Category Archives: Brakevans

Expo time

This weekend brings ExpoEM North and for the second year, I have the pleasure of being amongst the range of demonstrators there, along with my good friends Brian Sunman and Ken Gibbons.  Anyone who’s been to an Expo will know the unique atmosphere they have, and we’re very much looking forward to being there and seeing what else Derek Evans has lined up.  Demoing is probably less tiring than showing a layout, but that said, it can be even more difficult to see the rest of the show!

The overall theme of our little bit will be BR period modelling, and Ken will be taking an eclectic mix of projects which echo back to the spirit of Modelling the British Rail Era. Steam, diesel and very probably electric, from the ’60s to the ’90s all have a chance of making an appearance.  Brian’s main focus will be on buildings for our under-construction Waverley route layout, but he will also have with him some of the Carflats that he’s been working on for the same project. This pic isn’t my best effort and the wagon needs some finishing work, but it should show the effectiveness of what is essentially a simple conversion – based on an LMS Period 1 coach underframe as so many of the prototypes were:


I shall be presiding over my usual random mix of modified RTR and kitbuilds, and will also be taking my paintbox.  One particular project I’ll be giving a coat of looking at is my small fleet of grain wagons based on the Trix/Lilliput model.


The methods we use are not specific to any particular prototype or period, but that said, we recognise it’s a finescale show and will obviously slant things that way.  We all have some experience in regauging locos and stock so if you’re curious about easy steps into EM, ask away. And the same goes for anything that’s on show, or even that isn’t.  We’re there to talk, and don’t be put off if we look ‘busy’ or already have somebody at the table – it’s usually a case of the more the merrier 🙂

More details on ExpoEM North can be found on the Society’s own website.

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Filed under Brakevans, Heritage diesels, Mineral wagons, Off the beaten track, Scottish railways, Uncategorized, Wagon kits, Wagon loads, Wagon weathering

Pillbox precision

Latest wagon-shaped retail therapy to hit the shops comes in the form of Bachmann’s range of SR ‘Pillbox’ brakevans.  These come in a commendable range of variations, reflecting not only changes in livery as you’d expect, but also the three distinct patterns of bodywork prevalent through the build runs.  This van is the 25T version – there was also a lighter but less numerous 15 tonner, easily recognisable by its much shallower solebar.  Another recognition point, for BR days at least, is that the 25T vans generally lost the distinctive sandboxes at the ends, whereas the 15 tonners kept them.

Without thinking too deeply about it, I went for the BR bauxite version, which is an even-planked van with right-hand duckets; I do fancy an uneven-planked one, which is for the moment only being issued in SR and olive green liveries, but I’m in no rush and will see what comes along in the next batch.

There’s not a lot to say about basic aspects of the model other than that it’s well up to the standard you’d expect, crisply moulded and capturing the shape and general appearance very well.  Distinctive features like the deep solebars and self-contained buffers are very well rendered.  The stepboards seem a tad more sturdy than those on Bachmann’s BR brake vans, and the handrails are now in metal rather than plastic, which should enable them to retain their shape much more easily.

Errors are few, and all pretty minor.  They appear to be tied in with the change from the left hand ducket of the first vans to the right hand arrangement, and the consequent positioning of the chimney and of the brake pull rod under the van, both of which changed as a consequence of repositioning the ducket.  Unfortunately, all of the models have a chimney which is correct for RH ducket vans with a brake pull that’s correct for LH ducket ones, meaning that they all have a minor error as they come.  One forum poster did seem to use this to promote the notion that Bachmann should only have marketed one body type, which I found strangely backward-looking; I’d much rather we were offered maximum choice as to the bodywork, even if it does mean that some minor details have to be corrected by what is really minor surgery.  One other thing, which I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere but only affects (I think) this particular van, is that the exterior vacuum pipe (installed when the vans were vacuum through-piped by BR) should only appear on one side – this I’ll rectify when I get around to relettering and weathering.

As ever, the add-on ‘bag of bits’ has caused some consternation – these comprise the brake pull yoke assemblies together with the catch bars that on the real wagon, prevent any loose brake rigging from descending to the ballast and thereby causing great mischief.  The shot below shows these fitted into place – you’ll also note that I’ve removed the NEM coupling pockets, which if it’s something you need to do, is obviously easier now than later.  The yoke assemblies are plastic, and fit (with some persuasion) into pilot holes in the back of the brakeshoes, then the catch bars (which are metal) go over these.  The spigots which locate the yokes have an offset, which should be  arranged so the yokes sit lower than the spigot (otherwise they’ll foul the axle), and the catch bars are best fitted by first inserting the end with the small cross shape into the hole in the floor, then locating the other (longer) end into the gap in the framing behind the headstock.

In each case, an appropriate adhesive was used to keep things in place – once fixed, the whole assembly seems quite sturdy.  You might also see that I sorted the brake pull whilst I was at it (the original position shown by the white tell-tale mark); if you’re canny as to how and where you cut it, this literally takes less than five minutes. The image is clickable (to two levels of enlargement) if you want to get in really close:

Usage of the vans in the BR period was more widespread than might be imagined.  Whilst they were obviously never as widespread as the much more numerous LMS, LNER and BR 20 tonners, I’ve seen so many pictures now showing the Southern vans off-Region that I’ve long since stopped counting, and really there’s no reason why they wouldn’t have wandered just as the LMS and LNER brakes did – they wouldn’t have been restricted by lack of duckets or being single-ended like the GW Toads, and there’s some apocryphal evidence that the greater oomph of their 25T rating could have endeared them to staff in some instances.

