Sunday, 2 July 2017

"Of model railways and petrolheads"

Life really does throw some curve balls at you some times. Like leaving a job and finding yourself unemployed...and the opportunity of a lifetime coming along very shortly afterwards.

I said yes to that opportunity and a few thousand miles of air, bus and train travel later, I am now back in Sidcup nursing a few midge bites and about a stone lighter in weight!


This year was about finishing the restoration of the Volvo estate. You'll find the whole journey on DriveTribe, here. The highlights have been the Volvo 90th Birthday Celebrations at Rockingham raceway in April and now being asked to take part in a concours for unexceptional motor vehicles!

Then of course there was going to Iceland and having the absolute time of your life with your best friend and two excellent new friends. A place where the sun truly never sets. It was magical.

Going to Scotland and...well, you'll have to wait until November for that one. But suffice to say, it was as legendary as it was totally bonkers and life affirming! Channel 4, around November. I am very excited by the scope of that film project and it will be a great watch I am sure.

2017 has been a year of incredible change. I am not just referring to my weight (!) but to all kinds of changes, good and bad.

The outside world can seem scary at times, the news hitting people harder thanks to the almost invasive social media and reporting that happens.

The outside world is not as scary as it is portrayed. In every corner of this earth are good people going about their daily business.

I've witnessed this. Hikers in Iceland, willing to share water and tips for photography. The townspeople of Scotland, resting weary plate layers in their barns, houses and fields. The online communities for cars, including but not limited to the good people of DriveTribe.

It's been an incredibly tough year for my family. I have done all I can to support them. I've also done a lot that I needed to do for myself. The job hunt begins in earnest this month after some time away.

It's crazy how things line up sometimes. It doesn't always go your own way. Things can seem bleak. Truth be told, circumstances, situation and environment dictate how you feel. It's up to you to break out from that and find the positivity.

I have just spent two weeks in the company of some amazing people. It was life affirming. It was life changing. I am looking at a new industry to work in, potentially. I realised I had potential to feel things again that I thought were long gone. I was made to feel like a member of a team, someone who brought something positive to the table. I made new life long friends.

2017 isn't over yet. We are over the halfway mark. It's fast becoming the best year of my life. Who knows where it will go next.

I can only apologise for the lack of updates. There's so much I want to tell you, but non disclosure agreements are strictly non elastic. You'll hear much more from me when I am able, I promise.

Thanks for reading, and your patience.

Simon

Sunday, 7 May 2017

"Where has the time gone?"

It's May. How did that happen?"

I apologise for the lack of updates this year. I've been really busy trying to sort a few things out behind the scenes for the upcoming return of BRWS to YouTube. Then there's a few work, TV and wedding (not mine!) related things going on as well.

Incredibly I have done a lot of modelling and I will take some photographs and show you all.

Sorry for the lack of progress - it's been an absolute truth the last few years - life gets busier as you get older.

Friday, 20 January 2017

"The British Railway Stories: Allen comes home"


I've finally been able to do some test footage for an upcoming film, to be made during the course of 2017. I am not putting any release date on it: it could be as far away as 2018.

However I couldn't let the 10th anniversary of The British Railway Stories go by without showing that I am still here, and I still care about our fans.

May I say, to everyone who has messaged me this week on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, by email and elsewhere, welcoming the new footage and giving us all some great feedback, thank you.

It is truly humbling to know we're held in such esteem, and I want to reassure you that we won't let you down.

The original cast will return, with new additions, in due course.

For now, please enjoy the test footage, and let us know what you think of Allen's new look, which will match his form in Tale of the Unnamed Engine.

Best wishes,

Simon A.C. Martin
The Author

Saturday, 7 January 2017

"Hornby's new B12: the wandering 1500 comes home"


My life long love affair with the London & North Eastern Railway's B12/3 started with a trip to the North Norfolk Railway with my father and late grandfather in 1994. The locomotive had just been overhauled and recently repainted into its original apple green livery, and it being a favourite of my late grandfather's, we made the trip to see it on its home railway.

Like the Stirling Single and Flying Scotsman before it, this apple green steam locomotive made quite the impression on me, and after a trip behind it I was captivated. 

8572 is known as "The Wandering 1500", because of a particular rail tour it ran in its final days in steam for British Railways. Always a favourite locomotive of rail enthusiasts, she was saved for preservation and more information can be found on her here.

After university, I joined "The Wandering 1500 Club" which eventually morphed into the organisation which today looks after the sole surviving example of James Holden's 1500, or Edward Thompson's developed B12/3 class under Sir Nigel Gresley's tenure-ship (dependent on whether you count the 1928 Beyer Peacock built 8572 as a Great Eastern or an LNER design). 

