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Purchasing an unknown build

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Andy Joyce 124/01/2020 16:57:07
16 forum posts
4 photos

New to the hobby so wish to buy a 3.5 gauge ready built locomotive but those I have seen on a well known site don't come with any paper work. Is this a fools purchase as it will be impossible to get the necessary certificates without knowing the materials used to construct the boiler.

Former Member24/01/2020 17:28:28
1329 forum posts

[This posting has been removed]

Andy Joyce 124/01/2020 17:43:41
16 forum posts
4 photos

Thanks Bill

Redsetter24/01/2020 17:46:50
203 forum posts
3 photos

I think you have answered your own question! If you are a beginner I would suggest that you don't buy any steam locomotive unless it has a current boiler certificate, you have seen it in steam, and preferably driven it. It is also best to stick to recognised, published designs rather than somebody's one-off. The only exception might be if it is very cheap (usually they are not) and you intend to treat it purely as a learning curve. Secondhand locomotives are a minefield and even the experts can get caught out. Join a club, if you can find a friendly local one, as your best source of advice.

Nigel Graham 218/02/2020 23:57:07
2036 forum posts
28 photos

The matter of materials certificates is only really for steel boilers built under and not before, the Pressure Equipment Regulations, but what does count is the completed boiler's hydraulic and steam-accumulation test certificates. Provided these do exist they do not need still to be valid if you are prepared for the possibility of some fault having developed since, that would mean a re-test failing. That could be why the engine is up for sale!

There is no technical or legal reason under the MELG scheme which most model-engineers follow, for not buying an uncertificated boiler... BUT...

It would be a gamble because it would need to be inspected and tested as if "new", possibly with all lagging removed (at the tester's discretion). ... AND

Testing the thing at all would very much be at the inspector's discretion, especially if it is to an unpublished design. He or she might also decline a boiler of a type personally unfamiliar, although I do not see that a valid reason because the test is of a pressure-vessel, not a tester's knowledge of umpteen different designs.

At the very least I would request witnessing a basic hydraulic test to working-pressure only, to ascertain no structural leaks, to guide buying it. That could use the loco's own hand-pump, if fitted. It will also show minor, curable leaks within the fittings.

As a first step, examine the complete engine carefully: does it look well-built and looked-after, even if well-used, or is the overall workmanship clearly poor? You won't be able to see much of the boiler itself, but if the surrounding metalwork looks decent the boiler could be, too.


Even that can be problematical. I was once personally involved in telling an unfortunate builder his new boiler, apparently to an LNER pattern, was scrap before we put a drop of water in it, despite his obvious craftsmanship. He was a retired coppersmith, though with no previous experience of miniature steam locomotives. He had faithfully followed the drawings he showed us, unaware of their very serious fault - almost no stays. The poor chap assured us he'd tested the boiler only to working pressure; but he had not noticed as we did, that it had collapsed the arched inner firebox. The poorly-printed drawings also bore no designer's and publisher's names, either, but he would not reveal their source..... We never saw him again.

On the other hand, if the loco appears generally good but at low price you might consider being prepared to re-boiler it if necessary; either building the boiler yourself or buying it from one of the professionals advertising in ME and MEW.

First step - find someone whose advice you can trust, to go along and examine the goods with you! If the dealer is reputable he should not object, provided of course you don't give him the impression of you thinking him guilty unless proven innocent!

Dave Wootton19/02/2020 09:36:39
290 forum posts
65 photos

Hi Andy

I would second everything that has been said warning against buying a loco without a current valid boiler certificate, a couple of years ago a club member bought a " Doris" from an ebay trader. The impression given in the advert was of a model that had only fallen into disuse due to the ill health of the builder, who was a close friend of the vendor who has seen the model run on many occasions.

Turns out he had bought it at auction a few weeks before ( the sale details were still online) , basically the thing was a disaster, firebox crown collapsed, soft soldered foundation ring, driving wheels loose on axles, the poor boiler inspector nearly fainted! After some pressure the vendor accepted a return and a refund was given under ebay rules.

After some gentle nudging he bought a Butch in 5" gauge from Station Road Steam, came with full certificate and a 3 month warranty, I drove him up top collect it and the people at Station Road couldn't have been more helpful.

Sadly he died suddenly about a year after, but did have lot's of fun with the loco and was very pleased with it.

With hindsight the original ebay advert was very carefully and craftily worded, not so much what was put in but what was left out, incidentally the loco was back on ebay before it had even been sent back to the seller!

Hope this helps


Lainchy19/02/2020 10:05:41
271 forum posts
103 photos

I've been looking at a number of 2nd hand 3.5 gauge loco's too, wondering if I should build, or buy to renovate. There's been a few on eBay lately, but taking Juliet for example... there's been a couple on eBay, but the one at the moment, I can't see the reversing lever on it?? Wonder why not. It does say ready for re-commissioning, but I've avoided it.

I guess what I'm trying to say, from my experience so far, as a beginner, is never jump at something that looks nice. Station road steam I think are the way to go, or build, or.... if you know someone selling (as other have said) where you've seen it running in steam.

