Steam engine – GAGE VR1A Graham Industries

Posted by jerry on March 11th, 2008 — Posted in History, Journal, Steam, Technology

Yes I’ve been neglecting this blog a little, but grab a cuppa because this is really neat 🙂

It was my birthday recently and a pleasant surprise arrived right on time from the USA. It was a package – tantalisingly box-like

When I opened it, out came a package of metal bits and a reassuringly large instruction manual from Graham Industries – a detailed working live steam model engine. It is a single-cylinder, double acting engine with a stephenson link reversing gear – the sort you get on steam trains.


I had a rough idea of how this worked, but was always keen to see it in a tactile way to really understand the principle – which is outlined here, but is better illustrated here.

I borrowed a beading tray from Sharon to prevent the loss of small parts – the bolts are tiny and in good scale with the engine.

And so I set to work on the assembly. The manual opened with a lovely line drawing showing the relationship of components and separate drawings of the valve gear
GAGE VR1A steam engine manual

The cylinder and piston assembly was first – and the manual was well illustrated with step-by-step photos. The package even included proper paper gaskets to ensure proper sealing.
GAGE VR1A steam engine

Then came the valve gear – a slide valve that would move up and down to reveal the ports in sequence
GAGE VR1A steam engine

Then it was time to assemble the frame
GAGE VR1A steam engine

The crankshaft followed with the valve eccentrics, the beautifully machined brass flywheel, and the connecting rod was added to the crank-pin

GAGE VR1A steam engine

And finally the engine was complete. The detail is fantastic. Each of the bolts holding moving parts runs in a brass bushing to minimise friction, and the engine runs on fairly low pressure air or steam.

GAGE VR1A steam engine

Here is the completed engine.
GAGE VR1A steam engine

I did a test run first using a tiny air compressor run off my car’s cigarette lighter, and it ran briefly before one of the bolts vibrated loose on the reversing gear. This was fixed with a light dab of loctite, and then I adjusted the valve timing lightly (yes it is fully tunable!) until it ran well in both directions from the air compressor.

But a steam engine isn’t a steam engine unless it runs on steam is it? So, not having a boiler to hand I went for the next best thing – a milk steamer from a cappucino machine – it had a steam valve to act as a throttle, and with a couple of bits of clear plastic tubing (fuel line) I stepped down the size so it would fit on both the milk steamer and the engine. And within moments, the engine ran smoothly – without the harshness I found running it on air – and without the problem of possibly setting off the smoke alarms!

Here it is running on steam



Comment by bobbi

Very cool, jerry!

Posted on March 13, 2008 at 3:04 am

Comment by jerry

Thanks 🙂 There’s a real elegance to this engine

Posted on March 13, 2008 at 6:40 am

Comment by Sam M.

Jerry is correct, there is elegance in this little machine, I bought one from The Engine Shop last year, runs equally well on stem or air, TVR1A, twin cylinder my next project.
My VR1A is on the The Engine Shop website the green one.

Posted on March 16, 2008 at 6:28 am

Comment by John

Apologies for butting in here, but I am stuck on my build of my VR1A.

The instructions ask you to attach the two eccentrics together with a 1/4 inch screw after using the crank shaft to align them.

I can’t for the life of me see how the two eccentrics can be attached. There does not seem to be any way to do this with a 1/4 inch screw.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, John

Posted on June 4, 2009 at 2:24 am

Comment by jerry

Hi John

Thanks for contacting me via the blog – and sorry I’ve taken a while to get back to you.

>The instructions ask you to attach the two eccentrics together with a 1/4 >inch screw after using the crank shaft to align them.
>I can’t for the life of me see how the two eccentrics can be attached. >There does not seem to be any way to do this with a 1/4 inch screw.

On looking closely at mine yes there is a way to attach them to each other. The screw goes in from the back with the head of the screw away from the flywheel end of the crankshaft.

The eccentrics need to be rotated so that the screw holes line up leaving them displaced – so they are joined together but rotated out of phase with each other.

As soon as I can locate a one millimetre allen key I’ll remove my flywheel and take some photos if that would help.


Posted on June 7, 2009 at 12:13 am

Comment by Ronald Kaylor

Does anyone sell replacement parts for the VR1A? I have emailed Graham Ind. twice and sent a fax to them with no response. I have not seen a phone number for the company, but would love one.

Posted on February 20, 2014 at 12:53 am

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