Tag Archives: Hornby

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…

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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.

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Filed under Hoppers, Mineral wagons, Rust effects

Coals to Newcastle

Over recent years Hornby have come in for a fair amount of flak for their wagon models and indeed, it’s  not so long since I was passing judgement here on their unfortunate Blue Spot fish van.  Now whilst they arguably still have a fair way to go in restoring confidence (not least with retailers in my view, though this isn’t the place to open that particular can of worms),  I do believe in  giving credit where it’s due by saying that the various models now emerging from the pipeline seem to have shaken off the silliest aspects of the much maligned ‘design clever’ phase.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Filed under Hoppers, Iron ore, Mineral wagons, Uncategorized, Wagon kits

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

2012 and all that

Hello there, and welcome to Windcutter’s first New Year.

Given the time of year, I suppose some initial comment might be appropriate on the now-established Hornby Christmas period announcements.  As I’ve said, I don’t want Windcutter to be excessively political, nor do I want it to promote RTR frothfrests, but there is even less than usual to actually get excited about now the news is out.   All quite understandable of course in the current climate, but it does have to be said that this year the much-criticised embargo has reached new heights of farce whilst increasing the froth : substance ratio beyond any reasonable limits.    No completely new freight stock is not entirely a surprise; I’m getting an inkling now that the backpedalling last year over prices with the brake and the tippler has made Hornby think that they can’t really compete with Bachmann, in the field of traditional wagons at least.

That said, I’m pleased enough about the Thompson suburbans, something I have to say I didn’t see coming as they fulfil such a similar role to the Gresleys which are just hitting the shops.  In my mind, they hit that same spot as the Hawksworths, in that they’re not so much an LNER coach as a BR (ER) one, something that can be used past the usually accepted ‘transition’ era, into the mid-1960s and even in some cases with diesels.  Parcels stock is always popular with BR modellers, so the SR bogie brake will no doubt go down well (once the price has settled to more modest levels), and the O1 2-8-0 is just a bit too tempting to me given its association with East Midlands iron ore trains!  There’s no point me putting up the whole list of releases, it’s available easily enough elsewhere including the now ‘legal’ copies of the magazine that wanted to be first with the news.

As for Windcutter, having updated Traditions in Decline, the basic ‘page’ structure is now complete, unless I have any other bright ideas of course.  One thing that’s still missing is a rundown on weathering roofs, which has to be slotted into the More on Techniques page – that’ll have to wait for those days of decent weather and lighting, I’m afraid.  I noticed the other day that some of the page headers have defaulted for some reason to the ‘running theme’ of the 47 and Mk2 coach; I’m not sure why this is, but unless I stumble across the right buttons, it’ll probably stay that way for the forseeable!

Something that is outside my control however is the periodic absence of the forum database hosting the original 6WTS weathering thread from 2008.  I’m pleased that this has continued to be something that tyro weatherers have found useful, that was the intention all along.  Its most recent,  prolonged spell of non-availability does rather vindicate my decision to transfer the essence of it onto this site, and  I hope the three weathering pages here are found to be  some substitute for it.  One other enhancement I’m thinking of here is a list of basic weathering colours in several ranges; although I always say that successful results are really not the result of following a ‘recipe’,  I appreciate it can be a bit daunting if you’ve never really looked amongst all those murky dull browns and greys in the paint stands.

All in all though, I’m pleased enough with how it’s all gone; in an age where glib soundbites dominate social media and even more considered pieces within this very hobby can prove to be rather transient, I do hope that I’ve provided something of substance for those who do drop by.  I’d very much like to thank all those who have made it possible and enjoyable, whether helping with material, making comments or just generally being around and supportive.  I’m also pleased to see that a few other independent-minded modellers whose work I respect are treading the same path, and will update the ‘blogroll’ links in due course with those that are most relevant to my own interests and outlook.

The pic above by the way is not a genuine Hogmanay item, but from September 1983.  Those two fine gents were actually welcoming the appropriately named ‘Skirl o’ the Pipes 3′ railtour into Burghead.  Locos are 27036 and 26042.

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Filed under Heritage diesels, Scottish railways, Uncategorized

Trout pout

The third of Hornby’s 2011 traditional wagons, the Trout ballast hopper, is also the most impressive.  Its RRP is £16.99 and for once, I’d say it’s actually worth it, in terms of the number of separate parts and general level of detail.