Eventually a Hornby B12, albeit not numbered 8572 but 8579, made an appearance on my early model railway layout. Here's a picture of a very similar model, borrowed for the purposes of this review:


This model's origins lay in the Triang B12 of decades ago, the locomotive shortened somewhat to fit the standard Hornby 4-6-0 chassis, with many aspects of it somewhat off in some way. But I didn't know these things then: to me it was just my lovely apple green B12. 


The wonderful thing is that I still have my original 8579: albeit it was completely repainted and then weathered as 61572 to appear as my beloved character, "Stephen" in The British Railway Stories, after appearing originally in apple green. 



An inauthentic express blue model was also bought as a spare for filming, together with one of mixed traffic black liveried 61553, and both were sold several years ago. But I kept "Stephen..."

That original model has changed so much it's unreal. I always felt I improved on the Hornby model of the time when I was at university, but I was never satisfied with it. I had seen kits of the B12/3 built, and they all had various issues with proportion, like the inherited Hornby tooling. 



You may notice in the picture below that I fixed a few issues, including the chimney and the frames to an extent...


Then last year the news came that Hornby were preparing a new model of their B12/3. If it was in the same vein as the beautiful D16/3 and J15 models of Great Eastern heritage that had come before, they'd be onto a winner, I said at the time.


Well, here it is.


The first thing that strikes me is the length. After being so used to the short and odd proportions of the original, the new model has an elegance and presence all its own.

The livery application is just beautiful, and the apple green shade used for this one matches Hornby's Claud Hamilton D16/3 for this too.

This for me is the best rendition Hornby have done for some time and the extremely fine lining to be found everywhere on the model really bring this complicated, but elegant, grouping era livery to life. The printing of the numerals and lettering on cab and tender are perfect, by the way, Hornby's best yet in my view. I just hope I can renumber the cab easily...!

Hornby sensibly reused their already tooled up Great Eastern tender, developed for the Gresley B17 and used behind this and the earlier D16/3 locomotives releases. The intention of the latest round of Hornby tooling  has been clear in terms of reusing research and development. Joined up thinking at its absolute best. The all new tooling for the locomotive and its chassis are something special too.


For example, look at the beautifully moulded driving wheels. Possibly the best rendition of the Great Eastern style we've ever seen. Correctly, I might add, painted without a black centre to the driving wheels. Look at the piping under the cab on each side, and the westinghouse pump, reverser, the whistle, the beautifully separately touches such as these. No all in one moulding as per the old Triang tooling!


Then there's the front end. Guard irons, correct piping, the smokebox diameter (yes, on the original model this was wrong too) and the chimney. The face of the locomotive is spot on. It looks every inch the B12/3. Most of the parts are already fitted.

One thing I lament about Hornby's recent releases is that the beautiful hook and coupling that the Thompson L1 comes with, isn't fitted to these models. I've stockpiled a number of these over the years to modify my LNER models as the part is just an additional nice touch to give the front end of my models more realism.

However I can hardly complain as the model comes with all seen below, plus the usual brake rigging and of course parts for the tender. One thing to note: fitting the black vacuum pipe on the tender rear will severely restrict the NEM pocket from moving with the coupling. I have since looked at this again and have tested it with a kadee coupling and the pipe fitted. No issues whatsoever which is a relief.


The proportions of the boiler, driving wheels and running plate are spot on too. Measured against my copy of an Isinglass 4mm drawing of the B12/3, I can see that the Hornby model is virtually identical in all major areas. One can legitimately argue, however, that the drawing doesn't entirely reflect real life, and it is in the real thing compared to the model that we see such incredible attention to detail.


There are potentially a few compromises. There are no cut outs in the steps, as per the preserved B12/3. This was a wartime addition for many B12s whilst being used on ambulance trains. There's possibly a few more - I don't believe the preserved model has the steam pipe cover on the left hand side that the model has, but I know many of its class members did.

Then you see that there's also space between the frames...


On several of Hornby and Bachmann's newest models, some attempts at modelling the inside cylinder setup has been made. I consider this Hornby's best effort to date, having studied 8572 at length whilst at the Bluebell Railway last November, for their most recent gala. What it does need, however, is some weathering which I will be happy to provide on my own model in the near future.

The front bogie has been cleverly engineered to give the least amount of daylight under the locomotive's running plate, whilst still being able to traverse tight model railway curvature. I tested this at length and you can see how the B12 performed in my video from a running in session at the Erith Model Railway Club.


