The Markie Showman’s Road locomotive
I suppose, like many of us in this hobby, we started our love of steam with a Mamod or Wilesco traction engine. (I still have mine and still run them 40 years on!) As we got older our love of steam eventually led us to our garden railway hobby and steam operated engines. One such diversion for me was way back in 1995 when I placed an order for a 1/10th scale Markie Showman’s Road locomotive kit from Tony Pearce Designs.
Now this was back in the days before the internet and I’d seen a range of live steam traction engines advertised in the pages of the magazine ‘Old Glory’ by a company called Markie. That full page advert kept drawing me back time and time again. But what was it about these engines that so appealed to me? Well, it was the right size for starters, large (20inch length and 14 inch height), yet not too small.
I could just about afford it.
It was a showman’s engine with the option to have a coal fired or meths fired boiler.
It was the option to have a coal fired boiler that made the decision for me. The idea of finally have a proper coal fired engine was, to me, the pinnacle of model steam engines (no more little tablets or smelly meths).
So I sent my postal order off (no internet shopping or bank transfers remember) and waited for two years for the kit to be delivered.
Well 26 years later and the engine has been rebuilt and serviced several times and has certainly been run every year since. But was it a good purchase? Does it run well? Is it an engine I would recommend to anyone else? Or has it proved to be a disappointment?
Well to answer that honestly I have to go back to the very first firing.
The very first firing once the engine was completed was on meths, a really smelly and old fashioned way of firing a steam engine compared to today’s gas fired models. But it went reasonably well and the did engine run, albeit with the usual steam leaks and drips of water. The axle driven water pump appeared to be working OK and I was able to make adjustments and tighten things up as I went along. I probably got a good 30 mins running time. However I began to notice a couple of issues that I found odd and somewhat disappointed in.
Firstly there was no way of attaching the canopy to the engine. The rear sat on the top of the tender crane and the front just rested on the dynamo bracket of the smoke box. Also the water tank covers did not have any method of securing them to the belly tank, so this meant they all just rattled or fell off when the engine was running on the ground
Canopy sitting on the smoke box front
The water tank covers cannot be secured to the belly tank
The meths burner
The second and probably the most concerning issue was the way the meths found its way into the burner under the fire box. This is fine when the engine is running static as the meths is continually regulated, but as soon as the engine ran on the ground the meths would slosh around in the feeder tray and pour into the burner As the meths moved around it would cause more fluid to pore down the pipe into the burner and cause the fire to flash! Believe me when I say the flames actually did reach the top of the canopy (good job it wasn’t attached!)
Oh well I thought, not to worry as I really want to be running it on coal in the long term and the meths firing was a quick way to get the engine run in.
Lastly. The engine lacked power and I mean lacked a lot of power for the size it is. If you should ever think of getting one of these with the thought it could pull you along on a small trailer you’d be mistaken. The slightest amount of friction would bring the engine to a halt.
So over the next few months I got the engine run in, albeit as a stationary engine, allowing everything to bed in as well as getting familiar with the controls. There were a few things that surprised me about how the engine was operated and perhaps as a novice with very little in the way of experience at this time I just thought they were normal.
The steam was let into the steam chest by a valve on the side of the cylinder block, not sure why this should be but it is.
The safety valve on top of the steam cylinder block is completely redundant as the safety valve is in the cab on top of the water gauge. Not nice when if it blows off when you are operating the regulator or reverser.
Coal firing was not an easy process and with very little knowledge on how to successfully fire a steam engine this way it was simply trial and error (remember there was no internet available back then). Using charcoal soaked in paraffin and an electric blower to draw the fire I could certainly get pressure up very quickly and that meant having to use the axel pump or the hand pump to keep the boiler topped up whilst I added coal to the firebox. The hand pump has the smallest of handles and pumps the water into the boiler at a ridiculously slow rate. There was no way you could multitask between the pump, firebox and blower all at the same time. The axel pump was better when the engine was running but it never seemed to keep up with demand. I felt I was missing something because as soon as I switched off the electric blower the pressure would drop almost instantly and the fire would start to go out. So what was the problem? I decided to phone Tony Pearce of Markie engines to ask his advice. ‘You need a steam blower’ was his reply ‘but I don’t fit them anymore’.
‘Can I get hold of one?’
‘I’ll send you one in the post’
Great! It looked like this would cure the problem and it certainly increase my knowledge as to how coaled fired engines should work.
So I persevered a little longer with perfecting the fire whilst I waited for the blower arrive. Surely if I could get a good fire going then as long as the engine is working it should create enough draught to draw the fire. The harder the engine works, the greater the draft and if the axel pump can keep replenishing the boiler then all should work and I can keep the engine in steam. And I was right! I got a good deep fire going and upon removing the electric blower the engine started to draw the fire as it was working. The smell of coal and oil was just magical! I was simply overjoyed.
