Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

What is it about steam locomotive models that seduces you and me?

4205 views
79 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    January 2017
  • From: Southern Florida Gulf Coast
  • 8,396 posts
What is it about steam locomotive models that seduces you and me?
Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 11:03 AM

I was a model railroader for decades before I back-dated the STRATTON AND GILLETTE to 1954 to include steam locomotives.

I was born in the late 1960s. The only steam locomotive I ever saw pulling a train was a GS-4 pulling the Freedom Train when I was 8 years old.

I was pretty active in the Florida Live Steamers when I was younger, but I really wanted an A/B set of 7 1/2" Gauge F units, not a coal fired steamer.

Diesel engines are my entire life, quite literally. Not locomotives, but large industrial high horsepower monsters.

So for some reason 20 years ago I just had to have steam locomotives, and moved the SGRR through a time-warp 14 years.

I love my steam collection, and the more I learn about the real things, I love them even more.

Why? Has this happened to anyone else?

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: Huntsville, AR
  • 1,116 posts
Posted by oldline1 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 11:24 AM

Maybe because they were so unique railroad to railroad whereas diesels are the same no matter what road you're looking at. Could be the action visible  when moving and the noises and smells. 

oldline1

  • Member since
    February 2015
  • From: Ludington, MI
  • 600 posts
Posted by Water Level Route on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 11:35 AM

While I can't give you the "why" for you, I've found myself in the same boat.  I was born in the mid 70's and while I always thought steam locomotives were kind of neat, I had planned on a layout filled with GP-38's and their bretheren.  I was well enough along amassing a roster filled with them to make a believable railroad.  Then I bought a 4-8-2 that I thought would be neat to pull an excursion train around my layout to give me at least one passenger train and a bit of fun.  It was all downhill from there.  I've always held a fascination of history from the 1920's through the 1940's, but hadn't really put railroads into the picture.  Once I did, it was all over.  While I still have first generation diesels on my current layout, my love is for steam and is almost always what I use to run a train.

Mike

  • Member since
    April 2018
  • From: 53° 33′ N, 10° 0′ E
  • 2,508 posts
Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 11:35 AM

Diesel engines are just effecient engines, nothing more, whereas steam engines are alive, using the elements of nature to move!

I grew up, when steam was still king on the mainlines and anyone who experienced a Pacific with 7ft. drivers pulling a heavy train out of the station knows what I am talking about!

Happy times!

Ulrich (aka The Tin Man)

"You´re never too old for a happy childhood!"

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 11,973 posts
Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 11:55 AM

Tinplate Toddler
I grew up, when steam was still king on the mainlines and anyone who experienced a Pacific with 7ft. drivers pulling a heavy train out of the station knows what I am talking about!

That won't be anyone Stateside... there never were any.  Hudsons yes, Atlantics certainly, but 80" was pretty much it for anyone not on life support in a nursing home to have seen running.

Of course there are certain lucky people (using family-friendly terminology) who got to see Hudsons with considerably MORE than 84" diameter drivers do what they were designed for.  I can only wish to see something like that -- pix and movies wouldn't do it justice -- but there is still 18 201 flying the flag for extreme driver diameter, and that's really good enough for me.

  • Member since
    January 2017
  • From: Southern Florida Gulf Coast
  • 8,396 posts
Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 11:55 AM

Water Level Route
I had planned on a layout filled with GP-38's and their bretheren. I was well enough along amassing a roster filled with them to make a believable railroad. Then I bought a 4-8-2

I knew I could not possibly be the only one. Thank you for your response.

Tinplate Toddler
anyone who experienced a Pacific with 7ft. drivers pulling a heavy train out of the station knows what I am talking about!

Yes, OK, but I do not know what you are talking about.

Other than an odd excursion train, I have no memory or experience of steam actually working.

There is something else at work here.

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

  • Member since
    May 2020
  • 68 posts
Posted by wrench567 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 12:05 PM

The rumble of a large bore diesel engine is hypnotic to my ears. I still love the motion, action, sense of teamwork, and all the facilities it takes just to have a small roster of steamers. The history and nostalgia is fascinating to me. To some they all look the same. Look closer and you will see that they are unique like us all.

