Hallmark/Samhongsa (Korea) Brass 4-8-4 ATSF Northern

Introduced: 1994

This nice looking ATSF Northern was Hallmark's last steam import. And although "as delivered" it has some minor conductivity issues, it performs quite well (although it has the potential to run even better, but more on that in a moment).

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 (and based on the extremely high top-end speed, I'm assuming it's a 3-poler). Right-rail pickup is provided by three of the four right-side drivers (the third set of drivers from the front being equipped with traction tires). Left-rail pickup is provided by the six 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 second pair of drivers (from the front) is geared (with the remaining drivers being turned solely by the cranks). The worm gear assembly is "sprung", which I'm assuming helps to reduce noise (along with other less tangible benefits). However, unlike earlier Hallmark imports, the drivers are not sprung. 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 many eight driver 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. The good news is that 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 wires) when you hook the tender to the drawbar, this steamer will glide around the rails beautifully - smooth, quiet, great throttle response, decent slow-speed creep, no pickup problems, strong pulling power, etc. However, if the wires aren't bent just right, it's also possible to wind up with an iffy connection (with the resultant stalls and stuttering one normally associates with bad pickup).

One relatively simple solution to the 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.

So overall, this is a gorgeous model that runs quite well (generally speaking). However, with some minor modification it has the potential to run even better.

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: B (and "A" with some sort of tender conductivity modification)

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