The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Ross Bishop

Added to museum: 8/17/09

Australian Model Engineer Builds Historically Correct Live Steam Engines

Australians Ross and Daphne Bishop with their 1/10scale "Standard Goods" Locomotive. (Click on photo to view larger image.)


Mention the term "Model Engineer" and the first thing that comes to mind for most people is a miniature railroad locomotive. Though engineering for miniature models has always included more than just steam engines, locomotives have long been a large part of the hobby of model engineering. Model engineer Ross Bishop has built a number of live steam locomotives, the one featured in this article being his tenth. With an early interest in models, early experience with machine tools thanks to his father and the training as a toolmaker, he has a lifetime of experience behind this latest project, and it shows in his fine execution.

Getting started early

Ross Bishop was born in 1961 and began modelling machinery at the age of eight with plastic kits, Meccano sets and great encouragement from his parents. The skills to make things from scratch began to develop around age 11 or 12 when his father, a civil engineer, purchased a small lathe and drill press to compliment a range of hand tools in the home workshop. At a young age he often started with elaborate and ambitious plans, some of which were doomed to end in disappointment, but these also taught lessons in perseverance. Eventually, in a couple of years he was smoking up the shed with quite adequate coal fired stationary steam plants. A second-hand, 5-inch gauge locomotive, purchased and rebuilt with his father, further drove the ambition to make better steam models. The first locomotive fully designed and built by Ross, a narrow gauge 0-6-2, was completed at around age 20.

Training as a toolmaker added a knowledge of materials, heat treatment and more efficient ways to produce parts. Purchasing his own machine tools was inevitable, and more ambitious projects were undertaken including restoration of a full-size traction engine requiring major boiler and mechanical reconstruction.

Feeling unfulfilled “repairing” rather than “building,” Ross returned to modelling, completing several locomotives, rolling stock and a garden railway over the 20 years following. Locomotive 5148, the feature of this contribution, was the tenth completed (2004). Ross says, “My favourite models connect me with a personal experience that I want to keep fresh in my memory and relive at will. Having other people relate to my models is a vital component of the reward. He goes on to say, “The model has to be many things combined: an authentic miniature, a well engineered workhorse and a personal expression of a much loved machine. Any of these in isolation is not nearly enough.

The following description of what went into building his latest steam engine project was submitted by Ross.

Building 5148

2-8-0 Steam locomotive No. 5148 nearly complete and ready for paint. (Click photo to view larger image.)

The Model

The “Standard Goods” locomotives of the New South Wales Government Railways (Australia) were introduced by the Chief Mechanical Engineer, Mr. William Thow in 1896 to a Beyer Peacock & Co design (Great Britain), some remaining in service for over 70 years. Among 280 engines, various boilers, smokeboxes, crossheads, tenders, brake cylinders, compressors, electric lighting, ladders, couplings and other modifications were implemented during that time. To authentically model a locomotive you have to select one in particular and model it at a particular period of its life.


The original 5148, now scrapped, worked in Albury (mid-way between Sydney and Melbourne) during the 1960’s as a yard shunting engine. My model is an externally accurate portrayal of 5148 in those days with attention to riveting, pipe runs, brackets and all other visible features. For example, the tender was equipped with electric lighting although the engine was not, an unusual “flat top” tool box was located on the tender, and the re-railing jack remained in place even though most went missing being too heavy to put back after use. In addition, air receivers were welded, not riveted and the “small” brake cylinder remained unchanged. Tail rods, mostly removed by then, remained.

Reference material, besides published photographs and museum exhibits, also included copies of original drawings signed and dated by W. Thow 10.9.(18)96.

Engineered to Work

Beneath the facade of “externally authentic” lies a machine designed to work. Weighing only 75 kg the model can haul 1000 kg forward or backward, and will do so for hundreds of hours/kilometres. The coal-fired boiler is designed to supply sufficient steam continuously, without difficulty, and under any conditions. The driver can ride without causing damage. Mechanical movements, faithful in principle, are designed for precise function. Non-authentic components essential for hard work are disguised or surreptitiously hidden from view. 

Non-scale structural strength and weight for adhesion is built in without compromising the appearance. Assembly or dismemberment is made possible by design, the major assemblies remaining independent but for a few fasteners. Where necessary, special fasteners and fittings have been “developed” to overcome access or manufacturing or functional design problems.

Artistic Expression

This aspect of a model is far more subjective. Capturing the “appeal” of a particular locomotive as seen through the eye of the beholder cannot be defined in purely engineering terms. If anything, this challenges me more than either the research or the engineering. The matter seems to require considerable sensitivity to aesthetics, appropriate choice of materials, finish and a sharp eye for shape. A dome shade without a slight taper looks top-heavy. The cab sides curve in a slightly parabolic arc, not a radius as commonly supposed.

