The Aristo "Mike" (Mikado 2-8-2) has finally arrived!!  It has been
a long time coming, but I personally feel that the wait has been worth
it.  There has been a lot of online "controversy" about this locomotive
which I will not rehash in this article.  Aristo's model is of a USRA
Mike, and for the most part, they have successfully captured the
"flavor" of this hard working freight locomotive.  Remember, once a
locomotive reached railroad property, the shops added their own touches
and modifications so that in many cases the original configuration was
unrecognizable.  I am going to a review of this model, but  will also be
adding comments on changes and modifications that I intend to make.
    I got to examine and play with the Southern Pacific version of the
Mike which has the new Vanderbuilt tender.  This model is painted and
numbered for the "Texas Lines" of the Southern Pacific.  The numbering
is correct for this loco class (MK-5),  and a small T&NO (Texas & New
Orleans) and MK-5 is stenciled on the cab as per the prototype. We are
looking at the same boiler that Aristo used for the USRA Pacific, so no
new surprises here.  Fortunately the boiler is plastic and adapts itself
to modification quite easily.  You should be able to "bash" this loco
into any railroad prototype that you want.  The steam and sand domes are
of course incorrect for the SP, but you are talking "major surgery" to
grind them down and change them.  I am going to start by adding washout
plugs, and decide later about the domes.
    The smoke box front opens on a hinge revealing a molded area that
looks like boiler tubes.  The headlight sits a little high for an SP
loco, but this can be easily remedied by drilling a new lower mounting
hole.  I plan on adding a visor and a front number board to the
headlight similar to what  I did on my Pacific.
     The pilot is removable with two screws, allowing the mounting of an
operating front coupler.  A Kadee #831 or 1831 coupler will easily screw
in place, so you do not have to use the Aristo knuckle that is supplied
with the loco.. With the pilot removed, there are still pilot steps in
place. Since the prototype was often used for switching on branch line
freights, many locos of this class often had nothing but steps on the
pilot for the crews to stand on.
      The bell is located on the front of the smoke box, but can be
easily relocated to the boiler which was SP practice.  I  plan to add
scratch built number boards to this loco per the prototype.  I am also
going to paint the smoke box and firebox with Pactra "steel" to simulate
the graphite that SP used on their fleet.  The whistle will be painted
brass instead of being left black.

The switches are in the cab for control of motor, lights, and
smoke, and are easily accessible.  The cab can be removed with four
screws for easy access to the plug in board for a DCC system.  There is
a plug in the front and rear of the loco for those that plan on using
battery operation.  These plugs are the same type that Aristo has put on
all their recent loco offerings for this purpose.  The one on the front
looks bad, and I will definitely cut it off.
        There is a second smaller plug on the rear of the loco that goes
to the tender.  This enables the loco to pick up power from the tender
wheels along with the drivers, for a smoother operation over less than
perfect track.
        The Vandy tender is a beauty to behold.  It is all of 20 inches
long.  It is equipped with an operating back up light, and has a speaker
inside for a sound system.  Aristo has also provided a plug in board so
that you can easily install an after market sound system.  One plug on
the board goes to the speaker, and the other is for sound system power
pickup.  This eliminates the cutting and soldering that used to be
required for either a Phoenix or Sierra system.   To open the tender,
you spread the sides and pull the top off.  The tender wheels, like the
ones on the loco are blackened.  They are too shiny, and will get a
squirt from my airbrush to dull them down.  I will do the same with the
running gear in addition to some light weathering since it has a shiny
blackened finish also.
         The new running gear is a dream to see in action.  The wheels
are ball bearing, and the motor is flywheel equipped.  This loco
literally "crawls" prototypically down the track, and is one of the
smoothest running steam locomotives that I have ever seen in Large
Scale. There is even a fan inside the loco to keep the motor cooled at
all times.  Aristo has wisely replaced the plastic side rods with cast
metal.  These move smoothly, and the fear of snapping a side rod has
been eliminated.  Aristo has come out with a real winner when it comes
to their new patented  drive mechanism.  This is a system that has to be
seen to be believed.  This loco can easily pull 28 metal wheeled cars on
a level grade.
          The loco and tender measure a whopping 42".  This loco should
only be run on 8 foot diameter curves and wide radius turnouts as a
          The smoke system is the new Aristo system that puts out a
great deal of smoke when compared to the old one.  This system also has
an automatic thermal shut off to prevent burnout when the smoke fluid is
used up.
           I liked the LGB Mike when it came out very much, but for one
third the price, the Aristo Mike is a lot of locomotive for the dollar.