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The Aster Lion


a locomotive review and essay by Richard Finlayson





Scale/Gauge:                      1:30, 45 mm gauge (gauge 1)

Weight:                                 1.58 kg

Dimensions:                        Length Ė325 mm, Width Ė 93 mm, Height Ė 130 mm

Wheel Arrangement:         0-4-2

Driving Wheels:                  Dia. 45 mm

Engine:                                 Single cylinder with D-slide valve

Boiler Type:                         C type boiler

Water Capacity:                 60 cc at 70% full

Alcohol Capacity:              58 cc

Burner:                                 2 Ė wick tube burner

Minimum Radius:              1.2 m

Versions available:           Restored version (green with black lining)

                                                                                   "Thunderbolt film version" (red side frames with black lining)



Donít remodel your house.  Tear it down and start over.  I told our framing contractor that I didnít really want him to add on to our old house, I just needed him to burn down our existing one.  He didnít take me up on it.


Chief among the perils of remodeling are the inevitable cost overruns and missed deadlines.  There are so many unforeseen decisions to be made that before you know it you quit asking for advice because it only prolongs the pain.


A To-Do list that word-for-word outdoes the published findings of Senate subcommittee soon obliterated by thriving obsession with live steam.


My machine tools, locomotives, projects, and follies didnít deserve such treatment: too-hastily packed in a haul-away storage unit lurking in the bowels of a San Jose warehouse with an address that wonít come up on Yahoo Maps.  Scary thought that these trappings of the hobby were safer there than being here in the cross hairs of our DIY project gone mad.


Eventually, and quite unexpectedly, the whole project started to come together and the new house started to emerge.  Our work on the structural and mechanical paid off, and craftsmen were now crawling through the place using skill and experience to inevitably cover what war our hard work and perseverance beneath.


What came out the other side of a long winter was both a house staring to look like a home, and a powerful need to build a locomotive.  The Aster Lion quickly became the target of very high expectations for a headlong plunge back into the pure elements of live steam: reliable design with unique personality, detail with durability and power with control.


Reliable Design with Unique Personality


Lion follows several Aster designs for rod locomotives with gearing and reduction at the center of the design.  The GER / OUST / ETAT 0-6-0 is a vintage, successful design that included a single-acting oscillating cylinder.  More recently the Grasshopper incorporated gearing as part of the drive design.  In a single cylinder design, or when valve moments are reduced on two cylinder designs, gearing can lead to a reduction in speed, controllability, and also the correct number of exhaust beats per driver rotation.  This is all true for Lion, with great results.


Lionís unique personality starts with the exaggerated motion of the plunging side rods hung so prominently on the larger drivers.  This uniqueness continues with the completely open cab and wonderfully accessible controls.  Lion, at one quarter the price and one quarter the size of the Mikado, delivers one major satisfaction:  this scale locomotive has accessible controls combined with appropriate power and control.  Parenthetically, the overall stable design of the Mikado suffers a major blemish with the flimsy hinged cab broom and crude controls.


Detail with Durability


My first exposure to Lion was with a roomful of fellow live steamers at Diamondhead 2000 during a viewing of  ďThe Titfield Thunderbolt  The film is captivating, but the locomotive steals the show.  Aster offers the Lion in two versions: restored and the Titfield Thunderbolt.  The two versions are identical in detail except for the paint scheme.


Besides giving us these choices, Aster has also delivered a very high level of detail, regardless of this being a less expensive locomotive.  The rivet detail on the tender and smokebox add much to the over all appeal, but the fine truss rod detailing, brass capped chimney, backhead detail, appropriately scaled regulator and blower knows really deliver on Aster reputation for finely detailed scale models.


Aster delivers this locomotive mostly painted, which goes a very long way towards successful completion of a beautiful model.  The cosmetic boiler wrapper and firebox sides are delivery unpainted and cry out for a simple application of brown paint.  There are other small, simply achieved paint details that Andrew Pullen outlines for our benefit at Marc Horovitzí web site on the Lion.  (see paragraph below for URL)


Kevin OíConnor painted the cylinder and engine assembly black on his own engine, and Marc Horovtiz chemically blackened the assembly.  I wish Iíd taken the time to check out their work before I finished because it makes a big difference in the overall look of the finished locomotive.  Marcís review of the locomotive and accompanying construction notes can be considered mandatory reading for the interested kit builder and can be found at http://sidestreetbannerworks.com/railways/Lion/lionhome.html


Surprisingly, this detailed locomotive is also very durable.  The frame truss rods best illustrate this point.  While the black brass rod itself is quite flexible, the design provides for very secure mounting during construction.  While the rods can be expected to bend during mishaps, it would take a serious incident to have them come apart altogether.


Likewise, the small, detailed regulator and blower controls are keyed to the valve post rather than relying on the force of a jam nut to keep things in line and tight.  The overall impression that I have is that this detailed locomotive will stand up to long hours of handling, operation, and ordinary mishaps and still retain the clean, straight, detailed look that Aster is famous for.


Power with Control


Lion is surprisingly powerful and announces this with a sharp staccato beat.  With a prototypical sized train, Lion again surprises with a controllable slow speed.  Lion can easily run uncontrollably away if the regulator is carelessly opened too far.  In short, no excuses need to be made for either the capacity of the locomotive to pull a prototypical train or to achieve a satisfying slow speed under control.




The Aster Lion is a winner for both novices and experienced live steamers and to me seems an incredible value in the live steam locomotive trade today. 

Aster has touted this as one of their easiest kits in recent years.  Not having built any recently I canít speak to that, but based on my experience with building earlier models and rebuilding several recent ones, I know that just a modest amount of enthusiasm and perseverance will reward the first timer with a fine running locomotive.


Experienced live steamers will enjoy a quality kit and a refreshingly unique design.  Importantly, Aster USA stands firmly behind their US dealers.  Several minor problems on their side were dealt with quickly, and one major problem on my side (oops!) was gratefully accommodated.


In the final analysis Iím left pondering how it is that Aster is able do what they do so well, and hoping theyíll do it again.


(This review originally appeared in Issue No. 61 of Steam in the Garden. Appreciation for permission to reproduce it on SouthernSteamTrains.com is expressed to Richard Finlayson, author; and to Ron Brown, Publisher / Editor of Steam in the Garden.)



(Click for a description of the Aster Lion / Thunderbolt locomotive)  




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