The paint finish is critical. A durable, industrial strength finish that fully covers and protects without drowning the details is needed. A deliberate shade of “dull” to get the look of “weathered metal” is applied. Black is mixed in colours to make them “dirty.” Wood grain is darkly accentuated for a “worn by dirty boots” feel. Chemical blackening is also used for a “bare iron” look. Curiously, some bright work is still needed to retain the charm of a miniature.

Prototypical appearance, feel and function of the controls is vital to the driving experience. Making a small handle, I imagine my hand giving the real one a shove and engine reacting under my feet. Some compromise is necessary for functional parts like sight glasses, etc.  

Like artistic expression, success or failure can only be measured by another person’s response. One fellow, a former engineman, spent several minutes peering into the cab of my model. Clearly, memories of his working life played out in his mind. Finally, he said, “You got it just about right in there but your brake handle might be a bit high.”

“Oh?” I said.

He went on, “I used to sit there between fires with my leg up over the handle. I don’t think it would be comfortable on yours.”

—Ross Bishop

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Building a McLaren Road Locomotive

by Ross Bishop, added 3/2/12

My affiliation with traction engines dates back to early childhood. Family photographs show me enthusing about them from a young age. Here, 45 years on, I am delighted to share with you my most recent model: a ¼ scale McLaren Road Locomotive.

Ross, age 5, familiarising with a Traction Engine. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The fully functional model, of which some details appear below, was completed in Feb 2012 after 7 years and an estimated 4000 hrs. It is representative of a 10 Nominal Horse Power, 3 Speed Road Locomotive as supplied to the British War Department (WW1) by J & H McLaren of Leeds, England for artillery haulage. I say “representative” because unlike the locomotive described previously, I have not modelled a specific individual machine; rather a compilation of machines, faithfully McLaren in form, but also including some authentic “owner modifications”, eg the bunker railing, evident from historic photographs.

The model measures 63" long x 29" wide x 37" high and weighs 500 pounds. Rear wheels are 22" dia. The compound cylinder arrangement uses steam firstly in a cylinder of 1-7/8" bore x 3" stroke and then again at lower pressure in a cylinder 2-7/8" bore x 3" stroke. Actual measurements confirm that both cylinders are functioning as intended and equally sharing the load. The valves are operated by 2 sets of Stevenson’s Link Motion with which the driver may vary the valve travel for economy and compression braking to control hill descents.

Traction engine models provide some interesting variety from other steam models with wheel making, gear cutting (over 20 gears in total), double throw crankshaft and the general challenge of building a precision mechanism around the piece of black pipe which is the boiler!

(Click on any of the photos below to view a larger image.)

Commencing to fit spokes to a rear wheel

The spokes secured in the hub. This becomes hidden by fitting the outer portion of the hub. Only a joint line is visible with the spokes disappearing inside

Bonding rubber sheet for tyres

The make shift rubber grinding machine!

Finished crankshaft – a high value item now in terms of hours

The drive train consists of 6 DP and 7 DP spur gearing, via four transverse transmission shafts including the crankshaft and the rear axle. A bevel gear differential is fitted to the 3rd shaft (lower left) and each rear wheel has a separate final drive. Three changeable gear ratios are provided, each with mechanical interlocks (rods visible top left) to prevent engagement of more than one ratio at a time. Top speed for the model is 3 mph at 400 rpm.

Gear changes are made with the engine stationary as appropriate to the conditions ahead. One must remember when changing gear that the crankshaft is disengaged from the drive train before the next gear is slid into mesh. Should the engine start rolling during this process there is no means to use compression braking to stop it!  Caution, wheel chocks and use of the handbrake must be religiously followed for safety.

Working in a largish scale such as this permits great attention to details such as valves and pipe fittings as well as miscellaneous niceties like the lockable padlock on the toolbox.

The most recent achievement, the paint finish, proved quite demanding for one such as me, with deteriorating eyesight and little artistic flair. Some areas lend themselves to spray painting while others; eg, the wheels, had to be hand brushed. Reproducing line work in ¼ scale was an exercise in extreme patience requiring the development of tools and techniques to compensate for scale and my lack of natural ability! The cream lines are about 40 thou in width, totalling over 120 feet in length on the model! You want to be able to reproduce the same standard with reliability on different days. A simple pen specially made for the job, templates and using paint of consistent viscosity was the answer.

Trying my hand at signwritingnerve wracking business!

One of two lining pens developed to provide consistency of line weights.

The wheels were quite awkward to access due to the small spaces between the spokes, especially where they converge on the hub. They were painted and lined by a combination of brush work, lining pens and templates.

