The release of a new
British outline model from Aster is always greeted with great interest and
anticipation from Gauge One enthusiasts, not only in the
but the world over. Following many months of
rumor and speculation, the announcement was finally made that the next model was
indeed to be the famous Gresley LNER A3 ‘Flying Scotsman’, an engine that
many had thought long overdue for Aster to produce. Here certainly was a
prototype that would have wide international appeal as one of the most famous
and widely traveled locomotives in the world.
The model has been produced
initially as a limited edition of 230 factory-assembled and kit examples
worldwide. The following article does not set out to describe a blow-by-blow
account of the construction of the model, but rather to offer some general
observations about constructing the kit version and the experience of applying a
degree of customization in the process.
Back in the 1980’s, Aster had successfully produced the legendary Gresley 3-cylinder A4 in three versions and examples of these models are highly
sought after today by collectors with many still to be seen running regularly at
Gauge One events.
However, modeling a prototype as well known and documented as Flying Scotsman
must have presented the designers with somewhat of a dilemma, insomuch that 4472
has been running more or less consistently in private ownership for nearly forty
years. This equals the combined period it spent in LNER & BR ownership,
during which it underwent a myriad of changes and alterations from an original
member of the A1 class into the eventual and familiar A3 form at the time it was
taken into private ownership. This process of alteration and modification has
continued in preservation right up to the present day. For example, in its
current form with double chimney and smoke deflectors, 4472 is able to perform
at maximum efficiency, but in this writer’s opinion the overall effect
together with the original style of LNER livery is somewhat incongruous to say
With these considerations
in mind, Aster have perhaps wisely decided to offer some scope to the modeler by
offering the model as an A3, but retaining right hand drive, as many did until
well into the 1950’s. It is also fitted with a corridor tender as with the
preserved example and to many of the class during their early years employed in
hauling the original non-stop ‘Flying Scotsman’ expresses from Kings Cross
In my opinion, Aster has
done a magnificent job in capturing the subtle proportions of the A3 with its
distinctive tapered boiler cladding shapes. The finish is superb, with a
plethora of fine detail as the pictures illustrate.
As a dedicated LNER
enthusiast, this was a model that I simply could not resist and despite the
initial pain in the wallet, I decided that I would take the kit version, which
is my normal preference.
As is usual with Aster, the
engine is offered either as a factory assembled RTR model, or as a kit for those
who prefer to assemble the model themselves and hence to learn much about it’s
design and operation in the process. In this case, the RTR versions are finished
as No. 4472 Flying Scotsman and are fully lined, numbered and lettered in LNER
apple green. In a somewhat new departure for Aster, the UK kit versions are not
lettered or numbered, but are supplied with separate sheets of waterslide
transfers so that the owner may finish the model in the name and number of his
or her own choice and thereby begin the process of customizing their model.
Nameplates for ‘Flying Scotsman’ are provided.
For simplicity, I decided
that I would construct and finish my model as one of the earlier series that was
built originally as an A1 ‘Pacific,’ but later converted to an A3 retaining
RH drive. It would also have to represent one of the locomotives known to have
carried an early series corridor tender. Here I embarked upon what turned out to
be the complex task of researching the many detail variations and developments
of this famous class of locomotives. In the end, I narrowed the options down to
one or two examples that seemed to fit the bill and eventually settled on No.
2580 ‘Shotover’ as my choice.
