Category Archives: Rust effects

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

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

Weathering – the art of the state

“Art is not a study of positive reality, it is the seeking for ideal truth”.  John Ruskin.

No, that’s not an accidental transposition of words in the heading; the practice of weathering in the model railway hobby is currently in a bit of an odd place in my estimation.   My thoughts about this were somewhat crystallised recently when the banners for one of the model railway red tops screamed out ‘Weathering Made Easy – We Show You How!’  We hear a lot about ‘dumbing down’ in the hobby these days and whilst I’m all for things being made accessible, realistically there are  limits to how much you can simplify things that are not simple.

It sometimes seems that almost every time I look up, there is some magazine or Internet piece extolling the wonders of a particular technique or a new product in this field, the implication being that it has to be better than what’s gone before and implying that skill in application is pretty much irrelevant.  And yet, the standard of much of the work around doesn’t necessarily reflect any overall improvement.  Leafing through Tim Shackleton’s loco weathering time, he says weathering is 10% technique, 10% tools and 80% observation. I’d probably mildly disagree about those precise percentages, but I’m very much with him on the ‘what’ (the need for observation and perception), and a much reduced emphasis on ‘how’.

I notice a lot of weathering where the technique is actually quite good and well executed, but it isn’t well observed. It’s not appropriate to the subject model and hence to anyone who does know that subject, it fails to convince.  Some other work doesn’t even reach that benchmark, but appears to rely on the impact of sheer blather – this is often associated with the ‘wonder product’ mentality, and powders, I’m afraid to say, figure large in this.  But how convincing can it be to have (for instance) a supposedly working steam loco with faded green paintwork (for some unexplained reason, for a machine that would surely be cleaned with the legendary oily rag), and yet which shows  no sign of oil or grime on its running gear?  

Perhaps it’s this sort of work that encourages the (incorrect) impression that weathering is all about dirt and decay, or even just making things look a mess.  It isn’t; admittedly the term is a misnomer but it should encompass every aspect of making a scale model look like the real thing viewed from a distance. Quite apart from  dirt, rust and oil, that includes the diluting effect of the atmosphere through which we view it and the discolouring effects of that atmosphere on substances like new wood and roofing felt.

Whilst powders certainly have their uses, I’m increasingly standing by my feeling that they are only a secondary medium, best suited to providing tonal variation and perhaps a suggestion of texture.  And yet they continue to be promoted as the ideal weathering solution for the diffident newbie, usually on the grounds they can be washed off.  Well that may be so, but I’d be surprised if it was possible to remove every trace and leave a factory-fresh finish.   Not only that but most powders are notoriously difficult to fix, and putting any sort of varnish over the top, if it doesn’t  blow them off, is very likely to change the refraction and to dull or even eliminate any subtlety.

And why on earth do people always want to start with a favourite but expensive model, and quote the corresponding risk of spoiling it as a deterrent?  For a few quid and a few hours spent at a swapmeet, they can obtain some old models  they can practice on – or is it that they don’t really want to commit to the apprenticeship in developing the skills?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Examples of worn bauxite on wood and rusted grey on steel, achieved with relatively small, targeted applications of paint and selective blending and abrading techniques.  If anyone can achieve these effects solely with powders, I’ll be very interested.  

Another example of  ‘professional’ weathering I’ve happened upon lately involved the interior of an iron ore tippler.  The first thing I wondered was ‘has the  bloke who did this ever even looked at the interior of a real steel-bodied wagon’.  And whilst ores do vary in colour, and I can’t swear that there isn’t one somewhere in the UK that’s the colour of chocolate, I doubt that there is one that sticks in neatly-edged spots and lumps to the wagon side, two or three feet off the floor.  The whole thing looked apathetic and clumsy, and frankly undermines the ‘pros’ that do take the time to research what they’re doing and have a pride in their work.

In similar vein, I’m pretty bemused by some of Humbrol’s latest products.  As to the above noted powders, there are some interesting and useful videos on the ‘Net showing them in use by someone who is obviously a skilled modeller.  But I was to say the least bemused to hear him say at one point that he was ‘turning the water/powder mixture into a slightly sticky layer of colour’.  Um, so that’ll be a bit like paint, then?

The idea of pre-mixed washes, which have also made an appearance from Humbrol,  is another odd one.  Maybe I’m missing something here, but mixing your own washes on and ad hoc basis gives you variety and more control over the viscosity, not to mention an unlimited range of colours.  And it’s hardly difficult, in fact as I say elsewhere on this very blog, it’s the one technique that I’d encourage any newbie to start by experimenting with.  Do we really need to make it that easy, or is it just that everyone wants to be an instant expert?  Or are these products destined to sit in the ‘someday cupboard’ of tyro purchasers who are impressed by the hype?

The contrast becomes even more marked, of course, when compared with what the military modellers in particular are doing.  There has  always been something that sets aside our hobby from other modelling disciplines; it’s been a talking point but I tend towards the fact that ours inherently features movement.  Trains move, and do so relatively easily, whereas working road vehicles or aircraft are more difficult.  Consequently I assume that the military guys are that much more focussed on appearance.

One particular outfit that really brings home this contrast in a high profile way is Mig Jiminez’s AK Interactive.  Their ‘Weathering Magazine’ was brought to my attention by Wirral FRM’s Mike Turner late last year, and I’ve recently tracked down a copy of the reprint of the first issue dealing with rust effects and the fourth, covering oil and engines.


Admittedly the mag is something of a vehicle for AK’s own products, but it should be evident from the cover that the intention is to encourage the highest of results and not just another of the ‘it’ll dos’ so beloved of our own media.  The credibility  of the modelmaker’s art, often in doubt it seems, is enhanced in that Mig himself is no nerdy anorak in appearance, and the presence of the charming Akatsiya within the pages doesn’t hurt either!  But it’s not even necessary to go to the length of ordering this publication – a quick browse of the military and aircraft modelling mags in your local Smiffs will soon get you an insight into a very different world than the one most railway modellers seem to inhabit.  Another potentially useful resource, which is specifically rail-related albeit more US, is The Weathering Shop and its forum – you’ll find newbies there but you’ll also find a better class of feedback and advice than tends to be the case this side of the Pond.

But most of all, if you’re seriously interested in weathering, don’t make too many assumptions.  Don’t think that a factory weathered model is anything more than a convenience for the manufacturer, or that everyone who’s showing you his weathered model has any more on his mind than his own brilliance.  Use your own eyes and your own perception of what convinces.  Look at photos of real trains, in books, magazines or on the Internet.  Look at the world around you – the fence at the bottom of your garden and that Transit pickup you’re sat behind on the way into town use the same materials that are used in the railway environment, and they’ll degrade in much the same way.   Develop your own ideas of colouration and contrast and  how different effects interact with each other.   Most of all, be prepared to put the time in, make mistakes and learn from them, and develop an eclectic approach  that in time you can call your own.

AK Interactive have a website and their products are available from shops in the UK; my mags came from Scale Model Shop (usual disclaimer in both cases).  


Filed under Rust effects, Wagon weathering

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