models – from £17 – various kits for steel and timber slate wagons (requires Slaters’ wheels to complete)


This article explains how to make your own:

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