A Beginner's Guide to Live Steam


We are sometimes asked by non club members how to get started in the hobby, where to begin, or how to obtain a locomotive.

Below are some pointers and suggestions:-

  1. Locate the local live steam club(s) near you. Visit them on a public running day and observe. Ask questions from the members, and generally get as much information about the club and models as possible. Don't go on just one day, but repeat the visit on the next available running day. Also, visit more than one club if possible.
  2. Select a suitable club and join as an affilliate or associate member, and get to know the other members. Most live steamers are very friendly and want to share their hobby with anyone who shows a genuine interest, and listen to you once they get to know you.
  3. One of the first questions is: to build or to buy? Neither is inexpensive, but doesn't have to be as expensive as some people believe. Buying gets you on the rails quicker - but can cost a few more dollars. Building takes (usually) significantly longer, but you acquire skills and tools that will carry you through a lifetime in the hobby. Also, if you built it, you can fix it. It will need fixing from time to time. You might also consider not starting with a locomotive. There is almost always a shortage of nice rolling stock at clubs, and it is a relatively inexpensive way to get some experience and show your sincerity, and open some doors.
  4. Before choosing a locomotive to build or buy, do a few things. At the local club(s), look at the size and weight of the locomotives, and the handling facilities for them. Decide on one of a suitable scale and gauge (see Live Steam FAQs) that YOU will be able to move, considering your health, age, vehicle, and storage and workshop space at home. Consider too also your machine skills (you can always learn as you go), and your financial abilities, particularly if you buy a loco.
  5. Read, Study and Learn by observation and asking questions. Although it might seem like it, there is no magic involved. It is all done with skills that almost anyone can develop with some effort.
  6. Don't be too ambitious with a first locomotive, whether it is built or purchased - a simpler freelance loco is a good starting point, rather then a super-scale model of a super-dooper prototype. Use your first locomotive to 'learn the ropes' and get a good feel of what the hobby is all about, and hone your driving skills. Don't try to build your masterpiece as so many others have tried without having built or bought a stepping stone model first. You will then have a much better idea of what to look for, both desirable and non-desirable, for your next one. As your knowledge base grows, your passion for different aspects of the hobby may also change.
  7. Subscribe to one or more of the hobby magazines, like for example Australian Model Engineering. And use the Internet to look at club websites to gain more knowledge. Some sites are better or more useful than others, so surf around.
  8. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Learning the 'hard way' from experience is often the best way. The person that never tries, never succeeds. George Broad from Modeltec magazine (US) once said, "A good machinest has a pile of scrap under his work bench.".
  9. Take your time and enjoy learning to do new things, most projects simply aren't weekend projects! Don't let the rivet counters or super-critical train freaks (the 'I haven't built one yet, but I'll tell you how to do it' type) cloud your vision or judgment. It's your project, not theirs! It's not always about how it looks, but how it operates, and the fact that YOU made it. If your project takes you more time than you planned, it just takes more time ... period!
  10. At the different clubs, look at the many locomotives, and ask the owner how they made something. You can learn a lot by looking at other locomotives and asking a few questions.
  11. Live steaming should be fun, not too serious. Enjoy it (safely).
  12. Dream! Building a locomotive is not a one weekend project. However, your hard work, challenges and perseverence will pay off, and give you great satisfaction.