December 31, 2012

"Last blog of the year: Weathering Hornby's Thompson O1"

When my Thompson O1 arrived, a few days after receiving the one pictured above for review, I had an itching to try out my airbrush again. After a few tests on a Bachmann Peppercorn A2 tender I had spare, and two trial runs on a Bachmann A1 and V2 set of models, I felt I had improved enough to have a go at weathering the O1.

The first thing to do was remove the late crest on the tender. My model is intended to run on a 1948-52 layout and as such would need "British Railways" branding on the tender in cream.

This was duly dispensed with using some wet'n'dry foam pads of various grades - using anything but this on Hornby's crests (such as thinners or paint stripper) is liable to removing the plastic instead! This method ensures a smooth finish.

Where any discolouration had occurred, I added Gamesworkshops' acrylic Abaddon Black paint spread thinly. It's not as good as their previous acrylic black paint (Chaos Black) in my view but it serves its purpose for this locomotive.

I used a set of "British Railways" transfers, made by Fox Transfers, which were carefully applied and then dried and smoothed using a sheet of Kitchen paper. 

This was then sealed using Johnson's Klear and the airbrush. This was the first time I'd used the airbrush in such a way, and it will be the way I apply all transfers from now on. It's dead easy, as long as you remember to clean your little glass pot out after each paint or varnish mixture you have airbrushed with!

Turning to the first stage of weathering, I used a variety of Tamiya weathering powders (from their box sets A, B, C and D).

On the valve gear and the centres of the driving wheels, copious amounts of Oil Stain (pack D) and Gunmetal (Pack C) were used. Burnt Red (pack D) and Orange Rust (pack C) were used to build up the rust on footsteps and the tender frames.

The inside of the tender was treated similarly using Burnt Red and Orange rust.

The same colours were applied to the cylinders, and the steam pipe to the smokebox. The smokebox received a few rounds of Gunmetal whilst the bufferbeam and buffers had a little amount of Burnt Blue (Pack D) applied as a base coat for the enamel paint to follow.

Using Humbrol Metal Cote as the main paint of choice, I carefully applied it using my airbrush across the locomotive and its tender. I used Metal Cote as both a paint, and a sealant for the powders. This helped to bring out the orange rust colours more against the bodyshell, by subtly blending the rest of the colours in with this extremely useful enamel paint.

This technique can be found elsewhere on the internet with some incredible results, but as a beginner to airbrushing in many ways, I didn't want to be without my powders entirely.

I had seen a photograph of an O1 from this angle in one of my many railway books, and wanted to create the line of dirt streaked across the left hand window, as it had been in that photograph.

This was where the cleaners had, perhaps, only given the side window a cursory clean instead of cleaning it entirely.

Essentially it is just a few swipes of Metal Cote with the airbrush, and a fine brush with Revell Colour Mix applied carefully.

One thing I have definitely omitted is any weathering on the cylinder pipework. That will be rectified tomorrow or Wednesday at the earliest, and I will post back with the results. 

The bufferbeam was covered in Metal Cote but then run over with a fine brush and some Revell Colour Mix. This allowed the red to reappear, and the enamel paint to dry with a more natural finish of weathering than with just the airbrush application.

Overall it's a good start in my view, not perfect and doubtless requires some touching up and rethinking for models to come, but I am quite happy with this model and its finish.

Incidentally, for those wondering about cleaning the wheels: I use a Trix wheel cleaner on top of a Hornby rolling road.

Until next time - happy new year!

"Looking back at 2012"

 Well, 2012 has been and gone. 

It's been a year of tremendous highs and lows, and here at The British Railway Stories Ltd, it has been mostly excellent for all the right reasons. 

Clicking the links below will take you to my highlights of 2012 from this blog. Modelling projects, the publication of our first children's book, test print samples, and many more besides feature.

May I say to all of our readers: have a happy new year, and good luck be with you all.

Simon A.C. Martin

2012 in Review

December 25, 2012

"Merry Christmas, one and all!"

Wishing our fans and colleagues around the world, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

December 22, 2012

"Hornby Thompson O1: A must buy before you die"

For modellers of the ex-London & North Eastern Railway lines, it could be reasonably argued that all of our Christmases have come at once over the last few years. We've had the Hornby L1, B1 and B17 recently, along with a whole host of superb Gresley and Thompson suburban stock.

There's been wagons and vans galore from Bachmann, as well as their O4, A2 and D11 with a J11 on the way.

Not forgetting, of course, the standard fare in the form of Hornby's superb A3 and A4 models, and Bachmann's rugged and powerful Peppercorn A1.

Aside from the O4 from Bachmann, the ex-LNER lines have looked a little empty in terms of freight locomotives. That is all set to change over the next few years, with the introduction of this, the Hornby Thompson O1, and Heljan's forthcoming Gresley O2. It is truly an exciting time to be an LNER modeller.

We'll focus on the here and now for the time being.

