January 07, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, here it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video being uploaded.

Many thanks to the Erith Model Railway Club for hosting.

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

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

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

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