Small-Scale Live Steam Locomotives

Review of the Accucraft "Ruby"

(This review appeared in the Feb. 2000 issue of GARDEN RAILWAYS magazine)

Product Description: Live steam 0-4-0 side-tank locomotive, loosely based on Baldwin practice.  Length: 8.875” over endbeams, 2.375” fixed wheelbase; height: 5.875” to top of stack; width: 4” across cab and tanks; weight in working order: approx. 6 lbs.  Constructed of steel, brass and copper, with hardwood endbeams.  Butane-fired boiler with 80ml capacity.  Piston valves with fixed eccentric valve gear.  Manual throttle and reversing gear, radio controllable with buyer-supplied equipment.
Pros: Sturdily constructed, inexpensive live steam engine. Built on American practices, constructed to encourage easy modification of bodywork. Strong puller.
Cons: Low level of detail. Cab and smokebox tabs weak.

What a great time it is to be a steam fan!  On the heels of several entry-level live steam engines introduced in the last couple of years, we now have a fine contribution from the busy folks at Accucraft, the “Ruby”.

Ruby is an 0-4-0 in 1:20.3 scale, based loosely on Baldwin industrial locomotives.  Live steam models of American prototypes are sadly scarce, and low-cost ones scarcer still.  That the Ruby is both things, and a good performer to boot, is cause for celebration.

Ruby comes well-packed in styrofoam, with everything snugly wrapped in foam and tied up in red ribbons (to help you lift it out of the box).  It is ready to run, including an instruction book suited to first-time steam engineers, warranty card, extra screws, and plastic syringes for fuel and water.  (Putting some 1/8” ID tubing on the syringe ends makes them easier to use.)

All you add is distilled water and butane -- both available at most large groceries -- and steam oil.  This last item is harder to find, and absolutely essential to proper operation.  It would have been nice if Accucraft had included a small amount of it to get the eager novice started. Several of GR’s live steam advertisers can supply this special oil. If you get your Ruby before your steam oil comes, wait for it! Don’t run your new engine until you have some.

Operation is simple and clearly described in the instructions.  Oil the moving parts, fill the fuel tank, boiler and lubricator, then light the burner through the smokebox door.  In about five minutes, the safety valve will begin to blow and you’re ready to move.  When a steam engine is cold, the steam will condense in the cylinders and spew water out the stack for the first minute or so, and Ruby is no exception here.  After the cylinders are warmed, Ruby moves away smoothly and powerfully.  I ran it a couple of times propped up on blocks, then moved it onto the track. When I cracked the throttle, Ruby moved away smoothly and picked up speed immediately. I connected four small four-wheel cars to the link-and-pin coupler and you could not tell that there was a load on the engine.  It appears to be quite a powerful puller.

Average run time is around 15 minutes after steam is raised, or 20 min. from the time you light the burner until the gas runs out.  All of my sessions were within a minute or two of twenty (when the fuel ran out).  It is usual for running time to increase as the moving parts get bedded in and the driver learns how to control the fire to balance steam production against efficiency.  It takes two or three minutes to service the loco, then you’re off again.

Fit and finish of the engine is generally good.  The running gear is neatly made and moves very freely even when new.  Mine needed a simple adjustment to match running in forward and reverse, which is covered in the instructions.  The bodywork is nicely constructed and beautifully painted.  The lining and lettering are silk-screened, dense and fairly sharp.  The only castings appear to be the smokebox front and the wheels; everything else is folded and soldered from sheetmetal, or machined from solid metal.  The cab and backhead are arranged to permit good access to the controls, and there should be  room for radio control micro-servos on the footplate.  The steam turret has two unused threaded holes to permit addition of extras like a pressure gauge or water-filler valve (there’s no lower bushing for a water glass, though).

Mechanically, the engine is a winner, and cosmetically it’s nicely done, if quite plainly.  The only concerns I have about the Ruby are the flimsiness of the latch on the smokebox door and of the rear supports inside the cab.  These support tabs seem not to be precisely placed, so the cab leans backwards somewhat on the two engines I have run.  The tabs are folded from brass and soft-soldered on, and one of them was broken off the cab on both engines.  That’s no problem if you plan to build a new cab, but plan on repairing or replacing them if you keep the factory cab.

It must be noted that Ruby is a functioning steam locomotive, not a scale model.  Finescalers will point out that there’s no specific prototype, the running gear is totally plain, and there are absolutely no rivets to count.  In fact, there is almost no detail aside from the nicely done smokebox casting.  And the smokebox itself is obviously too long.

Nevertheless, Ruby’s proportions make a convincing 1:20.3 scale model possible.  The overall length of a full-sized Ruby would be 15 ft. with a 36” boiler, and the wheelbase scales to 48”, with 28” wheels -- all typical measurements for small, narrow-gauge  engines from Baldwin or Porter. The domes seem a bit large, but they fit the proportions of the loco nicely.  The cab height measures 7 scale feet, a crucial measurement for achieving believable scale.  In short, Accucraft made the right decisions when weighing modeling accuracy against authentic steam operation and economy.  It uses real steam, runs well and is generally the right size.  The details are up to you.

So, Ruby begs to be modified.  Pipes and valves, bells and whistles.  The overhang of the cab suggests adding a trailing truck, and the front frame member could be extended for a leading truck, as well.  In fact, Accucraft says the Ruby was designed to be kit-bashed.  The cab lifts off and the side tanks may be detached by removing four screws.  Both domes lift off, and the stack is held in place by a large nut inside the smokebox.  Ruby is a natural to be turned into a saddle-tanker, a Forney, or a tender loco.

On the whole, Ruby is a very satisfying engine, and a fine first effort in live steam from Accucraft.  It is well suited to be the first engine for a live steam novice, too.  It’s a strong performer and a good value for the money.  I look forward to many pleasant hours running my Ruby and I hope this is the first of many live steam engines from Accucraft.

Compiled and © copyright 1999 by: Vance R. Bass. All rights reserved. Please use any and all information contained herein for your hobby enjoyment. If you're going to make money from it, talk to me first.

Last updated: 29 October, 1999.