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An Introduction to Coal Firing

a Gauge 1 Locomotive

by Yves Guillaume

“So you want to coal fire a Gauge 1 Locomotive?”

Well......I have encouraging news for you. It is not as difficult as some of us may think. 
If you are already a live steamer with gas or alcohol firing experience, 
you are presenting yourself with an exciting new challenge.... burning solid fuel.
“So where does one start ?”

First and foremost…….. Select your locomotive. The smaller the model does not necessarily mean it would be simpler to operate.

What better place would you wish to be and to see what’s available than at the Annual Diamondhead International Small Scale Steamup.

Along with your locomotive of choice you will require the “tools of the trade” for coal firing viz:

(a) Shovels (round back or flat).

(b) Rakes.

(c) And, of course, flue brushes

And after that ? Your choice of solid fuel is important. Try obtaining good quality hard charcoal. You will also require good quality smokeless coal. Anthracite is recommended.


After you have perfected the art of coal firing you can try obtaining some bituminous coal to provide realism, however, use it in moderation for it is not clean burning !  Whether one is referring to coal or bituminous coal, avoid at all cost grades that give you excessive clinker residue.


Why Charcoal ? Simply put, coal does not burn easily. Marc Horowitz comes straight to the point in his informative book “A Passion for Steam” where on page 93 he states, “To get a coal fire going, you must first build a fire of charcoal”.  The charcoal you obtain should be broken up in finger nail size bits as already shown.  Knowing it’s messy business and time consuming, it is preferable to build up a reserve and avoid breaking up charcoal into bits just prior to steaming up.
Well, are we ready to start?  Not just yet ! You must acquaint yourself with your locomotive and that does not come instantly.  Attempting to run a coal fired locomotive for the first time requires serious preparation.  Therefore, we need to go one step at a time and not rush the process.
Now Then What?  There is still some more preparation necessary before we can start raising steam.  Have some already crushed charcoal soaking in a jar with mineral spirits (kerosene).  Do the necessary pre-checks on your locomotive.

Set up your locomotive on blocks or on rollers after making the necessary pre-checks.  Position the locomotive tender away from the cab. You will, obviously, require longer flexible water lines between tender and locomotive.

Why all this fuss ?  It is simply to facilitate filling the firebox with charcoal, likewise for raking and, of course, closing & opening the firebox door. In other words, you are allowing yourself to get the hang of it without interference – and a tender, mark my word, can indeed be interfering.

Talk about interference !

So here we go !  Fill the firebox with kerosene soaked charcoal.  With the suction fan on, immediately start your fire.

The fire is lit !  If you have no openings on your firebox door it would be wise after half a minute or so to quickly open the firebox door with the aid of your rake just to see if all is well.

On the other hand, if you have openings on your firebox door, just sit back and wait for the pressure to build up.

At last ! We can now see the pressure rising and we can do without the suction fan using the locomotive blower instead.  We are getting there ! Boiler pressure is increasing rapidly.

There we are !  Safety valve has popped.  The fire is now intense.
Boiler pressure is at 4 Bar.  After a quick inspection close back the fire door.

Now it’s time to get to work !  With the safety valve still popping partially close the blower valve to ‘tame’ the fire.  Your water level will begin to drop. Using the tender hand pump, gently pump water into the boiler to retain the proper water level.   Try keeping your boiler pressure just below the point where the safety valve pops by adjusting your blower valve.

Repeating the cycle.  After about five minutes to seven minutes, steam pressure will start dropping, an indication that your charcoal is practically burnt out  At about 2 Bar, you should add more charcoal to keep the fire going.

After each shovelful, close the firebox door for a few seconds to allow the fire to pick up.  As soon as the pressure gauge indicates a rise in pressure you can start raking followed with more shovelfuls of charcoal.   Alternatively, you can substitute charcoal with anthracite depending on your locomotive’s appetite !

Having completed that first cycle you may want to give your locomotive some “exercise” whether on blocks or on rollers by gently opening the throttle as soon as maximum pressure is attained.
When you feel you have built up enough confidence you can now try running on the main tracks.

Come visit our beautiful Island !!!

Yves Guillaume demonstrates

Coal Firing a Gauge 1 Live Steam Loco

at the 2011 International Steamup in Diamondhead.

Click here for Video by Art Gibson.




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