Back to Loco of the Month homepage
to Sidestreet Bannerworks

December 2003

John Bateman’s Thunderer

by Marc Horovitz

The model
This locomotive came to me via the grandson of the original owner, who had played with it as a child and brought it with him from England when he emigrated to America. It’s an impressive beast, made entirely of brass. The wheels are fine brass castings that have the thin, lacy spokes typical of the Victorian era. No doubt, when new, the entire engine was highly polished. There is some paint on it, but not much. The cylinders, the inset panel of the splashers over the drivers, and the spokes of the wheels are a deep, dull red. On one side of the boiler is a cast-brass nameplate -- THUNDERER. There is no indication that there was ever a plate on the other side.

I originally did not know the maker of this engine. Aside from the nameplate, there was no obvious marking. Upon close examination, though, I found what appeared to be a maker’s symbol or logo hand-scratched (I would hesitate to call it engraved) into the backplate on the open cab. It looked like "JB & Co.", with the J and the B formed back-to-back as a single character. In checking my reference books, the only reasonable match was John Bateman & Company of High Holborn in London. (Bassett-Lowke, years later, would also have a High Holborn address.) As it happened, I had a reproduction of a John Bateman catalog. I hoped to be able to identify the engine as Bateman by comparing details of this engine with those of engines that appeared in the catalog, a common method of identification. However, while thumbing through the catalog, I came upon the very engine itself. Eureka!

The gauge of this engine is 3-1/4", which seems odd today, but was a standard gauge of the time. While not a scale model of any specific engine, this locomotive is more than a toy and captures the lines and feeling of early British locomotives. It was intended to be run on the floor or on the track. Engines that were intended solely for floor use often had their axles angled inwards, aimed at the center point of an imaginary circle, so that the engine would travel in a circle when operating on a flat surface. This engine’s axles are parallel to one another.

There is a throttle lever in the cab, on either side of which are pegs that act as stops. On the right side of the boiler are a pair of petcocks, one above the other. These take the place of the sight glass. When filling the boiler, the top one is opened. When water comes out, the boiler is filled to the proper level. While operating, the bottom cock is periodically opened for a second. If water comes out, there’s still enough in the boiler. If steam comes out, it’s time to shut down and refill.

Water is added to the boiler by unscrewing the rear dome cover. This cover also houses the safety valve. Ahead of it is a working peanut whistle and ahead of that is a dummy steam dome.

The burner on this model is gone, alas. It would not be difficult, though, to build a reasonable facsimile of the original, which was nothing more than a large tank that was hung under the footplate behind the rear wheel, with a feed tube extending forward to three or four wicks. The original burner tank was soldered to the backplate of the cab.

The outside cylinders are brass castings. Piston rods are fitted with crossheads, crosshead guides, and gland nuts. Front cylinder covers appear to be soldered in place, while the rear ones are screwed on. The valves are inside and are controlled by slip eccentrics on the driven axle. Valve stems are also fitted with gland nuts. One is missing, but could be remade. Originally there was an exhaust pipe from each cylinder that ran up the stack. One of those is also missing, as are a pair of buffers on the front beam. With all of the little things wrong, needless to say, this engine is a non-runner. However, it is a good candidate for restoration, the only significant missing part being the burner.



Builder John Bateman & Co. (England)
Date built 1885 (est.)
Gauge 3-1/4"
Scale 1:17 (nominal)
Boiler Pot
Fittings Safety valve, whistle, throttle, two petcocks
Fuel Alcohol
Blow-off pressure 10-15 psi
Cylinders Two, double-acting slide-valve
Reversing gear Slip eccentrics
Lubricator None
Dimensions Length, 11-3/4" over frame; width, 3-3/4"; height, 7-1/4"

Thunderer is an elegant locomotive that embodies all of the characteristics of a typical Victorian model locomotive. Construction is almost entirely of brass. The floor and rudimentary frame are a single casting.



Thunderer as it appeared in John Bateman's catalog. The text reads, "The Thunderer is a large Locomotive, 14in. long, with pair of slide valve cylinders, reversing motion, outside cranks and connecting rods, brass boiler 9-1/2in. long, 2-3/4" diameter, steam whistle, 2 gauge taps, handsome dome safety valve, starting lever, bright handrails, buffers, weather board, bright diamond foot plates, &c. —£5 5s."


Above: Cylinders and flat boiler front are prominent. The turned-brass buffers are gone, but could be replicated from the ones on the rear.

Left: Backhead fittings are fairly straightforward, with the throttle lever in the middle. On either side of it are stop pegs. The diamond pattern is cast into the floor. On the back wall you can dimly see the maker’s mark.

Below: Cylinders and valves. One exhaust pipe is missing. The valve on the left is missing its gland nut.


Left: Twin petcocks substituted for a water glass, the top being high water level and the bottom indicating time to refill. They could also be used as blowdown valves and/or vacuum taps.

Right: The underside of the engine shows obvious signs of use. The burner probably had four wicks, judging from the soot marks on the bottom of the boiler. Although spindly, this is a large and impressive locomotive.


Back to Loco of the Month home page

Back to Sidestreet Bannerworks home page

This page and its contents
Sidestreet Bannerworks, 2003