The wagon design originated back in the 1920s with the LNER; a small batch was also built for the LMS and construction continued into early BR days. Unsurprisingly, the design seems to have remained associated with  Eastern and North Eastern England, and Scotland, and a relatively small number were built (a total of just over 300).  In very simple terms, the Trout is a bit like an inside-out version of the later and better known Dogfish – the hopper shape is basically similar but the stanchionwork is inverted and the solebar has the flat face outwards, making for a very distinctive appearance:

Most decent renditions of riveted wagons make for nice looking models, and Hornby’s model catches the distinctive construction features very well indeed.  Being hypercritical, the bottom of the inverted channel forming the stanchions follows the same base line as the sides proper, whereas it should probably ‘push through’ slightly further, and there are no rivets around the inside lip of the hopper body, though both would probably have made it more difficult to mould. I also make no claims as to whether said rivets are correct as to either quantity or size!

Handwheels and chequer plating are very pleasing; some examples exhibit less-than-regular handrailing, but before whipping the pliers out, do note that the ones at each side actually are a peculiar shape on the real wagons!  To be fair, these are quite a good attempt for a mass-produced model and most seasoned detailers would have difficulty getting them this neat:

This cruel closeup shows the join between the two main assemblies, obviously on the real wagon the stanchion would hold the hopper body to the underframe.  Not evident at Normal Viewing Distances though.  Axleguard, spring and axlebox moulding is very neatly done and appears well proportioned:

In service, the wagons’ most likely working companions during much of the BR period would appear to have been the aforementioned Dogfish (with which they shared their 24T capacity), although plenty of shots also exist showing them randomly mixed in with hoppers of other capacities – the modern trend towards long rakes of identical infrastructure wagons is a relatively recent trend.  Unlike the Dogfish though, the Trouts were not built vac fitted and although Hornby’s marketing has dubbed them as ZFO/ZFP, evidence has still to emerge as to whether any were ever fitted with vacuum through pipes.

Somebody somewhere has been doing their homework, as both the hopper interior and the side chutes are painted in a rusty shade (although it’s a tad strong and uniform, it provides a good basis for further work and is better than some interiors).   The oddest thing (and there had to be something, doesn’t there) is the two chosen liveries.  The TOPS period model is liveried in olive green – not incorrect, but I have to wonder how many actually carried it – and the other one is of course the LNER version as seen here.  There is some dispute (amongst those more knowledgeable than I on such matters) as to whether this should actually be dark blue, and I have to say that that colour would make an even more impressive backdrop for the lettering.  And the least said about the triple pack with consecutive numbers, the better…

Overall then, a very nicely executed model that really shows what Hornby can do with wagons when they want to.  Unfortunately the confused messages coming out of recent reports of the company’s change in strategy are not too encouraging in terms of future freight stock to this standard; only time will tell, I suppose.

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Filed under Departmental, Hoppers, Scottish railways

Criticism, choices, fact and opinion

I mentioned elsewhere on the blog that the odd bit of punditry or contention might occasionally bubble to the  surface, and the subject of criticism of RTR models, never too far away on the Interweb, has raised its head quite noticeably in a few places lately.  Now I’ve never had any intention of turning this site into the new Electric Nose;  I don’t like the idea of sitting around taking  passive-aggressive potshots from a platform that gives no right of reply, but I do faintly despair at the excessively apologist tone of some posters on the various forums that I’ve inhabited over the past few years.  I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of individual models here, such things are invariably subjective anyway and the recent examples are not models that I would particularly be buying.  But the principle is still very relevant; it’s just as applicable to things that do interest me and as it underscores my own approach to the critique of any model, it’s going to be something pretty basic to the content of this site.

At its most basic, my view is that if something is wrong on a model, and can be reasonably proven to be wrong by somebody who knows their onions, then it’s wrong, simples. Even an error of 1mm or so, on a model that is quite small to begin with, can alter the proportions sufficiently to be noticeable to a knowing eye.  However, I do think that most folk can accept that  something like this may be wrong for a perfectly good reason.  We’re all human, manufacturers included, we all drop the ball on occasion, and sometimes conscious compromises have to be made between what’s desirable and what’s practical.

Now in terms of cold hard fact, if something is wrong, there’s no amount of mitigation that will make it any less wrong.   But – big but – that doesn’t make it the end of the world as we know it.  As far as I’m concerned, to say that something is wrong is just an observation; it may well be seen as criticism by some but it should still surely be possible to voice it in a factual, unemotional, non-judgmental manner without anybody getting bent out of shape about it.

