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STEAM POWER - the appeal of steam.

Fascinating stuff steam. Although any nicely built model boat can be virtually guaranteed a few spectators at the pondside on a nice sunny day, nothing seems to gather a crowd of interested onlookers quite as effectively as a steam powered model.

Maybe it's the smell. Possibly it's the noise or lack of it that acts as a magnet, that seductive muted chuffing sound. Or perhaps it is the hard to explain, even somewhat unfair layman's belief that a steam powered model is somehow 'real modelling', a much more craftsmanlike creation than anything running on batteries similar to the ones that activate his son's Nintendo games.

A crowd will always gather around a lovely open steam launch like this one. It would have been a shame to hide away that lovely Cheddar Proteus steam plant.

In any event, there is no doubt that operating steam powered models, or to be honest playing around with them in my case, is for a great many people simply more fun than most other kinds of boating.

Model making of various kinds began consuming the combined proceeds of my pocket money and early morning paper round about forty years ago. Memories are now unreliable to say the least, but I can remember that in those days most steam engines seemed to have actually been built by the modellers operating the boats they powered, usually from self-machined rough castings, chunks of brass and the like.

The engine aft layout of a Clyde Puffer means that they aren’t the simplest models to power by steam, but they look good on the water with steam curling out of that funnel.

Some keen types even went as far as producing all their own nuts and bolts as well, a clubmate of mine used to make a point of telling anyone within earshot that the only part of his model steam plant that he hadn't created with his own bare hands was the steam pressure gauge. A claim made particularly irritating to junior club members like me, mostly low-level scratchbuilders or mere kit assemblers, because we all knew it was absolutely true.

This 42” TID is powered by a powerful twin cylinder steam engine, every component of which was designed and built by the Belgian owner.

Craftsmanship indeed, certainly something to fill long winter evenings. It was hardly surprising that the floating masterpieces of this self-styled model engineering genius, combined with a total absence of affordable ready to run simple steam plants, deterred most of us from having even thinking about trying model steamers ourselves.

But that was back in the time of unreliable single channel radios and packets of crisps that still had little blue bags of salt inside them. Things are very different today, and many model shops catering for boating enthusiasts, offer a bewildering selection of beautifully engineered ready-to-install steam plants. Sadly, these are still way beyond most pocket money and paper round finances of course.

The entry for a recent Ministeam competition in the city of Osaka Japan. Every one of these models was built on a standard Kingston Mouldings Ministeam open steam launch hull, and they are powered by a mixture of Cheddar, Saito and home made machinery.

But it's the availability of such treasures, that and the discovery that expertise in lathe and milling machine operation, and the possession of blackened broken finger nails and an oil-stained boiler suit are no longer essential prerequisites, that tempts ever growing numbers to try their hand at steam powered boats for the first time.

Steam power is quiet, surprisingly powerful, and relatively non-polluting. It's something that might seem a rather old-fashioned idea to many people, but it still works as well as it ever has done. As you will quickly find out for yourself, it is also a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying way of whiling away the hours that you spend working on and playing with your models in the twenty-first century.

Ministeam models are a lot of fun to build and operate, but the small size makes them quite a challenge even for expert modellers. This Steam Gunboat is powered by a Cheddar unit.

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