A sample of Hornby's Thompson O1 was kindly loaned to me for review, in lieu of my own arriving in time for Christmas. One of the things I recently praised Hornby for was their new box design (see my B17 review, here) but one thing I neglected to mention was the excellent locomotive history, with photograph, that they have put onto the back of recent releases. It adds an extra dimension to the whole model I feel, and the "event" of removing it from its packaging. 

I can say with certainty that Hornby's O1 is one of the best looking model locomotives I have seen for years. It nails the character of the prototype with very well defined and well moulded rivet detail on the frames and boiler. Dimensionally, it closely matches Isinglass' 4mm drawings.

There is one detail puzzling me at present. Hornby's model has buffers which have hexagonal shanks. I cannot as yet find a photograph of the prototype with such buffers. They should be, as far as I can see, tube shaped. Otherwise, the bufferheads are very nice, and Hornby appears to have designed a way of keeping these oval buffers level, with no swiveling. A very nice job but with a slight question mark over the buffer shanks.

The valve gear on the prototype closely matched that of Thompson's B1, and so it is here that Hornby's O1 closely matches its B1 shedmate in this area. The valve gear really is a thing of beauty in operation.

One thing to note: Hornby's model comes with the cylinder draincocks ready fitted. This may be a first on a ready to run model, and I have to be honest when I say that the relief was palpable when I realized that I wasn't going to have to touch the cylinders!

The "face" of the locomotive, the smokebox door, matches closely a specific type carried by members of the class (including 63789) however a fair comment has been made on a few internet forums that the more common type, resembling closely North Eastern Railway smokebox doors, would have been a better choice.

In order to change the smokebox door type, you have to file away Hornby's excellent rendition, which is a shame. Keep the lamp iron and the door dart handy though for fitting to your replacement door! The alternative is to pick a number which corresponds to a member of the class with this type of door.


 The livery (though very basic in plain, unlined black) is well applied, with numerals and lettering very clear and readable as it always is. That said, looking at the British Railways crest on this model, and comparing it to one of my older Hornby A4s, I am astounded to find that the printing is so much more crisp and sharp, and colourful than it has been previously. It is a significant step up.

The interior backhead is absolutely stunning. No other word for it. This may be the most well detailed cab interior of any freight locomotive produced ready to run, with the possible exception of Bachmann's recently released Southern Railway C Class, or their own O4 model.

Speaking of which, now seems like a good time to reintroduce an old friend. Here's 63607, which was a purchase last year that I have not come to regret. Bachmann's Robinson O4 model is a model of the locomotive class from which Thompson built his 54 O1 locomotives, as and when the boilers came up for repair.

It's a great model, with only two minor problems. The first is the lip over the cylinders on the running plate, which is incorrect. It's much more subtle on the real thing. The second is the cylinder's angle compared to the running plate. We are talking a few degrees out. It's simply a non-issue in my opinion, but it remains "incorrect".

Lots of people on various internet flora and fauna have wrung their hands and lamented Bachmann not doing the O1 instead, but a glance at the modifications that would have been needed to Bachmann's O4 tooling to sort out the cylinder placement in particular, precluded that from ever happening I think. What is much more likely is that we'll see a Thompson O4/8 (an O4 but with the standard 100A boiler and a new cab) released in future.

So, were these people right? Should Bachmann have done the O1 instead? I don't think so. My reasons for thinking this lie mostly with the tender and the overall "fineness" of the two models. The Hornby model has the edge in every way. The Great Central Railway tender - of which Hornby have duplicated Bachmann's type, is extremely fine in detail, and just better looking than Bachmann's.

I say "just" - Bachmann's looks coarser by comparison, but it would be unfair to describe it as "coarse". It's still an excellent rendition of the tender, albeit superseded by the extremely high standard Hornby have set with theirs.

Turning our attention to the locomotives, obviously they are not entirely comparable, being two different classes bar the shared wheelbase and pony truck in reality. In addition, the models are completely different in terms of their manufacturing philosophy. Hornby's utilizes a heavy diecast chassis, with an all plastic bodyshell made from lots of separately fitted parts.

Bachmann's utilizes a diecast chassis too, but the running plate on the O4 is also diecast metal, and adds to the heaviness of the latter.

The more spartan look of the O4 (as it is with the prototype) does make the Hornby, by comparison, look very much more detailed. This is not to say the Bachmann O4 isn't quite up to the standards of the O1 (far from it), but in my view the Hornby O1 edges out in front because the overall fineness of the mouldings and separately fitted detail, makes this a package of indisputable high quality.

If you need something to gauge the fineness by, look at the washout plugs on both locomotives. Hornby's are incredible. Or try looking at the rivet detail. I'm not saying count them, but look at them. Hornby have nailed the "prominently raised but subtly positioned" aspect of the real thing's rivets.

Turning to its operation, the sample received for review was tested on my rolling road, and frankly was the smoothest operator I've ever had on it. Better than some Heljan diesels. Praise indeed! It wasn't until I turned the model over to fit the brake gear for my friend, that I realized this was the DCC fitted O1 model (it says so in white lettering underneath "DCC Fitted"). This required an extra test, for which I dug out my trusty Bachmann Dynamis system.

