JNR C62/2 (2003)
part 2 of a review by Ross Schlabach
The Steamy Continuing Saga …..
When I wrote my initial review of the new Aster C62-2 for Steam in the Garden, I was working with the first production model delivered to the US importer. That model was in stock and available for sale, so we were not able to steam it up. But shortly after the first article was completed, my local Aster dealer, Jim Pitts of Southern Steam Trains, acquired a factory built C62 for his own collection. He kindly offered me the opportunity to give that locomotive its first steam-up at his open house. About the same time, I purchased the first US C62 kit from Jim.
Before we move to the initial steam-up, I’d like to share a few observations from my kit purchase. Upon opening the kit, I was surprised by a couple of major changes. First, the directions were really different. Many of you who have built Aster kits over the years will remember having to work with the awkward combination of a text instruction manual and a large format booklet of drawings. Now Aster has combined this into a single construction manual with surprisingly little text and the replacement of isometric drawings with detailed photos. This type of manual was developed by Aster to reduce costs, and Aster dramatically reduced the amount of text because they expected that the buyers were going to be experienced modelers.
The absence of text can cause some problems. They use a special “>” symbol to indicate where sealant is to be applied. I missed some of those symbols and had a leaking water tank to deal with. The second big change was the type of fasteners. For this model, Aster switched to the extensive use of Phillips head screws. I’m aware that some modelers – especially in Europe – have complained about this change because the Phillips head screws are not “prototypical”. Well, speaking just for myself, hex head bolts don’t look terribly prototypical either being overly large – much larger than the Phillips head screws. But more importantly, the Phillips head screws grip nicely to the tip of the provided screwdriver and remain in straight alignment.
This eases their insertion into some very inaccessible locations. I for one will gladly welcome them in future Aster kits because of this and because they allow the attachment of more scale-sized fittings and other details. Without them, the construction time on the kit would have been much longer. I very reluctantly remember my aggravation when building an Aster Southern Mike as hex fasteners routinely – and repeatedly -- fell out of the socket driver! Keep in mind that we don’t always have a free hand to grip the hex head screw in a pair of tweezers. Then the convenience of the Phillips head screws will be obvious.
Well, this installment of the article was not intended to be a detailed study of the assembly of the C62. I promised Ron Brown that the second part of the article would be devoted to a follow-up article on the first steam-up and running characteristics of the model. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one more thing about the construction of this model. Aster advertises that this kit has over 1,000 parts. I took the time to look through the sections of the construction manual, and if you include fasteners in the count as I did, this kit has over 1,800 pieces. As an example, there were 81 parts in the leading truck alone! Awesome detail! Now on to steaming!
The initial runs of Jim’s engine took place at his Fall Steam-Up and Open House. I was charged with the responsibility of firing and running the factory built C62 for his guests. Since at that time my kit was not quite done, I was delighted to have a chance to see first-hand what my model should be capable of. My first step was a careful inspection and lube of all moving parts. During this inspection I noticed that the factory assembler had omitted the four parts that make up the trailing truck centering spring assembly; and a couple of the parts in the trailing truck equalization system were incorrectly installed. I decided that the absence of the centering spring assembly would not be greatly missed but I went ahead and relocated the equalization system hangers.
In oiling around, I was delighted to find no binds in the driver assembly and that smoothness showed in slow & steady running in actual operation. Handling of the locomotive for lubing is a real challenge because of the high level of detail everywhere. It is difficult to pick it up at all without causing some damage so I had pre-made a cradle to hold the locomotive inverted for lubing. Subsequently, I went back to my workbench and made a new custom cradle that allows one to tip the loco over for servicing and to bring it back upright without having to handle the locomotive too much. The result is zero damage!
The locomotive was now ready for fluids: water, butane and steam oil. Steam oil servicing was easy since the locomotive comes equipped with a large mouth lubricator hidden under a sliding plate – just below the smokebox door. Gassing up was reasonably easy too. The fitting works well with existing fillers in use in the USA and little gas is wasted. The only difficulty is that there is little sound to let you know that gas is transferring and there is no sputtering as normally seen when filling is completed. But I must have gotten plenty of gas in the C-62 because the initial firing run was over 45 minutes from light-up, and I ran out of gas before the engine did!
Filling the boiler was a bit more tedious. Remember that this is a good-sized Hudson so there’s a large boiler to fill. The C62 is equipped with a large tender pump – I think this one is the same as on the Allegheny. It takes plenty of strokes to fill her and the tender is relatively small so you’ll top up the tender two or three times before you finish filling the boiler. The detail on the boiler is extensive, and there is no provision for filling at the boiler, so the pump is all you’ve got.
Some of the more adventurous souls may wish to use one of the model airplane “turkey baster” fueling devices and attach its filler hose to the blow down fitting, loosen the blow down valve screw and SQUEEZE. This may be a quicker way to fill the boiler but it means another bulky tool in your tool box. Over several runs, I learned that the boiler seems happiest when you fill it such that the water glass reads about 3/16’s of an inch below the top of the glass. This is a locomotive type boiler and makes much of its steam at the crown sheet, so it appears the locomotive steams more freely with the gauge glass nearly reading “full”.
