It’s been a while since my last update; as usual life has its way of taking over!
I wanted to post however to update on my recent Christmas present – for myself (which I’ve unboxed from the packaging before December mind you!).
I recently purchased a Maxitrak Allchin; this is a 3/4 inch scale live steam model prototype based off a real-life example built by Allchin in the well-known “Globe” steam works, way back in 1893.
This is the first live steam model I’ve purchased in a LONG while, my last was a Wilesco traction engine way back in 2011 (or was it earlier?). Until this point my live steam model collection consisted of two Wilescos (both of which I believe I have blogged about in the past on this very blog): one steam roller, and the aforementioned tractor. For a period of time in the recent past, I had been lusting over the quality D.R. Mercer engines, however I couldn’t quite bring myself to purchase one. It was only recently that I became aware of the Allchins, and after hearing them run in various videos on YouTube, I became hooked with just how realistic they sounded! And after hearing this thing run first-hand, I must say, it seems like the Maxitrak Allchin is probably the most realistic-sounding live steam model in the 3/4 – 1″ scale bracket (and price range!).
So yes, I’ve only had this model for just over a week and I must say, WOW, I am so glad I held out for this! It’s certainly a steam engine and a half, and for what you pay (about 875 GBP/$1,600 AUD in my case), it’s certainly good value for money. Some of its features include:
- Quality silver-soldered boiler rated to 60 PSI (includes boiler test certificate to 150 PSI)
- Realistic design and liveries
- Forward/reverse valve gear lever (with working Stevenson’s Valve Gear arrangement)
- Boiler pressure gauge
- Boiler water level sight glass
- Quality butane gas tank and burner (again with a test certificate)
- Solid rear axle driving both rear wheels
- Spoked wheels with rubber tyres
- Wonderful paint finish and overall quality/fitment of parts
Importing an item of this type and value always poses risks, and particularly so with Australia’s (overly?) protective Customs agency, however after a whole week of being laid-up at the destination airport and approximately $300 worth of duty and taxes later, the Allchin was mine! I must commend DHL on their handling of the shipment along with management of the Customs requirements. In the end I had agreed that the item was NOT for commercial use, and that it was essentially, in DHL’s words “a prototype only, for demonstration purposes”….all of which is essentially true. All told I am happy that I ended up gaining possession of this fine model, especially given how much I had spent on it!
The un-boxing process is always fun and I’ve documented here at the bottom of this post, in a series of photos which I hope you will enjoy. The model came VERY well-packaged and I must also thank Maxitrak/Maidstone Engineering for their awesome customer service and handling of my order. They replied to all my emails promptly and were always on-hand to assist with my queries.
Included together with the tractor inside my package, were some additional bits and pieces which I ordered (and I even received a 20% discount on these additional items!). The additional bits consisted of:
- A “starter kit” (consisting of water/oil syringes, long-nose lighter and a 200ml bottle of quality steam oil
- A “plate set” (several quality-machined metal plates and number plates, including a boiler “wash out” plate
- A “gas valve adapter” which enables fitment to screw-top butane gas canisters
All these parts came neatly and safely packaged inside the box which arrived as part of my shipment. I will let the photos do the talking below, but the packaging of the actual tractor itself was very-well handled too, and the model was securely mounted on a sturdy wooden plate with metal straps securing the rear wheels. A large amount of foam was also used to cushion the model from the rigours of shipping that it was bound to have encountered on its long journey from Kent, UK to Perth, Australia.
It’s worth mentioning that this model runs on BUTANE gas. Not something I was extremely familiar with until now; so, you could imagine how I was more than a little nervous with how I was going to go about running this machine let alone acquire the required gas from local stores/outlets. Rest assured, I have managed to overcome any hurdles associated with running the butane fuel and I have since found a store which supplies the fuel in reasonable quantities.
For those living in Australia who may be reading this, PLEASE ensure you purchase screw-top butane gas canisters if you wish to run this model; the more-prevalent (and unfortunately cheaper) “push-in” type canisters are not particularly useful with this model, unless you can get your hands of a suitable plastic adapter, or otherwise if the included gas nozzle is long-enough to fit down into the recess of the gas filler. For best peace of mind however, simply purchase a screw-top butane canister, and use Maxitrak’s gas valve adapter (email Maxitrak for this), and you should be all set! As a side-note, most Bunnings outlets sell the “Primus” butane screw-top canisters in their “Tool shop”, so the fuel is quite readily available.
