Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Book Review: Building Small Steam Locomotives by Peter Jones

I appreciate that every model railway publication in the world seems to have reviewed this book (the publishers have been very generous with copies) but since I bought my copy and this is my blog, I'm going to have a go as well.

The subtitle on the cover is "A Practical Guide to Making Engines for the Garden Gauges" and that pretty much sums it up. By garden gauges the author mainly means gauge 1 and above although the are some nods towards 7mm scale, you get to hear much more about 2 1/2 inch. Mostly he very sensibly talks about 16mm and G gauges - the most commercial sizes for the target market and also the most suitable for the early projects which utilise commercial parts.

Even if you have no interest in model engineering and wish to do no more than tinker with OO RTR locomotives the initial chapter naming the various parts of a steam engine is very valuable and enough of a reason to badger your local library to get a copy in. The emphasis is on not only what various parts are, but their purpose. In fact by the end of the first chapter you (or at least I) have a much better understanding how coal and water makes motion. Of course I knew the basics but valve gear was always a bit of a mystery. It appears that its purpose isn't just to make my life difficult when kit building !

On the practical side some basic metalworking and machining receive their own chapters. This book won't tell you into a model engineer - if it could then the tomb would be several feet thick - but the reader comes away with and overall impression of all the task and a feeling that you have had a peek behind the magic curtain that separates the wizards of the machine show from the rest of us.

The first project involves little more than re-working an Accucraft Ruby from its American originals into a passable Cornish Box Tank. Now with many years brass bending and soldering behind me, I read this and though that I could do this. Everything is explained clearly with lots of pictures (high quality photos and graphics run through this book like letters through a stick of rock) which makes things a whole lot easier.

As the book progresses the projects get ever more complex. I'll admit to skim reading some of the finer details but I get the drift and can always go back and read things properly if I'm ever in the position to do something about it. The G1 Motor Tank is particularly interesting as I'm building a 7mm Coal Tank at present which has a very similar outline. While running through a project the author explains how a reader could use the information for other models so the reading isn't wasted even if you don't want to build that particular prototype.

As well as the full featured projects, the pages are littered with short descriptions of other potential models covering a huge range or prototypes and freelance creations. I didn't like the look of a few of these but that's a matter of taste and nothing to do with the book. Mind you there is mention of using the engine I built for a Fantail Launch last year which was interesting...

This book is about inspiration. I'm sure there are plenty of books giving explicit details of individual projects, or you can buy a couple of tons of Model Engineer magazines to get your hands on the same sort of information. Here though, you find a nice lead into the subject. I read it and felt that perhaps I could build a steam engine. Not imediatly, but now I have an insight into this world, maybe one day I will.

Buy the book from Amazon


James Finister said...

You might be aware that very sdaly Peter died soon after publication of this book. He'll be much missed.

Phil Parker said...

This is very sad news. The loss of someone who knows his subject and can communicate it so wonderfully is terrible.