As a beginner, it looks a minefield, speaking from experience.

old Al19/02/2020 10:22:14
186 forum posts

As an experienced model engineer, i find working from nothing is usually far quicker and more satisfying than starting with somebody elses failed project.

Most people only build one loco and most of those dont get finished. Simple mistakes are compounded and compounded and are all in the builders head and you have to unravel all of that to get the loco to work.

Join a club and ask questions and get advice. The 'old guard' at the club will know the good and the dodgy designs and will be happy to offer their input.

I rebuilt a loco recently and i dont think a single thing was reused apart from the professionally built boiler. Customer was happy he got his loco back looking and running so nice and he still thinks he built most of it!

Best of luck whichever way you go.

Dave Wootton19/02/2020 10:26:33
290 forum posts
65 photos

Hi Lainchy

I'm no expert but I think LBSC's Juliet was one of his designs that came with variations of valve gear types, slip eccentric or Stephenson's. If it is slip eccentric that would account for the lack of reverser in the cab ( you push it along half a turn to set the eccentrics for the direction of travel)

I actually looked on Station Road Steam's site this morning, normally I stay away after a really beautiful 5" gauge LMS Crab on there gave me sleepless nights and thoughts of bank robbery or other crimes in order to buy it!, and there are a few 31/2" gauge loco's on there, including a Rob Roy in the rolling restoration section.

My first loco build, has been the source of lot's of enjoyment over the years, now needs a rebuild and repaint, would never part with it, faults and all. Good luck in your search.


Agree with Old Al's post if possible join a club, there is a wealth of knowledge and help available, you will make some good friends too. 

Edited By Dave Wootton on 19/02/2020 10:31:42

fizzy19/02/2020 10:27:49
1843 forum posts
120 photos

Chap brought me a boiler for a 3.5 gauge which he said had a small leak and could I fix it...and if I couldnt he was going to put a car radiator sealant in it to get it through test. The boiler looked very nice, new and well made. On test it leaked from everywhere. I dont know what had happened during soldering or what it had been soldered with but I couldnt make one do that if I tried. Needless to say it didnt get fixed, it got cut up. Ive still got the bits in case the customer wanted them back. On cutting it apart to see what had gone wrong it was noted that there was almost no penetration on any joint. Looks can be deceiving!

Lainchy19/02/2020 10:30:40
271 forum posts
103 photos

Hi Dave, OK, that's something else I've learnt! I know someone building a Rob Roy, although his is stephensons, it does have a reversing lever?? I think a reversing lever is mentioned even with the Juliet 1, in the ME build notes anyway, but I'm guessing this is just a variant. There is SO much to learn! (but it's all enjoyable )


Edited By Lainchy on 19/02/2020 10:31:52

IanT19/02/2020 12:14:01
1987 forum posts
212 photos

I own several 'part-built' engines, as well as a vintage locomotive that was originally very well made. I also have a number of 'frames' (mostly just cylinders, wheels and frame material - no boiler etc). I enjoy working on these projects but they do come with their own set of challenges.

I have a very well made Midland Compound 'kit' that has a good deal of work in it but which hasn't been made to any existing/published design that I can identify. I have drawn all the finished parts in CAD and I am in the process of working out the valve layout based on the cylinder ports etc. The boiler has formed parts but has not yet been brazed (a plus point). This engine cost me very little (strangely no one else wanted it at the G3S AGM even at a silly price) - and I'm happy to have it. Not one for the beginner though.

My 'vintage' (pre-War) Atlantic loco has done a lot of hard work, needs a good deal of attention and (again) as far as I can tell - was not built to any published plans. The problems here are different - in that I worry about how much restoration I should (and even can) undertake without essentially creating a new engine. There is a lot of worn parts that maybe would be easier to just replace. Again, not for anyone new to this.

In my early G3 days, I also purchased a number part-built engine 'frames' - sometimes because I wanted just the wheel/cylinder castings. I discovered this was a false economy - as often the standard of work (or lack of it) made re-cycling difficult. I should have just purchased new castings with hindsight.

I could go on - but I think you get the general idea.

For anyone new to this hobby (and wrt 3.5" gauge) I would very strongly recommend joining your local MES. You will find friendly advice, experienced boiler testers and (unfortunately) find a source of used engines, often from the estates of deceased members - whose engines will be known and tested. I would also choose a published design, preferably one where castings/plans etc are still available.

Buying engines on Ebay is frankly a lottery - and one thatyou are unlikely to win.



Bazyle19/02/2020 13:14:59
6297 forum posts
222 photos

Since you are going to need a track to run it on you are going to have to join a club anyway. So start from there as there might be a club member wanting to sell something with a known pedigree.

Howard Lewis19/02/2020 17:25:06
6024 forum posts
14 photos

If you are a newbie, two things that you MUST do.

1) Join a Model Engineering Club.

This will give you access to folk who are knowledgeable, and who will come with you to examine your prospective purchase.

2) Do insist on seeing the boiler certificate, and the loco running.

As confirmation: A CAUTIONARY TALE.

