This nice looking ATSF 2-10-4 was one of Hallmark's last steam imports ever. And although "as delivered" it has some conductivity issues, it does perform quite well for the most part. That said, it has the potential to run even better (but more on that in a moment). These models are pretty hard to find (they hardly ever show up on eBay, that's for sure). And owing to the apparent popularity of the prototype, the ones that do show up tend to sell for premium prices ($700+).
The chassis is all metal, although it's also fairly minimalistic (with the shell providing most of the actual heft). The motor is a closed-sided can with three poles. Right-rail pickup is provided by four of the five right-side drivers (the #4 driverset being equipped with traction tires). Left-rail pickup is provided by the eight left-side tender wheels. Current is transferred from the tender to the locomotive via a pair of stiff wires on the drawbar. All the rest of the wheels are electrically neutral.
Only the center driverset is geared (with the remaining drivers being turned solely by the cranks). Said center drivers are also flangeless. The worm gearbox assembly is sprung, as is the motor (the latter being mounted to a torque arm that connects the two). I assume this feature helps to reduce noise (along with other less tangible benefits). Unlike earlier Hallmark imports, the drivers are not sprung (nor are they seated in bearing blocking). The pilot coupler is a dummy (IE, non-operational) knuckle. There is no coupler on the tender (although a pocket and a screw are provided, so adding a Micro-Trains coupler looks to be a simple operation). The shell includes cab interior detailing. The wheels are low-profile, so no problems on Code-55 track. Like most long-wheelbase steamers, this locomotive will instantly derail on 11"-radius (or sharper) curves. Realistically speaking, I'd say that 19" is going to be your minimum operating radius for one of these. The drawbar has two holes - one for extreme close-coupling.
This locomotive actually has a directional headlight. And the good news is that the wires for said light are equipped with plug & socket connectors (allowing one to completely detach the shell from the chassis). Further good news is that said light does not shine through the smokestack (a common malady with Samhongsa's other steamers).
The actual locomotive mechanism is a good one. However, like the rest of Hallmark's steamers, the drawbar current transfer scheme is a bit of a weak point. On the upside, Samhongsa did improve things (as compared to earlier models) by supplying two wires on the drawbar instead of just one (thus doubling one's odds of maintaining conductivity). Also, said wires are firmly attached to the drawbar (eliminating the freeplay found on earlier steamers).
So, a vast improvement over earlier models, but still not 100% reliable. Yes, if you manage to get a solid connection (vis'a'vis the drawbar wires), this steamer will glide around the rails beautifully - smooth, quiet, nimble throttle response, decent slow-speed creep, etc. However, it's also possible to wind up with an iffy drawbar connection (with the resultant stalls and stuttering one normally associates with bad pickup). Starting out from a dead stop after changing directions seems to wreck the most havoc (often requiring a small nudge to get things moving again). Oddly enough, mine seems to run best with both wires touching one side of the drawbar post (as opposed to having the drawbar post centered between the two).
One relatively simple solution to the conductivity problem would be to replace (or augment) the drawbar wires with an actual insulated wire (running from the tender to the motor). Unfortunately, running wires between tender and loco is never pretty. Still, it would definitely provide bulletproof electrical conductivity.
Pulling power on these models is respectable enough (with mine able to handle forty assorted freight cars on level track fairly comfortably). Much more than that though, and either the drivers start slipping or it maxes out on torque and starts slowing down through curves. As to whether or not that's enough pull for a big ol' 2-10-4, I guess that would be up to the individual modeler to decide.
So overall, this is a gorgeous model that runs quite well (generally speaking). However, if I really wanted to operate one of these I would definitely add the aforementioned tender-to-motor wire. And if my goal were to pull super-long trains, I would go ahead and replace the motor with something a bit more robust.
To remove the locomotive shell, unscrew the two small screws on the back (cab) end. Next, unscrew the screw underneath the pilot truck. The shell should lift up and off at that point.
Grade: C (and at least a "B" with some sort of tender conductivity upgrade)