October 21, 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.

October 09, 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.

August 12, 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)


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.

June 30, 2016

"Hornby Raven Q6 review: a northern beauty"

It's with great pleasure that I present for the first time on this blog a locomotive class which isn't part of my overall modelling plans. I had no intention of buying a Hornby Raven Q6, and yet I now find myself besotted with the original and having ordered another, with both destined to become Tyne Dock examples in due course. So how did we get here?

That's one question. Perhaps a better one is why didn't we get here earlier? In the North of England there are many beautifully industrial railways with steam locomotives of various vintages that ran to the end of  steam. The Raven Q6 is one of those, and luckily for us, one is preserved and currently running on the North Yorkshire Moors Railways.

There were some people who wondered if we'd ever actually get here in modelling terms. A specifically North of England steam locomotive made by a major manufacturer for the mass market. It's all well and good throwing in the odd elderly Shire class, or a Scottish liveried Black Five, or a Robinson D11 with a slightly different chimney and cab roof, but it doesn't escape the fact that for the North of England, and specifically the North East of England, model railways have been severely lacking in products, excitement and general all round recognition that the region exists.

Hornby and Bachmann have produced some buildings in their Skaledale and Scenecraft ranges (including specifically North Eastern style sheds, water towers, signal boxes and even Goathland station).

It is made even more strange when you consider that the North Eastern Railway (NER) in particular was one of the major components of what has been Hornby's money maker for some years: the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER). Sir Vincent Raven's designs built for the NER varied hugely from humble tank engines, fast Atlantics to the somewhat unwieldy Pacifics and the beautifully rugged freight engines. It's in this bracket that we find Hornby's latest steam outline model, the Raven Q6, answering the prays of many people who've hankered for a steam locomotive with that North Eastern pedigree.

Of course, it could have all been very different. There was also a "crowd funded" model mooted by DJ Models a few years back. Happily for modellers there's been no duplication this time around, and the Hornby model was pushed ahead for release in 2016.

Let's face it, when it comes to steam locomotives and particularly ex-LNER steam locomotives, Hornby has a track record by far and away better than anyone else in the market. Bachmann has come very close with a few of its models, most recently the Ivatt Atlantic, but Hornby's Thompson L1, B1, Gresley B17 and most recently the Worsdell J15 and Gresley J50 are on another level to everything else. They led the way with revamped models of the Gresley A3 and A4, and the rest followed. Truly, if you follow the LNER, now is the time to be a 4mm scale modeller. You will never be able to have it as good as it is right now.

Heljan recently released a model of the Gresley O2 fright engine at an entirely comparable price to Hornby's Q6. It however doesn't measure up very well by comparison, I am afraid to say. If you need a Gresley O2, this is the only game in town. It has a number of features which I personally do not like, and objectively speaking its overall finish is not particularly fine when compared to many of its excellent diesel electric locomotives (I cite Falcon and Kestrel - both beautiful models).

Given the Hornby Q6 has a similar wheelbase, overall size and is being sold at a similar price point makes it in my opinion a reasonable comparison of models.

But there is no comparison. Objectively speaking there is an incredible gulf between the two models. In almost every way possible, the Hornby Q6 is the superior model, even accounting for some potential detail errors (lack of capuchon, mechanical lubricator, etc). The fit, finish and running qualities of the Q6 just by far out strip any other steam outline model out there.

For this review, I conducted some running in trials of the Q6 on 29 June 2016 and everyone at ERMS (Erith Model Railway Society) who examined the model was taken with it. But we were blown away by how incredibly quiet and competent the chassis is, without any modification. By contrast, my Heljan O2 runs extremely poorly and is much louder. I have previously been forwarded some screenshots of work done by others on the internet to improve their Gresley O2s and to me it's an excellent starting point for some modelling.

But the Hornby Q6 is better value for money. Less modifications need to be done, if any, to make it look like a proper LNER workhorse. It has a better motor and gearbox arrangement, separately fitted lamp irons, metal handrails and handrail knobs (Heljan's O2 has hideous plastic ones which look and feel cheap), sprung buffers and a plethora of other separately fitted details.