  The PRR had 598 I1s class 2-10-0 locomotives. Through the years you can see subtle and not so subtle changes. Some lasted even longer than some the first gen diesels and all the modern steamers. By the time the last fire was dropped those locomotives owed them nothing. The workhorse of mainline freight.

  I guess I'm attracted to the unsung heroes of the railroad golden age.

    Pete

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 11,973 posts
Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 12:06 PM

SeeYou190
Yes, OK, but I do not know what you are talking about.

Google "18 201 locomotive" for your answer.

And yes, you can still experience some of the working.

(I still advocate putting the restreamlined 05 back in steam, but I won't hold my breath!)

  • Member since
    July 2007
  • From: Yorkton, Sk, Cnd
  • 380 posts
Posted by wvg_ca on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 12:10 PM

I lke the detail, and the intricacity , actually seeing stuff move ...

and yes, i actually ran a steam traction engine , waaaay back, lol

  • Member since
    February 2008
  • 1,485 posts
Posted by kasskaboose on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 12:19 PM

The history and romance of steam engines is also notable.  The rails literally united (or divided) the nation.  America became a mecca for hundreds of millions partly because of  the rail system.  Many other countries replicated our transportation network because of the iron horses.

I don't model the steam era, but like hearing the sounds alone!

  • Member since
    April 2018
  • From: 53° 33′ N, 10° 0′ E
  • 2,508 posts
Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 12:26 PM

Just enjoy!

Or this one - music in my ears!

Happy times!

Ulrich (aka The Tin Man)

"You´re never too old for a happy childhood!"

  • Member since
    June 2007
  • From: Grew up in Calif, left in 84, now in Virginia
  • 7,655 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 12:55 PM

Why the maintenence costs of course.  Oh wait, that's what seduced railroads to retire them for diesels.  Clown

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

  • Member since
    December 2004
  • From: Bedford, MA, USA
  • 19,132 posts
Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 12:55 PM

I grew up outside of New York City and my only childhood memories of trains were the electrified coaches of the Long Island Railroad and the NYC subway system.  I didn't see a lot of diesels, even, until my teens, and forget about steam.

After building a new layout in my fifties, I was at my LHS and I saw a steam engine.  I fell in love with the action around the drivers and the sound.  I started converting to a dual era layout so I could logically run some steam.  Some engines, some classic rolling stock and some older vehicles and I was there.

I still like diesel power mostly, but there is a real romance of steam which no modern railroad can match.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

  • Member since
    February 2018
  • From: Great Plains
  • 1,923 posts
Posted by York1 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 12:58 PM

I guess I'm the opposite of several of you. 

I grew up in the 1950s, and my father and I watched plenty of steam on the UP mainline and in the large yards in my hometown.

I watched steam locomotives, but I loved seeing the Union Pacific E9 pulling the passenger trains through town.  I have all diesels on my layout.

Maybe someday I'll make a change.

York1 John       

  • Member since
    February 2005
  • From: Vancouver Island, BC
  • 22,143 posts
Posted by selector on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 1:05 PM

This:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

  • Member since
    February 2001
  • From: Wyoming, where men are men, and sheep are nervous!
  • 2,431 posts
Posted by Pruitt on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 1:11 PM

Before the steam engine, it was all muscle power. Mostly horses involved in land transportation, but oxen and human power as well.

The steam engine was the first harnessing of forces of nature through a mechanical apparatus. The steam locomotive put those awesome forces on display through its mostly naked machinery. It also displayed mankind's mastery of those forces (well, usually mastery). And they were BIG. Not as big as steamships of course, but those engines were hidden way down in the bowels of the ships, where they couldn't be seen. The steam locomotive could be seen by anyone who cared to look.

Yes, diesels are more cost effective, by far. And much more efficient. But they're just boxcars that make noise (no offense to the diesel afficionados). 

So for me it's steam. The only thing that conveys power like a steam locomotive is a space launch rocket. IMHO.

