Category Archives: Wagon kits

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

The skirl of the Pipe

Oh come on, it is at least seasonal …!

Anyhoo, a review seems appropriate, following the season of box opening on a much larger scale, and Bachmann’s 12T Pipe wagon is fairly fresh in the shops. Thing is though, this is highly likely to come out as one of those Jeremy Clarkson style reviews, where there’s a handful of words about the subject and rather more about various semi-connected subjects on which I wish to give you the benefit of my views…

There’s not a lot I can say about the prototype wagon that isn’t already fairly well known or easily obtainable from published sources. One point I will make though is that it’s not absolutely identical  to the Parkside – whereas the kit is a diagram 1/460, built unfitted and later converted to vac, this new RTR vehicle is to diagram 1/462, which were VB from new. The consequent differences are acceptedly minor – a Morton clutch to the brakegear on one side, rather than the earlier drop link, and spindle buffers rather than the hydraulic jobs usual on the conversions – but still, it’s different.  There were two other diagrams – 1/461 of LNER origin (of which more shortly) and 1/463, the final evolution with 8-shoe clasp brakes (this was the donor batch for what became the air braked ODAs).


Which brings in my first point. Much as I’ve loved, and still love, Parkside kits, and have a lot of time for the guys behind the outfit, I’m a little bemused by comments to the effect that the RTR firms are ‘working their way through the Parkside catalogue and should show more imagination’. But the point, surely, is that these vehicles, these chosen diagrams, are the most numerous or useful, and that both the kit manufacturer and the RTR firm are simply choosing the best commercial prospect?

In this respect, the forthcoming Tube is probably a better illustration. There are many designs of tube wagon,  of GW, LMS, LNER and BR design; many look superficially similar but the LMS – BR design lineage in particular masks a continuous evolution made up of subtle differences. So when Bachmann arrived at the conclusion that they’d be best served doing the BR 1/448, the last built and longest lived, it’s really a moot point in my view whether they aped Parkside or whether they got the wagon books out and researched it themselves.  In fact they probably did both, using as many sources of info as they could.  I know I would.

Secondly then, the price. It’s twenty quid (or thereabouts). Yes, I know, twenty quid for a four wheel wagon (and I won’t insult your intelligence by pointing out that it’s a slightly longer than average four wheel wagon).  And yes, I know the Parkside one is about eight quid, and I can do the sums to work out the difference.

But the Pipe is a more complex wagon than most probably realise, especially those who’ve contented themselves with simply building the thing out of the packet. And there’s a spinoff topic, worthy of further study – there’s almost always a difference between building an XYZ kit of a class A123, and building a model of a class A123 from the said kit. I won’t develop that theme too far here, except as an illustration of my belief that at twenty quid, the new RTR model is actually not bad value. In each and every case of comparison like this, one has to factor in one’s time; I’m not going to include the cost of paint and transfers etc in the calculation as they’re just a stock-in, as much a part of one’s hobby as tools or books. But time is the important one, and even now I can hear people saying that a Parkside kit falls together almost in minutes rather than hours.


But consider this (or if you’re fed up of reading already, consider the photo above). The Pipe is not a simple open wagon. Anyone who has an appreciation of how wagons are built for the jobs they do will realise that those long drop doors make a difference. Just under the bodyside, there are ‘door controllers’ (a fancy sort of hinge), the usual triangular gusset plates to support the part of the floor that overhangs the frame, and some door bangers that are at a more precarious  angle than average and  are hard to secure to a kit solebar.  In the middle, there’s also a box section that no doubt gives some strength to the whole structure, otherwise weakened by the full length doors.

The hand brake lever catches the look pretty well, something that’s not easy to do with a kit unless you substitute etched bits (and assuming there’s one available for the distinctive shape on this wagon).  There’s also a further issue with the kit that usually escapes people: that for understandable production economy, the kit utilises the chassis parts from the 21T and 24.5T mineral kits, which means it has heavy duty axleguards (the Pipe, being a mere 12 tonner, has standard axleguards).


You don’t have to add any of this extra detail to the kit, of course – but the point is that the RTR model is sorted in all of those respects, so a simple comparison with the kit is not a fair comparison.  I did two kitbuilds many years ago (part of a projected build of half a dozen, which went the way of most good intentions), and incorporating the modifications listed; even pricing my time at minimum wage, I could not  build the kit to this standard for twenty quid.  The pic above shows the more interesting of the pair; intended to portray the LNER derivative, it combines Parkside ends with Nu Cast sides and Parkside solebars with etched axleguards and modified ABS brakegear.

So there you are. A sort of review, another past glory, and a hell of a lot of punditry. Come at me, guys 😉


Filed under Wagon kits, Wagon weathering

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

Vanfare for the common man

No, not Vanwides again (one for those with long memories, that, though using the same heading twice in 19 years shouldn’t be stretching a point too much)!  Rather, a few random-ish thoughts on the Vanwide’s more ordinary common cousin, the BR standard van.

At this point it’s almost obligatory in modelling circles to mention that whatever ‘standard’ thing it is that’s under discussion is anything but standard, and this is true enough of the BR van when you consider there are two materials used for the body sheeting and that the corrugated ends could be formed of two  or three  parts, each with further minor variations, all underpinned by the usual progression of brakegears and an extensive array of other running gear options.  But I have an alternative take – from the less focused perspective of the operators, the people who’d roster them and load them, they were standardised.  They were a basic covered box that was a given size and shape, and what the thing was made of and what type the buffers weren’t a concern to them, as long as they did their job.

Anyway, to the models.  Like so many of the things characteristic of the post-war railway, we have a choice of representations of these vans, but made in such a way that not all can necessarily be run together, at least not without modification or a bit of thought.  Hopefully what follows won’t shatter too many illusions!

As with so many wagon types, anyone starting from nothing can do little better than to assemble a selection of the current Parkside kits, PC07A/08A.  Now I’m not going to just blog about that, I think most readers here will know of Parkside kits and that they virtually build themselves.  But the current kit replaces a much older one, one that was one of the firm’s earliest offerings and was in essence an Ian Kirk design from the 1970s.

Although it was a welcome breath of fresh air at a time when little truly BR period was available, the van is like most of the Kirk production, quite basic and a little dimensionally dodgy.  Most seriously, it’s a good 2mm or more too tall in the body, which alters the proportions quite significantly, and whereas considered on its own, this may not be an issue  to some, it does stand out as soon as you sit it next to a more correct rendition and look at it at eye  level.  I  first twigged this back in the mid-’80s when comparing the first one I’d built to that old favourite, the Airfix meat van.   Whilst variation in all aspects  is of course an intrinsic feature of a 1950s or ’60s van train, which would be composed of vans of all sorts of origins, after 1972 or so the BR vans were pretty much all there were, and the consequent uniformity in roof line when looking along a train is a very recognisable feature, just as it would be with a uniform rake of Mk1 or Mk2 coaching stock.


This comparison shot above is between a current Parkside end moulding and an old Kirk one (actually from an insulated van).  I’ve positioned these so that the tops of the headstocks are aligned level, and from that, it can be seen that that’s actually where most of the excess  is.   This may be because the original Kirk solebars were quite crude and chunky by modern standards.  I reckon there’s about a mill and a half in there, and although it’s not so obvious from the pic, there’ll be another 0.75 – 1mm in the corrugated end itself.

There are ways of dealing with this though if you have some of these kits and want to use them.  The rake that inhabits Ken Gibbons’ various blue era layouts were produced from this basis by, simply enough, cutting them down as necessary; as seen here:


My own approach is one I’ve used before with superseded Parkside kits, by incorporating parts from the later and better kits.  In this case, using spare ends of the current design, taken either from the Vanfit or Vanwide kits automatically produce the right height to set the sides at (in the same way as with the Parkside/Ratio hybrid shown in an earlier post, The LMS Van).  Again these particular sides are (fairly obviously) from the insulated van, but the mouldings are identical (whereas Parkside’s current PC09 has a faithful portrayal of the differing door fastenings):


Although only obliquely visible, the chassis parts here are also later standard Parkside – a pair of PA16 solebars with plate axleboxes will acquire the 4-shoe brakegear from the current kit.  The mismatched join in the corrugations needs some thought, and I also should come up with something just a tad more delicate for the brackets that the doors fasten back onto…

Before leaving the subject of these kits, one common misconception concerns the vans that had doors mismatched with the body sheeting.  This variation is provided for in the retooled Parkside kits but unfortunately, the assumption is often that because the alternative parts are provided, they can be combined at will.   Not so, unfortunately; whilst several thousand planked ones were built with plywood doors, the opposite combination is not thought to have happened (although some early standard Shocvans do have this arrangement, due to 1950s materials shortages, there’s no evidence of it on standard vans).

The reasoning behind this combination is something I discovered some years ago in some 1950s BR committee notes at the NRM.  Apparently the original design of door had been causing damage to a particular user’s traffic, due to an internal gap into which loads could shift.  To avoid this, a new design of door that eliminated the gap was put in hand.  This new pattern of door was only designed in plywood, whereas the previous pattern of alternative body sheeting continued, producing some 4,000 or so vans with the mismatch.

A bit of more obvious variety doesn’t go amiss in an otherwise homogenous fleet, and one little known variant is the roof ribbing that appears in the first row of wagons here, behind the slave cab of D4500.   I don’t know the reasoning behind this, but a small number of vans have it.  The majority I’ve noted have been ply vans with 8-shoe brakes from a late batch that were signwritten for particular users but one other, an earlier 4-shoe ply, was written for Crosse & Blackwell traffic, so there may be some connection in the type of traffic carried.  One of the three Lots of fruit vans based on the BR standard van also had this type of roof.  Oh and whilst you’re perusing that Tinsley pic and taking in the wealth of wagonry scattered about, have a look at the van in the middle of the third row, between the 21T hopper and the Covhop … thoughts on a postcard perleeeze 🙂

Another model that entered the mix back in 1985 was the David Boyle-era Dapol production.  Again, it’s another one I like because despite its general chunkiness, it catches the proportions very well in my opinion.   On the downside, the end vent is too small and the flat part of the diagonal bracing too deep;  the broadside below shows how this has been carved off and replaced with thinner microstrip:


This van runs on the Red Panda underframe for the BR 8-shoe brakegear, with MJT self-contained buffers. It’s one that was done a while ago and ran in the initial Culreoch fleet, and is here awaiting slight relettering to suit the earlier ’70s.

Moving on to a possibly less expected contender, I mentioned in the banana van piece that I had a soft spot for the old Dublo rendition of the BR standard.  This might well be partly due to the number of the Wrenn derivatives that I worked on again back in the ’80s, and I still have a few of them together with one or two unpainted bodies.   Despite its assorted shortcomings, I’ve always thought it caught the look of the type pretty well.  The planking and diagonal bracing take a liberty or two but the main issue is with the roof curvature, which is a tad too sharp and more akin to a GW design van, together with the seriously undernourished bonnet ventilator.

Another comparison then, but not between the Wrenn and a more correct model, but between unmodified (left) and modified (right):


Rebuilding the roof on  a one piece moulding would obviously be a foolish thing to do, but my minimal mod here (which I also apply to the Dapol vans), is to use spare Parkside vents tweaked so that they overlay onto the existing vent.  Whether the significantly greater width of the correct vent creates an optical illusion that ‘flattens’ the roof curve, or whether it’s simply the disguising one error that draws attention away from another, I’m not sure, but as a way of bulking up a rake without too much effort, I’m happy enough with it.

Incidentally the vents I use were obtained very cheaply some years ago, but it’s not the hardest job to knock them up yourself in plastic card.  You’ll note that I haven’t restored the lost bolthead detail, which again is in line with the ‘quick and dirty’ ethos as the ends will be the part least visible. In which case, you might ask, why alter anything at all…


A side on shot of the modified van again brings in the theme of making the best of old models that have a decent finish.  The current Bachmann 4-shoe chassis fits well enough and a selection of transfers and Hollar posters complete the impression.  I still won’t run these vans next to a ‘correct’ BR standard, but as a short cut in a long mixed freight, possibly mixed with vans of pre-BR design, they should pass muster.

A model that might by now be conspicuous by its absence is the Bachmann RTR model, which to be honest I was a bit disappointed with when it appeared.  Some of the contemporary criticism focused on the thickness of the ironwork, which is something I tend not to fret about.  More of a concern to me was that I could see from side by side comparisons with other stock (both vans  and other types) that the proportions just weren’t right somehow.  I’ve never fully analysed it but I think it’s a combination of a slightly tall chassis (not uncommon in RTR) with maybe up to a millimetre shortness at the eaves.  It’s a shame, it was  a model I really wanted to like because like all Bachmann stock, the liveries and lettering are well observed and nicely applied.   Not a major issue though in the bigger scheme of things, it won’t matter at all to many users  and it has to be said that it’s a rare blip in a range of freight stock that overall just goes from strength to strength.

And finally, purely for the sake of completeness, I should mention the Lima model of the standard van.  About which I’ll say no more than that there was one.


Filed under Vans, Wagon kits


Last one for this year then, and one that ties in two themes: unfinished projects (not in short supply around these parts…), and the Hornby Dublo ‘Super Detail’ range of freight and NPCC- stock from the 1960s and later passing to Wrenn.

Though often talked of in hallowed tones, the range was to be honest a bit patchy in terms of authenticity (although it was in a rather different class to what Triang were producing at the time)!  The High Goods opens (a generic 5-planker and its more recognisable steel equivalent) were very much out of proportion, the cattle van was also too tall and the 20T grain hopper was cut short to fit the same chassis.  I have a soft spot for the BR 12T van though, which manages to catch the general look quite well despite having a roof profile much more akin to the GW Minks.   The Fruit D, Presflo and Prestwin are decent body mouldings but suffer from poor chassis, although things did get much better with the plastic underframes on the SR CCT and the Blue Spot fish van featured in a recent post.

This one here though, the BR banana van,  is in my opinion the best item in the range as regards its ‘finescale’ potential (although that observation only applies to the body).  The detail is relatively restrained and it’s dimensionally spot on apart from about 1mm overwidth, and it matches up well with the Dapol and Parkside renditions of vans based on the BR standard 12T design.


Detail wise, it’s rather marred by the raised ‘pad’ on which HD printed the code and running number – that’s been shaved down on this one, but it’s not yet had the smaller details restored, which will be done with microstrip and 10 thou ‘cube rivets’.  Hacking something about to this degree may seem daunting, but as long as you have some skill with the knife and file and take it a bit at a time, constantly checking levels, it repays the effort.  It’s also an idea to cut in the edge of the corner plate before you start, following the line set by the higher part of the moulding, as it will help to prevent the knife wandering too far.  This particular model is another that was originally weathered contemporaneously with that Blue Spot and again, is a good enough basis for a bit more work.

Most of all the model is let down by the standard crude diecast chassis, but an easy upgrade is possible with the Red Panda mouldings for the BR standard 8-shoe clasp gear.  As these vans didn’t appear until quite late on, it was what they were all built with (other than a solo prototype converted from a plywood Vanfit, B769635, which may or may not have kept its 4-shoe gear).


This was done back in my methodical period, having the patience to think ahead and planning the chassis build so it could make use of the way the Wrenn van was constructed. The steel weight was retrieved from a RTR wagon and is one of those with a hole in the middle, chosen so it accommodates the screw post that is actually part of the separate roof moulding.  The weight itself is just glued at each end to the lips on the body moulding, and the main chassis members similarly just sit on the partial floor.

For those new to kitbashing or teetering on the edge, this sort of procedure is actually very little different to building up the chassis in a bespoke, prepackaged kit; you still have to dress the top edges and make sure things sit straight, you just don’t have anything pre-set to determine the distance between the solebars.  I tend to fit the headstocks first, which naturally gives some idea where the solebars should sit, and then just fiddle about with a light tack joint of solvent and eying things up until I’m happy the wheelsets aren’t going to drop out.  It also still needs catch bars from brass wire adding to the representational yokes, which I expect I’ll have to bend in such a way as to be secured inside that body lip.  All that will happen once I’ve made progress on one or two others to run with it.

So there you have an interesting project, one that could be relatively quick (unlike mine…) and that provides something as yet untouched by the wishlists.  The Wrenn vans can be picked up relatively cheaply around the swapmeets and I think it’s also one of the unpainted bodies that Dapol are knocking out for a quid, and the Red Panda chassis is still in the Parkside Dundas catalogue.  Prototype wise, these vans were in service from the late 1950s until sometime in the mid-’70s; I think one or two survived to wear the TOPS code VNV although by then, most survivors were in use as barriers.  For earlier years (steam and early diesel), they could be regularly seen in combination with the LMS-inspired design represented by Ratio kit 541 .

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Filed under Perishables, Vans, Wagon kits, Wagon weathering

The Flying Kipper

(With acknowledgement to Rev W Awdry, whose ‘Henry the Green Engine’ still has a place on my bookshelves)

It may be the romance (if that’s the right word) of the associated workings, with rakes of, ahem, aromatically-enhanced wagons  careering along the main lines at dead of night, but the BR 12T Insulfish van  is proving to be a particularly enduring and much-modelled vehicle. Fish was once a widespread rail traffic of course, with thousands of vans of all sorts of designs running at one time, but it’s this one that’s probably foremost in the minds of most.  Probably this is because of the frequent (but only half-correct) labelling of them as a ‘Blue Spot’ and the fact that half a decade ago, the said Spot formed part of the Hornby Dublo ‘Super Detail’ range, passing in due course to Wrenn and later Dapol.

Much more recently, Parkside Dundas introduced a kit for the van and this has now been duplicated in ready to run form by present-day Hornby.   This effect now seems inevitable, as manufacturers look for new subjects to sate the large part of the market that seemingly won’t even attempt to build a simple wagon kit.  As also seems inevitable, the renewed interest in the type has highlighted a degree of misunderstanding and repeated misinformation on the part of modellers.  For the benefit of anyone that’s actually bothered, here’s a rundown.

BR plywood bodied 15 foot wheelbase Insulfish vans

The earliest of the series of vans were given the LNER diagram number 214.  Although these vans didn’t appear until after Nationalisation, in 1949/50, the design lineage and asymmetric triple-hanger vacuum brake rigging is nevertheless  unmistakeably LNER in origin.  By the mid-’50s, they’d been followed by  a batch of vans to BR diagram 1/800, but which were to all intents and purposes identical.  The well known ‘Blue Spot’ designation came later, around 1957/58, when 275 of the 1/800 vans were retro-fitted with roller bearings to assist fast running on the long Aberdeen – Kings Cross run via the ECML.  The nickname came from the marking applied to the side of the van, in order to designate the upgraded running gear and keep the vans on the Aberdeen circuit.

The later diagram 1/801 vans are often purported to be a development of the design, but in truth they have very little in common other than having  four wheels at the same distance apart.  The body is slightly different dimensionally (admittedly only by inches), but all of the ironwork is different.  The wheelbase remains at 15ft but the brakegear, although still an 8-shoe clasp arrangement, is a lengthened version of the late 1950s BR pattern as fitted to other wagons.  All of this type had roller boxes from new and the more modern types of buffer that went with the BR brakegear.  All in all, it’s probably more correct to consider them as two different vans built to fulfil a given specification, rather than as one being a development of the other; the detail differences then become a matter of contingency, rather than being a design evolution as such.

Number series:

LNER dia 214              E75000 – 75599

BR dia 1/800               B87000 – 87499

BR dia 1/801                B87500 – 88057

Going back to the models, slightly annoyingly, all three of them are that first diagram (214 or 1/800), and neither Parkside nor Hornby have chosen to fill the gap that is the 1/801.   More annoyingly,  Hornby used at least two publicity photos which clearly showed the 1/801 type, getting a few folk excited before issuing model shots that confirmed it was the tired old 1/800 they were actually going to model.  Ah well; whilst it’s a bit of a lost opportunity, we’re no worse off than we were a year ago.

The Hornby model is now in the shops and whilst reports suggest it’s selling pretty well to its target market, for the finescaler it’s most kindly described as a curate’s egg, summed up perhaps by this closeup shot of one corner.  The Rail Blue SPV livery is well up to Hornby’s usual standard (don’t mind my slight blurring from holding the camera in a cold garage), and parts of the underframe show a nice finesse.  The moulding of the axleguard, roller bearing and spring are set off here by the Gibson wheelsets I slipped in,  but dear oh dear, what on earth happened to that brake lever guide!  Similarly, the solebar is much enhanced by the gussets joining it to the body – then you take in that clumsy gap along the body bottom…  The buffers also show a rather obvious lack of care in assembly, and I don’t believe my one example is untypical.


That rather visible gap is caused by the bottom edge of the body actually being part of the chassis moulding. I can only think that this has been done so that the false floor thus created could form the step in front of the inset sliding doors;  a poorly thought out solution as it then compromises the greater part of the body.  The Parkside kit manages this by having the floor moulding shaped with a tab that fits into the doorway; it’s simple and sensible, and why Hornby couldn’t have followed suit is anybody’s guess.

All of this is to some degree fixable or overlookable though; the killer fault to me is the roof profile, which would be completely unfeasible to correct.  Some time before getting one in my mitts, I was reasonably convinced by available photographic evidence that the roof arc was going to be noticeably too prominent.   Not the end of the world of course, and I’m sure the target market will still be happy with it, but it’s a tad disappointing to those who appreciate the nuances of wagon design for their own sake as well as wanting convincing looking models.  This is also particularly relevant in the context of quality RTR being seen as a timesaver, because it means that for anyone who already has a few kitbuilds and would like to augment their fleet, the new RTR vans won’t happily mix with them.  Still, like I said, we’re no worse off than we were a year ago!

Oddly, the Hornby van doesn’t seem too far out when a rule is run over it.  The biggest discrepancy between it and the kit is about 1mm in height at the apex; the sides are fractionally lower where they meet the roof and it’s also very slightly narrower.  Yet add all three together and they obviously accumulate enough to have a visible effect, suggesting that the roof arc has simply been drawn to ‘fit’ once other basic dimensions had been laid down, and nobody has looked hard enough at whether it actually looks right:


Part of the reason I bought the van and set up this comparison shot was to convince myself how wrong it was, because this is one of those situations where simple measurements don’t tell the whole story.   The Parkside is at left (in about my fourth attempt at an Ice Blue that I’m happy with!), the Hornby in the middle and for completeness, I’ve also included a Wrenn van on the right.   I’ve read one forum post that states the Parkside roof radius is 35mm whereas the Hornby is only 25mm; I’ve not checked it myself but looking at this I wouldn’t doubt it.  The incorrect position of the transverse strapping, together with the roof edge being rather thinner than it should appear, also probably don’t help the overall impression.

The pic is clickable for larger sizes, at which you’ll be able to see how well I’ve done at getting a consistent level for the comparison.   To assist this I subbed the Hornby wheels for Gibsons and put Jacksons in the kit, but the former still sits a bit higher.  The Wrenn sits tallest of all, but some of that is in the chunky chassis and that the body isn’t sat properly on it.  Nevertheless, and despite being about a mill and a half too wide as well, it still manages to look proportionately more right overall than the new model.

So there you have it; fifty years of progress.  Or not 🙂


This particular Wrenn body is one of a handful I have from many years back, but which I’d still like to make something usable of.   Whilst the finish is maybe a little unsubtle in places (mostly where I’ve attacked the ‘Findus’ lettering!), it’s good enough to stand a little extra work and warrant the fitting of a better chassis at some point.  It’ll probably also acquire one of the ‘I am not a fish van’ -type brandings that were applied when transferred to other uses.  As stated above, the Dublo-originated body is slightly overwidth, but that’s something that can be said of many RTR wagons.  The main thing that makes it look a little distorted compared to other wagons is the odd way that HD designed the chassis, with the entire solebar stepping out almost to the edge of the body.

For anyone starting with a clean slate though, the Parkside kit still stands up as the logical way forward without either aggravation or compromise.  Like all later Parksides there’s not a lot to say;  it’s pretty much faultless as it stands and builds up as easily as any of the firm’s more recent offerings.   In my opinion, it simply isn’t worth investing even a tenner in the Hornby van when it’s actually less work for any reasonably skilled modeller to get the kit looking acceptable.

Back in the RTR fishing grounds, Bachmann’s forthcoming 10 foot wheelbase LNER van is due next Spring and is I believe based on LNER diagram 83, a wooden underframe, non-insulated type.  I’d imagine that not many of these got far into the 1960s so only a token purchase is likely in this household, but by comparison, I’m expecting a rather more satisfying experience.  And looking ahead, I’m more intrigued by what else they have planned for that wooden underframed chassis…


Filed under Perishables, Scottish railways, Vans, Wagon kits, Wagon weathering

The LMS Van

The LMS, as the largest of the four companies, was the one which contributed most to the ‘pool’ of wagons controlled by the RCH and which of course eventually came into BR ownership.  Vast quantities were built to various designs, no doubt causing some degree of confusion at first glance.  As is often the case though, with a little analysis it is evident that a very large percentage of them had a distinct familial resemblance, with the corrugated ends that had first been used back in the 1920s and being essentially to one standard body shape, which also accommodated a post-war change to plywood body sheeting instead of planking.  The last batches to LMS orders actually appeared with BR numbers, and many lasted in significant numbers into the mid-1960s and hence the diesel era.