On the rolling road, Hornby's O1 was even smoother under DCC control. I simply can't express how good it was. I've no idea what the scale speed was, but I left the controller at its minimum throttle power and could barely see the driving wheels moving. They were, however, still moving. It was amazing. It was smooth through all the power ranges.

I wasn't finished with the model yet. I had to go and test it pulling a train. I rang up a friend and asked to use his trainset to test it. He's a Midland Region modeller, and turned his nose up at the thought of "that a***hole Edward Thompson" having one of his prototypes running on HIS trainset. I calmed him down and persuaded him to let me test it on his heaviest train, which includes brass coaches, and weighs around 3500-3700g.

This was not all on the level either, with a particularly awkward reverse curve on a gradient, and two sets of spirals to deal with, but the Thompson O1 had no problems at all. It just romped away with the crimson set of coaches. The only snag I could find was that going through particularly tight curvature (around second to first radius at times, bearing in mind the model is only designed for second radius and above!) or tricky pointwork, with the steps attached at the front end, the pony truck threatened to derail, but never did.

As far as chassis go, this must rank as one of the best.

No, the best. The absolute best chassis under any steam outline locomotive I've ever come across.

I've never come across, in particular, another 2-8-0 that has run quite so well. Bachmann's O4 is also a very, very smooth operator, and up until today I'd have said that was one the smoothest running model freight locomotive on sale today. But Hornby's O1 is that much more smooth, it's almost unbelievable.

It's a bit like listening to the best of Barry White, through the highest quality sound system, next to the Mediterranean sea in the hot sun, whilst eating the most luxurious Belgian chocolates.

You don't think it can get any better, any smoother, and then BAM, Scarlett Johansson turns up to serve you cocktails.

The Hornby Thompson O1 is that moment. It's a model so far and away better than anything else on the market for this type of locomotive, that you really don't think it can be bettered. If you think I'm overstating the quality of this model, I suggest you go out and find someone who has one and ask them what they think.

For my money, this is the best steam outline locomotive model on sale right now. There's an incredible amount of finesse, a brilliantly smooth chassis, and a sheer presence that no other model quite has.

I said in my B17 review that I felt the Hornby L1 was the only "perfect" model Hornby has produced of their recent L1, B1 and B17 models out at the time. Bringing the Thompson O1 into the mix, I have to eat my words. The Thompson O1 is the perfect model. It's the dictionary definition of a "perfect model".

A year ago I threatened to have a bit of a wobbly moment with Hornby. I was hugely disappointed with their Network South East 4VEP model. It simply wasn't good enough in a lot of areas, with lots of unforced errors and manufacturing problems rearing their head.

At the same time, Hornby's B1 came out and you had to ask if it was a case of Jekyll & Hyde. The B1 was brilliant, the 4VEP awkward and severely flawed.

Hornby have had their problems with manufacturing slots and delivery over the past few years, however their 2013 release program has promised to rectify this. The O1, in fact, is a positive recipient of this desire to fix any and all issues, arriving in time for Christmas 2012 quite nicely.

The Thompson O1 is Hornby at the top of their game. It's an absolute winner in my books, unlikely to be bettered any time soon and sitting at the top of the ready to run market.

If Hornby can continue this excellent run of form (L1, B1, B17 and O1) then I can't see how they can possibly fail. I can only hope that the main range Gresley P2 from Hornby next year will be as much a show stealer then, as the Thompson O1 is to me right now.

I really cannot recommend this model enough except to say it's a must have.

A "must buy before you die".

The Hornby L1 was an excellent model, the B1 was highly recommended, the B17 was a "very nice to have" with a few unforced livery errors, but this - THIS is one of the models you have to own before you die, if you model the London & North Eastern railway or its regions under British Railways. It's that good!

Which is why I am currently holding it to ransom from its owner until my own Hornby O1 turns up.

It's too good to let go of yet!

Until next time.

"Post Hornby Announcement: a few thoughts"

The Hornby announcements for 2013 have come and gone, and in that announcement there were some gems. Duke of Gloucester, Cock O' The North and Rood Ashton Hall.

Why these three? Well, if you are selling to people who only know the biggest and most popular steam locomotives in preservation today, the big dark green British Railways standard 8 Pacific is as big a name as you can get.

It's a legendary machine, and it's a continuous regret of mine that I have only got up close and personal with this fascinating locomotive a few times in my life.

Well, there's a view which says, rightly, that this model will appeal to the young, the old, and everything inbetween in terms of model railways. Big, green, named and one exists in preservation. It checks off all of the boxes.

Hornby's Tornado model of 2010 was very warmly received. It's a fantastic model of Tornado, as built and run by the A1 Locomotive Trust. No one is under any illusions with this model: it is a budget Tornado model, intended to be bought by parents, grand parents and train mad kids with pocket money. All sales of the Hornby Tornado go towards helping the A1 Trust maintain the real thing, which lies very close to my heart (as you can read about here).

The difference between Hornby's Tornado and Hornby's Duke of Gloucester models is simple.

