The image above is by courtesy of Jonathan Welleans and shows a brace of fitted 16 tonners from detailed Bachmann models, on the erstwhile ‘Wintringham Haven’ layout of Hull MRS.
You might be forgiven for making certain assumptions about vacuum braked 16 tonners; one being that you can run them in more or less equal numbers to unfitted ones, the other being that unfitted ones are grey and fitted ones are brown. Not quite … for most of their lives, the fitted wagons were greatly outnumbered by unfitted wagons, and whilst the odd one certainly wouldn’t be untypical in an unfitted rake, in the early days at least they were generally kept on specific flows.
Only just over 11,000 vac-fitted 16 tonners were originally built, out of a total fleet somewhere around 30 times that figure. Even by 1970, by which time some later conversions had been added, there were still only around 20,000. Much later on in their lives, withdrawals really started to reduce the unfitted fleet, and the proportions became gradually reversed, but even as late as 1977, I’d reckon there was still a 2:1 ratio in favour of the unfitted wagons.
Whilst there were a relatively small number of oddballs, experiments and mavericks amongst the fitted fleet, as with the ‘bluffer’s guide’ on Page 108, for the sake of simplicity I’m pretty much going to ignore them here. So, most of that 20,000 were either of the clasp-braked variety as built, or were from a large batch that were converted to 4-shoe ‘fitted Morton’ pattern in the mid-’60s. Neither brakegear layout was exactly comparable to its equivalent on merchandise wagons, so a couple of photos should hopefully demystify things. Like all (well, nearly all) of the pictures on the site, these are clickable for larger sizes and I’d suggest that will be particularly beneficial in the case of the 8-shoe clasp gear:
Note that there are two vacuum cylinders, on the prototype one was slightly smaller but in 4mm scale and tucked away in the shadows, I’m not losing sleep over that. The more visible parts above are what comes with the legendary Red Panda underframe kit, and careful examination will show where the hand lever has been shortened to cater for the 9 foot wheelbase.
The later conversions referred to were done between 1966 and 1968, and were much simpler, being essentially the addition of a second set of pushrods, vac pipes and cylinders to the existing Morton gear. Again there are twin vac cylinders, which I believe would have been the norm for these conversions:
Note also two other characteristics of this conversion, one being that almost all of the wagons selected were from batches with the strengthening rib on the hand lever. The other is that the tiebars are of ‘L’ section, with the bottom face angling outwards; I actually use ‘T’ section as it gives a slightly more positive key when gluing.
So now you know how to recognise the two fitted gears, you’ll be better able to recognise the impostors, the wagons that were painted brown but weren’t actually vac fitted. This happened, to a limited extent, for various reasons. For a few years in the mid-1960s, the grey livery was officially abandoned and various unfitted wagons got themselves turned out in bauxite (or its ‘Freight Brown’ cousin). If you see a brown Morton-braked wagon before 1966, there’s a chance it’s one of these. Secondly, and more relevant to some of the RTR offerings, MoT wagons and some of the earliest ones built after Nationalisation were painted in bauxite because they had always been, until the new regime established its own preferences.