The vans of the  SR and LNER have recently been quite well catered for out of the box, together with Parkside’s retooling of its post-war LNER plywood van.  The old Mainline moulding for the GW Mink is now middle aged but still acceptable, and this leaves a gap that is surely ripe for RTR exploitation.  For now though, there are three principal LMS-pattern van models available which can round out the picture for a BR van fleet.   These are the venerable Ratio 591/5091 kit, a very similar one-piece moulding in the Airfix RTR range and Parkside’s PC42 kit, which although intended as a BR fruit van to a plywood LMS-inspired design, can be used to represent ordinary vans built by both the LMS and BR.  Contemporary with the Airfix model, an equivalent model appeared in Mainline’s range, easily recognisable by its crude working sliding door;  at some point this was retooled to lose the gimmick, but retained its squat appearance.  To be honest it’s best avoided, as the ex-Airfix moulding is way superior, still available from Dapol and secondhand examples are not rare.

The Ratio kit dates back some forty years now, an all-time classic wagon kit in my opinion, and is still a hard act to follow.  The assembled kit captures the look and proportions beautifully, particularly the characteristic corrugated end and the shape and size of the vent hoods.  Over 20,000 vans were built to the diagrams that it covers  (LMS D1891/1897/1978/2039), so it’s a model that can easily be justified on any layout from the mid-1930s to around 1970.

The one below is in progress, awaiting the ‘metalwork’ stage where it will acquire buffers and tiebars.  Most of these vans acquired additional diagonal strapping during BR days, and this has been represented with plastic strip.  The sharp eyed will see that I didn’t get this positioned spot-on the first time,  which irks me, but it’ll come right once it’s painted and weathered.  I’m also deliberating over providing boltheads on the additional strapping, it may provide an excursion for my Archers rivet transfers.

Although in shadow in this shot (showery in E Yorks today, indoor photography only), it also sits on a Parkside 10ft wheelbase underframe, which I used in order to give a bit of variety and portray a van with BR-pattern axleguards and plate axleboxes.  You can normally do this sort of thing with different chassis kit parts, although a little thought can be needed to accommodate the disparate brakegear parts.  The Parkside floor though fits as if it was made for the job. A second Ratio kit is in build, this one being altered to an early D1891 van with vertically planked doors, and will join a third van that’s been left as intended, although it will acquire a clasp braked, J-hanger suspended chassis courtesy of Parkside’s PA16 parts.  Not that there’s much wrong with the Ratio underframe as it comes, it can be used to represent  a van as vac fitted by BR or (by omitting one set of pushrods, the ones on the side without the Morton clutch), an  unfitted van as originally built.  Other than the rather thick moulding feeds, as visible here on those end sprues, the crispness of these mouldings could easily be mistaken for a modern Parkside kit:

Below is an example of the Airfix RTR  offering; one important recognition feature it depicts is that whereas pukka LMS vans have channel section vertical uprights, BR builds ( diagram 1/204)  have a different section.  The diagonal stanchions are also doubled at points. All of the BR examples were built in vac fitted form, again this is catered for by the appropriate parts from Parkside’s useful PA16 chassis kit:

A bit of added bolthead detail appears on that top board, and also seen here is a very distressed example of a trader’s label, of which more anon…

The Parkside PC42 van is a very rare thing, a model in their range which doesn’t convincingly capture the prototype.  This is because it mistakenly uses a roof profile more akin to the BR standard van.  It is possible to reprofile the top edge of the ends, but this still leaves the vent hood position looking a bit odd, so the solution I chose was to use the ends and roof from the aforementioned Ratio kit, which sets everything up right from the off and immediately shows how far out the sides are .  If you’re frugal in outlook, by the way, there’s no need to shell out for a brand new kit for this purpose as indifferently-built examples can be picked up for a few quid at swapmeets and can with care be dismantled for spares.

