Category Archives: Building the Engine

Hill Climbing Tests

The area I have for the track comprises a racetrack oval pattern with about 275 feet of track.  Since the track route isn’t level, I need to know if the engine will have the power and traction to climb a slight grade.  If not, then I’ll have to figure out something else for the track.  So design and construction of the track is waiting on the results of a hill-climbing test.

I built four sections of straight track using eight foot lengths of lumber to use as a test bed (I’ll reuse these sections in the final version of the track, as well).  I put the track sections on a relatively level portion of the backyard, set the engine on it, and had the first outdoor run just as a test.  I controlled the engine with the remote control and was able to make it go forward, backward, speed, slow, and stop.

Now that I know the engine can power itself and stay on track (pun intended – did you see what I did there?), the next test was to see if it could climb a hill.  I repositioned the track on the steepest slope in the yard, which measured at a 15% grade.  That’s pretty steep for a train track.  If it can handle this slope, then it will be able to handle any slope in the eventual track bed.

The first test of the engine trying to climb the slope had the engine sliding backward down the hill, even while the wheels were spinning trying to power it forward.  So the limiting factor was traction, not power.

I added my weight to the engine by standing in the cab, hoping that the extra weight would improve the traction enough to move it forward.  Here’s the video of that test:

So now I know the engine can handle the steepest slope that will be in the eventual track route.

Siderod Attachment

Side rod (or Connecting rod)

The side rod (or connecting rod) of a real steam engine connects the piston to the engine’s drive wheels.  It works like the connecting rods of a standard gasoline engine that connects the piston to the crankshaft.  The steam pressure pushes the piston, which is connected to the side rod.  The other end of the side rod is attached to the drive wheel and causes it to rotate.

Since this engine is driven by electric DC motors with a chain drive, the side rods are entirely superfluous and decorative.  But it makes a nice visual to help complete the effect.


For the piston rod, I have a half-inch steel rod that sits in five-eights inch diameter holes drilled into the wooden end caps of the cylinder.  The rod can slide freely.  I threaded the rear end of the rod with a die cutter so that I can attach some sort of fitting to attach to the side rod.  My original plan was to fabricate a bracket by bending and drilling steel bar stock and attach to the piston rod with nuts.  But when browsing the hardware store for something to use I found a galvanized pipe fitting Tee that I thought I might be able to use.

The inside of the pipe fitting was already threaded.  But it turns out that the thread pitch of the pipe fitting was not the same as the thread of the steel rod that I cut.  Not a problem – I just re-threaded the pipe fitting to match my steel rod with a thread cutting die.  I screwed the rod into the fitting and locked it with a nut.

Side Rod Wrist Pin

The fittings were also threaded on the sides, so I drilled them out.  I found some clevis pins at the hardware store of the proper diameter and length and used those to create the wrist pins that attach the side rod to the piston rod.  Here is a picture of the final assembly of the front end of the side rod.  Note that the pipe fitting is just a little too wide for the side rod, which was cut weeks ago.  I added a second layer of bar stock to the back side of the side rod to use as a spacer to prevent binding.


The back end of the side rod attaches to the drive wheel.  The drive wheel has a half-inch steel bolt protruding from the side of the wheel, to which the rod is attached.  I drilled a hole in the rod and inserted a bronze bushing that I lubricated with a little axle grease.

A real steam engine also has additional rods that are used to control the valves that allow steam into the cylinders at the proper time.  The control of these valves is determined by the position of the wheel during the rotation cycle.  So the wheel typically will have additional linkages for this purpose.  These linkages are included in this design and create another nice visual effect.

Drive Wheel Linkages

The fittings for the linkages were fabricated from steel bar stock that I cut with a jigsaw.  Then I drilled and ground the pieces to get the desired shapes.  The fabricated pieces are attached to the steel bolt with locking nuts.  The other end includes a bolt to hold the actuating rod that gets pushed and pulled during the wheel rotation.  You can see a picture of the assembly here.

Here’s what the final side rod assembly looks like in operation: