Category Archives: Iron ore

Coals to Newcastle

Over recent years Hornby have come in for a fair amount of flak for their wagon models and indeed, it’s  not so long since I was passing judgement here on their unfortunate Blue Spot fish van.  Now whilst they arguably still have a fair way to go in restoring confidence (not least with retailers in my view, though this isn’t the place to open that particular can of worms),  I do believe in  giving credit where it’s due by saying that the various models now emerging from the pipeline seem to have shaken off the silliest aspects of the much maligned ‘design clever’ phase.


Broadside of the new model. This is the side that correctly doesn’t have any brakegear apart from the hand lever; I haven’t seen any forumites complaining theirs has bits missing, yet…

Announced just before Christmas and now, unexpectedly soon, in the shops, their LNER 21 ton coal hopper is an example which may just be passing under the radar with such high profile loco introductions as the K1, D16 and Black Motor attracting interest.  But I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this little model is an example of Margate at its modern best.

For some years of course, Hornby have been churning out the old 1970s Airfix model of much the same wagon.  Whilst not bad for its time, the main shortcoming with this was its combination of the riveted body with the push braked chassis that also saw use on their 20/21T PO mineral wagon and 20t tanker.  The all-new model really is in a class apart from that; the body retains the commendable fineness but the chassis is spot on, replicating the distinctive single sided clap brakegear complete with catch bars, tall handbrake lever and hopper operating handles.

Probably the first thing I picked up on visually was evidence of the usual Hornby ‘prettifying’ –  the form of shiny buffer heads and gleaming white footstep – but it’s all good raw material and a suitably weathered example should look the DBs.  One other concern was that of weight, the lack of which could be  a problem with the old Airfix model as the design of the wagon means there aren’t a lot of places to hide it. The new one isn’t super heavy, but it’s not a featherweight either, and there looks to be room for more weight in the hopper chutes if it were desired.


End detail of the new model.  It appears to be based on the earliest builds, as later ones had an additional horizontal end handrail, bracketed out from the angled portion.  When you’re used to seeing those later wagons with their cat’s cradle of handrails, the end here looks quite bare.  Adding the extra bits would be a simple job, I think.

And of course, the price is an inevitable discussion topic. 15 quid at RRP, and findable for up to a quid less than that. One of the most criticised aspects of Hornby is their pricing policy, and a couple of years ago they were charging more than that for that old Airfix one; inherited tooling with its investment costs more than written off…

But anyway. For those who are keen to point out how shockingly expensive RTR is getting these days and we should all get back to kitbuilding, I don’t necessarily disagree, but I suggest you find a better example with which to promote your argument. The equivalent kit is £9.00; so if you place a value on your time, paying yourself at minimum wage means that to break even, you have to build and paint it in an hour.  Good luck with that 😉

Not that I’m saying the RTR one is the answer to everything of course. A properly representative BR period hopper train would have many other variants in it – not least the welded body ones – and for which the range provided by Parkside provides pretty well.   As to Hornby moving on to other variants, the only mention I’ve seen of the possibility was a passing one in Rail Express Modeller, based apparently on a conversation with Hornby. And for completeness here I should say that the Hornby Dublo and Wrenn ranges included a rendition of the BR welded wagon. It wasn’t without charm, but was quite overscale in width.

As to the prototype, it’s probably fairly well known that the 21 tonner originated as a steel version of the wooden vehicles favoured by the North Eastern Railway. The LNER bought in many thousands from the trade and the design was adopted for large scale construction by BR, together coming to represent a large part of the national fleet.  I’ve never carried out any really in-depth research on them but I would make a guesstimate of there eventually being at least 35, 000 by the time construction of the BR derivatives ceased in the late ’50s.  I know of no particular restriction on the LNER designs portrayed by this model, so contrary to what you may see written elsewhere, they could turn up in a hopper train anywhere that such things worked and indeed, there’s ample photographic evidence of such.


Closeup of the axleguard and brake lever detail on the new model; this is clickable for larger sizes and I suggest you do so.  The axleboxes are also very slightly angled (top sloping inward), which is correct.  That repair data panel is spurious on this livery, belonging to a later period, but is easily removed or painted over.

Should anyone wish to delve deeper into the type, please be aware that despite their relatively lesser numbers, they’re even more involved than the 16T mineral.  An article in the much missed  Model Railway Constructor by Nick Campling, Jim Johnson and Alan Cook mentions no less than 38 variations – of just the LNER wagons – having been identified.  And study of the BR builds is not exactly assisted by the incorrect allocation of diagram numbers to a significant number of batches.  To simplify things though and for ease of recognition, there are the following broad types of construction:

1.  LNER builds with riveted bodies, single side clasp brakes and tall hand brake lever

2.  LNER builds with welded bodies, single side clasp brakes and tall hand brake lever

3.  LNER builds on underframes similar to above but with Continental-spec fittings

4.  BR builds of type 1

5.  BR builds of type 2

6.  A ‘pure’ BR welded design (theoretically diagram 1/146) with more conventional 4-shoe push brakegear.  This later developed into vac piped and vac braked builds, and exhibited variation in end stanchions

7.  BR riveted design (diagram 1/145), the body of which was effectively a version of 1/146 but capable of being turned out by wagon builders that weren’t set up for welding. Again  these had  push brakes

From around 1970 BR embarked on a programme of rebodying coal-class wagons. Any of the above variants could form the donor wagon, leading to the survival of some quite old underframes into the 1980s.