  • Member since
    January 2019
  • 355 posts
Posted by John-NYBW on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 1:15 PM

 

My experience is similar to Mister Beasley's. When I got back into the hobby as a young adult in the late 1970s, my intention was to model the first generation diesels I remembered from when I was kid. Then I bought my first steamer more or less on an impulse. It was a Rivarossi Mikado lettered for the UP. It was probably a generic model the same as they made for other roads but that didn't matter to me. When I saw the rods working the driver wheels like a find watch I was hooked on steam. Within a few years I had added a Big Boy, two Challengers, two Northerns and several smaller steamers to my roster. At the same time I bought my first house and built a fairly large freelanced transition era layout in half my basement, an 11x30 foot section. I moved into my current home almost 20 years ago and have since built a completely fictional eastern railroad but have held onto the giant steamers from my UP layout. I really can't run them on on my code 83 track because of the pizza cutter flanges Rivarossi used to put on their wheels but I can't part with them either. I have a fairly large steam roster of 18 steamers and a similar number of diesels. The addition of sound has made the steamers even more appealing. 

PS I only recall one time seeing a steam locomotive in a revenue run. I think the year was 1956 and our family was driving from Omaha to Chicago on a summer vacation. It was probably somewhere in Iowa and we looked out to the right and saw a short train in the distance being pulled by a steamer. I'm guessing we were on US 30 at the time because we crossed the Mississippi at Dubuque. I've never researched to see what railroad it was that might have still been running steam in that time and place. 

  • Member since
    February 2017
  • 145 posts
Posted by Deane Johnson on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 1:41 PM

Judging by the posts in this thread, it would seem there are a lot of different reasons for individuals to be romanced by steam.

For me, it's the poetry of not only the motion of the engine workings, but the details of what it took for a steam engine to function.  Everything surrounding the steam engine is magic, not only the motion of the components of the engine itself, but also of the support it took.  That includes things like turntables, roundhouses, coaling towers, water towers, and on and on.  Oh, and don't forget long spouted oil cans.

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • 5,054 posts
Posted by RR_Mel on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 2:01 PM

My father gave me a Lionel train for Christmas 1945 (027, 2-6-2) and I was hooked on trains.  The first real train I saw was the UP City of Los Angles in December 21, 1949, my Mother, brother and me were passengers on it from Salt Lake City to Los Angels.  We were snow bound at Donner Pass for 19 hrs before the track was cleared by a snow blower from Roseville.  We finally arrived in El Paso on the Southern Pacific Golden State December 23, 1949.

After living in El Paso for several years and watching the SP Steam AC-9s going north daily I became hooked on steam locomotives.  The size of an AC-9 and the tremendous power with the wheels slipping on the 1.2% grade was simply amazing to a teenager.  It would sometimes take four or five attempts before the locomotives got moving.  I was amazed and always counted the freight cars, normally over 80.

I modeled steam and only steam from the early 50s until we moved to Bakersfield in the mid 80s.  I cutover to HO scale in 1951 after reading an article about John Allen’s Gorre & Daphetid.  I bought a couple of diesel switchers for my new layout (1989) in the early 90s, GP7 & SD7. I really disliked the E series locomotives, most likely because they were not steam.  As time went by I adjusted to the E series and now the E7 is my favorite diesel.

My layout era is the transition era, early to mid 1950s.  I have never run a diesel powered freight on my layout, only passenger service.  My SP articulateds and GS-4s are for freight and heavy weight passenger service.


Mel


 
My Model Railroad  
http://melvineperry.blogspot.com/
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 


  • Member since
    February 2015
  • From: Ludington, MI
  • 600 posts
Posted by Water Level Route on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 2:32 PM

SeeYou190
I knew I could not possibly be the only one. Thank you for your response.

