Aster’s newest live steam locomotive is not just a re-hash of an older model. Instead, it is stunningly re-engineered from the ground up. And as Aster has pointed out in their initial advertising, this model has about 1,000 parts – more than twice the number of parts as were in the previous version. I had the opportunity to carefully inspect the first production engine delivered here in the US. Unfortunately, the translations for English language manuals & assembly diagrams have not been completed. This meant we could not properly conduct the first run trials of this new model. Still, there’s a lot to share about this new engine.
There are many upgrades from the previous two versions of the C62. Let’s start with a quick overview and work our way down to the details. At first glance, the C62/2 is much more highly detailed than its two predecessors; and at 30”+ in length, it’s a big Hudson. Like most reproductions of Japanese prototypes, this model is in 1/30th scale. Nevertheless, it looks in scale with and right at home in front of a string of MDC 1/32nd scale cars (check out the photo). Despite its obviously non-American style smokebox, smoke deflectors, and a smallish tender, this engine has a very powerful Western style appearance that may appeal to modelers in the US and around the world – not just the Japanese market.
There are a number of features that are uncommon to most live steam models. This model has a locomotive type boiler with a full wet firebox, multiple flues and a superheater. It features an easily accessible boiler blowdown under the left side of the cab. That blowdown is positioned near the bottom of the mudring – albeit slightly above the lowest point of the boiler. The boiler sits, beautifully balanced, on a fully sprung and equalized chassis – including all driver axles and the trailing truck. The trailing truck also has a self-centering mechanism that should help the locomotive track smoothly through curves.
Self-centering spring mechanism presses against the short post located just in front of trailing truck pivot point (Philips head screw). The equalizing arms and the firebox ashpan are clearly visible in this picture.
The driver axles run in ball bearings and are designed so that the locomotive can handle 2 meter radius curves. The cylinders are equipped with drain cocks, easily controlled from the cab, so that “water fountain spray” from the stack or cylinder hydraulic lock at the start of a run is unlikely. The C62/2 also has a large mouthed lubricator cleverly hidden on the upper deck of the pilot under a sliding cover.
Detail of the pilot truck shows that axles ride in large, sliding, bearing blocks. The drain cock is the unusual slot on the cylinder near the top of the picture. The piston rod extensions on the front of the cylinders can slide from side to side to provide pilot truck clearance for tight turns.”
This locomotive is designed for firing either by coal or butane gas; and the systems for each have been substantially redesigned. The gas burner is unlike that of any previous model and is in the shape of a flat burner plate with lots of small burner nozzles drilled into its upper surface. This design spreads the flame pattern and has the potential to offer greater efficiency than previous burners. For coal operation, the gas burner plate can be easily slipped out and a heavy, cast, stainless steel grate slid back in its place. Warping of the fire grate should not be a problem with this model.
There is a large firebox door with an over-center spring that keeps the door either opened or closed -- as needed. Considering the number of controls in the cab and the fact that the throttle partially blocks the door, access to the firebox door is still fairly decent. Nevertheless, the firebox itself is so large that spreading a uniform bed of coal will be challenging. It should be noted that the model includes a brass coal scoop, but its lightweight construction and short handle may reduce its usefulness.
The cab layout also has some significant changes. In addition to the previously mentioned drain cock control and the functional firebox door, the engine is equipped with a blower, whistle control, screw-type reverser, and a smoothly operating, partial rotary throttle. A couple of advantages of the partial rotary design are that there is no needle valve mechanism to bind up as the locomotive cools after runs and full steam shutoff can be accomplished without any force. Normally, needle valve throttles have been favored for their fine control of steam flow.
The water glass fitting has been updated with a brass housing that wraps around the back half of the glass – providing some protection from damage. The newest addition to the backhead array is a gas tank heater valve that controls a supply of steam to the tender -- keeping the gas warm. This should be very beneficial for those modelers who operate their locos in cooler climates and normally suffer from degraded gas burner operation as outside temperatures drop. Another addition to the rear deck of the cab is a lever that opens the stainless steel ashpan under the locomotive.
For those who like to equip their locomotives with R/C gear, the space in the cab is limited. A single servo for throttle operation could be accommodated in the cab, but adding servos for blower or reverser may not be possible. The receiver and a flat NiCad battery will fit in the shallow tender bunker.
