One of the themes of my art has always been the juxtaposition and combination of ancient and advanced technology. As long as I can remember, I’ve had space trains and space ships. Those outrageous shenanigans continue into the present, but I am just as fond of more subtle shenanigans like art-deco space or steam intermodal.
As such, I’m a big fan of modern steam, or attempts to modernize steam, and that’s where I’ve gone with my more recent Lego train models such as the 5AT, SR Leader, and even to some extent the venerable FF7 Locomotive. Today’s MoC is a continuation of this “series”; the American Coal Enterprises (ACE) 3000 is an advanced steam locomotive concept that gained some traction in the late seventies and early eighties during the oil crisis and lost it all when gas prices came back down.
The ACE has been kinda-sorta done for a while. You can see the beta version in this USS Melvin pic from March.
J convinced me to starting building it back in early February when he was in town and working on his own trains. I wanted to model something similar to the 5AT: something unique and not often modeled (as opposed to unique trains that are often modeled or bland trains that are not often modeled), but also not too big, complicated, or parts consuming. High on my original consideration list were things like the SR Q1 or the UP GTELs (especially the one-off coal turbine), but the former had already been done before (and done quite well!), and the latter would have taken way too many parts in way too many colors that I didn’t have.
And so I settled on the ACE, which didn’t seem too big, complicated, or parts consuming, and even had good documentation and drawings to boot! I reasoned that aside from the cab(s) and the locomotive running gear, the thing was mainly a big box: what could go wrong? Yes, yes, famous last words, but it hasn’t gone badly at all.
From the beginning, I decided that I wanted to do this the “right” way, to make sure that everything was to scale and that the proportions and everything were correct. I reasoned that it’s a lot like drawing: if the overall form looks good, you can choose and fudge the details a bit, and no one will be any wiser for the most part. I settled on what I’m now calling “Ben scale” (after “the” Ben), which is approximately 155mm per plate height, superimposed some “brick paper” over an ACE drawing at said scale, and went from there.
The chassis is articulated 4-4-4-2, and all four sets of drivers are linked using Ben’s swiveling gear thing. Originally I was using some funny spacing and jumping through hella hoops to line it up properly, but thankfully my grid overlay brought me to my senses. And that’s exactly what I mean when I say “do it properly”. The driving rods pairs on each side of the locomotive are set 180 degrees apart from each other in order to minimize track wear (in the “real thing” the driving wheel sets are joined by cranks instead of gears: the maintains the separation and prevents one set of wheels from slipping a la PRR T1). To my delight and surprise, you can actually feel the reduction in vibration at scale when the rods are offset properly!
And of course, it goes around curves and switches and everything in between. Unfortunately there is considerable rolling resistance in general and not just in the curves. It’s just a really big and heavy engine overall, and I currently have not tried to grease or oil anything.
The cab was probably the most difficult thing to design due to the exorbitant number of slopes and tapers. Obviously I couldn’t explicitly model every sloped face, so I took the drawing approach and tried to sculpt an assembly that would strongly suggest the “right” appearance. It’s held together by a bunch of shady SNOT. I think the worst compromise here is not explicitly slanting the windshield: a flat slanted face may have been better than the articulated, straight face. Also now that I look at it, the black slope tiles suggesting the number plates above the windshield should probably be red…
The color scheme is that from a 1980 concept art (you can see it in the Ultimnate Steam Page link above), which has a nice Art Deco pinstripe and uses a color of which I have a lot!
It was probably while I was doing the cab that I realized just how big this thing was going to be. I was throwing around “43 studs” for the locomotive at a very early stage, but the size didn’t really sink in until the chassis and part of the carbody was sitting on the track! Including the tender and adding all the studs together, the entire A-B set (can I say that?) is about 90 studs long, magnet to magnet. Yes, there is a tender coming, but I am waiting on a BrickLink order as I have run out of parts because this thing is so damn big. So more on this next time. And decals!
And the full Brickshelf gallery.