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December 2009

Beck's Helene

by Marc Horovitz

The model
Beck, Of Kassel, Germany, has been featured before in these pages with their Anna and the Merlin/Beck Matador. As mentioned earlier, Beck was a pioneer in small scale, live steam locomotives, particularly low cost, narrow-gauge engines. Their low-end locomotives were intended for use with LGB rolling stock and so were fitted with LGB-compatible couplers. Indeed, Beck produced only locomotives, relying on LGB for all remaining infrastructure -- rolling stock, track, accessories, etc.

Helene was Beck's second locomotive. It was produced in 1980, following Anna by one year. It was an 0-6-2T, suggested by (I hesitate to say modeled after) the Zillertal 0-6-2T locomotives that LGB had popularized in electricity. Beck's engine was simple in the extreme, representing the Zillertal engines mostly in rough outline. It had a trailing truck that appears to have come from the LGB factory. It is interesting to note that the flanges on the trailing wheels were turned down, evidently by Beck, to better match those on the engine.

Helene's specifications closely follow Anna's. It has two, double acting, piston-vale cylinders, controlled by outside slip eccentrics. The lubricator is a tiny reservoir in the steam dome, accessed by unscrewing the top of the dome. On the backhead is a little window into the boiler and an enormous pressure gauge. The throttle is a knob on the side of the steam dome. Butane is carried in a very large tank in the left side tank. The gas-control knob protrudes from the back of the cab.

Bodywork is straightforward, being comprised of sheet-metal shapes formed to suit. The top half of the cab is held to the bottom by three unsightly sheet-metal screws.

The boiler is a single flue, gas-fired unit, with a jet in the cab that squirts gas across an intervening air space into the back of the burner, entraining oxygen as it goes.

The run
I had a dim recollection of having tried to run this locomotive some years ago, but with no success. However, I didn't recall what the problem might have been. (I should have looked it up in my Steam Log, but didn't think of it.) Anyway, I checked it over and even tried it on air. All seemed well, so perhaps my memory was mistaken.

The temperature on steamup day was in the mid 40s -- fairly brisk. I prepared the engine in the usual manner and lit it up. The fire caught right away but refused to be adjusted beyond the weakest of flames. Oh, yeah -- memory returned -- the engine had a partially clogged gas jet that was going to be a bear to fix.

However, I had come this far, so I might as well have a go. I had to remove the upper cab to get anywhere close to the jet, which had to come out entirely to be cleared. The quarter-century-old rubber gas line was destroyed in the process of removing it. No matter- I had plenty more. The cab back had to be removed, as well. I was finally able to unscrew the jet from its mount, after which I took it into the shop and gave it a good blow out from the front end with plenty of compressed air.

I got everything back together (I only dropped one screw in the weeds) and lit it up again. This time all was well. The fire caught and could be turned up much farther than I wished, which was good. I turned it down to a reasonable setting and waited. After a little while, pressure on the big clock came up, I opened the throttle, and the engine was off.

I tied on a couple of vintage LGB coaches, which looked just right behind Helene. The train rounded the track, lap after lap, in an easy, sedate manner. Steam effects were great, due to the cold weather. It was a great run on a great day for a steamup.

Here's a movie of the engine in action. If it doesn't work, click here to go to YouTube.

Builder Chr. Beck & Söhne (Germany)
Date built 1980
Gauge 1 gauge
Scale 1:22.5
Boiler Single flue
Fittings Safety valve, pressure gauge, throttle
Fuel Butane
Blow-off pressure 30 psi
Cylinders Two, double acting, piston-valve
Reversing gear Outside slip eccentrics
Lubricator Displacement
Weight 8 pounds 2 ounces
Dimensions Length over end beams, 12-1/2"; width, 4-1/2"; height, 6-1/2"
Despite its somewhat toylike appearance, this engine has an imposing presence on the rails. Basically a big Anna, it looks great in front of a train of vintage LGB stock.
Based on the Zillertal 0-6-2Ts, Helene has rudimentary details, including dummy headlights (simple turnings), steps (folded sheet metal), and some side-tank detail (castings).
The steam dome, immediately behind the stack contains the lubricator beneath its screw-off top. The knob sticking out the side is the throttle knob. This could be replaced with a lever, thus making the engine radio controllable (speed only). Pipes emerging from the front of the dome go to the cylinders.
The cab houses this enormous pressure gauge, which reads in kilograms per square centimeter of pressure. Below it to the left is the water glass -- basically a window into the boiler, a la Wilesco. The knob protruding from the rear wall is the gas-control valve.
The builder's plate inside the cab. This engine is #4016. The safety valve is not original Beck. It came from a Merlin locomotive. The gas filler valve can be seen to the right, atop the side tank.
The valve gear is slip eccentrics, with the unusual feature of the eccentrics being on the outside. The eccentric is the larger, circular piece on the second driver. Valves are the piston type. The pistons in the cylinders are comprised of a pair of Teflon cups mounted back to back on the piston rod. All of the nickel plating adds to the toylike character of this engine.
The underside of the engine is fairly conventional. The frames are formed by a single, massive casting. The trailing truck appears to be pure LGB. Note the side-to-side slop in the axles to help the engine accommodate sharp curves. There are unused, tapped holes in the frame causing one to wonder at their use. Were these same frames to be part of some new project -- one that sadly never saw the light of day? We'll never know.
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