Looking at the tender, one immediately notices that there is no coal load provided and that there are four hoses protruding out the front – not three as in most previous Aster models. All but one of the hoses are equipped with quick disconnect fittings. These fittings operate smoothly, however they appear fragile enough to bring into question their long-term durability – especially if not handled with care. It should be noted that the male half of the fittings are located under the outer rear corners of the cab and project down at a 45 degree angle. This position may expose them to damage. A better design would have positioned the male connectors horizontally to provide more protection from the bumps and bangs of normal handling or even derailments.
While these hose connectors are fairly convenient, I have learned that they are quite expensive; and their size and brass color does detract from the appearance of the engine. This writer does not believe that these connectors are worth the additional cost – except for the gas line which would otherwise be quite difficult to hook up. The one hose without a connector is for the gas tank heater system. This hose supplies steam from the boiler to warm the gas tank. Some modelers have custom-made this type of tanker heater, but this is a first on an Aster model.
The hose with no connector is the new gas tank heater line.
The gas control valve on the front of the tender has a very fine thread -- operating smoothly with no noticeable O ring drag. The gas tank in the tender is unique in its U-shape. [Insert Image #1253] Both the water supply and the gas tank are located behind the coal bunker and are accessed by removing a sliding cover. The gas tank is equipped with a special screw-on, gas filler connection which reduces wasted gas during filling and does away with the need to press down on the gas tank – possibly preventing damage to the tender trucks. While the tank can be filled using gas canisters and connectors normally available here in the US, the special filler hose with the screw-on connector can be separately purchased from Aster.
The shape of the tank provides lots of metal-to-water surface which helps with heat exchange -- keeping the gas warm. The U-shape also allows the gas tank to wrap around the water pump situated in the center of the tender. The pump appears to be the same large one offered in the Aster trackside pump accessory package. This should be a welcome addition for those modelers who have suffered endless pumping to fill their Aster Mikado boilers.
Another new feature (lot’s of these, aren’t there?) on this model is a drain located behind the tender pump -- just above the rear truck. This is accessed with a medium-sized screwdriver and allows water to be drained at the end of a run without having to pick up the tender. A final feature on the tender is a pair of doors at the front of the coal bunker. These are equipped with over-center springs that will hold the doors open for better firebox access during coal firing.
For those fans of coal-firing, this locomotive is better equipped for coal operation. There is a very sturdy coal grate, a large & well-functioning firebox door, and a functioning ash pan. The ash pan is fully enclosed so raking the grates may be difficult. This writer is no expert on coal-firing, but there are a couple of important concerns obvious even to me. While the smoke box door can be opened easily by just undoing one screw, there is no front end access to the flues or the bottom half of the smoke box. The flues can be accessed from cab through the firebox door, but there is no apparent way to get at the flues from the smoke box end – short of some serious dismantling.
Maybe the manuals, when they come, will offer an easy solution. We’ll have to wait and see. The other concern involves the level of detail on the model. Coal operation creates lots of soot and ash. The C62/2 has so much detail just in the sprung and equalized running gear alone, that coal operation could easily foul the mechanism even if careful cleaning practices are maintained.
While I was not able to fire and run this engine, my initial impressions of the model were quite favorable. This locomotive model is beautifully executed and has the potential to be as good as or better than Aster’s renowned GS-4. It appears that Aster has worked hard to address most of the major gas-firing headaches and coal-firing problems present in previous models. The gas tank heater should permit better burner operation on cold days if it functions as intended. The design of the gas burner is somewhat like those on a kitchen stove and should offer quieter operation. With its multiple flues and wet, locomotive style boiler, this engine has much greater surface for heat transfer and consequently may be more efficient in gas-firing than single flue models.
I would note that unlike most gas-fired engines, this locomotive does have a steam blower (primarily for coal operation) and the use of an external blower for gas start-up is recommended as per alcohol-firing methods. The heavy cast coal grate and large firebox door should ease coal-firing duties. For reasons I’ve previously mentioned, coal operation is probably not advisable (just like the Allegheny) but there are doubtless some of you who will be able to successfully coal-fire the C62/2.
As far as pulling ability is concerned, we will have to wait for our first running trial. Nevertheless, I believe that given its weight, boiler design, and especially its sprung and equalized running gear, this locomotive should be a strong puller. Hopefully I can be on-hand for the first firing of this engine and report back on the results.
This article originally appeared in Issue No. 73 (Vol. 14. No. 1) of Steam in the Garden. Appreciation for permission to reproduce it on SouthernSteamTrains.com is expressed to Ross Schlabach, author; and to Ron Brown, Publisher / Editor of Steam in the Garden.