Edit 2.12.12 – this shot on  Jodel Aviator’s Flickr stream depicts a van just like the one above in trip freight use at Northampton in 1966.

You can find a further review of the models, including more in the way of history and build details, on Graham Muz’s SR-themed blog. 


Filed under Brakevans

Spruce caboose

Closely following up behind the iron ore tippler, Hornby’s new BR standard brakevan is also now in the shops, in BR bauxite and olive green varieties.  For a long time, the venerable Airfix kit was the accepted route to a decent model of this van, but the obvious comparison is now with Bachmann’s existing RTR model.  Having said which, Hornby’s previous BR brake dates from the early 1980s if I recall correctly, and is a surprisingly accurate model; although the underframe is on the clumsy side, its shape and dimensions are pretty much spot on and the body is only let down by its comedy representation of woodgrain.

As with the tippler, there are comparisons to be made with Bachmann on the grounds of both appearance and cost (though it’s not a comparison that I see any of the mags rushing to make)!  Again, we have an apparent backpedal by Hornby with the RRP having been significantly reduced, to £13.99; obviously not too many will get sold at that, but even at a typical discount price it’s still going to be roundly a fiver more than the Bachy one. The latter is in that less-than-a-tenner, ‘pocket money’ zone, the Hornby is at a figure that you probably think a bit more about.

At a glance, looking at an example of each in a similar livery, you’d be hard put to tell the two apart, and I suspect the same will hold true at the yardstick three-foot viewing distance.  Look closer though and it’s evident that this new model does have a certain overall finesse to it, particularly evident in such things as the planking gaps and the roof edges.  I’d say though that it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Shark PW brake of a few years back:

By comparison, it does have to be said that after eight years or so, the Bachmann moulds are beginning to show their age, with the handrails becoming slightly flashed and less straight:

Having said that, I’d had high hopes that Hornby’s handrails would be a great improvement, but I’m not sure that they are – the first batch I saw might have been untypical, but I had a job to find one on which they were acceptably straight.  (They are still plastic by the way, not metal as might be assumed from the fittings on the Shark).

Roof detail was the first thing that my local vendor drew my attention to; the roof vents on the Bachmann have a bit more bulk compared with the flatter Hornby rendition:

The differing chimney height and heavier rainstrips are also noticeable, but those are just detail differences that, without getting too anal, can easily be put down to batch changes or different works repairs.  Particularly evident here are the finer handrails of the Hornby van; that wasn’t intention though, and photography does seem to accentuate white handrails.   Adding the pattern of the roof detail to the presence of other details, such as the over-prominent washer plates on the bodyside, it wouldn’t surprise me if Hornby have used the same drawings as they did back in the ’70s.

If you enlarge the already larger-than-life end shot below (clicky), you should be able to make out the concrete texture of the end platforms.  Asking to be weathered, and a tad more subtle than the woodgrain on Hornby’s previous BR brake!  Also present inside the verandah is floor planking detail, though it possibly runs at 90 degrees to what’s correct…  One thing I do like is that plank gap in the top arc, something that’s omitted from other models – and that lamp bracket on the verandah screen is a separate moulding:

It would seem that Hornby intended the bauxite van to be typical of early production (based on B951410 pictured in Eric Gent’s work for the HMRS) and the olive van to be a late build (DB954032 as seen on Paul Bartlett’s website) with roller bearings and Oleo buffers.  An unfortunate error during production however has resulted in some batches of models having mismatched running gear – i.e. the bauxite van coming with roller bearings and the olive one the oil boxes. In reality, the combination of roller bearings with spindle buffers did occur on one transitional Lot, so a simple renumbering will enable me to take advantage of Hornby’s error and reproduce a variation that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have bothered with.  I’ve done one Bachmann-based conversion into a later van and whilst changing a set of buffers is no hardship, removing the axleboxes from behind those delicate footboards isn’t the best of fun.

The distinctive double-shoed clasp brakes are present, and commendably close to the wheel treads.  The aforementioned roller boxes are nicely done but unfortunately they draw attention to the axleguards, which look distinctly undernourished (they actually look a bit better in this closeup shot than they do to the naked eye):

The third van is a dual piped example in the Railfreight red/grey livery with yellow band – although not relevant to the van illustrated here, the Railfreight and olive vans do have very nice renditions of external brake pipes on the cabin sides.  One significant variation that hasn’t been incorporated in Hornby’s initial plans is the short footboard LNER version (which as is well known, was the origin of the BR design).   Bachmann’s equivalent model remains (so far) the only RTR model to offer anything more accurate than an ersatz rebranding of the BR van.

Despite the comments above and some early scepticism, I do like this model but all things considered, I’m in a position where if only one or the other were available, I’d be happy enough with either.   The Hornby van is pretty much the new benchmark in terms of accuracy and quality, but at a price; I’m not rushing to dispose of all my stashed or already-detailed Bachmann ones, nor the various hybrids that I’ve concocted over the years.  Whether the wider market will take a similar view (and how that affects sales) remains to be seen, and I suppose that’s ultimately the factor that will shape Hornby’s apparent new approach to wagon models.

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