Steam Lorry! – Wilesco D320 (Initial Run Review)

So it’s that time of year again, the time when I normally lose control of my wallet, perhaps. This year was particularly unforgiving, especially seeing as I’d just spent a bunch of cash on the 3/4″ Maxitrak Allchin all the way from the UK.

Nevermind, the heart wants what the heart wants and so here is the outcome/result/consequence:

The Wilesco D320 Steam Lorry!

What have I done…

So after reading some fairly mixed reviews of this Wilesco live steam vehicle for some weeks, I had finally settled on it (with some persuasion from my loving wife – aren’t I ‘lucky’ or doomed!?). It was basically a toss-up between this, or the Wilesco D305 Fire Engine. In the end, it seems the (much more expensive) Steam Lorry won out…

This is the third Wilesco I own in my collection now (the other two being the D405 Traktor and the D365 Steam Roller), and I must say, after having owned this Lorry for just-on 24 hours, and only having it run it once so far, it’s a keeper!! To put it into some perspective, price-wise, it is about double the cost of any Wilesco live steam model I’ve owned previously, and about half the cost of the 3/4″ Maxitrak Allchin Tractor (which is, rightly so, still in a league of its own).

Read on for a more detailed review of this beast!

What’s under the hood

The Wilesco D320 Steam Lorry is powered by Wilesco’s standard single cylinder steam engine, vertically mounted, and plumbed to a rather attractive brass upright-style boiler, allowing the engine to be driven with less issue over gradients.

The engine is actually mounted inside the driver’s cab towards the rear and is mounted centrally and longitudinally on the frame of the Lorry. The crankshaft passes rearwards to the externally-mounted flywheel which is mounted just outside the rear of the cab, again longitudinally.

From the flywheel, there is a pinion which meshes with a larger spur gear (both the pinion and spur are PLASTIC however they appear to be made of good quality plastic, similar to those gears seen in RC cars). From the spur gear,  a pair of bevel gears (again plastic) rotate the drive 90 degrees so that the resulting drive shaft protrudes just fore of the left hand rear wheel. A simple chain drive arrangement then carries the drive the rest of the way to the left rear wheel, the only wheel of which is driven.

All-in, the drive train seems fairly robust and should be able to cope with the stresses of driving not only the Lorry, but of any additional loads and trailers that may be attached in future.

The frame (or base if you will) of the Lorry seems sturdy enough as well and has very little flex considering the overall weight of the empty Lorry (3.1 kg according to Wilesco).

I will get to the actual performance a bit later in this post, but suffice to say that the little single-cylinder steam engine does a good-enough job of powering this behemoth along even with load in the rear tray, but this does come at a cost of a LOT of Esbit fuel tablets!!

Control system

As I purchased the model (only yesterday!) one of the gents behind the counter exclaimed “A radio-controlled steam engine! Who would have thought of that 20 years ago!”. And rightly-so, Wilesco haven’t done too terribly by fitting their radio-controlled unit to this model, as standard equipment. It only actuates the steering system of the Lorry, but the idea is that once the throttle is set and the fire is stabilised with a good head of steam onboard, one can simply sit/stand nearby and issue commands courtesy of the 40Mhz radio unit and guide the Lorry on its desired path, without having to constantly chase after the model to steer it this way and that. You even get indicators that blink when issuing left/right turn commands!

Now, before I go too much further, this is perhaps the only part of the model that didn’t exactly win me over 100% when I first un-boxed it. I certainly had some teething issues which I will go into shortly…

I had read of issues others had encountered with the RC system and I promptly encountered the same (and more! :() upon loading the RC unit with fresh batteries and trialling it out on the dinner table (well before I intended to steam the model itself).

The main issue (that I had already known about) was that the servo motor in the RC box wasn’t up to the task of steering the wheels left and right with the full, stationary weight of the Lorry loaded upon front wheels (it must also be noted that this was even before I had filled the boiler full of water, so in theory, it wasn’t at its full weight just yet either). Not only that, but left turns resulted in the long steering rod flexing rather alarmingly, caught between the resistance of the steering system and the torque that the little servo motor was trying to exert.

OK, not a big issue I thought…as once the Lorry was moving the steering system should work OK, and I tested this as well by rolling the Lorry along by hand before steaming it up and trying-out the steering.