This was one of the engines that definitely
carried the corridor tender for a short while after rebuilding into an A3 and
also served as somewhat of a ‘guinea pig’ for a range of other experiments,
such as the addition of Westinghouse brakes and the disfiguring ACFI water feed
apparatus. However, in the fullness of time these unsightly appendages were
removed and ‘Shotover’ returned to the more familiar guise of an A3. After
all this extensive research and cross-referencing, it was time for a reality
check. A model is always a compromise to some degree, so once the name and
number were chosen it seemed sensible to just relax and get on with the
pleasurable part, lest the men in white coats be summoned to take me away for my
As I had decided to
customize my model, it seemed sensible to consider more than just a name and
number change. Those who know me will know that I am not a great fan of shiny
wheel rims and bosses on model locomotives of any gauge, unless of course the
prototype calls for it. I believe that the effect can often result in a toy-like
appearance and detract from the overall realism, however I know many individuals
who are of the totally opposite opinion!
are justly proud of their finely cast and beautifully machined locomotive
wheels, but the appearance of all that highly polished stainless steel gave me
course for concern. The full LNER livery calls for black edges to the wheel rims
with white lining inside and therefore I undertook this task before construction
of the model. I leave it to you to decide if this was all worthwhile by
comparing the pictures of ‘Shotover’ against a standard factory assembled
The erstwhile Aster A4
design employed a novel layout whereby the outside cylinders employed two sets
of fully working Walschaert’s valve gear, but the inside cylinder was driven
by a simple slip-eccentric arrangement with fixed cut-off. There has been much
debate over the years as to the merits of this design and many
‘modifications’ to the models have been performed to enhance their
performance, but in reality the original design performed perfectly
satisfactorily if properly assembled and adjusted. The new Aster A3 has taken
this evolution a stage further and employed the prototypical Gresley/Holcroft
derived 2:1 ratio conjugation system to drive the middle engine valve events.
I am fortunate in that I
have had the opportunity to assemble a number of Aster kits previously, both for
myself and others, so am reasonably familiar with the process. It would be
unfair to describe construction from the viewpoint of a beginner, but I see no
reason why a novice could not attempt construction, given the amount of
experience and help available throughout the hobby, not to mention the superb
back up and advice available from Aster Hobbies. After all, my first attempt was
an A4 back in the mid ‘80’s – a relatively complicated model by the
standards of the day. I still have that A4 and it still performs very well even
to this day.
The kit is well packaged
with exploded view drawings and step-by-step constructional details. Assembly
proceeds by following a logical sequence of numbered sections and the packaging
comprises a number of smaller boxes containing the parts for that particular
section. All fixings are supplied, as are basic tools for assembly, although it
will be necessary to have to hand a range of normal modelers’ tools such as
Swiss files, tweezers, etc.
The first, and in many
ways, most vital task of any Aster kit construction involves the lapping of the
cylinder port faces and slide valves. This
is necessary to remove any roughness left by the milling cutters and to ensure
that the slide valves achieve a good seal as they pass over the steam ports.
A piece of 1000 grit wet ‘n dry paper is included in the kit, which is
wetted and laid on a flat surface (I use a piece of plate glass) for the process
of lapping by applying a ‘fore and aft’ motion to the inverted cylinder.
Great care is needed to apply even pressure during this process;
otherwise the resulting surface may not be perfectly flat, especially at the
corners. A bit of extra effort here
will result in a very smooth running engine right from the outset, which is its
As the construction
sequence calls for the fitting of the main driving wheels at an early stage, as
mentioned previously it was necessary to paint and line the wheels before
construction commenced. There is always a great temptation to just to dip into
the kit and complete whichever item takes your fancy, but this is not
recommended for a beginner. There are often good reasons why the assembly
sequence should be followed as prescribed in the instructions to help avoid
problems further down line.
At this stage the cylinders
are assembled to the frames together with the prototypical Gresley/Holcroft 2:1
conjugated valve gear mechanism. The centre cylinder is mounted with the port
face facing downward i.e. with the steam chest underneath the cylinder. This
also enables easy access to the slide valve for setting purposes. With the
cylinders in place and slide valves roughly positioned on their spindles, slide
bars, coupling rods and valve gear can be fitted. Unlike some previous kits I
have assembled, I was delighted by the excellent fit of most of the parts on the
Aster A3, with only a minimum of adjustment required to achieve a freely running
With the motion now fully
assembled, timing of the valve events can take place with special attention to
the setting of the return cranks. Following my usual method of determining this
setting and double-checking with a home made protractor to the required angle, I
was relieved to observe that the derived middle cylinder valve events appeared
to be spot on. At this point it is time to secure the steam chest covers and
give the engine a rolling chassis test with compressed air - I usually use a
small airbrush compressor for this task. Plenty of light machine oil in the
cylinders is required here to avoid premature wear to the valves and pistons.
