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"Notes from the Unit Shop"

Kevin O'Connor's advice for the beginning small scale live steamer


Getting Started with Frank S. 

Part Four of a series on tapping the maximum potential of a Gauge 1 locomotive

"After the fun comes the cleanup - Here's how to do a professional job"



Super cleaning the locomotive for storage or display can be done at home in the kitchen sink.  Locomotive that arrive in filthy condition here at Unit shop are treated to a kerosene shower to loosen caked on crud and dried out, congealed grease and oil.  I use water white kerosene in a hand spray bottle similar to the window cleaning variety over a 24” diameter automotive lubricating oil drain pain, which catches the runoff.  


Spray the top, side, bottom, and ends till the locomotive is saturated with the kerosene.  I even douse the smokebox!  Let the locomotive rest with the covering of kerosene for ten minutes or so. 


The next step is the kitchen sink.  Place the locomotive in the sink’s tray and turn on the hot water full blast; preferably using the dish rinsing spray head.  Force the hot-as-you-can-stand-it water into every crack and crevice of the locomotive and try to drive ever bit of dirt, oil, and such off the surfaces.  Don’t forget the bottom and ends of the locomotive as well.  


If this cleaning is done properly, all of the accumulated dirt will have vanished and a fine patina of kerosene will remain.  The kerosene will protect the locomotive from oxidation as it air dries, but will evaporate off over a few days time.


As soon as the locomotive is reasonably dry, lightly spray it with WD-40 and wipe it down with a light cotton rag.  The WD-40 will displace the remaining water and provide reasonable midterm protection against oxidation.  


Locomotives that are run regularly can skip the kerosene treatment and you will find that the hot water spay followed by a wipe down with a clean rag will generally suffice. 


If your locomotive sports R/C control then extreme care will have to be exercised around the electronics and the servo motors; probably best to remove the R/C gear prior to the cleaning process. 


Go easy on the boiler pressure gauge as well, as they are not waterproof and there is no point in fogging up the face glass with either oil or water. 


The thrill of operating our small-scale live steamers lies in being the conductor, fireman, brakeman, and engineer all at the same time.  Sometimes it reminds me of trying to waltz to a polka.  Attention has to be paid to so many interesting factors, but that is the fun of it.  


Your ally in doing all these jobs well is your understanding of the physical principles that govern combustion, lubrication, heat loss, relative temperature, friction, and even relative humidity and ambient temperatures.


This series of articles were originally published in Steam in the Garden.  Appreciation is expressed to both the author, Kevin O’Connor, and Ron Brown, Publisher/Editor, for permission to post to the SouthernSteamTrains.com web site.




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