You're welcome Kevin.  Again, I can't really tell you why.  The only steam trains I've seen have been circling amusement parks.  Not quite the same, or so I assume.  I've only seen a few pieces of infrastructure tied to steam locomotives in person.  Virtually all my exposure to them has been through photos, videos, and models.  Even through such limited exposure, they still do it for me.  I discovered one of my favorite movie scenes almost by accident.  Our kids were young when "The Polar Express" movie was made.  I had read and enjoyed the book as a kid, but come on, this is a kids movie.  Well, the scene where the train first appears, stops at the main character's house, and moves on, with the home theater cranked up, puts a massive grin on my face.  I'll stop anything else I might be doing if the kids are watching the movie, just to experience that scene.  Love it.

Mike

  • Member since
    May 2014
  • From: Berwyn, PA
  • 605 posts
Posted by Trainman440 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 3:17 PM

Steam engines have personality to them, they feel alive. Steam engines come in far more variations than diesels do. As a mechnical engineer, I feel steam engines are symbolic of my field. 

The complexity a steam engine shows, the pipes, moving parts, and various odd shapes, gives a feeling of wonder and mystery. That is contrasted to the diesel, in which everything is covered up. 

Oh and I love looking at the valve gear and rods :D

The steam engine vs diesel to me is like warship vs cruise ship. Warships have so many things to look at, the main guns, aa, radar, range finder, float planes, torpedos, etc, versus a giant white rectangle floating on water. 

Charles

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Modeling the Santa Fe & Pennsylvania in HO

Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLb3FRqukolAtnD1khrb6lQ

  • Member since
    May 2010
  • 7,098 posts
Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 3:24 PM

I've never been seduced by a steam locomotive.

Maybe somewhat amazed by all of the moving parts, but never seduced.

Mike.

  • Member since
    August 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 10,389 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 3:50 PM

In addition to all the positive responses above, having steam on my layout gives me the opportunity to have a roundhouse and turntable, ash pit, water plugs and tanks, fire cleaning tools and coaling facilities.

 Roundhouse_pane by Edmund, on Flickr

 Q_on_TT by Edmund, on Flickr

I was born in '56 but, fortunately, my dad took me along on many main-line steam fan trips many of them on the Grand Trunk Western and Canadian National. These trips were run pretty much the same way big steam was run late in their careers with fast, heavy passenger trains.

 6218_Chatham-curve by Edmund, on Flickr

 6218_Chatham-cab by Edmund, on Flickr

 

 

I also had an opportunity to fire and sometimes run this GTW USRA Mikado in my late teen and early 20s.

 GTW_3734_2 by Edmund, on Flickr

(3734 was renumbered to 4070 in '56 or so)

 4070_RD_w-RW by Edmund, on Flickr

So, I certainly enjoy having a collection of various steam locomotives on my layout. Some represent locomotives I'm familiar with first-hand, others are ones I wish I had!

Yes! The sights, sounds and smells are seductive. I've spent hours on "fire-watch" throughout the night on several locomotives. They become your friends. Running one opens up a whole new world of awe and discovery.

Color me seduced.

Cheers, Ed

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 9,321 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 3:55 PM

Like Mark P. said, it was by steam that machine first replaced muscle power, be it human or animal.

And the fact that long after internal combustion mastered other smaller forms of transport, trains and ships still relied on steam.

I'm too young, there was no working steam left for me to see here in the Baltimore area, and very little anywhere else by the time I was old enough.

BUT, I grew up near Baltimore, birthplace of American railroading, where before such things were common, we had a great railroad museum.

And less that two hours away, a steam tourist line that for 60 plus years has ran a regular schedule everyday, all day, most of the year, almost always steam powered.

I'm 63 years old, I bet I have been to the Strasburg Rail Road at least 63 times, likely more.

So I have watched steam in action all my life.

It took nearly 30 years of developement for the diesel electric locomotive to be "better" than steam........

And for me, I'm a history guy, always interested in how we got to where we are now.

So the ATLANTIC CENTRAL is set in 1954, and steam and diesel power all four railroads I model.

Sheldon 

    

  • Member since
    May 2012
  • 1,668 posts
Posted by angelob6660 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 4:56 PM

I was born in 1986 and the early 90s the only steam trains I saw was Thomas. After watching those stories I was fascinated with steam locomotives. The first real locomotives came from books like the Hudson, Mountain, Northern, American and many more. Including fallen flags railroads I thought we're still around. 