Before committing to painting and final finishing we ran the engine several times to confirm everything worked and lubrication arrangements were adequate. We also fitted some temporary instrumentation to measure steam temps and pressures and learn the best way to operate the compound steam cylinders.

Testing the Engine

First steamings and temporary gauges fitted to indicate steam chest pressures for primary and secondary expansions of steam in the compound cylinders.

The Finished Engine

Several views of the completed machine. The working padlock with key and railing around the coal bunker are among many delightful features.

Footnote: Castings for this model were purchased from a supplier in UK and full credit is expressed for the excellent pattern making and foundry work.

Web video and slide show

• For a well-filmed video view of what it is like to be the engineer as 5148 steams around a scenic park layout watch the video at

• A flash slide show including some of the photos below can be seen at

View a selection of photos of Ross Bishop's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

Building 5148

It's a sobering time to put all that you've made together and see just how little you've achieved!

This original drawing bears the mark of Chief Mechanical Engineer, W. Thow,  September 10th 1896

About a year to reach this point but now it runs on compressed air and I look happy!

Weighshaft, bronze bushes and links for the Allen valve motion located between the frames.

The Crossheads were a classic feature. These were machined and hand finished from a round cast iron bar. The Connecting Rod joins with a spherical bearing to accommodate spring movement at the axle end. The full power of the steam is transmitted through the Crossheads in spite of them being only 1/16" (1.5 mm) thick in places.

Side rods need careful milling to achieve proper shape, no undercut radii and accurate hole centres.

Little by little, the parts accumulate. Some you forget you even made a couple of years before. It's like seeing an old friend again!

The copper boiler (with superheaters) is built to a Code, Tested and Certified. It's well hidden under the detailed exterior.

Before painting, work in the different metals clearly shows. This is the "smokebox". The boxes on either side carried sand to drop on slippery rails. 5148 retained the original hook and buffers using a "match wagon" to couple to modern knuckle couplers.

The steam powered air compressor (Sandberg) is configured to pump water, the exhaust steam making suitable sounds in the smokebox.

Inside the cab, the controls match the original.

Boiler cladding was not smooth. Detail on the firebox sides includes bolts, washout plugs and  a mix of dummy and functional piping for Oil, Steam or Water.

Approved Relief Valves on the Boiler. The "Ramsbottom" style has been created by adding the lever, spring and 8BA studs as detail only.

L to R - Screw Reverser (with left hand, double start, square thread and nut), Air Brake control (working with steam) and Throttle Lever. Gauges show Brake function and Boiler pressure. I'm imagining myself standing in there, pulling down the door handle and peering at the fire!. A steel rule lying on the "dirtied" floor boards shows size.

An old photograph helps get the tender bogies looking "right". The springs have sagged on the real one!

Axlebox covers for the tender bogies. These were milled out manually with great concentration. There's one extra just in case!

Tender bogies with all the links and shackles, brake gear etc - used to keep the Blacksmiths busy!

These tenders were used on other local engines too. They are a
favourite for me. Seeing it finished brought great satisfaction.

Another view from the "shoveling" end. Coal and water for the model is carried within as well as the drivers feet on removable pegs.

A Jack of 20 tons capacity was provided to lift then traverse sideways for correcting minor derailments.

The Jack is shown in position on the rear deck of the tender.

This might be your view standing lineside. It was a practice of
convenience to thrust the coal shovel in the railing when not in use.

Once on the footplate and underway you may have this view of the driver's side.

The fireman's seat and the "too high brake handle".

A fire breathes life into the machine and we try to recreate a familiar scene from long ago.

Somebody modeled the coal stage at Port Waratah and this scene is synonymous with the final days for the Standard Goods locomotives.

Another world of sensation opens at night which I'm trying to illustrate here.

Enjoying the unhurried plod of a Standard Goods with a rake of typical wagons from the era. A great escape from the pressures of today's world.

Other Projects...Past and Present

The Fowler, one of a pair, is a 2-ft gauge contractor's locomotive employed on sugar tramways in Queensland, Australia

Buffalo: A full-size restoration

McLaren traction engine

See article above photo section on the building of this "road locomotive."


The current project is a ¼-size McLaren traction engine. The second photo shows the project in January, 2010. To get it to this stage represents about 5 years part-time work

1.  2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

More photos of the McLaren traction engine in progress as of March, 2010:

1. Beginning to fabricate the Cylinder Drain Cock bodies

2. First step in machining the bodies

3. Reaming the tapered bore

4. Completed bodies

5. Completed valves with operating arm and mounting piece. This represents about 30 hours of work to this point.

6. A close-up of a finished body. Length is about 20 mm.

7. The valves  assembled on cylinder. A common rod will move all three simultaneously.

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New Submissions Welcomed

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