BUT, the next issue (that I honestly wasn’t prepared for!) was that left turns seemingly did not register when commanded from the handheld radio control unit. I fiddled with the antennae, checked the ground connection, battery levels, orientated the controller this way and that around the model, all to no avail. Right turn commands would be registered just fine however, so it seemed the issue lay in the handheld unit itself, rather than a control signal/receiver unit issue perhaps.

So, after about 30min of fiddling (including trying completely different batteries) I was close to considering calling up Wilesco/my local hobby store, when I decided to take the plunge and dismantle the handheld radio control unit. :o

Once I had the covers off the handheld unit and was left staring at its internal circuit board, I found the issue fairly quickly and I’m glad I did: basically the plastic fitment of the controls prevented the steering control stick from travelling far enough to close the contacts for the left turn switch inside the controller!! The fix was to remove the bulbous control stick (they simply pull-off) and file down the plastic so that it could travel slightly further before it contacted the external casing of the controller – we’re talking millimeters here.  A quick test whilst everything was apart confirmed that left-hand turns were now registering 100% reliably and without issue, and I proceeded to screw everything back together. Yippee!

So, after all that head scratching and fretting, I had the control system issues under control (pun not intended!) and I was ready to steam!!!

Steam up!

So what’s it like steaming-up this big Wilesco Lorry and driving it around? I’ve placed my thoughts below, from initial preparation, to steam-up, to after-run!

The boiler takes almost 200ml of water, which, while somewhat on the low-side compared to Wilesco’s other models, is just reasonable in practice. I use filtered water from a food-grade charcoal filter, with perhaps a touch of tap water added (but only a touch!). (note: I am seriously considering purchasing a water distiller soon, as proper “distilled” water is almost impossible to find around my area.)

The boiler is fitted with an unconventional sight glass setup which I’m not particularly fond of, but it’s better than no sight glass at all: the sight glass(es) actually consist of two ‘port-holes’ mounted vertically (one a short distance above the other) on the side of the boiler. The idea is that you fill the boiler until water appears in the upper-most sight glass. Then as you steam about, you watch the water level until it reaches the lower glass, and that’s when you know it’s time to shut her down and refill the boiler or end the run. That’s the theory; in practice, it works just OK, and involves a bit of head-scratching at times to ensure the water level is sufficient. From what I’ve ascertained so far, there’s about 50-60ml of water remaining in the boiler when it appears in the lower sight glass – a good time to abandon the fire!

Anyway, more on that later. Once the water is filled into the boiler, I close off the boiler by fitting the safety valve, give the valve a quick pull to verify it’s not stuck, then make preparations to oil-up, followed by lighting the fire!

Oiling-up is fairly standard per the other Wilesco live steam engines; open the jet oiler, fill with steam oil, (I use about 4 drops for a 20 minute run-time), then oil with standard car-engine oil all around the drive train and moving parts (it’s worth noting that I do not use mineral oil on the plastic gears, but instead a light application of silicon oil).

The fuel/fire aspect of the model is supplied by Esbit fuel tablets and these are fairly standard across the board for Wilesco models.

The act of raising steam doesn’t take a very long time, but it helps to fill the boiler with warm water beforehand, and this also saves on fuel tablets. As steam builds, one can watch the handy steam pressure gauge on the front of the boiler; it’s calibrated in ‘Bar’ measurement and is red-lined at 1.5 bar (about 22 PSI) – a far cry from the 60 PSI beast that is the Maxitrak Allchin! All the same, once the gauge registers about 0.5 bar, the engine can start to be run, but don’t expect to carry any type of load or pull trailers until there’s at least 1 bar on the gauge, from my experience so far. That leads to one other minor gripe I have with this model, and that is that it cannot be run in ‘neutral’ gear – one must raise the left rear wheel slightly in order to run it stationary. No biggie, but nonetheless a slight annoyance; a suitably-fashioned stand sorts that issue out.

Once up to pressure and ready-to-roll, open the steam regulator slightly and flick the longitudinally-mounted flywheel clock-wise (when viewed from the rear of the cab) and after a few seconds of initial condensate clearing-out, she splutters into life!!!

