Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Friday, February 01, 2013

You Bought *WHAT*??

Load Sixteen Tons, And Whaddya Get?

OK, I definitely put the cart before the horse this time...

I just got a box of coal in the mail.  Yup, coal.

Lemme 'splain...

I've been wanting to get one of those model steam engines for a while now.  I haven't yet figured out if I want a walking-beam engine, or a hit & miss, or even go completely overboard and splurge on one of the triple-expansion stationary engines.

Is this all Greek to you?  Sorry.  Once I found out that you can get pre-machined kits and not just the rough castings for the more exotic engine types, I've been itchin' to get one.

It was a simple phrase that piqued my interest.  Jay Leno was demonstrating his antique steam engines for some cable show on steam power, and he said "This is where the term 'running balls-out' came from.

I had always assumed it came from some poor schmuck splitting his britches whilst running, and having his goolies swingin' in the breeze as he sprinted.

Nope.  It refers to the centrifugal governor on steam engines.  When you're revving it at max speeds, the heavy steel balls are swinging all the way out, hence, running balls-out!

Now, while I know a bit about steam engines, I know very little about coal.  Texas is an oil & gas state, and while we do have some draglines mining lignite (brown coal) around Buffalo & Fairfield, you can look far & wide hereabouts and never locate enough black coal to BBQ a mouse.

Enter eBay... I didn't need a lot of coal, just a few lbs. worth.   I just assumed you could order some anthracite, crush it up with a hammer, and use that instead of hexamine tablets to heat the boiler.

Ooops.  Wrong kind of coal.  While the chunks of anthracite I received are quite shiny and certainly flammable, getting them to ignite is somewhat akin to lighting those really cheap charcoal briquets using only paper matches and damp newsprint.

What I needed was some bituminous coal.  There's a kind called 'cannel coal' that lights with a match and burns with almost no ash.  It's still not what you really ought to use in a model steam engine, but what the hell.

So, I've got this box of coal...

The camera flash makes it looks a lot more silvery than it is.  It's glossy black, and fairly brittle.

One good chunk is reserved for my rock & mineral collection.  The rest?  I think some stockings will get filled next Xmas!!