Having been used to running Esbit fuel tablets for all of my live steam model experience so far, I must say that the butane gas fuel is very clean and much more trouble-free. The only thing is, the wife doesn’t approve of running it in the house unlike my Wilescos which will easily (and much more quietly!) run in the house all day without much issue. The smell from the Esbits aren’t particularly pleasant either, however given the more “realistic” nature of the Allchin, and the fact that it runs at higher pressures and likely higher temperatures, it certainly doesn’t lend itself well to running inside as well as a more ‘toy-like’ Wilesco. In short, the Allchin smells, sounds and behaves (with all its hissing and popping and smoking) like a REAL steam tractor! Just note, you will most likely need to run it outside…haha…
Fire in the hole!
Before running any live steam model, it’s necessary first build up a head of steam pressure in the boiler. It’s assumed that you, careful reader, are somewhat familiar with the workings of a steam engine so I won’t go fully in the details here, lest to say that you basically need a) water, b) fire and c) oil, to run a steam engine successfully. And NEVER run out of water if you can help it!! No scratch that, NEVER run out of water PERIOD!
The process of fuelling-up the butane gas tank on this tractor is straightforward – simply fit the gas valve to the screw-top canister, invert, and press firmly onto the gas valve on the tractor’s gas tank. After only about 30 seconds, you have a tank-full of gas ready to last approximately 20 minutes (about one run). From there, run through the usual preparation process of adding water to the boiler – reference the sight glass – no need to fill more than 3/4 full – (about 3.5 syringes full if using the supplied water-filling syringe), re-fit the safety valve, add steam oil to the lubricator, lubricate the valve gear and other moving parts with ordinary car engine oil, check the free moment of all parts, set mid-gear on the reversing lever, close the regulator and light the fire!
You are rewarded with a satisfying “WHOOSH” as you light the fire on this engine, and it is here that you must apply particular caution, as careless (and glove-less) fingers can get burnt if not careful. Lighting the fire consists of holding the open flame from the long-nose lighter under the front of the smoke box (immediately above the front axle) and twisting the gas valve open slightly until you hear the flame take hold. Gloved hands and a long-nose lighter are definitely recommended here! It is also possible to light the flame by removing the smoke box lid first, however this way is a little more cumbersome.
Once the fire is going, the ferocity of the flame can be easily controlled by using the gas valve on the gas tank of the tractor. When everything is still cold however (including the burner), the control of the burner setting is a little more crude, and you need to add a little more gas to keep the fire going, but it must be said that avoiding too high a heat when the machine is still cold is a good idea, to prevent any shock heating. After a moment or two, once the burner has settled to a nice toasty medium and the machine itself gets warm, you can further adjust the burner setting as required and you can generally reduce the gas valve setting back down towards the ‘off’ position and keep it there for the entire run (unless you intend on pulling particularly heavy loads!). At this setting, I’ve found that the gas will easily outlast the water in the boiler and extreme caution must be taken to ensure one does not run out of water before the fire, lest the expensive boiler gets damaged!
Side-note: so far I have been running the gas tank on the minimum setting, and the boiler gauge always seems to creep up to its rated 60 PSI limit before the safety valve begins popping off – this is even whilst operating in-gear with the tractor towing a scale load (a Wilesco tractor in my case!). There is an air intake adjustment on the burner however, so I may try tweaking this so that the burner produces less heat on the minimum setting; this may entail running the burner “richer” perhaps.
Running the machine!
So! What’s it like running this beast? Well, as aforementioned in the paragraph above, the Allchin DEFINITELY offers a more “realistic” steaming experience, and it certainly sets itself apart from the more “toy-like” steam engines, such as the Wilescos and perhaps the Mamods (the latter of which I have no experience with), so respect is definitely required here when running this machine – although this could be said of any live steam model. We have boiling water, steam and in most cases, live flames at play, so be careful!
