Thursday, 15 May 2014

1929 Steam Wagon

Click on any of the pictures to enlarge!

My version of an 85 year old model
In 1929 Meccano Limited produced a steam engine that had a vertical boiler and, for the first time, a baseplate designed to allow it to be physically built-in to a model. A book of instructions and suggested models was supplied with the engine. Most of the models shown are very basic and it looks as if the manual was hurriedly put together in order to make it ready for Christmas 1929. The new engine was announced in a full page advert that appeared in Meccano Magazine of September that year.

A lot of the models show were machine tools that could be combined to make a steam powered workshop, indeed, there was also instructions to build a small workshop in its entirety. Other plans included a capstan and several cranes, some better than others, but all built from relatively small sets. Given the price of the engine being One Guinea, That is 21/- (21 Shillings - £1.05) at the time this was a huge amount of money at the time and way beyond what most parents could afford. In today's money that is about £200.00. It stands to reason the any child who was given one of these engines would also have a much bigger set of Meccano than was needed to build the manual models.       

In order to take account of this, in the back of the instruction manual were two models that used more parts. One was the steam powered SML19, Steam shovel. The full building instructions for this model were published as one of the Super Model Leaflets (SML 19a) in December 1929. Since then it must have been built many times. In later years it has also been built using the, horizontal boiler steam engine that first appeared in the 1965.

The other model shown in the back of the instruction manual is a steam-powered version of the SML 6, Stiff Leg Derrick. Unlike the other model, although promised by Meccano at the time, no plans were ever published before the engine was withdrawn in the early 1930s. However plans were published decades later and I have built this model using both the 1929 and 1965 engines. An article about the building of the models and reference sources for the plans can be downloaded HERE (Approximately 4.8Mb)

This is the extent of the plans - click on the plan to enlarge
From the other models in the book I decided to have a go at building model No. S 27 Steam wagon using 'modern' parts and fixings. When I say modern, I am talking about mainly post-war parts and in our preferred colour scheme of red and zinc.  

This view show the coal bunker slung under the rear
Taking a leaf out of Sue's book, I selected the parts as per the parts list. This was the first mistake. The list of parts bears only a passing resemblance as to what is actually needed. I reverted back to my usual plan of selecting parts as I go. The written instructions only tell part of the story and the rather confusing pictures are of limited help. To some extent, I enjoy this sort of thing. It makes the built far more interesting than just following a perfect plan. Maybe that is just me, but I am a Meccano builder, not a modeller who uses Meccano, if you see what I mean. I have said this many times, once the model is finished I can't wait to take it apart and build something else. If it was too easy to build I would not be interested.

Looks OK from the right hand side
After several hours of messing around I eventually got going on the principle that it was better to start building something than sitting here trying to work it out first. I started with the cab and soon worked out that the chassis rails are comprised of two 12½ inch girders overlapped by 15 holes! Then it is a case of finding girders that will work together, that is, are square (ish) and have the holes punched in such a position that a bolt can be passed through the round holes, taking full advantage of Meccano's hole-to-bolt tolerance.
The crude steering is a bit sloppy but it works
I gave up on the written descriptions and simply continued to build what I could see in the pictures. Most of the build was reasonably straight forward once I got started. The one thing that didn't work for me was the way the steering was arranged. A single fishplate bolted to the 'spring' and the rod left to find its own centre in the slotted hole was never going to work very well.

The 1 inch strip added - see text
I decided to swap the fishplate for a 1 inch x ½ inch bracket and take advantage of a modern 1 inch narrow strip bolted across the slotted hole to give a round-hole for the steering pivot rod to journal into. A washer is placed between the 1 inch strip and the bracket to prevent it binding when tightened - work a treat! That is, until I came to fit the steam engine and found the lugs on the bracket fouled the cylinder. Sharp eyed readers will have noticed they are up the other way on the finished model - didn't you!

More on this model HERE  and see the video HERE.



  1. I love the way how on even a relatively simple model like this they represent the rear spring and fit working steering

  2. Me too! The idea was to make the model as interesting as possible with minimal use of parts, even in 1929...


  3. what road speed obtained ? court appearance i suspect..have seen several of these vertical boiler mecc engines in the past.. now to acquire..

  4. great look to it .. thanks for the build instructions.