You then glance into the cab and are greeted with what must be the most detailed cab of all time for a ready to run model. Every detail is there in miniature: and as per the lovely J15 from last year, you wonder how they'll top this with the next model. Something tells me the next LNER release from Hornby will look to top this, and do so quite spectacularly, but that's for another time...


So there you have it. Everything is as it should be and everything is in its place. It's a beautiful model and quite rightly, the old B12/3 tooling should be retired completely, or left in the Railroad range. As you can see above, the proportions of the old model are just all over the place.

The body sits far too high, buffers flying in mid air as all Triang locos and rolling stock seemed to. The difference in the frames and front bogie arrangement are stark, and look at the length of the boiler and the size of the chimney!

One could argue legitimately that the Triang model is in many respects closer to B12/4 with some minor modifications, but that's for another day...


Yet I know there will always be a place in my heart for this model. It came at a time when Triang, and then Hornby, were producing toys. It made its way into the catalogue and minor improvements, most notably to its loco drive chassis, produced a rugged model which captured the minds of many children in the UK.

Flying Scotsman is probably the most produced model steam locomotive, but after being in the Triang and Hornby catalogues for around 30 years, this model must be up there with the best as well. Its last appearance was in a digital train set a couple of years ago.

There was one moment at my local club which made me laugh. On running in the new Hornby B12/3, I was asked by an older member if it still had the chuff-chuff sound box in the tender. As it passed us at speed I replied "no it doesn't". The gentleman shook his head gently and said "that's a shame. I always rather enjoyed it".

So did I. But perhaps one day Hornby will see fit to DCC Sound their B12/3 with the real life sounds of 8572. Now that would be a brilliant addition to the range.

I didn't think that Hornby could top their model of the North Eastern Railway's Q6 locomotive. I was wrong. The B12/3 is the best model they've ever produced. If you don't believe me, go take a trip behind the real thing then look at the model. You can almost hear the sights and sounds of the Wandering 1500 for real as it sits there on the track.


You can watch a video of the new Hornby B12/3 being run in here. 

Video being uploaded.

Many thanks to the Erith Model Railway Club for hosting.

My final thought: I've always wanted a good model of the B12/3. Now I have an excellent model. It sits above my desk in my room, a reminder of the brilliance of Hornby's R&D at its best, and a lovely memory of my late grandfather and I stood together at the North Norfolk Railway in 1994, steam hissing gently from the engine he used to call "Stephen" in the stories he told me. 

You can't buy that kind of happy memory. But you can get a model which prompts it. Thank you Hornby.

Thanks for reading: a belated Merry Christmas, and a happy new year, to you all.

Friday, 21 October 2016

"The Legend of the Flying Scotsman"



Llangollen, March 15 1994. Flying Scotsman.

It backs towards us slowly, clanking as it moves across rails and making hissing sounds as it passes under a bridge. Click click click go cameras from all directions, and there are murmurs of delight and contentment from everyone around me.


The light catches the top of the big green cylinder and it shines, and as it passes me slowly I see in big cream numerals 6 0 1 0 3 encircled by orange and black lining, below a pair of clear windows. 


Big black wheels emerge next, and curved over the centre set of wheels in brass letters is the legend FLYING SCOTSMAN. There is smoke, and steam, and a smell of oil, burning and metal in the air.


It is hissing more loudly as it stops, and as it stops I see a flash of red at the front, and smoke pouring from a long, stubby chimney. 


“60103” is also on the front, and seems to give this strange machine a face with its white letters surrounded by the polished black metal. I stare up at it, and slowly walk along the platform, my hands in my pockets, trying to make sense of it all. I have never seen anything like this before, and my father takes me by the hand to say 'Come on Simon, let's go to the cab and say hallo to the driver!'


We go to the windows and a kindly face looks down on us, and I smile at him. 'Hallo young sirs!' he says. 'Would you like to come in and have a look at our fire?'


My father lifts me into the cab and the first thing I see is this orange glow from an oval hole, roaring loudly with the sounds of flames licking around the belly of this beast. I stare in wonder as shovel after shovel of coarse black coal is thrown into it, and the orange glow disappears as a gun metal grey door is slammed shut by the man I know to be the beast's driver.


'It's been a great few weeks driving her', he is saying to my father, showing him all of the instruments in the cab, 'she is never short on steam though she is a bit tired, mechanically'. I don't have much time to wonder what that means, as his friend with the shovel has asked if I want to blow the whistle?