A former club member bought, SIGHT UNSEEN, a model traction engine from a dealer, and paid a lot for it.

He THEN joined our club.

The machine  was not what it claimed to be. About the only genuine part was the ring on the smokebox door. I am not a road engine man, but even I would have advised against buying it, the workmanship was so obviously poor. The boiler was not the correct pattern for what it was supposed to be.. Even the caps for the end of the front axle differed in height by the thickness of a one pound coin! The Front Axle, Piston, Piston Rod, and Slide Bars, like so many other parts, had to be remade. But it did steam well, eventually!

It seemed to have been thrown together from whatever parts happened to be lying around.

He was too principled to return it and have it foisted onto someone else.  Two of us helped him, over the next two years, to put it into running order. Overall, it proved to be a very costly purchase, He had spent a lot more money and time on it.

Do be careful!



Edited By Howard Lewis on 19/02/2020 17:26:52

JC5419/02/2020 19:51:00
151 forum posts
14 photos

I second what others have said about joining a local club. I joined my local club and the majority of the members have been really helpful and supportive. I bought a 5inch loco off one of the members, full history from when it was built. Full steam certificate, I had seen it running and the seller has helped me learn how to fire, maintain and run it. Also remember that you will need a track to run on... John

Oldiron19/02/2020 21:18:55
963 forum posts
40 photos
Posted by Andy Joyce 1 on 24/01/2020 16:57:07:

New to the hobby so wish to buy a 3.5 gauge ready built locomotive but those I have seen on a well known site don't come with any paper work. Is this a fools purchase as it will be impossible to get the necessary certificates without knowing the materials used to construct the boiler.

Looks like it time for another rant on my pet hate. Nothing personal but the phrase "that well known site" should be banned. What site. ????? Ebay, Amazon, ToysRus, Woolworths ? Is it so difficult to just write the site name so we know where to look.


Nigel Graham 219/02/2020 21:28:39
2036 forum posts
28 photos

Dave and Lainchy -

Re the LBSC 'Juliet'.

Though you could build it with slip-eccentric gear (no reversing-lever), the standard design has Stephenson's Link Motion, with proper reversing-lever. More bits to make, but the reward is a more satisfying loco to drive.

The smaller "Tich" by the same designer had the option of slip-eccentric or much better, proper outside valve-gear (Walschaert's?).

It is perhaps worth mentioning that I am afraid LBSC did skimp on the link-motion detail design on both Juliet and Maid of Kent (presumably others), by hanging the expansion-link off one side only and providing a poor or non-existent valve-spindle crosshead. Put the expansion-link between a pair of lifting-links, and a decent valve-spindle guide, as all present and correct; and you make the loco a lot more reliable with little extra work!

(My own club built a 7-1/4"g version of 'Juliet' for heavy portable-track use, and modified it in that way.)

Lainchy19/02/2020 21:47:43
271 forum posts
103 photos

Thanks Nigel. What do you know about the Baker Valve version of Juliet? I have the plans for this one, but not any more info regarding the build sadly. I guess some processes are similar to the standard Juliet. I am thinking of making the valve gear first so minimal outlay. If all goes well, I'll buy the chassis frames etc.

Edited By Lainchy on 19/02/2020 21:48:01

vic francis09/04/2020 09:53:04
77 forum posts
7 photos

Hi Everyone, useful comments about buying secondhand engine wether it is loco or traction... it is a lottery with only experience to guide you... Even a steam dealer is no Guarantee... The Ransomes 2 inch I bought from srs website had to be returned ; it had legions of faults and soft solder / and stay bodging ...where it should not have.... the project then becomes a mountain of could not recommend them at all.My advice is to go in person with someone who knows! Hopefully when this terrible virus goes...

good luck!

Nick Clarke 309/04/2020 12:05:20
1394 forum posts
61 photos

If you don’t buy second hand and are building a boiler today, or having one buiilt for you then the materials and design can be discussed with your boiler inspector from day one. Just because a design was published in a magazine years ago does not mean it is going to be acceptable to a boiler inspector today. If you get chance read the build description for the Twin Sisters’ boiler in ME January 29th 1953 it incorporates a number of features that are questionable today, and very questionable in a boiler perhaps 65 years old - like no flanges on any of the plates, the front section of the foundation ring mostly drilled away to make a blowdown and a recommendation to use Silbralloy for all joints even though the manufacturer states this alloy is not suitable for use in sulphurous atmospheres at elevated service temperatures. Like in a coal burning firebox??

My favourite comment, although not so dangerous and based on full sized practice in the day, is in a published design from a build serialised in ME about 50 years ago. ‘The steel boiler may have a few weeps so now to cure them – they would cure themselves after a time when lime has had a chance to build up and seal them, but to hasten the process chop up some chips, yes potato chips uncooked, and shove them in through a plug hole, 3 – 4 medium size potatoes should do the trick. Plain flour say 3 or 4 tablespoonsful or porridge oats will be a good alternative’

As LBSC was fond of saying, ‘Nuff said!

Edited By Nick Clarke 3 on 09/04/2020 12:08:50

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