Introduction: Steampunk Train

I was fortunate enough to receive a used wheelchair base from a friend. I did need to replace both of the batteries in order to get it operational but that was a small price to pay for such a versatile prop building platform.

I decided to use it as the under structure and power plant for a Steampunk train that would serve double duty. It would allow me to give rides to my grand kids and provide me with an eye catching vehicle to transport my materials when attending local conventions.


Your build materials will be different than mine as it will depend on the wheelchair model you choose and your individual design. Here are the materials I used.

Jazzy Wheelchair

Two 12V batteries

Sabertooth Dual 32A motor controller

Hitec Aurora 9X RC transmitter and receiver

Replacement wiring harness - bought off Ebay

Aluminum angle and flat bar

1" square steel tubing

1 1/2" Steel flat bar

Threaded rod

Two L brackets

Driveway oil drip pan

1/2" copper pipe and fittings

Multi Purpose Enclosure

Mighty Tiny Audio Player

24V to 12V Step down converter

5V voltage regulator

On/off switch


Metal trash can

Various heating duct parts for the smoke stack

Train lamp

3D printed components all found on Thingiverse under Steampunk

Assorted bolts and lock nuts

LED puck light

Several lengths of wire

Mesh Deck Steel Wagon

4' x 8' sheet of 1/8" material

Terminal block strip

Set of wheel chair wheels - bought off Craigslist

Primer and paint

Assorted Neodymium magnets

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Step 1: Adding the Electronics

The wheelchair came with a wired remote but I wanted to preserve the original wiring and continue to utilize the battery charging system. I also wanted to break the tether and be able to control the train from a distance.

To accomplish the first requirement, I was able to purchase a duplicate set of cables which I attached to the originals. Now I simply switch cables to charge the batteries.

The second challenge required me to utilize a RC transmitter and receiver. I choose to use an Aurora 9X model from Hitec. It has 9 channels and fulfills all my current needs with plenty of room to expand. I am now able to control the train from a distance which improves the illusion that the train is being controlled by the conductor.

In order to utilize the RC controller, I added a Sabertooth dual 32A motor controller. It provides plenty of power and has all the functionality I would need. It was installed in a plastic enclosure which was mounted on the under the front of the train. Also mounted inside were all the other electronics for the lighting and audio.

Mounted next to the electronic enclosure were a pair of speakers used to play the train soundtrack. It is so important to include as many senses as possible. Be sure to consider the lighting and audio that will be included in your props design.

Step 2: Look Ma, No Brakes!

One modification that I needed to do was to remove the brakes from the
motors. It is a straightforward process and only took about 30 minutes. You can check out my video detailing the process.

But wait you say! What happens when you need to stop and you have removed the brakes? Not to worry. By setting the Fail Safe position on the transmitter, I can simply let go of the driving joystick and the train will come to a stop. Works like a charm!

Step 3: Lets Buid a Train

I now had a fully operational, motorized platform that was begging to be decorated. I welded up a 2’ x 4’ steel frame and bolted it to the existing mounts. No welder? Not a problem as you could bolt the cross pieces to the primary frame pieces. A ¾” piece of plywood was bolted to the frame to create the floor of the train engine.If you use the bolt and nut method, counter sink holes in the floor board for the bolt heads so it sits flat on the cross pieces.

In order to simulate the engine boiler, I choose a metal trashcan which was attached to the floor using Neodymium magnets. I’m a big fan of using magnets where possible in order to quickly remove and replace components for repair, transport or storage.

The driver’s compartment was fabricated using aluminum angle that was cut, bent and bolted together for the framework. In order to be sure parts don't loosen or come apart, I avoid screws. All connections that were meant to be semi permanent were attached using bolts and nylon lock nuts.

I cut to size an old, metal oil drip tray for the roof. It was nice to use something that was no longer used and taking up space in my garage. It even came with dents and scrapes which added to the weathered look I was after.

I added a cowcatcher to the front of the train as no steam engine is complete without this necessary device. I used aluminum bar bolted to an angle piece. More magnets attach it to the front of the train.

Step 4: Who's Running This Show?

The conductor for the train was none other than JARVIS, my Steampunk robot. He is the perfect choice and has the capability to be controlled by a separate RC controller setup.

I built JARVIS to demonstrate many of the techniques and mechanisms I use in my Animatronic figures. He accompanies me to conventions and by adding him to the train, he can do double duty.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

It was now time to add all the decorative accessories that would bring the train to life. The primary addition was the authentic train light that was provided by another good friend, Robert Risley.

I took advantage of my 3D printer to produce the dials, rivets, bell and switches. All the parts were printed on my Creality CR10 using PLA.

Some copper pipes were added to the boiler to help disguise its original function. I added a couple of large wheels that had been salvaged from an old wheelchair to enhance the illusion that this was a steam engine.

The coal car began its life as a garden cart from Harbor Freight. With a coupon, it didn’t cost much more than all the parts would have and it came ready to assemble. I added more of the aluminum angle and some lightweight plywood to form the car’s sides. One of the wood panels can be removed to simplify loading of heavier items.

Painting was the next step. I primed everything and then turned it over to Robert for the finish paint coat. He experimented with several color schemes before we agreed on the winner. In addition, all the copper pieces were aged to fit with the new paint job. I was pleased with the how the train construction looked but it was the painting that brought it to life!

The final item to be added was the emblems for the side of the coal car. Paint stencils were designed and printed by another fellow builder, Miles Dudley. They provided impressive detail and were the perfect addition to wrap this build up.

Make it Move Contest 2020

Participated in the
Make it Move Contest 2020