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 box...wow. 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.
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!