A note as to batches 2 and 5: whilst it’s sometimes said these were early rebodies, I believe they were welded from new  (even the E-prefixed ones, which were built by the trade anyway).  As evidence, I’d cite the consistent numbering of the ones on, for instance, Paul Bartlett’s website, together with many being built by Cravens, and also that there seem to be just too many of them for any other explanation.



Filed under Hoppers, Iron ore, Mineral wagons, Uncategorized, Wagon kits

Ironstone a go-go (say it quick..)

One of the new wagon models included in Hornby’s now-traditional New Year announcement was the humble BR standard iron ore tippler.  It’s drawn comment on two scores: one in that it seems an odd choice, the other being its price, which was originally going to be no less than £16.50 at RRP.  Sanity does seem to have prevailed at Margate however, and the model has just appeared in the shops at a much more reasonable £9.99 (though even that is over a quid more than the RRP of the Bachmann equivalent).

The best explanation I can provide for Hornby’s choice is that this wagon type has been in the range since the late 1970s, and that they do seem to have a penchant for revisiting their back catalogue.  The original model was pretty dreadful, even by the standards of the time.  Like many ‘old school’ RTR wagons, the body was the most usable component, but even that’s stretching a point really because it was at best an approximation, being too low even for the low body variant, and with the end stanchions at the wrong spacing.  In its time it appeared with two chassis, both of which were frankly bizarre.

So what’s this new one like? Well, first impressions are unfortunately a tad more toylike than the average Bachmann vehicle, not helped by the unpainted metal buffer heads.  The lettering, although probably based on a photo, looks somehow vaguely unconvincing.  Look closely at the top capping, and two things become evident:  the top capping is of too thick a section, and the little gussets under it aren’t of the correct triangular section.

At this point and before I go any further,  I should probably refer you to my approach to critique of RTR models, outlined in

So anyway, now to the bit that’ll have the eye-rolling smileys doing overtime…  Once I’d had a Vernier on it and compared it with equivalent models, the excess in that top capping proved to be less than half a millimetre –  and yet it’s apparent every time I look at it.  I’m sure that on a layout, and especially once weathered, it would be much less noticeable.  The shape of those gussets is certainly barely perceptible, and it would take a matter of a few minutes to trim them down if you were bothered.  Although neither shortcoming is exactly a showstopper, I do find it faintly incredible that Hornby have taken what must be one of the simplest wagon bodies in railway history and introduced two needless errors into it.  I’m sorry if there seems a lack of positives to report, but there’s not a lot else to say about it; it is after all just a basic box with very little to actually get right.

Below decks though, things are thankfully much more encouraging.  The chassis has the correct 9 foot wheelbase, nicely moulded heavy duty springs, axleguards and ‘boxes and most pleasingly, the distinctive ‘over centre’ hand lever with drop link, fitted to improve  leverage for the heavier 27 ton load that these vehicles were designed for. One peculiarity, visible here, is the presence of a vestigial vacuum pipe, which even crosses over under the wagon but is a tad irrelevant to this type of wagon:

For this shot, I also swapped the wheels for Gibsons, which as well as their finer profile, also improve the appearance by being blackened.  What’s not so evident here is that the body support brackets protrude slightly more than they should.  Overall though, it’s a pleasing rendition of the ‘as built’ underframe of the earliest diagrams, and for my money that justifies the additional price over the Bachmann equivalent, which runs on one of their standard mineral chassis.

Overall, this is a model that leaves me with an impression of adequacy rather than brilliance; Hornby can (and do) do rather better.  For the average buyer who wants something different to yet another rake of 16 tonners, it’ll be plenty good enough.  Whether that average buyer will think the additional cost worthwhile though is a moot point, particularly when discounting can further raise the differential.  Another trick that Hornby have missed is that they could have modelled the low body variant, which was much more common than this high body diagram.  Both of the earliest introductions however have numbers from low body wagons, and to be honest, I have to wonder if they even know that there are two heights involved.

As an aside (and the reason why this model is of particular interest to me), one of my medium term aims is to build up a small fleet of tipplers. They’re quite an interesting design in that the total of slightly less than 10,000 was built with two body heights, to two wheelbases and (basically) two forms of brakegear.

The model below was done some years ago as a sort of  statement of intent in that direction; it’s basically a Parkside PC63 kit but with the vac brake gear left off in order to represent one of a batch that were rather oddly built with full 8-shoe brakegear, but unfitted.  In the early ’70s they were finally upgraded to full VB and passed into Mendip stone traffic, but for the period I’m modelling, I can justify a handful in this original form.

Before the announcement of this new model, the fleet was intended to be composed of bodies from Parkside, Hornby (modified 0riginal) and MTK, with kitbashed underframe parts.  Although the variety of running gear to be found under the tipplers means that that will still be necessary, the chassis of the new model is plenty good enough for me to use it under some of them. Hopefully I’ll be able to get hold of some at a price that doesn’t make my eyes water.


Filed under Iron ore, Mineral wagons, Rust effects, Wagon kits