Category Archives: Mineral wagons

Postscript 21

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.



Filed under Hoppers, Mineral wagons, Rust effects

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

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

More for the creaking bookshelf

Not a review as such, but a quick ‘heads up’ to a couple of recent publications which may be of interest to those with kindred interests.

Hornby Weathering Large

Firstly, Hornby Magazine’s Skills Guide on weathering; at less than the price of two regular magazines, a worthwhile investment even for those with some experience.   In the interview-style preamble, I was pleased to see Tim making the point that an airbrush is far from essential, although perhaps unfortunately for a publication that will be flicked through by newbies to the art, there is quite an evident visible emphasis on this sort of work .

There are a few more words here on James Wells’ Eastmoor blog,  and after my comments a few posts ago on the ‘art of the state’, I would generally agree with James’ endorsement.   Despite the  sticker-driven appearance and obligatory ‘we show you how’ strapline, this is a publication that’s actually been penned by a seasoned and prolific modeller with a genuine track record.  There are a few namechecks for particular products here and there, but nevertheless you do get the feeling that this is because they are genuinely felt to be fit for purpose, not part of some tacky ‘advertorial’ exercise.

Secondly is George O’Hara’s latest extravanganza in Caly blue: BR Steam in Scotland is a followup to his earlier similar volume on Scottish diesel traction.


Again there is more elsewhere, on the Culreoch blog of my good friend Jamie Wood.  And you’d be well advised to go and read it, because I’ve not yet had my paws on this one!  I’d be very surprised though if it doesn’t warrant an instant purchase as and when I do; the subject matter, quantity of material and track record more or less guarantees satisfaction.  As Jamie points out, there are unlikely to be too many surprises in the motive power (compared with the diesel volume), but again a large part of the value is going to be in the settings, the infrastructure and the train formations.


Filed under Heritage diesels, Mineral wagons, Off the beaten track, Rust effects, Scottish railways, Wagon weathering

Ashes to ashes

The latest variations on Bachmann’s LNER clasp-braked chassis are also recently in the shops.   These were pretty obviously on the same boat as the SR brakes, but missed the boat when it came to getting my finger out with this post…

One of these variations is the LNER corrugated end van, albeit in its initial form without ventilator hoods; I’ve not bothered taking a pic of this as it’s so similar to the existing vans, which will now be familiar to most.  The other introductions comprise three variations on the beastie below:

Although cannily being marketed as ‘Highbars’ (which they undoubtedly are), the box label doesn’t quite tell the whole story.  Strictly speaking, they are an adaptation of the steel High Goods intended for soda ash traffic, and it’s not quite such a stretching of a point as Dapol coming up with their own use for the codename ‘Rectank’ a few years ago.

This designation can be seen from the exquisite lettering seen above, which I have every intention of keeping most of and will need some careful work whilst weathering.  Physical differences are essentially the provision of a sheet rail or bar, and the doubling of the crossmember across the side door.

The wagon itself, like the unvented van, shares all the virtues and vices of the initial models.  The   distinctive brakegear is well represented and detailed, the wagon body is good on the outside but has no interior detail.  Obviously a Parkside kit will provide some of the latter, but still needs work if it is to accurately portray the chequer-plated surface of the inside of the doors; and the chassis will take up a fair bit of time to finish to the standard of detail of the RTR example.

Quite a few batches of these soda ash carriers seem to have existed, some built thus from new and some (I think) by conversion, some in the regular number series and others in the B74xxxx series for bulk carriers.  Whilst it’s very likely that some found their way into ‘ordinary’ traffic, I do wonder what good they would actually have been, as soda ash is known to be a very corrosive substance.  Steel Highs in general tended to find their way into assorted mineral traffics in later life, and the modified door arrangements of the soda ash wagons might well have marked them out as particularly suited to such use.  There is some circumstantial photographic evidence to support the possibility of their use on the seasonal flows of rock salt (for winter road use) to Inverness.

Below is a closeup of the sheet bar arrangement, which has probably been adapted from that already in use on the firm’s Shock Highs.  It does pop out quite easily, should you wish to run a wagon that has lost the bar (and/or use it on something else).  Those moulding feeds are also more evident at this level of enlargement than on viewing the model.  The 180 degree quadrant that the bar pivots on is moulded onto the wagon, but looks effective, and could be carved off if required (often, but not always, this part was left on when wagons lost the bars in later life).


Filed under Mineral wagons

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

Only the crumbliest, flakiest, erm, lump of plastic…

Well hello, you’ve found the first post on the blog.  It’s probably a pathetically obvious thing to do –  and I don’t really want to perpetuate the notion that the real ‘Windcutters’ were only composed of 16 ton mineral wagons –  but in all honesty, there was probably no better wagon type with which to start things rolling here.

The example in question is based on a Bachmann RTR model; nothing exceptional in that, as I’ve got far more of them than is strictly good for me. This one though is quite topical, in that it uses the first credible factory weathered issue (catalogue number 37 377F) as a basis.  The rust on this is actually quite convincing in shade and shape, and the flakes are evidently applied through a mask, rather than previous efforts which have essentially been little more than a waft of earth coloured paint over the lower quarters.

As is my usual practice, I overpainted the base livery with a lighter grey as the one that Bachmann use is quite dark.  It’s not necessarily wrong – the shades used by BR did vary widely and I’m not that well qualified to comment on matters that were developing whilst I was a toddler – but I think the darker shade is probably more appropriate for 1950s applications and even then, it wouldn’t have been applied anything like universally.  Anyhoo, finding a more typical grey isn’t actually that easy and after some experimentation I’ve settled on Revell #76. It’s light enough, darkens slightly with a wash and also has a pleasing bluey tinge in some light, and it’s also a fairly close match for the plastic that most of the Airfix 16T kits are moulded in.

Obviously in this case the #76 had to be applied pretty carefully, trying to preserve the best bits of the factory flakes.  If you happen to have an out-of-the-box one to hand, you’ll be able to recognise which they are.  The additions consist of assorted flecks, scrapes and smears, applied with a fine brush and/or worked with cotton buds, and blended into the  existing patches.  A limited amount of work was done with gouache, notably the scabby patch to the side of the number and the streaks from the right hand top corner.  The model has also been renumbered in a hybrid style typical of the mid/late 1960s, it could still do with the lettering toning down slightly as well as the odd bit of touching in here and there.

Was it a worthwhile exercise, and would I buy more?  Yes, and probably a qualified no; it’s always satisfying improving something, and it was a challenge thinking how best to build on the better parts of the factory finish, but had this model not existed, I could easily have produced those larger flakes myself.  All in all though, it’s a model that will either happily stand alone or conversely, one that won’t stand out in a rake, and that basically is the object of the exercise.

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Filed under Mineral wagons, Rust effects, Wagon weathering