Ken Olsen first bought a used engine that wasn’t running and stored it for 20 year, repairing it after taking welding and machine-shop classes. A member of the Kitsap Live Steamers, he runs his engine in Port Orchard.
For the cost of a good, used automobile, you can own a working railway-steam engine.It would be 1/8th scale, run on track, tow other cars and come with its own challenges. They’re complicated pieces of machinery requiring continual maintenance. That means it’s good to have the skills of a machinist, the skills of a welder, track to run it on and a trailer to haul it in. It’s also good to have lots of free time by being retired. Ken Olsen first bought a used engine that wasn’t running and stored it for 20 years. He finally repaired it after taking welding and machine-shop classes while being a pharmacist. Now 83 and retired, he says “I’m having a ball. There’s always something to do.” A member of the Kitsap Live Steamers, he runs his engine in South Kitsap Regional Park in Port Orchard, where the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization has its track, yard, station and shop. Every other Saturday, passengers can ride these trains on more than 4,000 feet of mainline. Olsen’s engine is a green-and-black Great Northern, a model of a Pacific 4-6-2. Those numbers refer to the wheel configuration (four leading, six drivers and two trailing). It has that familiar logo of a mountain goat standing tall atop a pinnacle. Olsen, lying on his back, checked the firebox under the engine. The problem, a superheater tube in the boiler, “only took a couple of hours to fix.” Don Deffley owns a 2-8-2 USA “Heavy Mikado” engine. It weighs in at about 1,260 pounds. As he pulled into the station in the park, he heard a pop. He felt it, too. The brakes on the tender no longer engaged. So he took the engine to an elevated work section to blow off a little steam — literally. He relieved the pressure in the boiler for a cool-down, then took it out of service. Deffley, 81, was a machinist and tool-and-die maker for Boeing. He crafted tools to make parts for the 707, 727 and 747. Once he took this steam engine down to bare frame. Some train engines are electric, powered by multiple car batteries — but they’re not for him. “When you run one of these (steamers), you watch the heat, the gauge, the water, the track all the time. Atop the electric, you sit there and twiddle your thumbs. “It’s a great hobby, an expensive hobby. But, it’s better than a boat.”