Steam locomotives were once the primary mode of land transportation and have been replaced by diesel and electric locomotives. Model steam engines are collected and maintained by hobbyists, ranging in size from finger-width to carrying human passengers. Model railroaders build miniature trains and layouts, with standardized scales identified by letters. Live steam enthusiasts create models that actually run on steam. The most popular scale is HO, with garden railways being the largest. Live steam railroading has specialized magazines, websites, and conferences, and Walt Disney operated a famous live steam engine in the 1950s.
A steam locomotive is a steam-powered railway locomotive. Once the dominant type of locomotive, steam locomotives have been replaced by diesel and electric locomotives, but many still operate as part of innovative or nostalgic railway lines. There are also many types of model steam engines collected and maintained by hobbyists. These range in size from the width of a finger to trains so large they can carry human passengers. “Live steam” enthusiasts create models that actually run on steam, just as the original steam locomotives did.
The steam engine was developed during the 18th century industrial revolution. Steam trains were the primary mode of land transportation around the world throughout the 18th century. Even after the advent of the automobile, many steam engines ran well into the 20th century. By this time, train travel had developed a romantic image as a symbol of a simpler time. This contributed to the popularity of steam engine models and model railways in general.
Model railroaders, or model railroaders as they are known in many parts of the world, build, collect and operate miniature trains. Often, this involves creating vast sets, or layouts, for their trains to run in, including miniature cities, tunnels and natural environments. These hobbyists are so numerous that they have split into subgroups based on the size or scale of their trains. These are standardized and are often based on the width of their tracks, known as the gauge; each gauge or scale is identified by a letter or series of letters. While some of these steam engine models are actually powered by steam, others simulate the effect with electrical power and chemical smoke.
The most popular size with model railroaders around the world is HO scale, with trains smaller than a human hand. Other common scales for steam engine models are O, S, and Z, but these smaller scales, such as Z, often use simulated steam. At the larger end of the scale are the so-called garden railways and yard railways. Garden railways are so large that many hobbyists use entire yards or gardens for their layouts, but they are not large enough to carry human riders. Back rails, by contrast, can actually carry people, although they are much smaller than actual trains; both types can be powered by miniature steam engines.
The most realistic models of steam engines are known as “live steam” engines. Live Steam Enthusiasts are skilled train drivers, often building their own intricate and detailed steam trains. Live steam railroading is popular enough that it has specialized magazines, websites and conferences, separate from the wider world of model railways. One of the most famous live steam engines was operated by director Walt Disney at his California home in the 1950s. Disney later built a narrow gauge railway to transport visitors to its Disneyland theme park; as a slightly smaller but otherwise fully functional train, this could be considered a very large model steam engine.