Model steam layouts encompass small electric locomotives that are made to look as if they’re emitting smoke all the way to ‘live steam’ layouts that are big enough for people to ride on. ‘Live steam’ refers to trains that are actually powered by steam rather than just made to look that way.
‘Live steam’ enthusiasts are interested not just in the great mechanical choreography of a train track layout, but also in the use of actual steam power, like the very first trains used. While model steam layouts that can be ridden on are expensive and take up plenty of space, there are also smaller ‘garden railways’ that cannot be ridden on but cost much less and take up much less space.
Live model steam layouts are especially popular in the United States, the UK, and Australia. The late Walt Disney had a small steam train around his home, which inspired the narrow gauge railroad at Disneyland. The largest live model steam layout is Train Mountain in Oregon, USA. It has more than 25 miles of 7 ½ inch tracks! The Finnish Railway Museum in Hyvinkää, Finland has a similar (7 ¼ inch) track and runs on live steam that is propane fired.
But model steam layouts that actually run on steam aren’t always convenient or practical. That’s why many scales of electric trains have simulated steam for their model steam locomotives. These have an electric coil inside the smokestack. When a few drops of a certain type of oil are dropped into the smokestack and the train is started, the coil heats up enough to cause the oil to make little puffs of smoke. This is plenty realistic for many young steam train enthusiasts (and their parents!).
Steam locomotion is how the first trains ran, and even now, over a century later, steam locomotives are just as fascinating for train collectors the world over.