Tag Archives: Blue Spot

Summer shortbread

This started out as another holding post, really, as things have been noticeably quiet on here. Partly this has been due to the usual pressures and diversions of life and to more pleasant things like holidays – and even with the summer we’ve had here, up until a couple of weeks ago, it’s hardly been the weather for working to deadlines.

But working to deadlines is mostly what oi aaarve been, for a commitment to take something resembling a layout to the excellent little  Thirsk show, which is held on a Sunday late in July.  After a slightly false start last year with thoughts on my Stoneferry Tramway project, this was to emerge as Blackhill Ferrya micro layout based on a single platform passing station, a genre which I’ve always been fascinated by the simplicity of.  The Stoneferry thing is still very much something I’d like to do, but for the future – it wasn’t long before I realised that the original micro concept as I’d envisaged it, at a mere 4’6 on its longest edge, would neither satisfy what I wanted from it nor do it justice.

They caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died…

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Overbridge west of Portgordon looking towards Spey Bay, August 2011

So, thoughts turned back to what was still a relatively recent infatuation with the GNoSR system, and particularly the Moray Coast line from Elgin via Buckie to Cairnie Junction.  The only thing with this was that the Coast line, despite its almost ‘light railway’ character, isn’t actually well suited to minimum space interpretations!  – the original idea having been for a slightly larger layout but that had kinda lost its way.

Quite apart from the  rolling landscapes and seascapes, most of the trains in diesel days seem to be composed of a minimum of four corridor coaches, often with added bogie vans.   Previous Scottish inspiration though had included examples such as Ballachulish Ferry and Grandtully on the Aberfeldy branch, both being very simple single track passing stations, and eventually everything came together when plate 152 in George O’Hara’s wonderful BR Diesel Traction in Scotland, plate 152 showed the Moray Coast station of Portgordon in a way that definitely had that ‘something about that’ factor.  Possibly the significant factor here, albeit one that wasn’t instantly obvious in my tortured mind, was that the NBL type 2-hauled train was composed of just two coaches.  So from this, thoughts changed again, towards  the eventual interpretation being something of a pastiche, a Coast Line-ish location but with shorter train formations.

The layout as was seen at Thirsk was obviously very much a work in progress, a sort of ‘operational demo’ really, with suitable descriptions and illustrations of what it will all look like when it’s finished and shown again next year.

Twixt Lossiemouff and Bannth…?

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Looking east into Portgordon, this view shows how the line sat between the village at just above sea level and the rising ground going inland.

I did long ago set up a standalone blog for Blackhill, partly as an experiment with the Blogger platform, but my original ideas for that and to back it up with other Scottish material have been altered by various factors over time.  And in any case, progress so far on Blackhill is not ideally suited to a blog, particularly as the concept is still evolving (which is a pretentious way of saying I’m making it up as I go along…).

Part of this ‘evolution’ is the supposed location.  At the moment, given the considerations of train length detailed above, I think I see Blackhill not as being on the Coast line proper, but as perhaps the last station before the terminus on a third branch off the Coast line.  That would render the short trains more plausible, and yet still redolent of the Scottish diesel era imagery that’s so prevalent in the common consciousness.  Not that I’m deliberately perpetuating any myths here of course, oh no, not me…

So anyhoo, I shall refer you to this thread here on Modellers  United  for associated further ramblings.  You can view MU without joining up as a member, although you wouldn’t be able to comment.  Future development will be posted possibly here, possibly there and possibly in other media, although the precise details are something I’m as yet undecided about.

In the meantime, thanks go to Peter Simmerson for accomodating the layout at Thirsk, to Ken Gibbons and Brian Sunman for assistance with pointwork, wiring and other practical tasks during the runup to the show, and all those who’ve shown general interest and support.  Also, the website of the Great North Of Scotland Railway Association is well worth a visit, being very probably one of the best of its type, and with the picture here being a large part of the inspiration for Blackhill.

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Filed under Heritage diesels, Off the beaten track, Scottish railways

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.

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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:

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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 🙂

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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…

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