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Midwest #958 & 980 Fantail Launch


The Midwest Fantail Launch was supplied as two separate kits; one for the hull and one for the engine & boiler unit. It is a bit difficult to categorise this as a toy or a model. The hull is very definitely a model (and was advertised as such). However, the engine and boiler are firmly in the toy category. The strange thing is that they go together very nicely indeed (as they were designed to do so).

The hull was supplied as a "flatpack" kit of wooden pieces. The more complex shaped pieces were supplied ready cut. However, where necessary, they had to be bent to shape by the assembler. Simpler shapes were supplied as plain sheet or strip to be cut to size as required. There is a mixture of hard, soft and balsa wood. The design was such that the outer hull could be left as sanded and painted wood for display purposes. For a working model, the instructions recommended that it was covered with fibreglass. The latter was not supplied but was easily obtained from Halfords in the form of a car body repair kit. The instructions also made suggestions for adding radio control to the tiller. (See here for details.)

The Steam engine and boiler were supplied as a kit of parts that were mostly already fully machined and cut to size (with a few minor exceptions). Mind you, the assembly was not in the beginner's category and required soldering and finishing skills. The parts were a mixture of appropriate metals and wood. Wooden strips and fibreglass were supplied to make cladding which not only looks good but also provides insulation. The boiler is a traditional vertical type with a single flue contiguous with the funnel. The burner supplied is designed for Sterno, which is a gel sold mainly by catering suppliers as a chaffing fuel. The instructions specify "about two teaspoons" to be placed in the open tray. The engine itself is a fairly standard marine type vertical single acting oscillating cylinder, connecting to the propeller shaft via a wire type universal joint. The dimensions of the boiler are 2 1/4" dia x 2" high. The cylinder is 9/32" dia x 1/2" stroke. the propeller is 1 1/4" diameter with three blades.

I have made a few improvements to this toy / model; some cosmetic, some functional. The fuel tablets I was using before I found a source of Sterno, seemed to be struggling for air. I considered enlarging the air holes in the firebox wrapper but the wrapper was thin brass and I thought it would be difficult to drill large holes in it. The originals were almost certainly stamped. Also, the existing holes were positioned quite high up the side and I thought the extra air would be better coming from below. In the end I fitted spacers under the firebox to allow extra air in that way. It improved burning no end. The sterno fuel has different burning characteristics and doesn't need the extra air, but it does no harm.

The top of the funnel looked a bit plain so I added a nice copper ring (taken from a plumber's compression joint). As supplied, the boiler did not have a safety valve. I discovered that the filler hole has two threads; one external that the supplied filler cap fits, and surprisingly, another internal thread, which turned out to be the same as that on a Mamod safety valve. Hey Presto - instant safety! The steam feed from the boiler originally went to the engine through a rather ugly flexible plastic tube and the exhaust went by the same method to the side of the hull. Neither looked right so I bent some 1/8" brass tube for the feed and 3/16" for the exhaust. The exhaust pipe I fixed to the outside of the funnel to avoid the possibility of putting the fire out with condensed exhaust! Unfortunately, the boiler has to be easily removable so it still needs short bits of plastic tube at the joints. The hull is pretty much unmodified apart from a few copper rings fixed to the deck (for tying up) and a pair of name plates. The name I gave it, Firebird, was inspired by the Firequeen at Summerlee Museum, which I enjoyed driving on many occasions. I also extended the flagpole to carry the wire aerial for the radio control receiver.

Make Model Made Description Cylinders Cylinder Type
Midwest #958 & 980 "Fantail" c1995 Boat 1 Single acting
Piston Diam mm Stroke mm Valve Type Boiler Type Fuel Mechanical Condition
7.1 12.7 Oscillating Cylinder Vertical single tube Gel / Sterno Good
Cosmetic Condition Paintwork Packaging Purchased Purchase cost Additional cost
Good Original
c1995 150 25