I picked up a further example of the Hornby 21T hopper at the weekend, this one being one with a hybrid 1970s lettering style. As an addendum to the review post, it’s probably also fair to say that the choice of a very early example of the type as a basis (i.e. with a limited amount of end handrails, as pictured in the earlier post) wasn’t the best, as such vehicles were considerably outnumbered by those with the additional lower rail. That’s the one thing that niggles with Hornby’s research – as with the ore tippler and fish van, it seems to me that they get hold of a drawing of the original design and then don’t cross check it with the photographs that they quite obviously use for livery details, and which are often of later variations. Despite that though, I remain impressed with the model, not least because it’s a real step in the right direction for them.
Although I’ve no doubt the model will be purchased by folk who don’t know and don’t care (and good luck to them), strictly speaking this hybrid combination of features ties it down to a fairly narrow window from the mid- to late-1970s. The metric tare weight, small ‘T’ to the ’21t’, yet combined with lack of TOPS code, suggests the wagon was relettered between 1974 and 1976, and could conceivably have run like this for maybe another five years. Looking at the original of the pic this is based on, I’d also guess that box to the right of the lettering was applied later, as it has no black background and the underlying grey looks fresher than the rest of the wagon.
I think the most curious thing though is the actual running number. Whilst the other elements are pretty convincing as a ‘not quite standard’ job, the number looks suspiciously like the computer font Comic Sans. No matter though; whilst I often buy a particular RTR model because of the style of the factory lettering, I still tend to customise one or two elements to help lose that ‘obviously RTR’ look. And 21T hoppers, having all those separate panels, do offer a lot of scope for variegated rusting effects…
Discussion of that mysterious empty box is a small way perhaps of tying together the model aspect of the hobby with a deeper insight into the prototype, in the way I tried to do 15 – 20 years ago. Theories abound on the rationale behind this box, some more sound than others but I’m fairly happy myself that it represents the visible of an abortive speed classification system.
Some years ago, when life was just an endless quest for knowledge, the idea of carrying out primary research in the NRM took hold. Now the thing with this, as anyone who’s tried it will know, is that the information held by the museum is only a fraction of the wealth of railway knowledge, and that only a fraction of that fraction is catalogued and available for study. (As an aside, it did quite amuse me to see one particular personality in the hobby claim recently that he spent a lot of time doing just that). But anyway, something I came across, in that ‘wasn’t really looking for this but then I didn’t know what was looking for’ way, was the minutes of the BR Wagon Standards Subcommittee. To set this in context, BR was undoubtedly an organisation run by committees, and it’s evident from these minutes not only that there were other committees involved just in the field of wagons, but that there also seems to have been some crossover in what they discussed.
The minute that concerns us here is 5821 of 28.2.63, headed ‘Speed Classification of Rolling Stock’. It prefaces itself with the following:
The Chairman referred to discussions which had been held with the Operating Department regarding the painting, on all freight stock, of a code figure to indicate the class of train in which each vehicle can be permitted to run, in relation to its maximum permitted speed. This code figure would supersede existing “XP” and “Star” markings
I won’t set out the full table or the list of vehicles but basically there are eight numbered categories. Of these, 1 is the highest, relating to 75mph-rated stock deemed suitable for passenger or freight work. There are two 60mph ratings, 2, to include passenger work and 3, which doesn’t. After that the increments descend in 5mph steps, some mentioning fitted freight work, some partly fitted and some not at all, thereby implying they were unfitted. 8 is the lowest category and is a 35mph rating.
An accompanying minute, 5998 of 7.11.63, defines a ‘classification panel’ that would ‘contain the speed classification number’. It goes on to say that this should be set ‘six inches to the right of the Traffic Panel’ (this being the familiar ‘box’ containing tonnage, running number and very often a type code, as seen on the Hornby model). Looking at the timing of these minutes, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this must all have been tied in with what’s generally referred to as the 1964 wagon livery and lettering changes.
Photographic evidence of vehicles carrying these figures isn’t common, but one that I’m aware of is the 2, which is applicable to 10ft wheelbase vans which would otherwise have been marked XP, and which I’ve seen on BR Vanwides. It seems likely to me that with speeds increasing, thoughts looking towards higher speed air braked stock and increasing concern over short wheelbase stock in general, that the scheme lapsed and that the old XP differentiation held sway a while longer. It’s certainly not unusual to see fitted stock with the XP in the box, and it’s a logical enough place for it, but as to why the box would be applied without anything in it is harder to explain. But applied it was, to all sorts of unfitted wagons and not a few fitted ones as well, and it would be easy to think that it was a convenient way of making the point that the wagon wasn’t XP rated.