My part-finished model here shows the extra 40 thou or so that was inserted  between the body top and the roof.  Again a PA16 chassis provides the undergear, for what will be a BR built example of diagram 1/200. Well one day it will, although I’d vainly add that this is a ‘library’ photo and since it was taken, it has progressed slightly; label boards have been added, together with the boltheads along that upper join in the corrugated end.  LMS vans didn’t always have these details, and so I might just yet do another one as a relative quickie to pair with it.  It’s probably worth pointing out as well that the LMS ply vans, unlike the planked variants above, did have the pattern of upright shown here (D2108), although a small batch to D2097 didn’t have the diagonals and don’t generally seem to have acquired them later.

Other LMS vans that should be mentioned are an all-plywood wartime van, plus some to LNER and SR designs that were delivered during WW2.  There’s also the odd earlier van that can form part of the ’60s scene, and one or two of these might be along in due course.

Useful references:  An Illustrated History of LMS Wagons vol. 1, R J Essery; article in MRJ 205 by Mick Moore; plus the many photographic references provided by Paul Bartlett’s website, David Larkin’s books for Santona and Kestrel, and the late Geoff Gamble’s Cheona volumes.


Filed under Vans, Wagon kits, 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

The great Southern roof mystery

One lazy weekend a few years ago, being in that particular mood of having quite enough that I should be doing, but nothing I particularly wanted to be doing, I thought I’d pick up on a comment made by a friend and dug out various of my Southern vans, the roofs for the comparison thereof.  The utility vans and Van Cs have appeared in various forms over many years, the goods vans are available as kits from Ratio and RTR from Bachmann, Hornby and Dapol (the latter two being the moulding introduced by Airfix/GMR in the late 1970s, and none the worse for that).

Now it’s fairly well known that these vans had a distinctive compound roof curvature, and this is obviously going to present a challenge to a modelmaker or  manufacturer.  An article by John Hayes in MRJ 120 deals with the construction of three vans from Ratio kits, a principal feature being replacement of the roofs due to their profile.  John says that all the published drawings of these vans show slight variations, which also doesnt surprise me as I suspect that even a good draughtsman is prone to ‘freehand’ a bit in such circumstances.  Geoff Kent also has some words of wisdom on the matter in volume 2 of his 4mm Wagon trilogy.

As with so many things though that are ostensibly models of the ‘same’ thing, the real problems start when you want to run them together.  So, some comparisons.  Firstly, a couple of utility vans, Parkside on the left – with my own ends here, in order to produce a PMV, but following (ish) the kit profile) – and Wrenn/HD at right:

Next, the old Airfix 12T at left (don’t be fooled by the even planking) and the Bachmann model at right:

I think those two, although not identical, are pretty closely matched as far as the profile is concerned.   There are discrepancies  with the positions of the bonnet vents and their shape, but those would be very difficult to work on.

Now the Ratio kit at left, again the Bachmann at right:

This to me shows how wrong the Ratio one looks – it’s much flatter, sort of squashed-looking, at the shoulders.  The vertical bits at the very sides are too short, accentuating an excessively peaked effect at the apex.   As this older shot shows, it actually looks more wrong when viewed side on:

Almost as an aside, this shot shows the SR-pattern brakegear with drop link, which was adapted from the Red Panda chassis of the BR clasp pattern gear.

Of them all, the Ratio is the only one I can’t live with and as I’d put a lot of work into the rest of the van, I bit the bullet and did something about it.  Trials with the Parkside CCT roof showed it would fit, with a bit of minor fettling; once cut to length, this was the outcome:

As mentioned, the roof needed a bit of work to sit snugly but the only thing I’ve done to the body ends is to file them slightly flatter across the central ‘third’:

I’m aware of the remaining slight gap at the shoulders, but I didn’t think it warranted destroying and restoring the capping strip, and since then the roof has  been painted and the capping touched in.  The whole job is a bit of an enigma really; it definitely looks better, and yet as that minimal gap shows, there isn’t all that much difference between the two roofs.  And I still have to order a replacement part for that PMV!

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Filed under Vans, Wagon kits, Wagon weathering