Focussed discussions on forums about new RTR though are often hindered by several factors. There are often polarised extremes; at one end is inaccurate,  unfair or vague criticism, often based on half-understood hearsay and which helps no-one.  Or, there are folk telling other folk that they’re rivet counters or nitpickers, they should have some perspective and be grateful to the manufacturers.  A common argument is that the gauge (of OO models) is wrong by 2.33mm, therefore any millimetric error elsewhere shouldn’t matter.  Well, there’d be some pretty funny looking models about if that became a rule of thumb.  One particular gem (and I’ve admittedly used it myself) is “well, it looks like a [47/Black Five/whatever] doesn’t it?”  Being more objective though, a model doesn’t actually have to be that good to pass that pretty basic test of authenticity; the Hornby Dublo Deltic ‘looked like a Deltic’ in that it patently wasn’t meant to be anything else, but I don’t see many claiming it to be  an accurate scale model, even by the standards of its time.

Yet another old chestnut is the glib assertion that putting it right by doing some modelling will give us a sense of achievement.  I know that, thank you very much, I’ve been doing it nearly forty years now, but I have quite enough things in my ‘to do’ pile without adding to it with stuff that will absorb yet more hours on unproductive time.  I’m one of those folk  who for most of his adult life has seen RTR as just part of the picture, somewhere between a blank canvas, a means to an end and a timesaver, but that seems to be an increasingly odd concept to some observers.

Now with that, we bring in the more personal perspectives, the ones that shape our own buying decisions.  Whether this hypothetical 1mm actually matters to you is another issue entirely, and this is where opinion comes more into play.  We all have our own set of  tolerances, and that’s just fine – even my own are sometimes more than a tad inconsistent, in that I’ll accept a 4mm error on one model and jib at less than 1mm on another.  But nevertheless, they are my own tolerances and it’s me that has to live with them.

More importantly, once an error is identified and it’s perhaps looking like something that I know is going to bug me, I can then start thinking about whether I can alter it without an excessive input of time, or whether it’s just too much of a compromise and whether I can either do without the model or find another way of getting that prototype.  This is where that raw information can become useful knowledge.  Ideally, I would like to be able to spend just a little time perhaps personalising a model with details, or making a subtly different variant, and then crack on with the painting side of things, which is what I enjoy most.  That’s not always going to be possible though and some models are always going to need more work, but that work has to be balanced against how essential that model is to the concept in question.  In some cases I may decide not to buy it at all, that’s my decision and as long as I don’t ram it down anybody’s throat, I don’t need folk insisting I should take it and be happy with it.

In the context of a review then, I believe that said review should be sufficiently informative and objective on basic points of accuracy as to enable the reader, armed with that information, to make a duly informed choice.  Whilst I might still offer my opinion an error in a model – what’s the point in having a blog if I don’t do that – it’s not my place to make the buying decision for you, either way.  If I say (as I have in the tippler review) that a particular detail is half a millimetre out, and you think ‘what on earth is he on about’ and choose to disregard it, that’s absolutely fine.  You don’t have to agree with me, you’ve had access to the information, plus anything you’ve read elsewhere, and you’ve made a decision based on it and your own tolerances.  If however I noticed these things, but chose not to draw them to your attention, then I feel that I’d be arbitrarily restricting your choice to make that decision.

As for where we came in, I believe there are a large number of ‘hands on’ modellers who not only look on new models with a discerning eye, but are also more than prepared to do something themselves about any errors they come across.  But in order to do that, it’s first necessary to actually talk about those errors with others whose judgment one respects.   Just lately though, I’ve been quite exasperated to not be able to do that without getting caught between more polarised and intolerant viewpoints.  Very few people expect perfection at the prices we pay for RTR, but at the other end of the scale, I don’t believe people should be holding back standards, either by foisting lesser expectations on others or by stifling their attempts at self-improvement.

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Spruce caboose

Closely following up behind the iron ore tippler, Hornby’s new BR standard brakevan is also now in the shops, in BR bauxite and olive green varieties.  For a long time, the venerable Airfix kit was the accepted route to a decent model of this van, but the obvious comparison is now with Bachmann’s existing RTR model.  Having said which, Hornby’s previous BR brake dates from the early 1980s if I recall correctly, and is a surprisingly accurate model; although the underframe is on the clumsy side, its shape and dimensions are pretty much spot on and the body is only let down by its comedy representation of woodgrain.

