Tag Archives: roller bearings

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

Bachmann OBA

Although later than my principal period, I hang onto a few 1980s-ish bits and bobs that I did ‘back in the day’ of Culreoch and Wintringham Haven, particularly as Ken (Gibbons) still retains more than a foothold in that scene.   One such is this Bachmann OBA, repainted into shabby Freight Maroon from the EWS model that was one of the initial introductions.

Dealing with the mechanical bits first, these wagons will convert to EM if you want them to – as long as you use ‘proper’ scale wheels and not just pulled-out Bachmann ones, which have wider treads and will take up too much width in the axleguard units.  This underside shot shows this, and also the block of plastic that I glued at the back edge of the axleguard unit to prevent it swivelling too much.  Moving onto cosmetics, the factory rendition of the roller bearing axleboxes is a bit unconvincing on these models, so I replaced these with Chivers mouldings – the image is clickable and there’s a telltale change in the paint finish that shows how far back the mouldings have to be filed:

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As ever, the livery details were my main interest and the vehicle represents an Ashford product from the first Lot built, 3909, and having been retro-fitted with Bruninghaus springs for Speedlink work.    Although the wagon’s been around a while, I took the brief opportunity on sunshine the other weekend to take these next few updated pics.

As well as the usual toning down and odd scuffs, there are odd replacement planks picked out in either black or a different shade of red.   This is something which affects  all wooden bodied opens, but BR’s air braked fleet seemed to have even greater propensity to it than earlier traditional stock; some of the piebald concoctions to be seen  by the time of the EWS takeover were quite fantastic:

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Another characteristic effect I wanted to replicate was the maroon overspray onto the inner ends, something I’d picked up on from a period photo.  I’m sure an airbrush would produce this perfectly but all I did was stipple small amounts of paint with a cotton bud:

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As an aside, this livery is one of those that courts misunderstanding and mythology.  Quite apart from the exact shade and the related arguments over what ‘maroon’ actually is, it was a livery used from late 1975 and gave way to the flame red and grey mix from 1979.  Once weathered though, it can be indistinguishable from the earlier brown/bauxite shades, and many people think that’s what it is.  I remember on a visit to Carlisle Currock some twenty years ago, someone scraping the side of a stored VDA with a coin to prove otherwise…

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The final shot shows a later development, some ‘new’ modelling!  If I recall correctly, the packing cases  were done a couple of years back for Llangerran’s appearance at Thirsk show.  They’re intended to be vaguely MOD-looking although owe more to the method used (block and sheet balsa) than to the photos on Paul Bartlett’s site that provided the impetus.   They’re made up as four sets of two, back to back, and the sizes worked out well enough for two pairs to fit in a traditional 10ft wheelbase Highfit.  Transfers are from various aeroplane kits, a hangover from my lad’s younger days and kept, as one does, because they ‘looked useful’.

Wagons do look better with loads though, it gives them a purpose.  I have a shoebox full of equally likely-looking bits and bobs to work on, and I wish I had more time to devote to the subject.

As explained in a parallel post on my other blog, Hal o’ the Wynd, life has been a bit full lately and this awful ‘winter that won’t let go’ has delayed all sorts of projects, but as most of my recent dabblings are nowhere near finished, I thought I’d dig out something that was, before this blog became one of those with no activity from one year to the next!  I am however currently conducting a journey around some of my ‘in progress’ minerals over on  Modellers United,  so if you’re not averse to single-subject threads and models that are not shiny RTR any more but look like someone’s had a barbecue on them, feel free to drop by and take a look.

On the subject of Llangerran, Ken’s layout now has four shows under its belt and  a new page here for it is under construction – check back soon for pics and (if I can get the file formats sorted) video as well…

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Filed under Wagon loads, Wagon weathering

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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Filed under Brakevans