February 08, 2014

"Bumper modelling post! Hornby Duke of Gloucester, Bachmann J11"

Hornby's Duke of Gloucester. Long awaited, here at last in its Railroad form.

So, is it worth it?

The reason I pose that question is that of late, much criticism has been heaped on Hornby. Executives have left the company, arrival dates for models in the locomotive ranges have slipped and slipped and slipped…all the while, those that do arrive exhibit some curious design decisions, and 71000 is no exception in this case.

Let's start with the tender. There's a perfectly reasonable set of Britannia tender frames available from Hornby's stable, used for both the aforementioned Brit and the Clan models. The older and more detailed tender frames - component X9602 - can be seen here, a spare part I purchased with a mind to fitting under a new BR1C body. 

The Duke's tender body shell, however, shows its incompatibility with the new frames. The one piece plastic body (which is a nice moulding, if simpler than all previous main range locomotives) 

Tender wheel sets appear to be identical and indeed will fit in both frames.

The bottom plate of the DoG tender looks identical to the Brit's, however uses shorter screws (so longer ones will be required to fit this bottom plate onto the Brit tender chassis). Brake rigging and nem coupler are identical.

The tender frames themselves - well, which do you think is which?

Those shown above are the Duke's, top, and the Hornby super detail Brit, below. Both are extremely similar, except that the Brit frames hold the wheels in plastic axle boxes whereas the DoG frames are metal (this is potentially better than the Brit's), however you can see that the Brit tender has all wheel pickup and a plug for DCC. Otherwise they're almost identical.

In my view the Duke's tender is directly based on the Brit one but extremely simplified - so why oh why did Hornby make the coupling on the Duke's tender twice the size of the Brit tender? There seems to be no easy way to change the coupling bar on the Brit or Duke's tender so it remains a problem for me to sort currently.

The Brit frames have sprung buffers and, I would argue, nicer representation of the springs and axle boxes, but there is extremely little between them as the Duke's tender is so clearly designed to be as close as possible. The Duke's frames are also very weighty, being a one piece mazak casting and in my view this is better for running as it sits better on the track I find.

Originally I thought the buffers on the Duke's tender were plastic - they're not, they're metal, extremely durable and part of the mazak casting which amazes me. Overall, I'm having second thoughts about "upgrading" the tender frames as sprung buffers suddenly don't look like the be all and end all if the Duke's tender runs better. However I suspect it's not too difficult to cut these off, file away the excess, and drill suitable location holes to fit a spare set of Hornby sprung buffers to bring the Duke's frames into line.

The bottom plate fits on both but you'll need different length screws to fit the same bottom plate to both frames. Holes are in the same place for the screws too.

Mixed bag with the tender, some things surprisingly better in my view, some things a retrograde step but it's not looking as bad as I originally thought by any means. Just the tender coupling and the buffers that has really that has put me off replacing the frames on mine.

This to me makes sense in terms of tooling up a new tender - should a new Brit appear with the latter tender frames in the Railroad range, you'll know why!

In anticipation of changing the driving wheels, I've had a go at fitting the Brit coupling rods.

The coupling rods fit like a glove, everything is as it should be and everything seems to work to the same standard.

All of the crankpins and screws are identical to those on the Brit, so the Brit coupling rods were a straight fit on.

A couple of rolling road sessions later checking everything is okay and the Duke is running much smoother as a result, the slight slackness in the coupling rods removing the extreme stiffness my Duke exhibited.

The next stage is to fit Britannia driving wheels, complete with brass bearings. 

So the big question, is it a bad model?

There are many things I think Hornby got right with the Duke of Gloucester model. The Railroad version, externally, looks very good and is very accurate to the prototype. Yes, it is simpler than its previously very detailed Britannia model, but that was then and this is now, and the previous Railroad Tornado set the precedent and hit its market spectacularly well.

The let down in the model lies entirely under the body shell. The chassis is not brilliant. Never mind the solitary six pickups on the driving wheels, the plastic Caprotti gear (easier to damage when picking up than anything else I've encountered) or the extremely simplistic tender to locomotive drawbar, it's the lack of brass bearings, the square cut axles and the one piece connecting rods which disappoint.

The overall chassis design gives you a locomotive model which could be very hit or miss. Will it be the one piece driving rods today, the wheels out of quarter due to strangely shaped axle boxes or it will be that neither of these was well manufactured in the first place?

Hornby's model of Tornado has many parallels with the Duke model and indeed also has a simpler, mostly moulded plastic body shell, and the chassis has only six pickups on the driving wheels and the tender to locomotive connection is very basic too.

However, this model does have brass bearings, inset into a well designed mazak chassis block, and my Railroad Tornado has given many thousands (yes, thousands) of hours service over the last three (or is it four now?) years.

Three weeks of struggling to get my Duke of Gloucester to run anywhere near half as well as the Tornado model has convinced me of the excellence of Hornby's previous design, and question the retail price for 71000 when compared with 60163.

It's a shame as Hornby gets it so right in other areas, as my forthcoming blog on British Railway Mk1 coach models will demonstrate next week.

However, do I like the model? Yes I do, very much so. it captures the prototype for shape, proportions and detail very well, the Railroad model is nicely finished, and whilst the mechanism isn't to my liking, the simpler components are and it shows what Hornby can do when they put their mind to it in certain respects.

However, I plead with you Hornby - no more plastic buffers. They are naff: awful, easily broken and just look poor in comparison to everything else on the market. Unsprung metal buffers please.

So from the big express passenger Pacific to the humble goods engine, and Bachmann's model of the Robinson designed J11 locomotive touched down in the Copley Hill works a few days after 71000 did. 

It is a little stunner. All wheel pickup on locomotive and tender, lots of separately fitted (and well moulded too) details, a half moulded/separate fitting smokebox door dart, and a superb running chassis with (wait for it) brass bearings inset into shaped axle boxes.

I bought one Bachmann J11 and somehow have ended up with three now…they're that good! (Of course I did have to sell a few models to fund them, but it was worth it…)

Until next time.

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