Another model of Tornado can be bought, from rival manufacturer Bachmann. This model is not as accurate a model of Tornado as Hornby's, but the differences lie simply in the cab roof profile, and the lack of roller bearings. Otherwise, both models are more or less neck and neck for modelling the new build A1.

The biggest difference lies in the motor/gearbox combination, the detailing and the materials used.

Hornby's Tornado has a 3 pole motor with flywheel. Bachmann's is a 5 pole motor. I should add at this point, that Hornby's motor/gearbox/flywheel combination is excellent, but the Bachmann A1's heavy diecast chassis, with a body which includes a diecast running plate and extra weight at the front end, makes for a heavier, more powerful locomotive.

The Hornby model is mostly all moulded plastic. This includes the buffers, which are very fragile (and have been replaced on both my Hornby Tornado models with Bachmann LNER pattern sprung replacements, which are more durable in young hands funnily enough), the handrails on the smoke deflectors, the cabsides, one set each on each side of the firebox, and a similar affair on the tender too.
There's no glazing whatsoever and the separately fitted details amount to a vacuum pipe for front and rear.

Bachmann's Tornado has all separately fitted detail including sprung buffers, handrails, glazing, oil pots, boiler backhead and similar. It is, after all, based on their main range Peppercorn A1 which could be considered directly comparable to Hornby's A3 Pacific model. The price is also comparable to the latter, coming at an RRP of around £144. It may actually be higher by the time of the Bachmann announcements at the Toy Fair in February, but for now let's call it an even £144 .

Hornby's Tornado does not have the choice of alternate bodyshells. It does, however, have a choice of alternate liveries, and the price for a Railroad Tornado was around £82.49 RRP, compared with the same model, with full livery applied, around £120 RRP.

If you were, say, an actual modeller (who had actually picked up a scalpel and removed moulded handrails, drilled holes, fitted new glazing, replaced buffers, chimneys, hell - maybe even built a few Pacifics using bits and bobs and sourced resin parts to help do so), then you'd be reluctant to buy the Railroad Tornado in the fully applied livery at £120 RRP.

You'd buy the Railroad model (which would need repainting and lining out anyway, given the basic livery applied), and all would be right with the world, content that you didn't ruin a very well applied and complex livery by carving off handrails or similar.

If on the other hand, the intention was to have a model of Tornado with the best level of detail possible, then you'd ignore Hornby's models altogether and you'd have the choice of buying the Bachmann Tornado.

Therein lies the problem for the three new releases by Hornby, for modelling consumers. There's no choice in the matter.

You buy the Hornby models knowing that if you are a modeller (and many people are), then to make it fit in with the rest of your carefully renamed/renumbered, detailed and weathered rolling stock, you'd need to take a scalpel to a Hornby model which - if the "design clever" description is anything to go by - will have more moulded on detail in the vein of Hornby's Tornado, than the separately fitted detail of Bachmann's Tornado.

So in theory, since there's no Bachmann alternative to these three models (except Bachmann's aged Hall - although I have heard good things about their latest one), you have no choice in the matter. It is the Hornby model, warts and all, and to get the detail standard you want, you now need to do some modelling.

(For those of us in the modelling fraternity who have never picked up a scalpel to remove any sort of moulded detail at any time, but are happy to throw in their tuppence worth on kit building and moulded handrails, here's where you should start sitting uncomfortably. 

If you have no experience in doing any of these modelling jobs (even the most menial ones such as removing moulded handrails, never mind kitbuilding), and normally pay someone else to build things for you, why exactly are you commenting on them, and deciding for others what is and what isn't easy to do in terms of modelling? 

That is breathtakingly condescending. It's a bit like me deciding to give a heart surgeon my opinion on cutting into the aortic valve. Meaningless and derogatory to those people who have taken the time to learn how to do the most basic of modelling tasks, or the most complicated of medical procedures).

This is because the three locomotives are likely to only come in the one physical form - Railroad, plus a second "main range" model which includes glazing, etched nameplates and a better livery application.

So, at this point, no "fully detailed model" like the superb Star class locomotive Hornby are showcasing.

(Yes, that one. Another GWR 4-6-0 some have said. I honestly couldn't care less how many 4-6-0s the Great Western fans get: they clearly are getting their voices heard loud and clear, and fair play to them. They've been asking for a top of the range Star for decades and Hornby seem to have delivered, and how. They've finally got one, and if it's anything like the B1, the B17 and the O1 I've had delivered and tested recently, it'll be an absolutely brilliant model).

So if the intention is to do some modelling, this now precludes the option of buying the "full livery" specification model. You might just about get away with it on the Duke of Gloucester, as there's a few British Railways dark green paints which can patch the Hornby colours well, but on a Gresley P2 in fully lined London & North Eastern Railway apple green livery, you won't.

Cock O' The North as drawn by Dean Walker. I'm currently working on a children's book featuring this locomotive, so it's been fantastic to learn that Hornby are doing one. I'll take several, at the right price and quality, for building a P2/3 as was intended earlier in 2012, but delayed after a tip off from a friend. It was a very good tip, and the parts I've acquired will be put to good use on a Railroad P2.

