Putting a steam engine to bed: more behind the scenes

Engine #10 approaches roundhouse spur switchDid we mention before that steam engines demand a lot of work? We did? Well, it’s true. After a fun day of pulling trains full of happy people up and down the length of Tiny Town, puffing up the hill saying “I think I can, I think I can”, we can’t just park a steam engine like a mini van and go home.
When the steam engine has pulled its last train for the day, we cut the engine off from the rest of the train, and usually bring one of the diesel engines to couple on to the train for the last trip or two. Then we drive the steam engine around the track, but this time throwing the switch to bring it to the roundhouse spur track, and park it over the ash pit.

View into the firebox through the fire door Now the dirty work begins. First, we open the firebox door, and shake the grates, letting the last of the burning coal fall down into the ashpan. We clean the clinker off the cast iron grates too. Clinker is formed from the sand and other minerals in coal that don’t burn. When hot, clinker is similar to molten glass, and sticks to the grates, blocking airflow.
Once the grates are all clean, it’s time to dump the ashpan of the engine into the ash pit constucted between the tracks. The ash pit is lined with concrete to allow the ash to safely cool before being disposed of. It seems like the wind always changes direction just when you open the ash pan, so it blows in your face. After closing up the ashpan, the engine still has plenty of steam pressure, so we drive it onto the turntable for a bath, setting the air brakes to hold it in place.

Engine #10 steam cleaning with its own steam There are a lot of moving parts that make up the engine’s running gear and valve gear, and they need to be kept lubricated and clean to function well. We attach a special high pressure steam hose to the engine and use some of the engine’s steam to clean off the day’s grime. It’s hot work – even though there is no fire in the firebox now, the steam is still over 320 degrees, so an engineer wears gloves for this work even on the hottest summer day.

Using a flue brush to clean engine #10's flues Now that the engine is all clean, we still have one more thing to do. The engine is backed off the turntable and parked where we can easily open the smokebox. All the metal parts of the engine are still far too hot to touch. Inside the boiler are tubes called “flues” which carry the hot gases from the fire through the boiler to heat the water to steam. The insides of those flues get coated with a very black soot, which must be brushed out of each flue for the engine to work correctly and last a long time. We use long handled steel brushes to clean each of the 17 flues, one at a time. Sometimes a flue gets partially clogged, and then getting the brush through it can be very hard work.

Engine #10 on display on the turntable outside the roundhouse
Now it’s time for the engine to sit proudly for visitors to look at while it cools down enough to be parked in the roundhouse for the night, and it’s time for the engineers to find a well-deserved iced tea and cool down too.

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Starting a steam engine: a short look behind the scenes

Steam engines take lots of loving care and attention. We thought you might like a glimpse of what we’re doing before the park opens in the morning.

Just like engineers 100 years ago, our engineers arrive hours before the train is to depart, to do the many tasks that are required. The roundhouse is quiet first thing in the morning. The coffee pot gurgles in the background while we check the water in the boiler and the tender, fill the air tanks that operate the brakes, then open the roundhouse doors and move the engine out towards the turntable.

Engine #10 warming up in the morning fogToday the air is very still in the valley, hazy and moist, and at this hour it is still very quiet. After charging the air brakes, and checking the water level in the boiler, we put a thin layer of coal on the grates, followed by a layer of kindling wood and scraps, then light the fire. The crackle and pop of the wood as it begins to burn, and the faint smell of coal smoke drifting up in the still air are a nice background for the first mug of coffee, and with any luck, a donut or homemade cookie. Engineers are surprisingly handy in the kitchen. (Shhhh! Don’t tell anybody.)

Making adjustments on #10 engineIt takes more than an hour for the engine to get warmed up, building steam pressure to move. During that time we have 150 pounds of coal to break into small lumps for the engine, dozens of places to check and oil, mechanical linkages that need checking and sometimes adjusting, and of course the engine needs to be clean and polished, ready for her “photo opportunities”.

#10 coupling on to consit of cars and cabooseAfter brake checks and warming the cylinders with steam, it’s time to back around to the coal shed and load up today’s fuel, then drive around to the longhouse to pick up today’s consist. #10 can pull 5 full cars and the large caboose filled with kids up the long grade from the playground through the tunnel and up to Dinosaur Ridge.

#10 and Betsy at the loading platformWe check all the couplers and safety devices, then park the train at the loading platform, ready for all the big and little kids to ride.

Meet our engines

#10 Cinder Belle

Steam Engine #10 - Cinderbelle with coal smoke visible, at the loading platform Shown here parked next to the working water tower ready to load up for another trip, Cinder Belle is an honest-to-goodness coal-fired, live steam engine of the 2-6-0 design. In the United States, this type of locomotive was widely built from the early 1860s to the 1920s and commonly referred to as a “Mogul”.

#12 Mary Ross

Engine #12 on siding This engine was designed and built for Tiny Town, and placed in service in 2014. It is a model of the “Mason Bogie” design (2-6-6) which was very popular for mountain railroads. The Denver, South Park and Pacific railroad owned 23 of them, and operated them from 1878 to 1901.

#22 Occasional Rose

Steam Engine #22, Occaisional Rose This propane-fired steam engine has been lovingly restored and cared for at Tinytown by Chief Engineer Brown. It is shown here on the turntable outside the roundhouse. The 4-6-2 wheel arrangement first appeared on American rails in 1902, and was commonly known as the “Pacific”, since the first of its type delivered to an American railroad was to the Missouri Pacific.


Engine "Betsy", modeled after 1950's model F7Modeled after the famous F family of diesels which had their heyday from 1940 through the late 1950s, this F7(A+B) engine has been delighting kids of all ages for over 50 years.