With all that said, the Allchin is an absolute PLEASURE to run. I have been running timed trials and so far each run consists of about 15-20 minutes of pure steaming pleasure. This time excludes the 5-6 minutes that it takes to actually build steam as well.
Once the steam pressure has begun to rise and the steam gauge begins to register, engage forward (or reverse!) on the reversing lever, open the regulator slightly and give the flywheel a few helping turns…after a few rotations (there is almost always a few seconds required whilst the engine clears itself of any condensate) the engine will begin running on its own and you will hear that characteristic “chuff-chuff” sound begin!
It is generally here that I hit the “start” button on the stopwatch to begin keeping time of the run. I’ve found doing this to be very important, as you’ll read on shortly.
After running this way in neutral for a few minutes, I will engage the gears of this fine machine and begin driving. It certainly drives very smoothly, and doesn’t exhibit any of the cheap-ish sounding “clanging” and “tinking” sounds that the cheaper toy live steam models may exhibit. The motion runs very smooth and with very little play in the parts. This all contributes to the model sounding very nice indeed.
My only slight dislike with this model is the fact that it has a solid rear axle, with no differential. Most models have either a single-driving rear wheel, or (in the case of the more expensive models), an actual differential unit. Unfortunately the Allchin has none of the above, and combined with the high-grip rubber treads, this means that turns normally result in a bit of skidding and slipping from the rear wheels. Now, before I am taken the wrong way, this in no great way detracts from this model, and it may simply be the case of my model still being new and “tight”, but turns in the Allchin generally require a little more application of the steam regulator. I have actually read that there is a degree of “play” in the rear wheels, but from my experience so far, this isn’t a great amount. Nonetheless, turns can still be achieved, and at worst, they probably only involve a bit of scrubbing of the rubber tyres and little else.
I am actually grateful for the solid rear axle, as once you open the regulator up with a full head of steam, the amount of pulling power from the rears is something to be experienced to be believed. There are some out there that believe that this model pulls like the proverbial mule, and they are not wrong! I have no doubt that this model could pull along a small child or somewhat lean adult!
Keeping a stopwatch recording the run time (as aforementioned) comes in particularly handy, as the water sight glass can sometimes lie (or shock) when it suddenly drops in water levels reported. I generally get a good 15-20 minutes of actual run time from this model and from my limited experience so far, I’ve found that as soon as the water level begins to straddle the lower reaches of the gauge, it’s a good time to shut off that burner!
Believe me though, the temptation to keep running can sometimes be quite trying, but I’d rather play it safe than sorry. Running a boiler out of water is no fun and I’ve (thankfully) yet to experience such an event with any of my live steam models…and I intend to keep it that way!
One other thing to note is that this machine gets HOT during the run (about 150 degrees C on the sides of the boiler as measured by my digital temperature gauge), so gloved hands are a must, and I have also found that the regulator knob is quite stiff from the factory, and this knob gets ultra hot too (to the point of burning bits of clothed glove material off!), so for this, I have found that an old RC model wrench from my RC model car days has come in very handy indeed. You will see this wrench in the photos below – basically it allows me to fit it over the regulator knob and control the regulator easily using the wrench, so I avoid getting tinged, and I get slightly more leverage to twist the somewhat resistant knob as well (do exercise caution when closing up the regulator fully against its valve seat however – you do not want to damage it).
Once the water has run low, and the burner is promptly shut-off, the tractor may run for another moment or two on residual steam pressure, and once the fine beast has run out of breath for another day, it’s time to cool her down and begin the process of cleaning up. This part of the run is actually quite therapeutic for me, and keeps me busy for easily another 30-60 minutes afterwards.
I will generally empty the boiler after a few moments of shut down (once all the steam pressure been exhausted that is!), to allow the boiler interior to dry from the residual heat and avoid any dampness from remaining. I will then keep the safety valve unfitted for several minutes to allow the boiler to air out, and begin wiping down the model to clean it.
I don’t particularly go to the lengths of keeping my engines in “showroom” cleanliness, but I don’t exactly like to keep them looking like they’ve just been run and tossed aside either! I guess I sit somewhere in between. At the end of the day though, I’m no stranger to a bit of spit and polish.
Enough of the blabbering! Below is a gallery of photos of this fine Allchin. I do hope you enjoy!