Any removal of moulded detail, whether on the smoke deflectors or on the cabsides will require a complete repaint. Patching apple green liveries (unless you are going to very heavily weather a model) never gives a satisfactory end result. I know, I've tried.

There seems to be some hope, however.

A few forum admins have said as much regarding the Duke of Gloucester's moulded smoke deflector handrails. This may yet change.

For fans of the Duke, I hope this is the case. I hope Hornby realize that the cost to fit a few handrail knobs (or "stanchions" - whatever floats your boat) and some wire to these in particular might win them both sets of customers.

Those who want a Railroad model (who they definitely and rightly should be aiming at), including but not limited to parents, grandparents and children, and then the other side of the coin, the discerning collector or the time and money conscious modeller (who normally ends up buying both anyway. I know, I have several Tornados in various liveries by the two of the major manufacturers).

If Hornby are looking to "design clever" for the P2 in particular, they'd look at what they have already, and realize that they already have the best possible detailed tender appropriate to a P2 tooled up in their range. It's the non corridor eight wheeled tender which has been used behind their A3s (and to this day, only behind dark green A3s. When are they going to do a version of this tender which is apple green or express passenger blue? Both would sell. Guaranteed).

They'd apply this excellent rendition of the Gresley eight wheeled, non corridor tender to their new P2 model (specifically for the top end model), tooling up a more basic tender for their Railroad model. The original Railroad Scotsman and A4 models, after all, shared the excellent 5 pole chassis of the top end A3 and A4 models, albeit with coarser valve gear and the older tenders.

The result: a Railroad P2 which is coarser, but more robust and cheaper, along with a more expensive, better detailed and liveried choice which most modellers would pick over the Railroad one (but end up buying the Railroad one anyone for little Johnny/Billy/Sally/etc because it's big, green and named. Sound familiar?)

If they pooled their resources even further, they'd realize that a slightly modified version of the top end A4 model's tender could go behind a future streamlined P2/3 variant. Just a new tender top based on the original, with the streamlined fairing extended at the front, and over the water cover (and this new tooling could be applied to their A4 models, thus increasing the variants they can offer accurately).

Now, if you think I'm painting a negative picture of Hornby here, I'm not trying to. At all. I am in fact very, very happy that Hornby is making the Gresley P2, and I'm happy to support such a model by buying several for future projects.

I just think if they were to make one in Railroad, and one in the main range, utilizing different bodyshells to different standards of detail, but using the same basic chassis for locomotive and tender, they'd be onto a winner for both markets.

It has proven a perfect pairing for the Hornby Flying Scotsman, and Mallard models, after all. Both a Railroad model and a top end model ensures they have both ends of the market.

They'd cover their backs with modellers and collectors for the top of the range model, and they'd cover the kids wanting a big, named and green engine like Flying Scotsman or Tornado, and those who are up for some modelling and detailing at a lower price.

In short, they'd have their cake and be eating at, much as they could have done with the Tornado model. And I can guarantee this too. If they were to do this for the P2, they'd be able to charge the same amount for the main range model as they are on the main range Great Western Star this year, and it would fly off the shelves. The Gresley P2 is that sort of engine to do it.

So don't get me wrong. I think Hornby have made some great choices of models. I think their plans for 2013 are interesting and I certainly will be investing some of my hard earned dough with them. I do think they've got caught up with their own marketing mantra - "design clever" - and haven't quite thought this through for the potential of owning both available markets for these locomotive types.

If it works for the Tornado model, and for the A3 and A4 Pacific, for the main range and Railroad range class 31s, for the Railroad and main range Schools, and many more besides, it'll work and then some with the Duke of Gloucester and the P2.

If you're wondering why I've barely mentioned the Rood Ashton Hall mode, it's because that's been confirmed to be partly for the Potter license and that makes a lot of sense to me.

Until next time, when normal serviced will be resumed and I'll be showcasing some of my P2 bashing, which was curtailed earlier on in the year. I'm now modifying my plans to build a P2/3, albeit to utilize what will no doubt be a much superior diecast chassis with 3 pole motor and flywheel.

December 17, 2012

"Hornby 2013 Announcements: a review"

So the Hornby announcements are here, and another year's worth of releases are in front of us. There's no doubt in my mind that much of Hornby's intended new releases will genuinely be well received, very sought after, and much loved in fact, once they touch down on these shores.

The model I am looking forward to most, as most who read this blog will expect, is the Gresley P2 no.2001 Cock O' The North. To say I am thrilled at a ready to run P2 is an understatement, and I understand it will be available in "design clever" and "Railroad" varieties at two different prices.

The LNER sleeper car, though expensive at £61 (RRP) will no doubt get the nod, along with the reliveries of the L1 and B1.

It is however in the Railmaster + eLink combination that I am most delighted. It seems as a Mac user I am finally catered for with the impressive Railmaster software. This is a "must have" and I am in no doubt that it will finally solve my problems of what control system to use.

