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For those of us lucky enough to have a Harbor Freight Tools store near by, there is an item for sale through 9th March that is a good find for anybody interested in making/improving a butane gas burner. They are offering Pencil Torches, Lot# 94185: UPC 12399770, for sale at US$1.29 each. I have used these torches to develop poker type gas burners for locomotives with double acting twin cylinders up to 9mm/3/8" in diameter. The burner jet is around .005/.006" in diameter and will pass about 600 BTU @ 28mbar. This number sounds small, but it realy is not in our scale if it is feeding a well designed poker, and even better if it is a radiant poker in a larger sized mono-flue.

The front end burner componet may be re-manufactured to fit an existing burner, or simply used as the base mixing chamber of a purpose designed poker or round ceramic radiating burner assembly. Calor jets from Sulphur Springs or Roundhouse (UK) run about US$8 bucks as opposed to the whole shebang here for the price of a paper cup that one could fill with Four-Bucks Coffee; if you took out a second mortage. My good friend Harry Gray is looking into using this approach to firing that batch of 1:32" LBSC Tiches that he is building up for several of his customers (mine is #2, going on #1, as obamanation works its way through the remaining 401-Ks of the small scale live steam crowd.

These pencil torches are handy to the burner experimenter because of the integral, refillable, fuel tank. One may build up any configuration of burner, poker or not, around the torch's burner body, and then test it out both on the bench and in a simulated/real flue without having to fiddle around with a seperate fuel tank.

The first time that I used this approach was in 1996 when I built a 5/16" dia. stainless steel poker (non-radiating) burner to fire my "Butane-Jane" from the this same type of pencil torch. That little puppy is still going strong, as it routinely pulls five "heavy weight" steel Mamod cars around my loop for 50 to 60 minutes. In my opinion Westminster LLC would have been far better served if they had used this approach to poker burner firing rather than the blowtorch burner that they do use, which routinely gives runs of only 20 to 30 minutes. At Diamondhead "08", on Sunday after most folks had departed, I finally got some track time and ran one of my Berkeley Locomotive Works original "L" flue tubed Crickets with a pencil torch radiating poker burner. The original Cricket boilers (some manufactured right here at "Unit Shop in 1995) did not have a straight-through flue with an operable smokebox. Instead the earlyiest Cricket boilers had an "L" shaped flue that ran to, and right up through, the stack. This design left the space now occupied by the "modern" smokebox full of boiler water. This extra boiler capacity will allow for longer runs, but the poker burner must be of a much higher efficency than the original to obtain the extra run time from the contents of the original fuel tank . I ran it twice, pulling one of Steamtom1's cast resin eight wheel (I think) flat cars; both times in excess of one hour on one stock tank of fuel. As I remember John Bigelow (Seattle, WA) was running with me on another track, and he was teasing my about the battery powered (silent burner) Cricket that I was foisting off as a real live steamer.

I think that these pencil torches are a real bargan for the cost involved, and that they make a great starting point for anyone interested in improving burner performence.

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