By comparison, Heljan's O2 has mismatching tender handrails, poorly designed outside valve gear, an incredibly misshapen chimney and a less than smooth drive in either forwards or reverse running. I feel like I could trust the quality control of Hornby implicitly with this release, which I can't say with Heljan's O2. The Hornby Q6 hasn't got the double fly wheel drive of the Worsdell J15, but it doesn't need it either.

Bear in mind, I have always previously praised Heljan for their excellent mechanisms and it is regrettable that such a high profile new release falls down in what is normally their strongest area (if we accept of course, some notable problem models such as the Clayton. Art imitating life more than we'd like!)

So does the Hornby Q6 measure up for accuracy to prototype? You bet it does. Surprisingly, this is a model which Hornby haven't laser scanned, preferring to climb all over the real thing and measure it up traditionally.  Which I approve of wholeheartedly as you may find things which you don't get from a laser scanning device (a useful tool undoubtedly - but not infallible).

This means that in real terms, the Hornby Q6 model compares very favourably to scale drawings and photographs of the real thing. This model - like all in the first batch - carries a diagram 50A boiler (the later type fitted by the LNER) and a chimney without a "windjabber" or "capuchon".

It also has the mechanical lubricator fitted to the right hand side, and does not have a sandwich buffer beam fitted. It is in late LNER livery, with the plain yellow Gill Sans lettering and numbering that Edward Thompson introduced when chief mechanical engineer of the LNER.

The detail in the cab is absolutely bonkers: the boiler back head is possibly the most realistic and detailed I have seen on any steam outline model. It is extremely fine, and really only needs some weathering and a crew to complete the look.

If I have one criticism of the design of the model, it is that the tender is very light and possibly prone to derailing as a result. I have not however in eight hours of running this model encountered a single time that the model's tender derailed. So this criticism may in fact be unfair. It is easily fixed by adding real coal or liquid lead when the moulded plastic coal is removed to add weight.

There's a few other nit picky details I need to get out of the way at this point. Bear in mind, I'm an LNER modeller and as such I, and others like me, are going to be looking closely at these models for modelling purposes, and we may find more fault than others because we know what we're looking for.

(But I caveat that with fully accepting the Q6 isn't my normal fare and I have relied on my friends who have looked after the real thing to point me in the right direction of prototype photographs and film online).

Firstly, I'm pretty sure looking at the photographs I've collated that this Q6 (3418) should have a capuchon on the chimney. However when I asked Hornby about this, they replied that on this particular locomotive, they had evidence the capuchon had been corroded away and had taken the decision not to model it as a result.

It's a fair response in my view. In my time rustling through books (RCTS, Yeadon's, a few books on the North of England railways and my late grandfather's photo collection) there's a few photographs to suggest that the capuchon was damaged regularly on Q6s. Whether that justifies not modelling the capuchon on this locomotive, when they have such a chimney tooled up on the British Railway liveried models, is up to you.

Secondly, the mechanical lubricator. The RCTS (Railway Correspondence and Travel Society) series of books indicates that the type fitted to this model was post 1949, which is British Railways days. I've looked at photographs and I believe it's not wrong for a 1946 era Q6 to have this type of lubricator. However whether it is correct for 3418 is another matter. I simply don't know - I haven't as yet found a photograph of 3418 herself.

Then there's the smokebox door. On some forums there's been doubt about whether it should have been this type of smokebox door or the larger, more bulbous later one as fitted to the British Railway versions. Happily I've found a large number of 1946-49 era Q6s in photographs fitted with this door, so I am content to say it's most likely accurate, if not for 3418 then at the very least for a classmate in this period.

The numbering and lettering on this version looks a smidgeon anaemic to me. However the colour and shape of them looks accurate. That is the most minor point possible.

The biggest criticism of this model I have seen is that as an LNER liveried model it doesn't represent the largest period possible as it has a diagram 50A boiler and not a diagram 50 boiler which has many different details including, but not limited to, washout plugs, safety valves, dome placement, and so on and so forth...

This is a fair criticism if what you expected was a pre-war Q6, but Hornby haven't sold it as such. It's definitely post war and its condition reflects that. In order for Hornby to model a fully pre-war Q6, it also requires tail rods to the cylinders, possibly a sandwich buffer beam, original NER buffers (and not the square based group standard ones fitted) amongst other minor details.