The radio-control functionality when the Lorry is underway also proved to be a non-issue, as all my earlier frustrations faded-away – left and right turns were issued without any problems even from several metres away. I was running the Lorry on a concrete driveway with several of the usual concrete gaps and the Lorry traversed these with no issue. At one stage though, I did find the single driving wheel lose traction as the Lorry traversed a slightly uneven portion of the driveway!!! The driving wheel spun aimlessly whilst the Lorry had come to a halt! Because a lot of the weight is focused on the front wheels, it does pay to load the rear tray with some form of weight, and perhaps bias the weight towards the left hand side over the rear axle, as the frame flexes very little and with no suspension to speak of, it’s rather easy to lift the driving wheel, even with all the traction that its rubber tyre normally affords it.

The sounds and smells as the Lorry drives is somewhat typical to a Wilesco, but there’s a special connection I feel when I drive this Lorry; for one, with a loaded tray and the somewhat limited boiler capacity, it causes one to think ahead and ensure there is enough fire onboard to maintain the pressure – especially outdoors! That, and the fact that it has cracking good looks as it drives about also helps too!

From a utility point-of-view, the pulling-power from the Lorry once at full steam pressure is quite reasonable indeed and the well-thought-out gearing allows for powerful output and realistic scale speeds to be achieved, with certainly enough power to carry moderate loads and trailers; the challenge is however, in maintaining the head of steam…

Whilst some have noted that the boiler cannot provide sufficient steam for hauling the Lorry at a reasonable speed, in my initial run I have found that it does OK, but the Lorry certainly eats up the Esbit tablets! So much so that I am *very close* to naming this Lorry “The Gobbler”!  I went through about seven of the newer, larger Esbit fuel tablets during my initial run last night (the run lasted about 30-40 min and consisted of several ‘intermissions’ along the way to top-up the boiler and re-oil). So yes, definitely a model to run when your Esbit collection is rather large and well-stocked! This is especially so if running the Lorry outdoors, with any semblance of wind or breeze present. An aftermarket or add-on gas burner may be the way forward with this model, as others have also suggested, but all in all, the Esbits do not provide a terrible experience from what I’ve seen so far.

Two items I’d definitely recommend to those looking at purchasing this Lorry are 1) a stopwatch or other suitable timer and 2) a powerful handheld light source.

Both of the above items will help keep track of the water in the boiler, as it can be easy to lose track and not be certain as to the water level once it has dropped so its between the upper and lower sight glass port-holes. It’s also helpful to partly-fill the boiler and get to know the look of the portholes when they have (and don’t have!) water behind them. There is a slightly different look to the glasses in each scenario and I’ve also found that an intense handheld light allows one to see very fine water bubbles/particles behind the port hole glasses and this helps retain confidence that there is still water in the boiler!!

After a run, the cleanup involved is fairly straightforward. It’s worth noting however that there is a SEPARATE exhaust pipe for the steam; it does not get routed into the chimney as per some other Wilesco models, because the boiler actually has a central flue which is integral to the chimney, which helps in raising steam (and dropping the steam exhaust/condensate into there would put-out or otherwise disrupt the fire in fairly short order).

It’s pretty cool to see the exhaust steam exit from the right hand side of the Lorry as you drive along. At one point during my run, noting that I needed to stoke the fire and being too lazy to remove the burner slide, I momentarily removed the spark arrestor atop the chimney (CAUTION: EXTREMELY HOT! WEAR STURDY GLOVES!!) and added chunks of Esbits straight down the chimney/boiler flue and into the burner tray and then quickly replaced the spark arrestor. To my initial horror, this resulted in a touch of flames appearing out of the chimney and maybe a spark or two! The spark arrestor on top of the chimney did a great job of keeping these outbursts under control though and the spectacle only lasted a short moment (unfortunately I have no photographic goodness/evidence of the event – you’ll have to take my word for it!) – not a recommended way of running I’m sure though – and make sure you have enough water in the boiler if you do this!!!


So in closing, a very attractive (and perhaps ambitious) model from Wilesco, with some reasonable power given its sheer size and weight, but not without some (mostly) minor annoyances.

Given a larger-capacity boiler, a proper sight glass, a larger burner surface and a more-powerful/robust RC system, this could have been an absolute winner, but even without these, it’s still a worthy item for any live steam engine collection, if a little pricey.

Notwithstanding everything else, it certainly looks very imposing on the shelf at the end of each day and I think that ownership of one of these Lorries certainly signifies that you’ve “made it”…in the world of Wilesco live steam engine ownership anyway. :D


Of course, I cannot close this post without a collection of photos! Enjoy!

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Wilesco Product Page (D320 Steam Lorry):

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