Dad lifts me up, and I hold onto the chain, and tug it gently. There's a pathetic 'pffffffft' and everyone laughs, and the driver says to me gently to 'really yank it!' So I do, and there's a loud, high pitched scream from the beast, melodious as I let go and echoing all around.


I look up in wonder at the roof, through which I see steam throwing itself into the air. It's coming from its 'safety valves', the driver tells my father, and that's the last thing they say before we have to climb down and let the next father and son in. 


I tug on my dad's arm and tell him how much I loved blowing the whistle. He is smiling the smile of someone who loved it too. I don't know why it's so important to him that we had to see this beast, but I do know as I look around and gaze at its face, with 60103 in white letters on the black background, that she suddenly looks like less a beast and more a racehorse, with blinkers on, waiting patiently for the off and sitting obediently.


Mum and my sister are waiting by what dad calls a carriage, and we get in and Dad slams the door. I am surprised by this and tell him he shouldn't slam the doors. He laughs and says this is how all old trains used to close their doors. 


I realise that this IS a train, and ask him if it's like Thomas from the show we both like. He says it is, but that the engine at the front is 'Flying Scotsman', and that she's a very special engine. I ask why it's a “she” when it's 'Flying ScotsMAN' and Dad says simply 'because she is'.


We see a man with a green flag outside, and he shouts 'right away', waves the flag and blows a little whistle. 


The whistle I pulled earlier blasts into the air around us, and the engine roars and pants up front, pulling our carriages through the beautiful Welsh countryside. I have never been on a train before, not even the electric ones in London that Dad complains about bitterly as he leaves home every morning for work. 


I have never been through a tunnel, but I see one and I am excited by this. The steam billows out the sides of the carriage past the windows, and the train descends into blackness, the lights coming on, and then fading as we exit the tunnel and back into the sunlight of the Welsh countryside.

We get out at a station, and everyone on the train climbs a bank, overlooking the train and the dark green locomotive at its head. I realise there is another engine, but all eyes are on the one with the elephant ears: the one with the stern, powerful face and the look of a racehorse.

All I know is that I can't take my eyes off her, as she whistles loudly, sending steam flying into the air, and she leaves her train behind as she pulls forward, snorting with every move of her metal rods and makes her way into the distance, the sun just setting as she departs.


***

The story above is a true story. It is also my story. This was my first experience of a steam locomotive in my life, and let's face it, it was a hell of a start to a lifelong love affair with railways.

She was just a steam locomotive, but the very first one I saw. She made an impression, purely by being there. I can still see that dark green livery (and to this day, I will always incorrectly call it "brunswick green" when it was never the like), the cream numerals, the gentle sprinkling of coal dust along the top of the boiler, the smell of the steam and the oil, and how much my father grinned when he was showing me around the engine. 

This wasn't just a steam locomotive, this was a living, breathing machine that turned ordinary members of the public, like my father, into railway enthusiasts, even if it was only for an afternoon in Wales in 1994.

When I first clapped eyes on Flying Scotsman, I didn't know her back story. I had no idea of her more famous and iconic number (4472), I did not know about the Wembley Empire Exhibition, where she took centre stage with Pendennis Castle. 

I had no idea about the first non-stop run, London King's Cross to Edinburgh, nor was I aware of the many strange events during her working life (such as running out of water due to injector failure on the London-Leicester route, due to fish getting caught in her tender's water tank!) and I most definitely had no inkling of the adventures she had had with at that point, three private owners across two continents and the length and breadth of Great Britain.

She has travelled further than any steam locomotive has ever done by far, clocking up more miles in a single journey than any steam locomotive will ever do (when it went to Alice Springs whilst on its tour of Australia in the 1980s). She was a genuine record breaker, undisputedly the first to be authenticated by dynamometer car in 1934. The first true speed record holder in many respects, however much the Great Western lobbyists may protest.

She was effectively the big publicity machine for the London and North Eastern Railway, from her earliest days and into the 1930s. Not only the poster child for the new non-stop service from 1928, and a record breaker as mentioned, she was taken around the country and posed with other great locomotives of the age, despite at times seeming out of place as one of the original A1s.

During the war years, and after up to her withdrawal in 1963, she was just one of the A3s. Much loved, as an icon, but in many respects a forgotten one. Then the news broke on the National Collection's decision to save Mallard and Green Arrow for preservation - but there was no space for her. 

Campaigns were made, such as Save our Scotsman, but it was in Sir Alan Pegler that she found a saviour, and the rest, as they say, is history, with a repeat of the non stop run in 1968 with two apple green tenders, and two incredible trips across America to boot.