Writing for members of the forum RMweb, Simon Kohler had this to say:

Dear RMweb Members,

By now you will have seen what new models and hopefully delights Hornby will be producing during 2013.  There are some obvious favourites and some that may cause you to scratch your head and ask why?  If that is the case please do not sit and wonder, ask the question and I will do my best to answer you.  
One thing I would like to stress is that there will be some who no doubt will say, “There is nothing there for me!”, well if that is the case then let me know what you would like to see or what you feel we should be producing.  Those of you I have met at the various shows know that I am always keen to listen to ideas and suggestions so please do not be shy, let me know. 
As I have said on more than one occasion, we do not decide what is in the Hornby range, the modeller does so please here is your chance.  Over the next few weeks I shall be finalising the 2014 Hornby range so please do not delay.

2012 has been quite a challenging one for all of us but I have every faith that 2013 will be a great year for the model railways of Hornby and I would like to thank all who have supported me during the year with their words of encouragement and advice.  It is much appreciated.

Finally, may I wish each and every one of you a truly wonderful Christmas and a joyous New Year.
I have just one suggestion for Mr Kohler. A model guaranteed to sell in its thousands.

Gresley J50 at Copley Hill. Copyright Railbrit, used to best illustrate the point.

The Gresley J50 was the London and North Eastern Railway's "Jinty" insomuch that it could be found all over the system. These handsome tank engines were used for coal trains, local pickup goods and some passenger traffic, shunting and even banking duties. More information can be found on the superb LNER Encyclopedia.

LNER modellers have been crying out for a proper tank engine for years. Lima's J50 was an awful model, and an all new J50 in the vein of the recent Thompson L1 would be an absolute winner. No LNER modeller would be without one.

I myself would buy a literal fleet of them. That's a guarantee. Lord knows, for my future Copley Hill based layout, I'd need around twelve J50s! That's before I get onto the few I need for pickup goods and empty stock workings on Ganwick Curve...

I do think there's a lot of positives to take out of Hornby's 2013 announcements, but I know Hornby could have an absolute winner with this locomotive type if they announced it for 2014.

So my final word for the day: Hornby have impressed today with their strategy and commitment to the hobby. Let us encourage that further, and let them know what we want - and then follow up and buy it if the quality is up to the normally high standards associated with them.

Until next time!

December 16, 2012

"Hornby B17/1 Review"

Allow me to pose a question to my readers: do you feel that Hornby have produced the best Eastern Region model of all time, with their long awaited Gresley B17 model?

Answers in the comments section please, I know my thoughts on the matter and you'll know them too soon enough!

Ever since Hornby announced their new B17, I'd been harbouring a desire to run a "football" special on my layout. It had to have a B17 at the front, it had to be LNER apple green, and it had to be named Charlton Athletic (my chosen football club for life. I'm aware this wasn't one of the real B17s, but I refuse to have a footballer in any form with any other name. So that's that!)

The day finally came last Friday. I was staggered. Had this model really arrived? Delayed, delayed, and delayed some more, but finally it was here. Hornby have through several sources suggested it was a model for which everything which could have gone wrong, did.

I'm very grateful to them however for seeing it through. The Gresley B17 has, rightly, a very strong following. It has a very interesting history, is a handsome locomotive, and with the "footballer" moniker, crosses the boundaries between railways and that other hobby of sport.

Opening the box, I found Hornby's latest container design. Owing much to the Bachmann method, of a cardboard slip, with cardboard inner box and plastic container, it's a big improvement on the previous polystyrene and it's my view that Hornby need to be praised for developing this new style of box.

Gone, I hope, will be reports of model damage with these very well designed containers.

 On taking the model out of the That's the only word I can muster.

Note the Charlton Athletic footballer nameplate sitting above Home Guard...!

The model has a great presence, particularly in the fully lined LNER apple green livery. Despite a few worries on various internet forums, the unlined cylinders are correct for this livery (2800 Sandringham being built by the North British Locomotive company, which painted them plain black).

This was confirmed by checking my copy of the RCTS Locomotives of the LNER: Part 2B, where on page 109 it states "The N.B. Loco Co. used the same style for nos.2800-9 as for the Pacifics they had built four years earlier, painting the cylinder sides black".

It should also be noted that only the Darlington built B17s had the classification "Class B17" painted on the bufferbeam, so 2800 is correct in not having this feature, simply with no. 2800 painted in gold leaf, shaded black.

What is incorrect is the lack of white lining out on the front bufferbeam, and this is a strange one to get wrong, given the number of photographs out there of the prototype, no.2800, and the rest of the class in LNER apple green livery.


The Westinghouse pump on the right hand running plate is correctly painted black, and it is an item standard with the Hornby L1, it seems.

However on the smokebox there is a minor problem. The circular plate on the smokebox top is recessed, when photographic evidence in The Power of the B17s and B2s shows this plate to be flush with the curvature of the smokebox. This is a minor point, but I fear the recessed nature of the plate makes it very difficult to fix.

