Having spent 12 years as an operations engineer in an old coal fired power plant, naturally I needed one on my layout.  My layout is mostly tinplate, so the impressive 840 power station was a must.  I already had a Lionel 97 coal loader and it seemed natural to combine it with the 840.  Here is the power station and coal loader in their initial position.  The O gauge loop is above the standard gauge loops at this point in the layout.

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Later I decided to lower the power station base, to improve the overall appearance and to raise the coal loader in relation to the power station (it isn't raised yet in the picture).

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I knew this would be a somewhat complex project, so I worked on other things.  Now that we are all stuck at home, I decided it was time to tackle it.  The idea was to make the 97 coal loader into a coal handling system for the power station.  The coal would be unloaded from the train and conveyed to the bunkers inside the power station.  The unloading had to accommodate prewar tinplate dump cars, postwar dump cars and the MTH dump cars.   My 97 coal loader had a broken scoop when I purchased it.  I repaired it with thin aluminum and JB weld epoxy.  It looked great and worked well, but that repair and other minor issues meant that it would never be worth much.  Therefore, I did not hesitate to make modifications.  I decided that the unloading solenoid was not needed, the LOUD drive had to be replaced, interior lights added and the discharge chute raised.  Once I cut a hole in the side of the yellow building portion of the 97, the decision was made to disassemble and repaint.  This is the motor drive I used, bought on Ebay a while back.

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Pictures of the restoration/modification in progress:

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The white paint was left over from an MGA restoration many years ago.  A base for the coal loader was next.

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The new motor still was a bit noisier than I liked, so I glued carpet padding inside the base to reduce the noise.  I use an old computer power supply to provide 5v and 12v accessory power (switches, lights, servo motors, arduinos, etc).  When I tested the coal loader with the new motor, all my servo motors went crazy, including turnouts!  The interference is probably due to the motor having brushes.  I added a .001mfd capacitor, two chokes, and a second .001mdf capacitor to the power feeding the motor.  Problem solved.

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Stay tuned, much more to come.

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Original Post

You could paint it. I did. Pain in the asterisk. Still, I like it. Though it does not look quite "familiar", I had to do it, as my father was a 41-year employee of Alabama Power Company, and, until I was 24 or so, was a Shift Foreman at a local steam plant, until he retired. All a long time ago. I visited his plant several times when I was a kid.

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While I won't paint mine at this point, yours looks great!  The plant I worked at was brick, so the color you chose looks very familiar to me - as does the car dump.  The plant I worked at was torn down last year and all the ash send out in many trains.  It was built in sections between 1928 and 1957.  The units from the 20's were not in operation past 1971, but we still used some of the auxiliary equipment.  My favorite piece of equipment was a 1928 Ingersoll Rand air compressor.  It looked exactly the same as a stationary steam engine and pumped in both directions.  I loved the oil drip cups that were adjusted to keep the packing oiled on the piston rod.

Since the 97 coal loader jams a good bit, I wired a double relay module to reverse the motor momentarily when a button is pressed.

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Next was building a car dump receiving hopper that would accommodate everything from the pre-war 3659 dump car to the current MTH side dump cars.  I started by building a cardboard mock-up.

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When I was satisfied that the design was good, I built the finished product using left over tinplate metal from the bottom of switches I modified.  I soldered it together and then painted it.

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The unloading track was a bit short for the MTH dump cars, so I extended two of the unloading rails a bit.  This gave a reasonable range of operating positions for the MTH dump cars.

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As with real coal handling, shakers were needed to make sure the coal did not clump up anywhere.  One was added to the receiving hopper and another (an old cell phone vibrator) was added to the 97 scoop.  The receiving hopper shaker is operated by momentary pushbutton, the scoop shaker operates whenever the coal loader runs.  The scoop shaker has almost eliminated coal jams.  I will replace the old cell phone vibrator with something a bit more powerful.  Hopefully that will be even more effective.

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Here are the controls:

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The next task was to get the coal into the power plant.  I did not want to permanently modify the power plant.  I made a coal receiving box that is taped to the power plant roof grill.  The coal chute extension is held in place with an old magnet from a hard drive.  Part of my design is to be able to remove the coal loader for maintenance.  All wires have plugs to facilitate this.

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The whole setup works quite well.  I have to be careful not to dump too much coal at once so the chain is not covered.  Coal is almost never spilled when dumping the cars.  I will work on getting a decent video of the operation.

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That's really clever, nice work. I've got some  Pre War Std gauge and often contemplated ways to make the 97 Coal Loader fit in and look like it  really belonged. You've accomplished that nicely. 

How do you get the coal back out of the Power Station? 

If you say you're burning it in a miniature coal powered dynamo and the smoke pours out the chimney while it powers the lights I'll really be impressed  ;-) 

Last edited by G-Man24

I'm burning coal in miniature stoker fed boilers with superheat feeding miniature steam turbine/generators while the smoke pours out the chimney and powers the entire layout!  It gets hard to breathe down there sometimes.  The nearby residents say that the smoke and smell are signs of progress. :-)  Actually, the "coal" is funneled down into an empty jelly belly container screwed to the bottom of the layout.  When a train has been unloaded, I unscrew the container and dump it out.  You can see my hinged access that is behind the power station.  At some point, I will have to build a working mine tipple (with miniature miners and steam powered drills).

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You get an "A" 😎

"I love it when a plan comes together" 🤔 

I pity the fool that says it isn't their cup of tea... 

