Jack and the Decauville

A dog and his chuffer

While unpacking boxes in the basement recently, I dug out my 7/8″ scale (1:13.7) live steam model of a Decauville Type 1 and posed it for photos in the garden. As the lead photo shows, Jack was very interested. I think he’s demonstrating that classic “rivet counter” look that will be familiar to most fellow hobbyists.

According to the manufacturer (Accucraft) the prototype is “Bathala”, a 3 Ton 0-4-0T built in 1899 for the Dombe Grande Sugar Estates in Angola. Bathala was retired in 1930, but preserved and restored to working operation in 2003. It currently resides at the Sandstone Steam Railroad in South Africa.

I bought my model in 2017 when it was first offered by The Train Department, an American supplier of garden railway equipment which commissioned this model from Accucraft. I thought this pint-sized Decauville would make an excellent locomotive for an estate railway. (As the term implies, these railways served large estates such as Eaton Hall in Cheshire UK. They would typically connect with a nearby public railway and be used to transport guests and goods to and from the estate. They might also be used to transport workers and equipment around the estate to maintain the property.)

The Decauville in our current garden. The apple tree provides a nice backdrop.
Another look at the Decauville in the garden. I enjoy large models of small prototypes – and this certainly fits the bill.
For scale, the table’s mosaic tiles are 1″ squares.

The model, as delivered, had a number of engineering issues, which have been well-documented online. Fortunately, my friends Jeff Young and Peter Foley were able to help me address these. (Peter acquired one at the same time as I did.) Some other smart people in the live steam community developed a fix, and in July of 2018 the three of us spent a day in Jeff’s workshop to retrofit our models.

I love this photo of Jeff and Peter mugging for the camera. This was a really fun day – and productive, too!
I can’t believe it’s been more than three years.

I’m now 3,000 km west of Jeff and Peter, but I had a number of enjoyable outings with them and the other members of the Wednesday Night Water Boilers, often involving raising steam and raising pints of craft beer. I would love to build a garden railway at our new estate to rekindle those memories. That said, winters on the Canadian Prairies are notoriously brutal: Typically, we “enjoy” a few weeks of -40C temperatures and I’m not sure how well an outdoor railway would survive that kind of freeze. Some experimentation is in order.

Fortunately, I have the space to store a portable steaming track and that’s something that could be set up and left outside all summer long. I’ve added that to the “to-do” list.

Meantime, I have a few 7/8″ scale projects to work on. A suitable engineer for the Decauville is en route from the UK as I type this, and he will need painting. I also have a couple of estate coaches that I built years ago and finished in blue – and I’d like to repaint those red to match the locomotive.

And of course there’s an indoor layout to plan… and projects in the smaller scales to finish.

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and retired amateur shepherd who trained a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

5 thoughts on “Jack and the Decauville

  1. If you want some ideas on how to build a functional outdoor layout, there’s plenty of examples out there even in the great white north. When you have a chance, head over to largescalecentral.com and say hi. I know for sure there’s a few Canadians that have plenty of experience with layouts in the cold.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m quite sure there are several garden railways in Saskatoon as well. Don’t know any of them personally, just heard through the grapevine they exist.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Speaking of Estate Railways there is a locomotive from a British Estate Railway here in Saskatoon. Unlike the Decauville this one is a scaled down 4-4-0 express locomotive built to operate on 10 1/2″ gauge track. As I understand the story behind this one is that it was built to haul visitors from the railway station to an estate and that the owner of the estate was a railfan. During WWII Canadian pilots were billeted at the estate and one of them took a great interest in the railway and would operate the locomotive whenever he could. About ten years after the war the owner passed away and willed the locomotive to the Canadian pilot who operated it for several years at a southern Ontario live steam club. Health issues eventually led to him selling the locomotive to another club member. A few years after that the new owner was transferred to Saskatoon and he brought the locomotive with him. After he passed away his family donated the locomotive to the railway museum where it is currently in storage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m currently reading about the Sand Hutton Light Railway in the UK. It was built before WWI as a Miniature Railway on an estate and used scaled down standard Gaige locomotives running on 15” gauge track. After the war there was a surplus of 18” narrow gauge equipment and the estate owner decided to scale up. The estate bought these larger “full size” bit still pretty small locomotives – 0-4-0 Well Tanks, similar in size to the Decauville – and obtained a charter to operate as a Light Railway. The Sand Hutton carried passengers, the output from the farms on the estate, and loads of brick from a brickworks in the area.


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