I can't afford a Wilesco steam engine, so I made my own! Sort of.

Illustration for article titled I cant afford a Wilesco steam engine, so I made my own! Sort of.

Ever since I discovered that there’s a company called Wilesco that makes working miniature steam engines and steam vehicles, I have wanted one. But, of course, they are very expensive. Steam engines ain’t cheap...

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This thing costs $358. It’s worth every penny, of course, but definitely not cheap.
This thing costs $358. It’s worth every penny, of course, but definitely not cheap.

So I decided that if I can’t afford a Wilesco steam tractor, then I’ll build my own out of my most abundant resource: Lego. Except that instead of using a boiler, I’m powering mine with a vacuum cleaner. Because 1) Lego, boiling water, and fire don’t really mix, and 2) poorly made boilers can explode and that scares me. Vacuum cleaners generally have a low risk of explosion, so I find that option much more appealing. After lots of self-destructive prototypes, I’ve ended up with this:

That rectangular brown thing on the side is the air nipple that the pool noodle/suction hose slides over.
That rectangular brown thing on the side is the air nipple that the pool noodle/suction hose slides over.
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Aside from the lack of a boiler, my Lego vacuum engine works pretty much the same way a regular steam engine works. It’s got one big rectangular cylinder with a slide valve off to the side, which is set up in such a way that it can switch what side of the piston it’s sucking on, so every stroke is a power stroke. For a hose between the vacuum cleaner and the tractor, I’m using a pool noodle, because that’s the best thing I had on hand. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it works. It also has working steering, with the steering wheel connected to the front wheels via universal joints, and a little yellow lever in the back that moves a couple of gears, allowing me to engage and disengage the drive wheels from the engine depending on whether I want it to move or not.

Illustration for article titled I cant afford a Wilesco steam engine, so I made my own! Sort of.
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So without further ado, here’s video of it running:

At the end of this video, the connecting rod broke in half because the piston wasn’t connected perfectly and jammed. In the second video, this is not the case, and the engine ran perfectly.
I’m not sure why the video quality came out so bad, it was a lot better on my phone. Then again, these are the first videos I’ve ever posted to Youtube, so maybe I’m doing something wrong?

It’s even powerful enough that it could probably do a bit of work! Even though it has a tendency to self-destruct if the piston’s not connected perfectly, it’s proving to be a really fun thing to mess around with while cooped up indoors. So for that reason, I’m calling it a success :)

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