She has returned in great form, thanks to Ian Riley and his team, and her journey has been followed by people everywhere.



I was one of a lucky few on board her inaugural run from London's King's Cross in February this year, and in my interview with Dominic King for BBC Radio Kent on the ride home from York, I said that the story behind Flying Scotsman was people. 

It was the story of people who built her, ran her, watered her, fed her, bought her, took her to America and Australia, sold her, fixed her, painted her and loved her. That this still remains true nearly a hundred years after her building cannot be understated. 

She remains Britain's most treasured locomotive, the engine which shines a light on the pleasures of railway travel and brings people from all walks of life together.



Overall, it was just one of the best experiences of my life. Once again - thanks - big thanks - to everyone involved in bringing the legend back to steam. Thanks to the National Railway Museum for buying her, and persevering with the overhaul through everything. 

Special thanks to Helen May and Catherine Farrell for their part in making the day particularly memorable for me. The buffet lunch and chance to rub shoulders with some icons of the railway preservation industry was terrific. 

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the donations to help the project along. Thanks to everyone, who like myself, have over the years donated sums of money to the locomotive for her purchase and later restoration.



Thanks to the A1 Trust for the loan of Tornado's support coach at the last minute, a great gesture and I said as much to their chairman Mark Allatt on the day. Thanks to Heritage Painting for the superb finish which looked the business. 


And of course - the man of the decade - we must give thanks and props to Ian Riley and his team for bringing her back to life. I am sure there are others we haven't mentioned and they too deserve praise for their part in the wonderful day that was. 

There is in my opinion, no greater ambassador for the steam locomotive than this locomotive. In this year, which can only be described as "The year of the Flying Scotsman" she has been swarmed by people wherever she has gone. 



I witnessed the power of her appeal first hand on her inaugural run, and whilst I cannot condone the line side trespassing by ordinary members of the public, I will defend theirs and anyone else's right to be enthused by the sight of this steam locomotive. 

There are those who would have this steam locomotive stuffed and mounted in the National Railway Museum forever. There are those who decry that she has any actual achievements, dismissing her as nothing more than hype and pomp and circumstance. There are those who would angrily cry havoc, and unleash the dogs of war on their keyboards in protestation at the total cost of having Flying Scotsman under public ownership once more.

Indeed, Steam Railway Magazine ran a headline of £6.8 million: museum reveals cost of Flying Scotsman in its latest issue. It "asked strong questions" of the museum, but did not reveal what those questions were in that issue. 



Online, many people from the comfort of their armchairs have bemoaned this price. They repeatedly state that it is "three times the cost of Tornado" or "you could have built three A3s for the price to overhaul this engine".

These are straw man arguments. These are the words of people with no real understanding of the power of publicity, or the complexities of the custodianship of a real piece of Britain's engineering. 



They do not understand the curatorial demands of having the locomotive in the national collection (constantly ignoring the inaccurate overhauls of years past, with an A4 boiler fitted, together with a number of incredibly dubious engineering fixes. These are available in the report put together by Bob Meanley for all to read, in the public domain).

These are normally the same people who demand for someone to lose their job, because they disagree with a decision made by those people. They're also the same people who have enjoyed the sight of Flying Scotsman in steam, but would condemn ever steaming it again and thus rob our children, and grandchildren of the spectacle of the world's most famous locomotive. 



To them I will only say this. 

If you are in any doubt about this locomotive's status. If you are in any doubt as to whether the money spent was worth it. If you do not feel that the locomotive does provide any positive contribution to the country, and to us, the taxpayers, I urge you to attend in future, an event at a steam railway somewhere in Great Britain in the near future, when Flying Scotsman is in attendance.

Railway enthusiasts are not born, they are made. They are made in a variety of ways. It could be the influence of a parent, or grandparent. It could be from the stories and films of Thomas the Tank Engine. It could be from the journey to school by train, or a fleeting glance of one of our mainline steam locomotives thundering by at speed.

The future of our movement depends on our youngest generations being able to have the fire of interest sparked at a young age. Memory is powerful, nostalgia more so, and if Flying Scotsman is capable of anything in this life, it is capable of one thing: impressing upon a young child the magnificence of the steam locomotive, and the green and pleasant lands on which it runs.

Was the £6.8 million - £2.3 million in purchase, £4.5 million in overhaul, of those vast sums donated by many individuals, companies and entrepreneurs, the Science Museum group and the like, worth it?

You tell me.