With everything topped off, it was time to boil water. In a first for my experience with gas-fired engines, the instructions recommended the use of a blower on the stack to assist with steaming up – like you would do with coal and alcohol burners. Since you light the burner by opening the firebox door, having the blower attached and running protects against flashback fires. By the way, I encourage any C62 buyers to get some welding rod and make themselves an 8-inch long hook to use in opening and closing the firebox door – it’s safer for the fingers! Once the blower was attached and running, the gas burner lit off quietly, smoothly and SAFELY.
I should remind readers that this engine is equipped with a new plate style burner and this burner has eliminated much of the noise pollution experienced with poker burners. Setting the burner gas flow is still a bit touchy though it is far less sensitive than earlier models like the C&S Mogul; but even the C62 could benefit from one of Kevin O’Connor’s gas valves. Nevertheless, it was possible to get a smooth fire going after some experimentation. Over three day’s worth of runs, I have subsequently learned that the burner can be turned up a lot without making too much noise and it never squeals.
Burner blowouts were few and normally resulted from my failure to open the steam blower as soon as I brought the engine to a halt. The proper fire level is with the flames detaching from the back of the burner plate but still touching the front of the burner. It’s a pretty tall flame pattern and hard to describe. If you hear pulsing from the burner, it is telling you it needs more air. This is not experienced when the start-up blower is used but it was common out on the mainline, and the application of a little steam blower was all that was needed to smooth it out.
The Aster manual said that it should take only about 5-7 minutes to a full head of steam. My initial steam-up took almost 13 minutes but I was a bit too easy on the burner the first time around. With pressure up to 4 bars, I opened the drain cocks to clear the condensate. These work well and help avoid the “water fountain” exhibition one frequently witnesses with the Mikados, but the cocks use lots of steam – especially if you try to get the engine moving while the cocks are open. The cocks cleared quickly and the engine smoothly moved out of the steaming bays. I was immediately impressed at how slowly and smoothly the engine ran even without the benefit of a stationary track break-in run. Incidentally, unlike my Southern Mike, the C62 does not seem prone to further hydraulic lock after the initial start-up.
As I mentioned in the first part of this review, the C62 throttle is different from many former Aster models. It has no needle valve so its operation is very smooth and no force is required to really close the throttle. I found that the throttle worked much like those on the full scale types. To get things moving, you swing the throttle way open about 80-90 degrees (it only opens a total of 120 degrees) and after a very short delay, you back it off to keep the wheels from spinning. This procedure made for very prototypical starts every time. The locomotive would start slow and had plenty of pulling power.
I made several trips “light” around Jim’s backyard track and everything operated smoothly and quietly with pressure holding at 4 bars. Once under the load of five Aster JNR coaches, the C62 still ran smoothly but boiler pressure dropped to 2 bars. My first thought was that the burner was not up to the job. However in the course of that first day's running, I discovered that the problem was not the burner nor the locomotive. It was I! The manual did not give any guidance for proper burner settings. In fact, there were only two pages devoted to firing and running the engine, and these pages were riddled with errors. But this engine was made with experienced modelers in mind, so I instead had to learn from doing rather than reading. As I was to confirm from the later initial runs of my own completed kit a week later, the burner is fully capable of holding 4 bars of pressure even when pulling a load of 21 MDC cars up a 1 percent grade. You just need the flame turned up per the description two paragraphs ago!
To give you an idea of how stable the gas burner can be, in a run with my C62 on a track with extended 1 percent up and downgrades I was able to run the engine for 3/4ths of a mile (12 laps) without touching the burner. My only adjustment throughout that run was to the axle pump bypass valve to maintain water levels. Now I must admit that getting just the right combination of gas and water is important, but once the burner was set then I could leave it alone. In start and stop types of operation, the engine functions very much like an alcohol burner. As soon as motion stops, you need to crack the steam blower to keep the fire from starving for oxygen. This is probably a function of the locomotive style boiler and its tight-fitting coal ash pan.
The engine will tell you when it needs more air because the burner will make pulsing sounds – not very loud but noticeable. Open the blower a bit and the burner smoothes back out. Start the engine back in motion and it’s time to close the blower. I should mention that the C62 has a controllable ash pan door that can be left open to admit additional air to the firebox area, but I found it ineffective as compared to the steam blower.
My first timed run with Jim’s C62 was 45 minutes from light up. We had a number of other hoggers there, so I did not feel it appropriate to test the limits of the gas tank capacity. But 45 minutes of burner operation without a gas top-up is plenty. Now my initial “easy on the gas” burner operation no doubt contributed to that extended run, but subsequent “full-burner” runs with both Jim’s factory built and my kit-built C62 gave very satisfying runs too. When the gas gets low, the engine lets you know as the muted burner sound gets even quieter and further opening of the control valve accomplishes nothing. Add more gas and things are quickly back to full pressure operations.
This burner is forgiving enough that it is easy to top off the gas tank with the burner running without blowing out the flame. Now I realize that the safety inspectors among us will condemn me for even mentioning this, but it can be done. Keep in mind though, that if you shut the burner down to recharge the gas tank, then you need your start-up blower or enough steam pressure remaining in the boiler for steam blower operation to safely restart the burner without a potentially dangerous blowback.