I asked Hornby if they were going to produce this type, and they stated a pre-war version with the 50A boiler type is definitely being on the cards. I suspect (and this is my view, not one Hornby have offered) that an LNER liveried Q6 was always going to be needed for the first batch, but to maximise the tooling available a post war one was easier to produce than a pre-war one. There's nothing wrong with that intrinsically, but if you model the LNER 1923-46 then this Q6 isn't accurate.

That takes nothing away from what is the model of the year, for me at any rate. I've never known a model to look so comfortable pulling a train or be so quiet and smooth when doing so. The chassis is a testament to Hornby's current design ethos, and the sharpness and accuracy of the body shell a testament to Hornby's tool makers.

For me, Hornby are at the top of their game once again. The excellence of the K1 and J15 last year have continued into 2016 with the superb Q6.

Of course this is all set against the current backdrop of Hornby as a company being in dire straits. The situation is grave. 

All I can do, as a railway modeller who understands the value of Hornby as a company, is encourage those closet North Eastern modellers to buy the Q6s and the 21 ton hoppers in spades. They are both excellent models, and no doubt this won't be the last Darlington built model to be released by Hornby in the future.

For the sake of the hobby, we need Hornby to survive. We can do this by helping them to understand when they get it wrong - and by supporting and praising them when they get it right, like any other manufacturer.

At the end of the day, I'm not paid to write these reviews and I have absolutely no interest in mincing my words. I've previously always been very forthcoming with constructive criticism where it was required - see Hornby's Great Western heavy tanks or their Duke of Gloucester models to name but two that felt the wrath of my keyboard - but equally we've got to praise and support them when they get it right, because it's to the advantage of all of us in the hobby that Hornby as an entity survive.

I don't normally give scores on this blog, but if I was to give a score out of ten, this would be a nine: not perfect, for like any model there are people like me and more knowledgable than me who will know a few details are wrong, here and there. But the overall quality of the product and its performance by far out strip any other steam outline model on sale today.

Well done Hornby, sincerely, and gratefully.

May 24, 2016

"1679, Charlton Athletic"

I'm very lucky these days in that I have an excellent model railway club nearby (Erith MRC) with which to run my rolling stock. 

One such engine to run in was this, my model of fictional Gresley B17 "Charlton Athletic".

She ran beautifully a week ago. Made from Hornby's model of "Sandringham", a Bachmann tender replaced the GER type tender, the Westinghouse pump and associated grubbing were carefully removed, and the smoke box was given plastic Humbrol filler and sanding down plus paint to finish. My usual Johnsons Klear/Pledge floor varnish finished the boiler, cab and tender.

It's been a highlight for what has been a pretty horrendous year so far for me, bar the magnificence of 25 February 2016. 2016 just has not turned out the way I wanted it to at all. It's been frustrating, at times very sad, and heartbreaking (both in football and love interests!)

Yet my railway modelling goes from strength to strength. I'm really enjoying building my fleet and my model railway. It's been such a comfort when I'm feeling down. 

This year I saw someone I thought I'd never see again. Meeting her reminded me I still have the potential to feel and be a normal, working human being. This in itself is a beautiful thing, as I have for some time - maybe for years - wondered if I'd have feelings the like again.

All I can say is that love is the best thing we do. Even when it's not reciprocated, though it can be hard to take, remembering why someone makes you feel the way you do is never a bad thing. If love was easy, straightforward and tangible, it'd be just another commercialised and organised aspect of our lives, and it wouldn't be love.

 If you're wondering why the sudden about turn in blog content today, let's just say I am doing my best to move on from feelings that I realised this year have been lying dormant since a cold New Year's Eve in 2005. I meant it then and I mean it now. The clock never stops ticking. Or should that be beating.

I'll leave you with one last shot of 1679 - a more normal, regular service is coming to the blog. Hang in there everyone: we all get there in the end.

April 19, 2016

"Following Charlton, my only desire"

There aren't many words that I have at my disposal right now. It's a sad evening to be a Charlton fan, but in light of the joyous news elsewhere in my friends circle (the birth of a beautiful baby girl) it's hard to get entirely worked up over the inevitable end to what has been the worst season at Charlton Athletic for many, many years.