When it comes model railroading I chose diesels because it's easier to handle into your hand then a steam engine. But I have a few steam locomotives a SP GS4, 2-8-0 consolidation, and a NYC 4-8-4 Drefuss Hudson but no coaches for it. 

Modeling the G.N.O. Railway, The Diamond Route.

Amtrak America, 1971-Present.

  • Member since
    December 2004
  • From: Bedford, MA, USA
  • 19,132 posts
Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 5:19 PM

I must admit that I will have an affection for my diesels as well.  Those F7s, GP-9s and particularly my Alco RSC-3 will always still be my favorites.  I started with a GP-9 as a young teen for my first HO train, and never left.

The behemoths we see now won't even fit on the narrow curves of my layout.  I guess I'll just stay in the past   it was a nice place, anyway.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

  • Member since
    October 2001
  • From: OH
  • 17,517 posts
Posted by BRAKIE on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 6:29 PM

Kevin, Today as I was running my United Models Santa Fe 2-8-0 on my test track I realize I was watching the "monkey motion" of the side rods,pistons and crossheads and marveled at all that movement just to turn the drivers and apply horse power to the rail.

At any rate I fully believe I'm a step closer to modeling the steam era. I have a buyer for my 94/95 cars and locomotives(exception being the Ohio Central GP7,Summerset Ry SW1500 and SCR SW8.)

BTW. That's a mighty find looking collection of steam lokies ya got there.

 

Larry

Conductor.

Summerset Ry.


"Stay Alert, Don't get hurt  Safety First!"

  • Member since
    March 2017
  • 3,813 posts
Posted by Track fiddler on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 6:53 PM

Nice thread Kevin.  I like, I like itYes

I don't know if steam engines ever seduced me.  Fascinated and Mesmerized me is more of the wording I would have to state.  I did seduce a dragon once in Dungeons & Dragons that gave me a great honor and a better standing & position in the game.

I grew up with a childhood of Burlington Northern after the merger.  We had a sanctuary we all hung out at that was a Railroad Tom Sawyer land.  Green machine has always been my calling as a kid and back now as I re-entered the model railroading hobby again.

I had no steam in my model railroading as a kid other than a Baltimore and Ohio Dockside Switcher.  But after seeing them for years on old westerns, in other movies and then seeing them in real life through my life, I had to take Burlington Northern back a little farther to Great Northern so I can mix steam engines amongst diesels in my hobby now.  I chose the Transitional Era of course.

When I witnessed Union Pacific Challenger 3985 in Shakopee Minnesota about 7, 8 years ago and chased it down with my brother to Jamestown Minnesota, I knew I would have steam in my next model railroad for sure.

I make it a point to go see Steam now whenever they are aroundYes  I remember standing right next to Challenger that day in Shakopee.  It was like the thing was alive, I could hear her breathe. 

Maybe Steam Locomotives do seduce me!  All I know is Steamers make me go like thisStick out tongue Laugh  Yes I do like themYes

 

 

TF

  • Member since
    October 2010
  • 183 posts
Posted by Billwiz on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 7:50 PM

I have always loved trains.  My earliest memories include dad's O trains and Uncle Bill's S layouts at Christmas.  And the little diesel that pulled the slag cars at the Phoenix Steel plant.  I loved it when we got stopped at a railroad crossing.  Trains have always been a part of my life.  I was born in 1964 so as many of us, steam was gone, other than excursion trains.  But there is something about a steam locomotive.  As stated above, diesels are machines (and pretty cool ones at that), but steam locomotives are living breathing machines.  They just excite the imagination.  When I started in HO I had a diesel and an electric loco.  Couldnt wait to get a steamer.  My first was a Tyco Chatanooga Choo Choo.  Yeah, a pretty crappy model, but it was steam and it counted.  

 

  • Member since
    March 2017
  • 3,813 posts
Posted by Track fiddler on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 8:51 PM

Image from Photography On The Net.  

 Digital Photography Forums

 

Challenger,  My favorite Steamer!

 

 

TF

 

 

 

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!