Sunday, 9 October 2016

"Hornby King review"


This is a little different from the norm on this blog! Instead of locomotives from the Late and Never Early Railway (L.N.E.R.) we see one from the Gresley Was Right line, or as we really know it, the Great Western Railway. 


Hornby's King class model has been a few years in the making and replaces the older, tender drive era model of years past. Announced on Facebook (a first for the company?) a few years previously, I'm a little behind the curve with the production batches of Hornby's King, but when 6011 King James I became available in thislivery, I knew I needed to look into this model towards my own model railway.

For one King ran on the Eastern Region during the 1948 exchange trials, and the intention is to run one such model together with my model of the LNER's Dynamometer car.


I've borrowed a few books, drawings and looked at photographs closely for this review. I've really gone above and beyond for the research stage of this review, because there will be at some point two ready to run King models from two sources (Hornby and DJ Models/Hattons) and I want to be sure of any facts or figures before giving my personal view on which is better.


There's a lot of debate on the online forums about a number of the detail parts fitted, including and not limited to the superheater headers, questions about the livery including and not limited to the route indicator discs on the cabs. On this particular model I believe it should have the red discs on the cab sides, however I'll leave that to more knowledgeable people: though I have enjoyed very much trying to work out what I need to do for my chosen locomotive, King Henry VI.


So how much do I really need to do? The answer is: not a lot. I need to change the branding on the tender, primarily, add some wiring for the Dynamometer car to the rear, weather it, add appropriate lamps, real coal and so on and so forth.

Changing the nameplates and numbers is going to be a literal doddle compared with what I am used to! The superheater header appears to be on the correct side too which is a relief. I don't need to change the steam pipes either. So far, so good.


I've never been much of a Great Western fan before, but the King really does have a presence all its own. There's little things, like the coupling rods and slide bar brackets that are much better designed and much bulkier than older offerings (which not so long ago were plastic in the mid 90s, with the older tender drive derived King).

There are sprung buffers all around. The new arrangement for the front bogie is a significant improvement on models past. The front bogie itself is very nicely done and has both a weight and look that makes it look as heavy duty as the real thing, older models tending to look like they had skateboards attached at the front end.

The levers to the inside valve gear is modelled for the first time and is very convincing.

The overall face of the machine, and all major dimensions, seem spot on. The buffer beam detail is surprisingly fine and I did have to look twice at photographs of the real thing to compare. The cab detail is excellent. I cannot believe how good the water gauges are on this model.

I know it's a really rarely seen bit of any model, but on Great Western engines which tender to have more open cabs (like the City class) it is something you see quite clearly. I wouldn't call the King footplate "exposed" but with that tender design, unlike my LNER locomotives, the cab can be seen much more. It adds that extra layer of realism to the model and lifts it higher in my view.


The tender seems to match all of the various drawings and photographs I have amassed for my chosen locomotive. The livery application throughout is just exquisite. The lining out on the frames in particular are very fine. hough I am unsure at this stage of the colour of the dome. It looks a bit too...I don't know, lemon-y, as opposed to a shiny metallic colour.

That was one of the things I always admired on the older king models, the metalwork did look like the metal it was supposed to be (brass or copper). They are meant to shine, after all, and here the matt finish doesn't really look the part for me. This is a very minor point, I hasten to add.


There's just one other problem with the model, for me anyway, and again it's about the choice of the colours used. It's the shade of the colour green. I've taken photographs of the model in every light source imaginable, I've um'd, ah'd and procrastinated over it but the truth of the matter is that the Great Western Railway green used is wrong. It is far, far too light and lacking in the deepness of colour that the real thing has.


The truly odd thing is that this shade seems to match the same paint that Hornby were putting on their open cab Pannier Tank locomotives some ten years ago, and it looked odd back then too. It also matches that on the recent Hall and Star models, neither of which in their GWR liveries looked the part to me.

Is this a huge deal? No, it's not a deal breaker. Yes, it does offend my particular brand of obsessive compulsive perfectionism in railway models, and yes I do think my King could potentially benefit from either weathering or a complete strip and repaint. Is it so bad that you shouldn't buy the model if you need a King? I don't believe so. It annoys my eyes but not to the extent that I couldn't put up with it in some form.

Can Hornby do better with the colours? Undoubtedly, it just takes some of us to be constructive and polite when asking them to do better next time. The green needs to be better. That's pretty much the full extent of the problems with Hornby's Kings. That's not bad frankly and shows just how far Hornby have come with their models of the Kings.

