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June 2002

Aster’s GER 0-6-0T

by Marc Horovitz

The prototype
This engine is loosely based on an 0-6-0T built in the early part of the 20th century by Holden & Company for England's Great Eastern Railway (GER). They were used mostly for suburban commuter work. around London. Similar locomotives were built by Messrs. Fives-Lille for the French Western Railway Company (Ouest) in 1889. These engines were later transferred to the Etat region. (The preceding information was derived from Aster's catalog.)

The model
Aster produced models of all three versions of the engine (one British and two French). They were mechanically identical and differed only in paint and external details. The blue GER version is the one that seems to show up most often.

These are interesting locomotives. They were intended to be low-cost engines and, when new in 1980, sold for around $600 in kit form. The design is based on John van Reimsdijk’s work with single-cylindered pot boilers. There is one, single-acting cylinder between the frames geared 4:1 to the front axle. The boiler is fitted with a water glass and safety valve, but no pressure gauge, throttle, or anything else. Reversing is accomplished by a lever in the cab that actuates, through a linkage, a rotary reversing valve built into the steam motor at the front of the engine. A small displacement lubricator (sans drain) resides just to the left of the smokebox.

This locomotive is full of quirks, which, I suppose, is part of the reason I like it. The shielding around the pot boiler extends into the cab and there are some spaces that actually let heat into the cab, which gets blistering hot—hot enough to melt the soft solder that at one time held the little handle onto the reversing lever. The alcohol burner, which can be quickly dropped by removing a pin, employs a box-section feed tube. This increases the fuel capacity, but also tends to diffuse heat into the storage tank. The result is that the stored alcohol heats up and vaporizes at the filler and overflow tubes, which often catch fire. This problem was mitigated somewhat by extending the filler tube up and away from the fire.

A steam line exits the bottom of the boiler, passes through the fire (which supplies a little superheat to the line), and then to the steam motor. As supplied, the connection between the steam motor and the steam line was a silicone tube. On one of the first runs, this tube burst with a resounding POP and the engine came to an abrupt halt. Once the offending silicone was replaced with a proper copper line (after unsuccessful experiments with other plastics) this particular problem was solved.

Then there were the zinc-alloy wheels. Nothing wrong there except that they seemed to expand at a more rapid rate than the axles when hot. Thus, they would loosen and slip on the axles, causing the rods to get crossed (another abrupt halt). So, all the wheels had to be pinned to the axles to prevent this unfortunate occurrence.

Once this litany of faults had been remedied, the locomotive turned into a good, reliable runner, even though control remained difficult at best. It would pull half a dozen four-wheel cars at prototypical speed for the better part of half an hour, with the occasional top up of fuel.

The run
As usual, I oiled the engine all around, filled the lubricator with steam oil, and filled the boiler with distilled water through the safety-valve hole until the glass showed about two-thirds. I rotated the wheels manually, and the mechanism seemed smooth. Filled the tank with alcohol and put the engine on the track. Lit the fire and sat back.

The weather was hot on run day, up in the 90s. This is a better cold-weather loco because, as mentioned above, the burner likes to catch fire in places it isn’t supposed to, which is less likely to happen in cooler weather. This day, being hot, it happened. The alcohol started boiling in the tank and the vapor ignited at both the overflow pipe and the filler pipe extension. I was able to blow it out (several times) while steam came up. When the loco showed signs of life, I put the lever in "forward" (with a pair of pliers) and gave the engine a push. It wanted to go but was lumpy—lumpier than I recalled it being. However, it did finally go and ran pretty smartly for about two laps when it stopped dead and burst into flame.

When the fire was extinguished (at the cost of a singed beard and burned ties in the track) and the engine cooled, I looked around for the problem. It had been some years since the engine had been run and one of the pins binding the zinc-alloy wheels to the axles had loosened and the wheel shifted, throwing out the quartering and binding up the rods. I couldn't get the pin out, so I drilled another hole and put in another.

I put the engine back on the track and gave it a push. With all wheels properly quartered, it rolled along quite smoothly. Another light-up and wait, while blowing out the fire(s). When all was ready, a gentle push was all that was required to send it gliding down the track, its exhaust beat a characteristic high-pitched sputter. At about the three-quarter mark around the loop it repeated the above-mentioned performance, grinding to a halt in a curtain of flame. The same thing had happened, but with another wheel. Had the zinc-alloy wheels expanded slightly, like toy-train wheels of old? I don't know, but the engine was retired in disgrace, awaiting some major work.

Builder Aster Hobby Company (Japan)
Date built 1980
Gauge 45mm (gauge 1)
Scale 1:32
Boiler Pot
Fittings Safety valve, water glass
Fuel Alcohol
Blow-off pressure 30 psi (est.)
Cylinders One, single-acting oscillator geared 4:1
Reversing gear Rotary reversing valve operated from the cab
Lubricator Displacement
Dimensions Length over frames, 10-1/8"; width, 3-9/16"; height, 5-1/4"
Above: The right side of the loco. Details are sparse and minimally rendered.

Right: The control lever can be seen inside the cab. The blob of solder at the top is where the little handle used to be before it melted off in one of the regular cab conflagrations.

Below right: The alcohol filler-tube extension projects from the dummy coal bunker and protects the paint from the inevitable fire.

Below: The burner. The box-shaped feed tube increases storage capacity but transmits heat to the tank in the rear, causing problems.

Left: The front of the loco. Aster applied its fine graphics to this low-cost engine, helping to dress it up.

Above: One of the French versions, this one the Etat in green. Detail differences include cab, domes, stack, and side tanks. Mechanically the locos are identical.

Left: The underside of the engine with the burner removed. The steam pipe can just be seen extending from the rear of the boiler forward.

Right: One single-acting cylinder, geared 4:1 to the front axle, powers the engine, giving four exhaust beats per revolution as per the prototype. The reversing valve can be seen on the left side of the mechanism.

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