A review of the company's latest gauge-1 offering in 1:20.3 scale
by Marc Horovitz
|1:20.3 scale, gauge 1, live-steam C-19 2-8-0
33268 Central Avenue
Union City CA 94578
Web site: www.accucraft.com
Pros: Accurate model of an interesting prototype; excellent paint and graphics; robust construction; high level of detail; good running characteristics; easy access to controls with cab roof open; clear, loud exhaust beat; plenty of power; long duration; good steam effects, even in warm weather
Cons: Engine and tender too far apart, even when coupled as close as possible; no feedwater pump; unsightly fuel line between locomotive and tender; cab roof must be open for easy access to throttle; some details fragile; number plate wants to rotate; cab doors won't stay closed
RIGHT: The engine shows a high level of detail. The number plate had a tendency to rotate. The working knuckle coupler, though a little floppy, worked well.
|All locomotives in the Denver & Rio Grande Western's C-19 class were built by Baldwin in 1881. They had a varied history. Some were converted to standard gauge, then later converted back to 3' gauge. Four are preserved today, three in running condition. Of these, two are at Knott's Berry Farm in California and the third, Nº 346, was recently restored to service at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden and is the oldest working locomotive in Colorado. Similar locomotives were also built for the East Broad Top Railroad in Pennsylvania.
Our review sample is Accucraft's rendition of Nº 346 at the Colorado Railroad Museum. It is painted in that engine's characteristic dark-green boiler jacket and silver smokebox. The level of detail is high and compares well to photographs of the prototype, down to the strange-looking sand dome, a home-made product of the D&RGW shops following a mishap on the line.
|The locomotive is equipped with a pair of D-valve cylinders controlled by simple-eccentric valve gear carried between the frames (the prototype had Stephenson's gear). The engine is reversible via the reversing links on the valve gear, controlled by an over-scale but easy-to-use lever in the cab. Also in the cab is a large displacement lubricator with an external drain beneath the cab floor. Backhead fittings include a throttle and a water glass. A pressure gauge, which faces out the right-hand cab window, is plumbed into the throttle manifold. This manifold is capped with the boiler filler plug. An attractive dummy whistle perches atop the dummy steam dome. The smokebox door is easily opened for lighting up. The number plate, which seems to stand too far off the smokebox door, isn't solidly attached and tends to rotate.|
|A pair of eccentrics on the third axle drive the valves the reversing links, just visible above the frame stretcher between the drivers.|
|The cab roof swings down to the left on a wire hinge, making access to the controls easy. However, with the roof in place, access even to the throttle is difficult.|
|The engine rides on a fully sprung chassis with articulated side rods, although the springing is too stiff to provide any real benefit. This is a long-wheelbase engine and, even though the center drivers are blind, will require a reasonably large minimum radius. The manufacturer doesn't specify one, but I would think six to eight feet would be about it. Side rods and crossheads are fully detailed, right down to the dummy oil cups, and really look right. There's a nice looking, mesh spark arrestor atop the stack, which precludes lighting up at the stack.
Tender trucks are fully sprung. Front and rear couplers are Accucraft's working knuckles, operated by coupler lift bars. Both couplers on our review sample were a little floppy and drooped some, but still performed okay. Fuel is carried in a tank installed in the tender's coal space. This is covered by a dummy coal load. The gas-control knob protrudes from the front of the coal bunker and is fairly unobtrusive.
|LEFT: The tender rides on fully sprung trucks. The gas line is that unsightly, spring-wound tube to the left of the picture.
BELOW: The gas tank is accessed by removing the coal load, which just lifts off.
|The fuel reservoir sits in a waterproof tank. As butane has a hard time gasifying in cold weather, this outer tank can be filled with warm water, surrounding the fuel tank. This really helps to liven up the engine's performance on cool days. It's a pity that, with this tank already in place, no hand pump is provided to keep the water level in the boiler up while the engine is under steam. To refill the boiler, the engine must be either stopped and allowed to cool before it can be refilled and run again or it can be refilled with a squirt-bottle-type filler via a check valve under the left cab floor.
Between the engine and tender is the fuel line. This is an unsightly, spring-wrapped tube with a jet in the end that must be plugged into the rear of the burner in the cab. While necessary, this really mars the appearance of the engine. It is too bad a more elegant solution could not be found. The tender couples to the locomotive through a drawbar with two holes in it. However, even when coupled as closely as possible, the tender still appears too far from the engine. A cab apron helps to hide that fact, though.
|Graphics are clean, crisp, and brilliant against the black background of the tender side.|
|Test day was a warm 70+ degrees. I prepared the engine for its run by following the directions in the manual provided. It's pretty straightforward; oil all around, fill the lubricator with steam oil, fill the gas tank with butane, and fill the boiler to the top with water, then draw out 40 ml, which leaves the water level just at the top of the glass. Since the day was warm, I decided not to put water in the tender, around the fuel tank. With the engine on the track, I opened the smokebox door and lit the fire. It popped back to the burner in an instant and burned steadily. The gauge was off the peg in about nine minutes and the safety lifted at 50 psi in around 18 minutes (factory specs called for a 60 psi blowoff). At that point I shut the gas off and refilled the tank, which I probably needn't have done, as there was plenty of fuel left at the end of the run, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I relit the fire and opened the throttle. After just a bit of sputtering the engine was off, running light, with a clearly audible exhaust beat. Top speed was still in the prototypical range, and, at the low end, the engine would just crawl. Judging from the exhaust beats, which were just slightly uneven, the valve events might have been improved, but this did not noticeably hamper the engine's performance.
With the water level high, pressure tended to stabilize at around 20 psi. When the water level had dropped some, pressure rose to a steady 40 psi. This suggests that best performance can be achieved with more steam space above the water.
After a few laps it was time for a real test. I tied on a train of two Accucraft gondolas and an Accucraft coachthe one with the pickups that drag. To make things more interesting, I loaded the gondolas with rocks. This made a heavy train. I opened the throttle and the engine walked away with the load. If I thought the exhaust was audible before, it was doubly so under loadreally loud and impressive, easily overcoming the usual roar of the gas fire. This was fun! I did a little switching mid-run (the couplers are quite reliable and perform well), then just let the train go. I could always hear where it was. It ran for lap after lap, the cab doors flapping merrily in the breeze (there is no way to keep them closed). I finally shut it down when the water reached the bottom nut of the glass, after a solid 41-minute run, most of it with a heavy load. Impressive!
|The engine was run on one other occasion. That day the temperature was in the 40s and warm water was poured in the tender to assist the gas pressure. The locomotive's performance was much the same.
This is an excellent locomotive. It captures the spirit of the prototype, is easy to operate, runs well, and sounds great. Most of its small problems could be easily dealt with. It should find a happy home on any western-themed railway with curves adequate to handle it.
Sidestreet Bannerworks, 2008