And to be frank: I have managed to make one of my Hornby B17s in the BR dark green look more accurate with careful use of T-Cut and a cotton bud, and a coat of Johnson's Klear floor polish afterwards. So I don't believe it is beyond my scope to potentially improve my King model with a little modelling...


The King has the presence, the power and the detail to be a contender for one of Hornby's best models in their range. Put a better livery finish on it and it is elevated to one of the best models they've ever produced.

The running qualities were unbelievable when I ran it in at the Erith Model Railway Club. I cannot stress enough how impressed everyone was. It was quiet, smooth and powerful, taking on 13 Bachmann Mk1 coaches with ease, no mean feat. This wasn't on the level either so there's no doubting the performance.

If I had one criticism of the running quality, I felt the front bogie looked like it wiggled somewhat as it ran. I later discovered the back to backs on the wheels were out, and having sorted this I feel it runs more smoothly.

When the DJ Models/Hattons designed King emerges it'll be interesting to compare and contrast these releases. In my view I think Hornby has pretty much nailed the King, giving Great Western fans an express locomotive with the looks and performance they've missed out on for some time. We LNER fans have been pretty lucky with all of our ducks (ha ha) lined up in the form of the A4 and A3 for some time: and we are set to get another stunner next month in the form of Hornby's B12.

Truly a golden era for Hornby's research and development team, and a welcome recent announcement from Hornby about looking into how they interact with their retailers. A great development which I hope will result in a number of our most cherished model shops getting things back on track. All parties need a win in this difficult post Brexit economic climate and I am encouraged by the rumblings at Hornby.

Friday, 12 August 2016

"Oxford Rail LNER Cattle Wagon review"


I've been looking forward to the release of Oxford Rail's cattle wagon for some time, and had intended to write a review of it: however this blog also looks a little at why the Oxford Rail cattle wagon has taken a bit of a beating in the model railway press recently, and particularly on forums, and whether it is fair.

To caveat this I have to say that this is probably the first time in a long time that I have to switch allegiances in a debate and head over to the side of "are we modellers or not?" from my long standing consumer orientated part of the debate.

Normally if a model wasn't quite there in terms of accuracy I'd lament this - and there are indeed a couple of lamentable design choices on this model - but that does not in any way, shape or form, detract from what is in the main an excellent model of a very specific diagram wagon.


Oxford Rail's LNER liveried cattle wagon (1927 built version)

http://www.oxfordrail.com/76/OR76CAT.htm

It's so specific, you can find a photograph of it on page 291 of An Illustrated History of LNER Wagons. It's a diagram 39, 10 ton cattle wagon, built at Doncaster in 1927. It's the 9ft wheelbase version and there is an elevation drawing on page 293 of the same volume. For anyone so interested, on the same page is a a photograph of an unfitted version of the same diagram wagon.

Minor modifications to Oxford Rail's model, including removing the vacuum pipes will produce the unfitted wagon.


Oxford Rail's British Railways liveried cattle wagon (1949 applied livery)

In fact, one could argue quite reasonably that Oxford Rail have made a model which is somewhere between its fitted and unfitted variants! The main point of contention is the missing vacuum cylinder, which should be located where the Oxford Rail branding is on the underside of the chassis. A white metal replacement or some plastic tubing will effectively finish the model off if you want the fitted version, removing the brake pipes will make the unfitted version.

Looking closely at the photographs in this volume and elsewhere, I think on the balance of probability that Oxford Rail were actually intending to reproduce a very similar wagon to that seen on page 292 of this volume, particularly if you look at the sole bar and note that the "9ft wheelbase" is missing on the right hand side as you look at each side of the wagon.

It has one glaring error. It's effectively used the same CAD for both sides of the wagon. These wagons had adjustable partitions and as such the partition notches (noticeable in the planks on the left hand side of both sides of the wagon) should be mirrored left to right sides, not mirrored across the diagonal of the wagon, effectively!

I am in two minds about this inaccuracy. You can't see both sides of the wagon at the same time so this error is only obvious if you turn the wagon around in your hand. Secondly - no partitions have actually been fitted, so this would only cause a problem if you were going to put cattle in your cattle wagon and also fit additional detailing such as said partition. For weathering and putting to run on your layout, is this really as big a deal as people have made out?

And who says you can't fix it by adding the gap between the planks, and the notches, using a small dremel cutting tool and a scalpel, and then using plasticard and filler to fill in the offending end the other side?