How about pluses and minuses on the C62?
· Well, the level of detail on this locomotive is both a plus and a minus. Handling this engine without some kind of protective cradle will result in bent pipes, damaged steps, or bent leaf springs. There’s so much detail that it is almost impossible to find a place to grab at the front end without damaging some parts. Final engine cleanup is a challenge too because your rag wants to catch on all the fine detail parts. But seeing this locomotive in operation with all its beautiful piping and castings is a joy.
· I must admit that I favor alcohol firing because of its user friendly operation and efficient steam production in all seasons. Yet, so far I have found this gas burner up to the task too. Our weather has not gotten cold enough yet to test the steam heat exchanger that is supposed to keep the gas warm and gas pressure up. However, in operations to date I haven’t noticed the tender water getting all that cold either. That could mean that the burner just uses gas more sparingly. To me though, this also suggests that the steam heat exchanger may be able to do its job in keeping gas pressure up for nice winter runs. I’m not expert enough to be sure so we’ll need some serious cold weather to test this system.
· A real plus is the quality of the assembled product. Initial operations of both the factory built and my kit engine did not show any need for break-in. Both locomotives ran equally well slow or fast with excellent timing and quiet operation. In fact I find this engine’s operation almost as smooth and quiet as that of Aster’s famed Daylight. The C62 pulls very well notwithstanding the tall drivers. I was repeatedly able to start a 21-car train on the uphill grade with little slippage and smooth acceleration. The speed range is similarly very good. If high speed mainline operations are your bag, then this engine can handle it. Ditto for low speed drags – although I expect that the tall drivers make this a less efficient, and probably non-prototypical, way of running – unless the load is relatively light.
· Oh, then there’s the whistle. Well, it’s an improvement over past Aster models and it’s less prone to blubbering, but it is still no substitute for a Bangham whistle. If any of you out there are considering putting a Bangham whistle on this engine, I would encourage you to leave the Aster whistle off during construction and just install the related plumbing. The long whistle body can’t be removed without taking the boiler off and it uses up lots of space between the frames – so much in fact that I can’t find enough room for a pair of AAA alkaline to light my headlight!
· Another minus is that Aster skipped providing a factory coal load – again. Normally I would not find this to be a big deal, but this locomotive has an awkwardly shaped coal bunker. So a factory coal load would have really been appreciated.
· The C62 is marketed as a coal-fired or gas-fired model. In my opinion, coal firing will be a real challenge because of very limited access to the firebox door and the difficulty of cleaning up after a day of running. The smoke box can be removed and an internal plate unscrewed to access the flues, but this involves removing a number of small screws and may be more work than it is worth. The high level of external detail may also get in the way during clean-up and you have to worry about cinders and ash in the fully sprung & equalized chassis. However, one should never underestimate the tenacity of coal aficionados!
· The special (and expensive) quick disconnects on the tender hoses worked perfectly every time. It will be interesting to see how these hold up over time. I think that cleanliness around these parts will be important (coal burners beware) and careful handling will be critical. A pair of fine tweezers is the best way to unhook these fittings and they can be connected with just light fingertip pressure at the back of the fitting. Would I want them on my next engine? I’m not sure. They are convenient but probably add more than $100 to the cost of the model.
· I am especially pleased with the throttle design. Since there is no needle valve, there is no problem with the throttle binding up as the boiler cools. Its operation was smooth throughout its range with a solid cutoff when closed. It took almost half its total movement to get the steam flowing, but that didn’t cause any problems with speed range or control. It will be interesting to see if I can easily hook this throttle up for R/C operations.
· The C62 is equipped with a small tender and the locomotive cab is full of fittings. That means the best place for the receiver and battery is in the tender under a coal load. Space here is at a premium too and there’s no real room under the tender deck either. Most of the remaining interior space is occupied by the gas and water systems. The net effect is that large receivers and batteries need not apply. Only very compact receivers and small rechargeable battery packs will do. But since you will probably only be operating a single throttle servo, the battery load should be light and a small battery pack will suffice. I’d like to remotely operate the whistle too, but the standard Aster valve mechanism may require more servo torque than the available cab space will allow. Of course, a change to one of Larry Bangham’s valve mechanisms could solve that problem – space permitting.
Final observations? This latest locomotive from Aster is quite a model for the money. Aster has shoehorned as much detail and as many operating features as they could into this model. In fact, we may not see this level of detail again soon on future Aster models because of the cost involved. Japanese prototypes have not been strong sellers here in the USA – possibly because of their appearance. But this locomotive has a real Western look that belies its heritage. Talented (and brave) kit bashers may find this kit a great starting point to create a believable model of an American Hudson. But be aware that the tender design is very small and does not lend itself easily to conversion into a more common US profile. Nevertheless, the C62 is a very attractive design that could appeal more to Western markets than other Japanese prototypes have in the past. Now I think it’s time to stop talking and instead go boil some water!
This article originally appeared in Issue No. 75 (Vol. 14. No. 3) 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.