As with the tippler, there are comparisons to be made with Bachmann on the grounds of both appearance and cost (though it’s not a comparison that I see any of the mags rushing to make)!  Again, we have an apparent backpedal by Hornby with the RRP having been significantly reduced, to £13.99; obviously not too many will get sold at that, but even at a typical discount price it’s still going to be roundly a fiver more than the Bachy one. The latter is in that less-than-a-tenner, ‘pocket money’ zone, the Hornby is at a figure that you probably think a bit more about.

At a glance, looking at an example of each in a similar livery, you’d be hard put to tell the two apart, and I suspect the same will hold true at the yardstick three-foot viewing distance.  Look closer though and it’s evident that this new model does have a certain overall finesse to it, particularly evident in such things as the planking gaps and the roof edges.  I’d say though that it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Shark PW brake of a few years back:

By comparison, it does have to be said that after eight years or so, the Bachmann moulds are beginning to show their age, with the handrails becoming slightly flashed and less straight:

Having said that, I’d had high hopes that Hornby’s handrails would be a great improvement, but I’m not sure that they are – the first batch I saw might have been untypical, but I had a job to find one on which they were acceptably straight.  (They are still plastic by the way, not metal as might be assumed from the fittings on the Shark).

Roof detail was the first thing that my local vendor drew my attention to; the roof vents on the Bachmann have a bit more bulk compared with the flatter Hornby rendition:

The differing chimney height and heavier rainstrips are also noticeable, but those are just detail differences that, without getting too anal, can easily be put down to batch changes or different works repairs.  Particularly evident here are the finer handrails of the Hornby van; that wasn’t intention though, and photography does seem to accentuate white handrails.   Adding the pattern of the roof detail to the presence of other details, such as the over-prominent washer plates on the bodyside, it wouldn’t surprise me if Hornby have used the same drawings as they did back in the ’70s.

If you enlarge the already larger-than-life end shot below (clicky), you should be able to make out the concrete texture of the end platforms.  Asking to be weathered, and a tad more subtle than the woodgrain on Hornby’s previous BR brake!  Also present inside the verandah is floor planking detail, though it possibly runs at 90 degrees to what’s correct…  One thing I do like is that plank gap in the top arc, something that’s omitted from other models – and that lamp bracket on the verandah screen is a separate moulding:

It would seem that Hornby intended the bauxite van to be typical of early production (based on B951410 pictured in Eric Gent’s work for the HMRS) and the olive van to be a late build (DB954032 as seen on Paul Bartlett’s website) with roller bearings and Oleo buffers.  An unfortunate error during production however has resulted in some batches of models having mismatched running gear – i.e. the bauxite van coming with roller bearings and the olive one the oil boxes. In reality, the combination of roller bearings with spindle buffers did occur on one transitional Lot, so a simple renumbering will enable me to take advantage of Hornby’s error and reproduce a variation that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have bothered with.  I’ve done one Bachmann-based conversion into a later van and whilst changing a set of buffers is no hardship, removing the axleboxes from behind those delicate footboards isn’t the best of fun.

The distinctive double-shoed clasp brakes are present, and commendably close to the wheel treads.  The aforementioned roller boxes are nicely done but unfortunately they draw attention to the axleguards, which look distinctly undernourished (they actually look a bit better in this closeup shot than they do to the naked eye):

The third van is a dual piped example in the Railfreight red/grey livery with yellow band – although not relevant to the van illustrated here, the Railfreight and olive vans do have very nice renditions of external brake pipes on the cabin sides.  One significant variation that hasn’t been incorporated in Hornby’s initial plans is the short footboard LNER version (which as is well known, was the origin of the BR design).   Bachmann’s equivalent model remains (so far) the only RTR model to offer anything more accurate than an ersatz rebranding of the BR van.

Despite the comments above and some early scepticism, I do like this model but all things considered, I’m in a position where if only one or the other were available, I’d be happy enough with either.   The Hornby van is pretty much the new benchmark in terms of accuracy and quality, but at a price; I’m not rushing to dispose of all my stashed or already-detailed Bachmann ones, nor the various hybrids that I’ve concocted over the years.  Whether the wider market will take a similar view (and how that affects sales) remains to be seen, and I suppose that’s ultimately the factor that will shape Hornby’s apparent new approach to wagon models.

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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  https://windcutter.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/criticism-choices-fact-and-opinion/

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.

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Filed under Iron ore, Mineral wagons, Rust effects, Wagon kits