So cards on the table time: this is a tooling with two big errors/omissions (vacuum cylinder, partition notches) which is otherwise very accurate for the 1927 built, diagram 39 fitted 9ft wheelbase LNER cattle wagon. Phew, what a mouthful! It's missing the vacuum cylinder and it has some issues with the sides, but other than that it is highly accurate in all major dimensions, details and overall livery application and is available for a whisker over £10.


Hornby's cattle wagon for comparison 
(their newly tooled Southern Region one is out later in the year)

Now I'm not being funny, but given I've deliberately included samples of two of the main competitors (Hornby's older cattle wagon isn't currently available, but an all new Southern diagram cattle wagon is due to join their range later in the year) to Oxford Rail's new cattle wagon in this review, and noted their prices, the clamour to condemn, berate and bemoan the Oxford Rail model in a number of locations on the internet is in my view a total disgrace.


Bachmann's Cattle Wagon for comparison

It's the cheapest of the three main cattle wagon models available, and it's the only one which is close to reproducing the diagram it purports to represent. Bachmann's model is derived from the short Mainline LMS cattle wagon, Dapol's GWR inspired one is over lumpy, with very coarse detailing and to be brutally honest, given the number of times both samples derailed on straight sections of track (never mind the curves or points!) possibly the worst running ready to run wagons I've ever come across. £10 for the Oxford Rail model is an absolute bargain.


Dapol's cattle wagon for comparison

Much of the criticism for the Oxford Rail model has come from the recognition that the BR liveried one is unlikely. Except it isn't, because on page 291 of the volume I'm referring to, low and behold there is a 9ft wheelbase LNER cattle wagon in the same livery as Oxford Rail's! Where the criticism is valid (and this is key) is that Oxford have only tooled up one version of the cattle wagon, and that is the one which represents the 1927 as built and probably pristine wagon, without any of the later additions such as the additional bracing and strapping applied to keep the wagons in good order that can be seen in photographs of BR or late LNER era wagons.

So they've only tooled it up for one period and applied different era liveries to it. Big deal! They're not the first to do this, nor I suspect will they be the last to do so. All of the model railway manufacturers who've produced wagons have done this and some extremely spurious liveries exist mostly centring on five or six plank open wagons...

I'm genuinely mystified by the response by normally well respected LNER modellers as well. There's one in particular who berated Hornby for not producing the LNER Q6 in pre-war livery who is now complaining because Oxford have produced their wagon in pre-war form and livery!


This model is the best LNER cattle wagon produced ready to run. It's also the first and only one to a specific and recognisable diagram, in a recognisable livery and with only minor modifications (as far as I am concerned!) to make it an excellent model.

I'd read people's views across a number of forums and I was pretty surprised at what I was reading. This was prior to doing any research. One contributor in particular had picked out "about 30 errors".

It's a pity that, on closer observation, his "30 errors" are limited to the British Railways liveried model - that number gets reduced to around two or three when you look specifically at the LNER liveried model and think of this model has having been designed in the context of the 1927 diagram 39 wagon.

Should Oxford have made the 10ft wheelbase cattle wagon instead? Probably, it would have given them greater coverage for liveries and it was the more numerous wagon. Does it make enough of a difference for an LNER modeller to not buy this model? Probably not either. What about other region modellers?


These cattle wagons, though comparatively rare throughout their years in comparison to either LMS or Southern and later BR variants, will look a good addition to a mixed goods train. Let's face it, the big four's wagons got around. Okay, it's unlikely to have made it to deepest, darkest Wales or Cornwall but up the Midlands and the North of England, to the east of England and Scotland? Possibly. It has potential.

I know I need the 10ft wheelbase as a post war LNER modeller. This 9ft wheelbase model is a great starting point for making that wagon type. There's a very enterprising modeller on one of the forums who, I am told, has converted Oxford Rail's model into one of these already. More power to his elbow. Excellent work.

For the rest of us who want a cattle wagon that looks the part and has the modelling potential, this is it. The release of the century for LNER modellers. A gift horse (or should that be cow?) we shouldn't be looking in the mouth, unless it's to improve its lot.

I'm all for criticism where it is due. I feel this model has had a lot of unnecessary criticism. But at that price point, with the very nicely moulded body, and options available to me to make it better and do some modelling, I'm not going to dismiss it out of hand. Especially not when it's the best model for my needs, and I suspect for the vast majority of LNER modellers up and down the country.

I leave you with a short video. You make up your mind as to which of the six wagons in the train you think looks the part. The emphasis is mainly on the Oxford Rail model of course, but compare the Bachmann and Dapol models and their prices to this one and have a think if ignoring the Oxford Rail model is really sensible consumerism as well as sensible LNER modelling.