The footplate and boiler backhead are exquisite, and up with the best of them. You really have to see some of the detail in the flesh to understand how it all goes together, particularly the tiny working vent on the roof!

The GER pattern tender provided with Sandringham is amazing in terms of its detail. It really captures the look of the prototype, and the red lining out on the frames has to be seen to be believed.

It really does hit all the right notes.


Be warned, however: both on the cabside and on the tender, the wire handrails are in fact plastic, and are quite flimsy as a result. I haven't broken one of mine yet, but it's clear with less than careful handling, the handrails are susceptible to breaking.

It must be said: comparing this latest and newest GER tender to the original GER tender (re-released and continuously retooled from its Triang origins up to now), the older tender (bar the buffers and the coupling hook) actually holds up quite well. It's not as fine, certainly, but its major proportions seem to match closely the latest tender. 

The cylinders have notches cut into them: this is clearly to provide clearance for the bogie (which appears to be standard with Hornby's B1 model) for getting round tight corners.

This does look odd head on, but cannot be seen side on, and to be fair is a standard "cheat" used by RTR manufacturers to get the models to go round corners. I have absolutely no problem with this "cheat" and in my view doesn't detract from the model's quality at all.

The valve gear, on the other hand, is an absolute joy to behold. Comparing to drawings and photographs, the model is perfect in this area, particularly the eccentrics and slide bar.

Now I turned to the detail pack. You get a pair of cylinder drain cocks (which are really nice mouldings), a pair of front steps, and a set of guard irons (tweezers not included!)

The guard irons are a very welcome addition and a significant step up in terms of separately added detail. They are surprisingly weighty as they are cast in metal, but unfortunately they are also the wrong shape, being straight as a die when all major drawings and photographs of the class show a curve halfway up, to match the ones on the rear of the tender (which are correct on the model).

Then of course you have all the associated pipework thereafter. I am scratching my head a bit on this one as I'm not 100% certain which ones go where. I'll do another blog when I've found out!

The one component not pictured above is the coupling hook, which is standard with all previous Hornby releases as far as I'm aware. It's a good fit into the bufferbeam.

I removed the bodyshell to make a few changes, so took the opportunity to photograph the chassis. There's no flywheel as on some of the more recent releases, surprisingly, however what you get is a solid diecast metal block, combined with a decent motor and gearbox combination give a model which I expect will be a decent hauler. Certainly the chassis was extremely smooth on my rolling road.

The tender is "permanently coupled" in terms of having a fixed bar and electrical plug. It can be removed by unscrewing the bar and removing the plug carefully. I've had no problems with the single A4 model I have which uses this plug and bar arrangement, so I am expecting not to have any hassle with the B17. The DCC chip, as you'll have guessed, needs to be fitted in the socket in the tender.

The big change I've made to my model is to remove the front number on the bufferbeam, and add the white lining out using a HMRS lining sheet. My model is intended to become a British Railways branded example, so the front numbers on the bufferbeam had to go!

Overall, the Hornby B17 is a model which so very nearly perfect. There's a few niggly things on this first release which can be put right quite easily (bar the recessed plate on the smokebox. It doesn't look right and is going to be difficult to correct), but it doesn't detract from the fact that it is a very solid, extremely fine model.

But is it the best of the recent Hornby Eastern Region models? Pictured above are the Hornby B1, B17 and L1, from left to right. The L1 was released first, with the B1 released second, and the B17 (announced at the same time as the L1) has actually come fourth, behind last year's announcement of the Hornby Thompson O1, which touched down around Warley in November.

Since my sample of the latter has not yet arrived, I won't bring it into the discussion, other than to say I've seen some samples and as a result, I'm very much looking forward to my O1 arriving.

All four models are excellent portrayals of their prototypes, and all three models clearly utilize some common components. Safety valves are one, domes are another, the front bogie is standard to B1 and B17 (and is used as the rear bogie on the L1), along with certain parts of the valve gear between B1 and B17.

Even if the actual tooling for a component is not the same, model to model, factory to factory (if they are in fact, made in different factories) then certainly it is the case that Hornby have made good on sharing portions of their Cadwork between these three models.

The paint applications on all three models are top notch. The apple green of the L1 and B17 are in line with previous Hornby releases of the A1 and A3 Pacific, and to my eyes are a little dark, but it's not enough to detract from the overall excellence of their livery application.

However, the only "perfect" model, for me, of the three is the Hornby Thompson L1, the first of the bunch. With the two different bodyshells available (curved or straight running plate), different smokebox doors, different steps and several other details besides, top notch livery application and a motor/gearbox combination which produces one of the most surprising haulers of recent years from Hornby, it gets the nod.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the Hornby B1: I recently bought two at very low prices and have found them to be excellent models in themselves, if, annoyingly, prone to derailment rather more than I thought was ever possible!

It's just that the Thompson L1 really does nail the look of the prototype, with absolutely no detail or running problems, in any way. Both the B1 and B17 have such problems in certain areas.

The Thompson L1 is the best steam locomotive Hornby have ever produced in my opinion, but the B17 could in theory take that mantle in its second batch of models, available next year I would hope.

