How to fire up a steam locomotive

Written by kimberly turtenwald
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How to fire up a steam locomotive
Steam engines are impressive to watch but difficult to run. (steam engine 90 image by Gary Truhlar from

Steam engines may seem like they are a thing of the past to most people. However, many train enthusiasts still enjoy steam engines and many train museums still operate these huge engines. They are not an easy machine to operate, though. Firing up a steam engine takes a lot of time, patience and know-how.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Water
  • Steam engine
  • Kerosene
  • Waste paper

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  1. 1

    Check to make sure there is enough water in the boiler to run the engine. Open the valve to the kerosene drum, aim the kerosene burner toward the firebox, and connect the kerosene line and another hose to the air compressor. Take a softball-sized wad of paper, throw it into the firebox and light it. Plug in the burner, start it up and wait for the kerosene to ignite.

  2. 2

    Wait for all of the water in the tank to boil. Oil all of the lubrication points that are located throughout the engine while you wait for the water to boil. Oiling these from front to back, one side after the other, is the best way to ensure that all points receive adequate lubrication.

  3. 3

    Once steam begins to be generated, open the tank heater valve. The steam will then move up to heat the fuel for the engine to 43.3 degrees C. Once the fuel reaches 43.3 degrees C, it will flow freely through the two pipes.

  4. 4

    When the steam gauge reads 2.27 Kilogram, the blower can be opened. Opening the blower valve is a delicate balancing act. If the valve is open too far, the fire will go out and things will stop heating. If it is not opened enough, things will heat up too slowly. There is a delay between adjustments and the effect, so you must be sure to adjust slowly.

  5. 5

    Once the fuel has begun flowing freely, both the fuel valve and steam valve must be opened. This will allow the fuel to flow all the way to the main burner, but not into the burner, as the burner valve is still closed.

  6. 6

    Light the main burner. The blower valve is now closed to prevent a draft and the kerosene line is shut down. Place another ball of waste paper soaked in kerosene at the end of the shovel. Light the ball of paper and slide it underneath the fire door toward the back of the firebox. This must land in just the right place in front of the main burner. At this point, the blower valve must be opened simultaneously with the burner valve to light the main burner. Once this is done, the firing valve must be opened to allow the fuel to flow freely into the main burner, thus lighting the engine.

  7. 7

    Adjust all of the gauges carefully to fuel the fire with enough oxygen to burn strongly. This will cause the steam gauge to rise more quickly.

  8. 8

    Pull the feedwater injector, keeping an eye on the overflow pipe to see what substance fills it. Steam will fill it initially, but water is what you are looking for. Closing these valves when there is steam in the line forces the steam back into the tender, as well as any residual water, which causes some boiling in the tender. Shutting off the injectors draws cool water out of the tender. Once the steam gauge reaches 24.9 Kilogram, the injectors will be reopened. This replaces water that has evaporated out of the boiler. As soon as the steam gauge reads over 45.4 Kilogram of pressure, the engine is ready to go.

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