A peek into the shed of a steam-engine builder
We all have our own way of letting off steam, and for locomotive enthusiast Win Holdaway, it’s building working model steam engines from scratch in his backyard shed.
“Steam is the only way to go,” says Win Holdaway, who has spent thousands of hours constructing immaculate scale locomotives in his workshop, including an 1870s Baldwin Standard TE, BR standard class 9F, a Burrell Special Scenic Showman’s road locomotive, and his current project, an inch-and-a-half scale 1925 Pennsylvania A5S 040 switcher. “It’s one thing to make a model that looks authentic and another to make it work.”
The necessary skills
A joiner by trade, his joinery skills are invaluable in constructing engines. Other talents picked up along the way have also stood him in good stead for his hobby, including house building, tool making, and looking after the stamping tools for a custom jewellery outfit — a skill handy for the fiddlier details.
A head for maths helps as everything has to be scaled in three dimensions, with allowances made for shrinkage in the casting process. Add patience and determination to get things absolutely right, and you have the recipe for a successful model engineer.
Machining tools in his well-organized workshop include a heavy-duty Colchester metal lathe, small Harrison milling machine, and home-built wood lathe, as well as a comprehensive collection of hand files for fine work and finishing. His ‘office’ alongside houses his computer and drawing board, as well as a pantograph for down-scaling and cutting more intricate components. “It’s especially good for shapes that are hard to file,” says Win.
Win’s workshop shelves are packed with wooden patterns. They’re the starting point for building metal models, and the success of the finished engine depends on its accuracy.
“You can get sets of castings sent out from the UK but it’s a horrendous price,” says Win, who instead gets hold of the drawings and works it out from there.
To make the moulds for casting, the customwood patterns and cores are set in resin sand, with a gating system built in to channel the molten metal. “It can be a bit of a brain-twister, especially getting the negative and positive shapes in the patterns.
“I make all the moulds and cores and fit them together so I don’t hold up the blokes at the foundry,” he says. Once they have been cast, the metal castings are machined and filed to fit. On the bright side, if it all goes wrong, at least you can turn them back to liquid again, he says.
A love of all things steam
Win admits that it’s an all-consuming hobby, but one that can be immensely satisfying. “It keeps you off the streets and out of the pubs,” says the enthusiast who reckons he needs to live another 100 years to finish off his projects. The only certainty is that they will outlast him by a lot longer than that.
If you want to read the full story and learn about other sheddies and their sheds, you can see the entire feature in issue 80 of The Shed. You can find out where to buy a copy here:
The Shed is a bi-monthly magazine that features how-to articles by experts, interviews with people undertaking amazing projects, and peeks into their sheds. A great read for the DIY enthusiast and those with a few tools after a bit of advice and inspiration.