What Hornby need to do is sort the missing lining out on the bufferbeam, look at the round plate on the smokebox and see if that can sorted relatively cheaply, sort the shape of the additional guard irons out, and to offer in their 2013 range, a B17/1 with a group standard tender, in LNER apple green, with a footballer nameplate and number next year. A model, perfected with very minor alterations.

Then it would take the mantle of "Best Eastern Region Model" that the Hornby Thompson L1 currently holds (for me at any rate).

Is it worth buying despite the minor discrepancies noted above? Absolutely! There's no doubt in my mind that this is a quality model, and those willing to do a little bit of modelling will thoroughly enjoy this superb bit of model design.

My view is simple. No Eastern Region modeller worth his salt can go without this model. It's brilliant. Hornby at their best: their top notch, brilliant best.

More of this please Hornby.

Until next time - thanks for reading!

December 15, 2012

"Hornby B17/1 touches down"

Review to follow later this weekend.

However, dare I say it has to be a contender for one of the finest model locomotives ever made...!

Until next time!

"Hornby B1: repairs and renumbering"

It's not often that I get my head turned by a cheap as chips model.

Okay, that's a total lie: I am constantly having my head turned by cheap as chips models, and this is one of them. I bought a pair of Hornby B1s on eBay recently, one significantly cheaper than the other (damage to the front buffers and valve gear) and both in fact were a model of 61138.

The first thing I did to the cheaper one with damage, was to fit new buffers (from Peter's Spares on eBay) to replace the damaged ones, and a new set of valve gear (bought from another eBayer). The result was an as new model which ran beautifully.

The next stage was to renumber and rebrand the locomotive. I used Fox Transfers numerals and lettering for this job, taking care to make sure that both the number and combination of BRITISH RAILWAYS on the tender was historically correct.

In fact, there is a photograph of North British Locomotive Company built no.61203 running with a semi-fast train to King's Cross in December of 1949. This photograph can be found in the book The Power of the B1s and is the first photograph in the "Great Northern" section of photographs.

61203 is however extremely dirty and workstained in this photograph, and I intend to weather the model as per the photograph at a later date.

The original Hornby numerals and cycling lion emblem were removed using a mix of a screwdriver carefully dragged across them, and a cotton bud with Revell's colour mix lightly appled.

Johnson's Klear was applied to the tender and to the cabside before the waterslide transfers were applied, and once applied and dried using kitchen paper, the numerals and lettering were sealed using Johnson's Klear once more.

The front numberplate was made up from single numerals off a Fox Transfers sheet, and the single lamp on the upper smokebox door bracket is a Springside LNER type white lamp.

You may also notice that the smokebox door has gained a footstep! This is a resin casting I made earlier this week for this precise detail. Some B1s had it, some didn't. 61203 needed it, and now has it.

Overall I'm happy with the renumbering and rebranding. I can say categorically that whilst it is a very fine model indeed, I wouldn't necessarily have bought these over the Bachmann B1 if they had not been at these very reasonable (some might say ludicrous!) prices.

The fact is that I should have been more aware of just how fine these Hornby B1s are. I am mesmerized by the rivet detail on the chimney and the detail of the valve gear. Obviously there are certain Hornby traits I am not fond of (such as the plastic wheel inserts in the bright metal rims) but these can be dealt with very quickly.

Overall, the Hornby B1 is a fantastic model, right up there with the best of them. For my money, the Thompson L1 is still Hornby's finest steam locomotive model they have ever produced, but the B1 comes pretty close.

Let's see if I am still saying that in an hour's time, as I unbox Hornby's latest B17/1 model, Sandringham!

Until then!

December 13, 2012

"Going to print!"

Yes - we're finally doing a print run! It's a very limited print run mind, of 500 books, and quite a few of these have been pre-sold too. They will be made available for sale, worldwide, on the BRWS Ltd's eBay account in February, once they have been printed and bound.

The books are A5 size and number 112 pages inside. This is two pages shorter than the eBook, and edits have been made to squeeze the whole of the book in, AND some new material in the information section of the book.

The story has had a few subtle edits to captions, and grammar corrections throughout.

It is now the finished article, and in light of the book's new medium, Dean Walker (artist extraordinaire) finished a brand new front and back cover for the book, which you can see above. It is phenomenal!

The barcode contains our ISBN details, and where would we be without Which has stood us in such good stead for so long.

It's been a very hectic, at times exasperating, and other times triumphant 2012. Now we have the chance to make 2013 even better, with the first book going to print, and two more books being written as eBooks and then going to print later next year too.

2012 has been the year of the unnamed engine. 2013 will be the turn of industrial shunters, mean streaks and a storm brewing round the corner.

Until next time!

December 06, 2012

"Christmas Competition Time!"

It's that time of the year again, and I have started a very special Christmas competition on the ever growing The British Railway Stories Facebook Group. All you have to do to enter, is to join the group, and follow the simple instructions.

The winner will receive a pre-production copy of the first print run of Tale of the Unnamed Engine!

Merry Christmas one and all!