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Tips for operating an Aster Live Steam Locomotive

by Dave Stick

1.     Oil around the chassis using a syringe type oiler with a fine needle fitted Ė 3 in 1 oil is fine.

2.     Drain off lubricator and refill with steam oil if you didnít do it last time you ran.

3.     Fill tender with water to just below the by-pass return pipe.

4.     Close by-pass lever [down to close], open regulator and blower and using pump handle in tender hand pump, fill boiler to 2/3rds. full. This will avoid possible priming when up to full steam pressure.

Note: Priming occurs when a boiler is over-filled either using the hand pump or if the by-pass is left closed too long when running. You will be aware of it because if running, the engine may suddenly accelerate and start to throw water out of the chimney and safety valve. Stop the loco immediately and open the blow-down valve on the bottom of the water sight glass allowing water out of the boiler until level is 2/3rds. full again. Be careful not to scald your hand!

5.     Close blower and regulator and open by-pass valve.

6.     Make sure meths tank tap is closed and fill meths tank.

7.     Place electric fan and plug in chimney, open meths tap one turn and start fan.

8.     Using a gas torch, light the burner.

Note: If access to the under side of burner is difficult, a small twist of wick material on the end of a piece of wire is dipped in meths and ignited and the burning wick end inserted under the burner.

9.     Watch pressure gauge until it shows 2 BAR and then open the blower a small amount and remove electric fan and chimney plug.

10.  At 3.5 BAR approx. the safety valve will blow off. If it hasnít done so lift both s/v spindles with a small pair of needle nosed pliers. They very occasionally stick a bit particularly if you havenít run for some time and should be routinely checked using this method before every run. Almost close the blower but keep enough selected to retain the draft on the burner until the regulator is opened.

11.  Open the cylinder drain cocks [if fitted] by pushing the button lever on either side under the boiler backwards [9F]. Open the regulator slightly and steam will be seen to issue from the drain cocks under both cylinders. Move the loco forward two or three feet and water will be seen to be expelled [this will need to be repeated several times for non-drain cock fitted locos]. Close the regulator and stop when you are only getting steam out and close the button lever fully.

12.  You are now ready to go. I recommend a quick circuit of the track once to warm through the cylinders before backing on to your load.

13.  Attach your load and when you have the OK to proceed, open the regulator slowly closing the blower as you accelerate away. With a light load you may find it necessary to keep a little blower going to keep the draft up.

14.  From now on driving is a question of balancing water consumption [steam usage] with water supply via the axle pump. Remember that the by-pass is open still so keep a watch on the water level in the sight glass and when you see it drop to half a glass almost close the by-pass valve. Watch the water level in the sight glass and see what happens. Take appropriate action by closing if water still dropping in the glass, opening more if it rises too far to avoid priming.

15.  Try and remember to maintain a scale speed depending on the load. A freight train, even fitted [braked] was usually driven at slower than 50 mph. An express was rather quicker but in the case of the 9F never more than 90 mph and then only recorded at that once!

16.  Keep your eye on the water level in the tender and donít let the level get below 1/8 inch from the bottom. If you do, the axle pump will start to suck in air and pumping will stop. If this occurs you should stop the train and after closing the by-pass fully, give the hand pump a few strokes to re-prime the water system. Try and fill the tender to a level a little below the by-pass return pipe so that you can see how much is being pumped and by-passed back to the tender.

17.  When you have had enough or you run out of meths bring the train to a halt prototypically. DONíT slam the regulator shut but close it slowly. If you stop the engine too quickly you will notice a roar from the chimney. The water surges forward in the boiler and may well start priming with water shooting out of the chimney. Sometimes there can also be a meths surge which should be avoided where ever possible as a track fire may result.

18.  If you have finished your run turn off the meths tap even if the meths has all gone [good discipline]. Make sure the sight glass water level is sufficient to allow for the cooling down period and open the blower a bit. Keep an eye on the engine as it cools and when the blower goes quiet Ė pressure below 1 BAR, open the regulator to avoid it seizing.

19.  When itís cool and pressure at zero drain off residue in oil tank using a syringe and refill with steam oil. Drain off the water in the tender and wipe the engine down with a cotton cloth.


Appreciation is expressed to Dave Stick for sharing these operating tips along with other articles and photographs for posting to SouthernSteamTrains. com.  


Dave Stick spent all of his working life as an aeronautical engineer.  His hobby has always been model steam locomotive building.  He built his first Aster locomotive, a New York Central Hudson in 1984.  Having graduated from college and served an engineering apprenticeship, he was employed as a development engineer in the gas turbine industry. Dave later joined the Royal Air Force as an engineer officer and retired after 20 years service and immigrated to Canada. There he worked for Boeing Canada retiring for a second time from the post of system director.  Returning to his beloved home in Cornwall, England in 1999 Dave Stick has spent the past decade building and running his collection of Asters.


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