Prolonged periods of running the chassis on air are to be avoided – the object
is primarily to prove the valve settings and reveal any tight spots in the
motion that may need attention.
The boiler design is of the
familiar and well proven ‘C’ type with two main flue tubes and a ‘dry’
firebox. Assembly of the boiler fittings is quite straightforward and a nice
touch here is the fire hole door detail on the backhead, with a transparent mica
insert through which the meths fire may be observed.
The remainder of the
assembly work concentrates on fitting the boiler into the tapered outer casing,
attachment of all of the foot plating and various appendages plus construction
of the tender. I decided to tone down the bright brass fitments to a more
realistic appearance by applying a light amount of ‘brass blacking’. The
pictures illustrate the effect far better than I could describe in words.
The model is realistically
painted in a slightly light shade of LNER ‘
’ apple green and appropriately lined, although surprisingly the cab
front spectacle plate window surrounds were not. As this is quite a distinctive
feature of LNER locomotives, I decided to line around the windows and also the
boiler wash out plugs for extra effect. For lining, I used a combination of my
trusty ‘Bob Moore’s’ lining pen, together with the compass bow pen for the
I also added the
prototypical black/white lining to the front tender plate and a dummy coal load
was made up out of odd pieces of balsa wood glued together and covered with a
cocktail of crushed coal mixed with dilute PVA. As my model is finished as No
2580 ‘Shotover’, it was necessary to fit the round North British round
builder plates to the sides of the smokebox instead of the oval Doncaster-built
plates supplied for 4472.
I always keep a log of the
amount of time I spend on each stage of kit assembly, together with general
construction notes (about 100 hours total for this particular model). Minor
errors in the Aster construction books were easily spotted and corrected and, as
a result of user feedback, Aster Hobbies Ltd in the UK have produced a ‘tuning
tips’ guide detailing a list of small points to watch out for.
I’ll say it does!
Following a successful hydraulic test of the boiler and fittings, the
initial steaming was performed on my rolling road. With working pressure of
about 4 bar (60psi) on the gauge, the regulator was opened and ‘Shotover’
moved its wheels under steam for the first time.
To my relief, the engine ran very sweetly and steamed well, responding
positively to a little ‘notching up’ of the valve gear.
The next test was out on
the track on a fairly cold and windy day. After a few warm up laps, six LNER
Gresley teak carriages were attached and off she went, seemingly unaware of the
load. The distinctive three-cylinder exhaust beat became evident for the first
time as the engine circled the track for about an hour. The following day
offered an opportunity to run on an extensive indoor layout with wider radius
curves. With several G1 worthies on hand keeping a critical eye on proceedings,
the engine fairly flew around the track with that same train and all agreed that
it was a superb performer. It was starting to develop much more power as the
running-in process progressed and I retired a happy man. I have since observed
several other A3’s giving similar performances.
There can be no doubt that
the Aster A3 is an excellent model and congratulations are due to all those
involved in its design and construction. It has been an obvious commercial
success, as evidenced by the rapid sell-out of the initial batch. If you missed
the opportunity to acquire one, the good news is that there is to be a further
smaller batch produced, examples of which should be available at about the time
this article appears in print. Undeniably, these models represent a not
inconsiderable investment for the average garden railway enthusiast; however the
excellent investment value of Aster models is well recognized and therefore in
my opinion this model could easily become one of the most sought after examples
of all time.
I am certain that Sir Nigel would have been very proud!