All of a sudden a blast of steam erupted from the cab! My immediate reaction was the safety valve had just blown (remember it is on top of the water gauge). But this was an awful lot of steam for a safety valve and there was water too. Straight away I dropped the fire, not an easy process on a hot, steaming engine, especially with the small space around the firebox door. But I managed it and to my horror I discovered it wasn’t the safety valve at all. The firebox door had blown clean off! The two bolts that held the door hinge in place had blown out releasing all the steam and water from the two holes they had left behind. There had been plenty of water in the boiler and the pressure gauge was running around 50 psi. How the hell had that happened!
So a call back to Tony Pearce again.
‘They’re not really designed to run on coal’ came the reply.
It is at this point that I’m not sure what to write here in this review as my reaction back then was simple astonishment that I had been sold an engine advertised with a coal fired boiler that wasn’t designed to run on coal. (To this day I have never seen a Markie engine running on coal) . I was advised that I could drill holes right through the firebox and bolt the door and hinge from the inside the firebox.
So with some trepidation I did this and managed to get the engine back up and running, but using the meths burner and not coal this time.
(By the way, the boiler was sent back to Tony Pearce back in 2016 and passed its boiler test, so looks like I did a reasonable job.)
The smallest handle of a hand pump
The steam valve on the side of the cylinder block
The safety valve on top of the water gauge. NB. the brass rod to keep the firebox door shut.
So over the years I improved the appearance of the engine, replaced the red led lights around the canopy with white ones, which certainly improved the look. Removed some of the boiler bands and added lining thought-out to give it a more realistic appearance as well as painting the cylinder block black. Lastly I replace the metal canopy signage with something more in keeping with the era (see photo). Every few years I would strip the engine down and give it a full rebuild and overhaul. It’s a beautiful looking engine and I can have it ticking over very slowly with just under 20 psi on the gauge. But has it been worth it? Is it an engine I would recommend to anyone. Well, it depends on what you’re looking for and what you want to get out of an engine of this size.
Lastly, as of 2021, the brass axle boss that drives the water pump had worn so badly it meant the pump wouldn’t operate. This had been an issue for the past five years and I thought it was about time to replace it. Markie do have a website, of sorts, but only to show the range of engines. There is no spare parts page, no facility to order anything online, no FAQ, no guides to running the engines or even a showcase of owners engines. So you’ll need to call or write to Tony Pearce directly (no email either). That in itself is not a bad thing and if you are in no hurry it’s quite nice to go back to a more traditional method of communicating. But, and there is a but. I couldn’t just order a new axle boss, I had to remove the entire axel driven pump to send to Mr Pearce as he wanted to see the entire thing. Perhaps, in the modern world of 16mm steam railways where we have been spoilt with such a wide variety of services and the ease of ordering items online, you may feel a little frustrated with a business whose services and communication is still firmly routed in 1996.
I feel after 26 years of running the Markie traction engine that I’m in as good a position as anyone to pass an objective and honest conclusion regard this engine.
First, the bad.
Most of the components are made of brass so they wear very quickly and are therefore not really suitable for an engine that you may wish to run on a regular basis.
The axel pump doesn’t really keep up with the demand of the engine when it is running and therefore your maximum running time before having to drop the fire and top up with the hand pump is about 30 -40 min.
It takes ages to get water into the boiler with the hand pump before you can light the fire and I mean ages – the pump’s handle is tiny!
There is no latch on the firebox door and the only way to keep it closed is to either tighten the bolts that secure it on its hinge, however they will start to loosen again as the engine heats and cools. Or, as in my case use a small brass road to prop the door closed.
If you want to run it on the ground then you are going to need a gas burner, plus you’ll need to remove the canopy and the belly tank covers as they will drive you mad as they rattle around loosely.
The winch doesn’t do anything. It’s just a metal drum with wire wrapped around it. It’s for show only.
There is no differential on the rear wheels so turning it problematic. I find just turning the engine of the work bench can be awkward.
There is no blow down valve and therefore no way of emptying the boiler with ease or being able to wash it out.
The blow down pipes on the cylinder are on the steam chest side and not the cylinder side, which is a bit odd.
It’s not designed to run on coal and therefore I would recommend running them on gas.
For an engine of this size it seriously lacks power.
The firebox door blew off when the engine was pretty well new.
It is simply a beautiful engine to look at, really stunning!
It’s not too big that you wont be able to find anywhere to put it when you are not running it and it is always a head turner when on display.
It’ll also tick over very nicely once it has been run in on just a few psi.
It’s at its best when it is run as a static engine.
They do seem to hold there value regardless of the short comings.
But, I’m afraid that is it.
If I had to sum it up it works very much like a glorified Mamod engine, but with slower running and better physical appearance. The only comparable engine is the Maxitrak 1inch ploughing engine and unfortunately I have been unable to get my hands on one so can’t offer a like for like comparison.
Would I recommend one to anyone else? If you want a display model or something just to run once a year for 30 minutes or so on gas or air then go for it.
If you want an engine that you can enjoy on a regular basis, running it several time a year and preferably on coal, then sadly the answer is no.
Would I ever part with mine?
I have spent so many years trying to get this engine to run properly and have dealt with so many issues that it is very much part of me and I have a strange love hate relationship with it. I run it each year and when the next problem arises or I just simply get frustrated with its daw backs, it gets put back on the shelf for another year.