                     

Mr Fixit posted:

I'm burning coal in miniature stoker fed boilers with superheat feeding miniature steam turbine/generators while the smoke pours out the chimney and powers the entire layout!  It gets hard to breathe down there sometimes.  The nearby residents say that the smoke and smell are signs of progress. :-)  Actually, the "coal" is funneled down into an empty jelly belly container screwed to the bottom of the layout.  When a train has been unloaded, I unscrew the container and dump it out.  You can see my hinged access that is behind the power station.  At some point, I will have to build a working mine tipple (with miniature miners and steam powered drills).

 

Ha,  that's awesome.

When you get that all landscaped it's gonna look great. Looking forward to the video of the elevator in action. 

I lied about the miniature steam turbine.  Here is a picture of the real prime mover before installation.

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Thinking ahead for a mine tipple, would the conveyor from at 397 coal loader work as part of a scratchbuilt tipple?  Would it pull from a container of "coal" without jamming too much?  I wouldn't need the scoop.   I am using aquarium gravel, I sifted out the small pieces with a kitchen colander.

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And here is the action!  The loader briefly sticks, but clears before I have to press the reverse button.  I have ordered another shaker motor, hopefully a little more shaking on the plastic scoop will almost eliminate jams.  Sometimes I get the whole train unloaded without a jam, other times I have to press the reverse button a couple of times.

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Neat project and very good ideas, thanks for posting. 

A few questions: 1) i have not opened up a 97 loader but I assume there is a dc motor for the chain drive and your relays are reversing the dc to the motor?  2) the vibrator from the cell phone, looks like you have wires from the 97.  What voltage are you using for it and what do you plan to replace it with? 3) The other vibrator looks like a small motor, is that correct?   

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Thanks

Mr Fixit posted:

I lied about the miniature steam turbine. 

Yeah but it's fun to dream big . 

Last edited by G-Man24
Mr Fixit posted:

Thinking ahead for a mine tipple, would the conveyor from at 397 coal loader work as part of a scratchbuilt tipple?  Would it pull from a container of "coal" without jamming too much?  I wouldn't need the scoop.   I am using aquarium gravel, I sifted out the small pieces with a kitchen colander.

That little steam engine is neat with the fly-ball governor.  So if I understand you're thinking about using it to drive a conveyor belt of sorts . Interesting idea. The fish tank gravel is probably heavier than the coal (I remember those bags of Lionel coal feeling as light as a feather), but it may behave better when being funneled if it's not as "sticky" as the soft coal. I'm trying to remember if the bags of pre-war coal were slightly different than post-war coal in size and shape. As long as there are ribs in the belt land the coal doesn't jam between the belt and the chute it should work.  

Last edited by G-Man24

I was joking about the Weeden steam engine.  It doesn't have enough power to run much of anything.  The fly-ball governor is just for looks, but it does rotate.  I put a new sight glass on it, but can't get it to seal.  Anyone have some tiny asbestos packing? :-)

I was thinking about making a mine tipple somewhere else on the layout and wondering if the conveyor from a 397 coal loader would work for loading train cars.  My current thought is to build something that holds the "coal" and dumps it into the train - similar the 497 coaling station.  I still like the idea of the conveyor belt from the 397 to do the actual transfer from the building to the train cars, but don't know how well it would work.   I have a bag of what I think is Lionel coal, it has rough edges and anything will cause it to clump up.  I think a speck of dust will stop it!  It did not work well at all. 

Reproductions of the 97 coal loader probably have a DC motor.  This 97 coal loader had the original AC motor, now it has a DC motor/gearbox.  It runs on my 12VDC accessory power supplied by an old computer power supply.  The relay reverses the polarity of the power to the motor.  The cell phone vibrator is powered from the 97, but I used a resistor to reduce the voltage to 3.5V.  The vibrator motor on the receiving hopper runs around 1.5 to 2v.  The cellphone vibrator will be replaced by one similar, but slightly small than the one on the receiving hopper.

Hokie 71 -  I graduated from Va Tech with a mechanical engineering degree in 1980.  Still have my textbook on power plants - always loved the fact that it had a chapter on stationary steam engines.

I will have to see what  motor my 97 has and thanks for the details on the vibrator.

Was your book authored by Potter?  I had that class from Professor Long around 1974 and I still have my book too (potter)- it is super.  the other one I loved was the  B&W book "Steam."

Yes, the book is by Potter, and I think I had Professor Long also.  I don't have "Steam" anymore, but I kept the Combustion Engineering Fossil Systems book.  Just hope I don't have to install low Nox burners on my power plant!

Mr Fixit

Great project.  Sure is lots of fun to improve, modify and fix up things better than they were.  You got to use a lot of stuff/junk you had laying around too;   something from nothing.  You also got to solve several problems and learn things.

Thanks for sharing.

Charlie

Last edited by Choo Choo Charlie
Mr Fixit posted:

... Anyone have some tiny asbestos packing? :-)

 

In their 1925 catalog Lionel touted their 110V DC step down by highlighting the slate base, vented steel cover, porcelain mounting feet and heavy asbestos lining.

That thing must have gotten smoking hot. Code word should have been "DANGER"   :-o 

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Last edited by G-Man24

I also opened up the buckets just a little to help them scoop better and more.  If the buckets are opened up too much, they catch on the structure as they go back down.

Instead of painting my coal tower I covered it with Polystyrene added a new roof and a transfer building to load my coal trucks. My coal operation starts on my second level by dumping coal into a shoot to the coaling tower. the tower loads up the coal and dumps it on the lower level. Two HO switchers, one empty and one full go in and out of the coal mine.

 

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You are right the 397 belt is the way to go for your project. It's been years since I looked at a pre-war 97 I forgot it was just a chain and buckets I thought it had a black rubber belt with the buckets attached.  

Last edited by G-Man24

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