The above photograph hangs in our study, and it's one of my earliest memories of football. It stands out because it is taken in front of the old Wembley Stadium, with my little sister Claire on my left, my mother Jill clutching her flag and my father Jerry stood behind. All of us are wearing Charlton gear in some form or another, and to our left and behind us is a Charlton fan looking directly at the camera, and to our immediate right and behind us, a Sunderland fan is also looking at the camera.

Football matches are unique. They are the coming together of two different teams, playing the same game on one pitch, having to deal with the same factors, both internal and external, and ultimately the end result is a game of two halves, and two stories to tell.

Following the 1st Division play-off final of 1997-1998, there were two stories to tell. One was the big team from the North failing at the last hurdle to gain promotion, despite playing some exceptional football, with a big, passionate, and very much brilliant crowd behind them, and the other story was the small club from south east London, coming off the back of some of the worst years of their club's history, against all odds being promoted to the Premiership.

This match sticks out in my mind because it summed up what football has always been about for me. From start to end, it was a joyous, nerve wracking, exciting, brilliant display of football from two football teams who just wanted to play to win and were doing it for their incredible supporters.

It is the one game of football I remember where there doesn't seem to be a controversial decision, there's no diving, the fouls were minimal, but there were lots of goals, end to end action, and at the end of it, some beautiful and respectful sportsmanship from the Sunderland and Charlton faithful to each other. Either team could have gone on and won that match: but for the hand of Saca Ilic, it could have been Sunderland.

History records this as one of the greatest matches played at the old Wembley Stadium. Ending 4-4 after extra time, it was 7-6 to Charlton on penalties, with club legend Clive Mendonca becoming the last English player to score a hat trick in a cup final at Wembley. He was my hero of heroes, and to this day the urge to sing out "Super Clive Mendonca" remains strong.

The point of this article is that this photograph wouldn't have been possible without a number of decisions being made in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For the fans to take on an election and win to get the ground back, after years in the wilderness at Selhurst and Upton Parks. For the fans to clear out the derelict Valley, with people of all ages, ethnicity and creed coming together with shovels, black bin bags and hope, to make the ground afresh and the club renewed.

Without the fans, there would have been no Wembley play-off final. No chance at glory in the Premier League. Alan Curbishley would have been unlikely to remain in charge if Charlton had not returned to the Valley and we wouldn't have had 13 amazing years with him at the helm.

The fans saved the club, and they supported it through the good times and bad. The fans even bought into the club: my father owned shares in Charlton Athletic PLC and was a non executive director at one point, with seats in the director's box (Dad if I have got these details wrong, and you're reading, please correct me!)

At every stage of Charlton's development the fans have been there to support the club and help it.

Which is why with tonight's relegation, we have to come today and fight for the club stronger than ever. Because without every single fan standing up, with one voice, and helping to remove the current regime from their stranglehold on the club, we will never have the one thing the picture above symbolises: hope.

We will never again hope for better things, we will never again sit in the stands and cheer on the team with hope and passion in our hearts, and we will never hope to reach the upper echelons of English football again.

The word "strangle" is apt: since Chris Powell's League 1 winning side and his controversial dismissal from the club, we have seen the first team starved of its star players, the manager with a passion for the team and winning, and we have seen our youngest and brightest sold at prices well below their worth, when their true value is standing on that football pitch in a bright red shirt.

So if you can, come to the Brighton match on Saturday. I am not promising that the team will win. It's about so much more than the result. It's the future of our family club, and the future of our family. I'm game to try and save it if you are. Fans have done it before, and it is time for the new generation to stand up and be counted.

I want our Charlton back.

Simon A.C. Martin

April 17, 2016

"Testing, testing"

So I'm testing a new way of writing my blogs in an effort to get more proactive about showcasing my modelling. So here is a picture of my first resin Gresley V2 kit, on part of my spare section of Ganwick Curve:

It is taken directly on my iPad mini! Which has a pretty decent camera.

I'll blog more about this next time.

It seems to be a good test blog though! I'm using the Blogger app on the same iPad you see!

Until next time.