Extreme Steam

By Robin Godwin

This article was originally hosted on the first MAR Online website. As access to that site is no longer available from zeteo.com we have copied over a number of articles to ensure that they are saved for the future. This article has been adapted from its original form to appear in this blog. NB the product cost and sales site details are now out of date.

TWH Collectibles by Robin Godwin

100 ton shovel at work c.1919

There’s no doubt that Brits have a curious affinity for Steam Traction Engines, especially Showman’s Engines, to whit, models by Matchbox, a complete range by Corgi and now Oxford Diecast getting into the fray. Doubtless, the same type of vehicle was employed here in North America as industrialization took hold and perhaps some even saw use as Showman’s Engines. But one doesn’t see the same level of interest in miniature diecast, even though die casting toy vehicles was essentially an American invention, pioneered by the Dowst Manufacturing Company, Tootsietoys, during the time when steam engines would still have been in use. To be honest, I find that most of the Showman’s models basically look alike, and I’m sure the same casting is used with different liveries on occasion. From my perspective, it seems North American interest in steam driven vehicles, excluding trains, extends more to the construction industry, with many toy ranges featuring period steam shovels, excavators, and steam rollers. It’s not my intention to review steam shovels or rollers as a complete subject, more to focus on a single magnificent steam driven vehicle that was produced by TWH Collectibles a few years back as a special for the US magazine Toy Trucker and Contractor. I’m talking about the 1:48 scale TWH021-08001 Bucyrus Steam Shovel, the 95 ton rail-mounted steam shovel famous for its use in the construction of the Panama Canal. This astonishing all-metal model could have appeal to steam, construction (cable excavators), and O gauge rail enthusiasts alike. The model is still available at it’s original price of 300 US Dollars from the magazine website at http://www.toytrucker.com/construction-models.html You only need to examine the photos to realize that ‘it’s a steal’ at that price. It can also be found on eBay, but at a premium.

A leaflet that comes with the model describes the actual vehicle history best: ‘The 95 ton steam shovel was the largest of 12 steam shovels that Bucyrus offered between 1895 and 1901 and was marketed as the the most powerful shovel ever built. Bucyrus steam shovels comprised 77 of the fleet of 102 steam shovels used to dig the Panama Canal, one of the largest excavation projects of the early 20th century’. This machine was rail car mounted and self-powered via a chain drive. Workers would build the rail bed forward as the machine advanced against the rock face. A second rail line with open box cars parallelled the excavator line to enable removal of the rock.

Mere words are inadequate to describe this model, however the leaflet again outlines some of the working functions:

‘The major functions of the Steam Shovel, including the raising and lowering of the dipper, boom swing, and chain drive locomotion are key-operated using fully functional winches of chain and ropes. Other functioning components include the dipper door trip rope, pivoting operator handles, and hinged adjustable outriggers. The undercarriage of the Steam Shovel features functional trucks, removable rear hitch, individually-linked drive chain, and a brake. The removable house is complete with sliding doors and hinged windows with prop rods. The interior of the house reveals the most impressive workings of the model. Reciprocating pistons and operational gears lead rearward to the nickel-plated boiler piping. The boiler is detailed down to the rivets with a functional coal door inside the hinged coal platform. Prop rods support the hinged back door’.

Few companies can or do build to the standards exhibited by TWH who are regrettably now out of business. There are two UK based websites that provide independent reviews of plant and construction models and both rave about this particular item. One is Miniature Construction World edited by Steven Downes http://www.twh-reviews.co.uk/index.php?menuID=bucyrus&contentID=bucyrus-steam and the other is Cranes Etc edited by Ian Webb http://www.cranesetc.co.uk/library/twhreviews/021/021review.htm. As Ian says ‘This is one of those few models that is such a quality item that almost anyone would be happy to have it on a mantelpiece, even if they have no interest in collecting models, or the machine itself. The detail and features are excellent, and the quality is first class. Hopefully some day all quality models will be made this way’.

Truly a unique and extreme steam machine.

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