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Restoring History - Bushtracks Locomotive No. 523

Before we begin the breakdown of what needs to be restored, it is important to understand how a steam engine works holistically. On a diet of just coal and water, these mechanical dinosaurs have the remarkable ability to race along at over 100miles per hour. A steam engine burns coal to release the heat energy it contains. Picture a metal kettles placed over open fires on camping trips. The heat from the fire boils the water in the kettle and turns it into steam. This is exactly what steam engines do, but instead of letting that steam wisp away on the breeze, they harness it, and use it as a power source. There are essentially four main domains of a steam train.

  1. A fire where the coal burns.

  2. A boiler full of water that the fire heats up to make steam.

  3. A cylinder and piston, rather like a bicycle pump but much bigger. Steam from the boiler is piped into the cylinder, causing the piston to move first one way then the other. This in and out movement (which is also known as “reciprocating”) is used to drive…

  4. A machine attached to the piston. The piston is connected to one or more of the locomotive’s wheels through a kind of arm-elbow-shoulder joint called a crank and connecting rod. As the piston pushes, the crank and connecting rod turn the locomotive’s wheels and power the train along.

Nestled within these four domains are hundreds of smaller components that work together to make the train move. Several of Locomotive 523’s parts have experienced a lot of wear and tear throughout their busy lifetime, and are in need of serious TLC.

One of these is the ash pan, which is severely damaged and requires almost complete refurbishment. In a steam engine, the firebox is the area where the fuel is burned, producing heat to boil the water in the boiler. Most are somewhat box-shaped, hence the name. An ashpan, mounted underneath the firebox and below the grates, catches and collects hot embers, ashes, and other solid combustion waste as it falls through the grates. The fire grates need be replaced periodically due to the extreme heat they endure.

Also to be replaced is the cab. The cab, is the part housing the train driver or engineer, the fireman, and the controls necessary for the locomotive’s operation. In addition to the locomotive controls, a cab will be fitted with new windshields, rectangular side windows, crew seats, heating, and sometimes radios, air conditioning and toilets.

The steam generated in the boiler not only propels the locomotive, but also energises other devices such as whistles, brakes, pumps and passenger car heating systems. The constant demand for steam requires a continuous supply of water to the boiler, usually pumped in automatically. The source of this water is an unpressurised tank that is wrapped around the boiler. Periodic stops are required to refill the water.

Locomotive 523 is fitted with steam pipes and valves to make steam push the piston first one way and then the other. This is called a double-acting (or counterflow) steam engine. It’s more powerful because steam is driving the pistons all the time.

Boiler lagging refers to insulation that helps to retain heat in the boiler. Boiler lagging is important because it helps prevent the boiler getting cold on one side and hot on the other, which causes a lot of stress on the metal.

And Lastly, here is a photo of the man that is making it all happen - Ben Costa - the head of Bushtracks Steam Train operations - he is the mastermind that is overseeing the restoration and maintenance of the Bushtracks steam trains, and we'd like to tell you a bit more about him in the next blog post!

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