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Rites of Passage for a Model Railway - 13: Open Goods Wagons, Make or Buy Loads for Realistic Traffic + Magazine Choice

Updated on October 12, 2019
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Alan has an abiding interest in regional railway history and model-making, specialising in the North East of England

We've moved on a bit since then...

Unloading wagons at a goods depot, 1960s - not a hi-viz jacket or health & safety rep in sight!
Unloading wagons at a goods depot, 1960s - not a hi-viz jacket or health & safety rep in sight! | Source
Unloading containers, 1950s - early days yet, no hi-viz here either - not by the book, loading container into 3-plank wagon where there are no chain pockets for securing!
Unloading containers, 1950s - early days yet, no hi-viz here either - not by the book, loading container into 3-plank wagon where there are no chain pockets for securing! | Source

You will have seen the prototypes in books, magazines and in DVD/video, here you can see the model versions

There are several categories of open wagon. First there are general merchandise wagons, these being usually four-wheelers and originate from the early days of transporting goods by railway. They preceded the vans or 'covered wagons', but not the mineral opens. 'King Coal' stays top of the pile in terms of seniority, followed closely by iron ore and other ingredients of cast iron and then steel products.

But they can wait for now, what this page concerns is general merchandise.

The railway companies all produced vehicles, and one or two private companies made wagons to make up for any shortfalls the running companies faced, as well as the collieries, coal merchants and warehousing companies. Wagons were originally built willy-nilly, to no exact design or specification.

Accidents and safety concerns forced the powers-that-be to think again. The biggest contender in the free market for wagons, after general design features were laid down by the Railway Clearing House (RCH), was Charles Roberts of Gloucester.

Aside from Chas. Roberts the railway operators such as the North Eastern, Midland, London & North Western and Great Western designed their own wagons to specifications by the RCH. Design differences were not radical. Originally built entirely of wood aside from wheels, couplings and buffers, steel underframes were introduced as a result of accidents and materials failures, then all-steel wagons were seen from the 1930s onward. Some were un-fitted, i.e., the brake systems were non-linked between the brake van and locomotive. They were not allowed to exceed certain low speed limits because of these brake specifications. From around the time of WW1 experiments were conducted on freight wagon brake systems that led to faster goods workings, leading to express goods designations on the wagon ends and high-speed links between England and Scotland and Wales on the NER, MR, LNWR and GWR amongst others until the Government stepped in in the 1920s with Grouping of the railway companies, thus reducing the number of 'players' to: Great Western (GWR), London Midland and Scottish (LMSR), London & North Eastern (- or London & Nearly Everywhere, LNER) and Southern Railway(SR) companies.

Further developments in wagon design were laid down by the RCH through the 1930s to the 1940s (and wartime brought new specifications). Some parts of the system fell behind, like the Great Eastern (GE) and Great North of Scotland (GNS) sections of the LNER because of the low rail traffic they generated. The former North Eastern, Lancashire & Yorkshire, North British and Midland sections of the 'Big Four' found themselves off-setting the other constituents. The GW was fairly self-contained, its coal traffic and engineering industries sustaining growth. When the railway companies were brought 'under one roof' as British Railways - before the companies could recover from the rigours of the war - designs were pooled, with certain elements of the railway fraternity enjoying 'elite status' in certain respects, like the Great Western (GW) and London Midland (LM) regions.

You can guess from this that the range of ready-to-run (r-t-r) and kits is going to be broad. And you would be right! Furthermore, adding products by non-extant manufacturers to what's coming onto the market now increases the range. All these older models can be re-worked, r-t-r as well as kits, although you could finish up doing a lot more work on the older r-t-r models than on early kits. Mainly you are looking to detach the underframes, and you can buy underframe kits from Parkside (mainly for LNER) or Cooper Craft (Western). Finescale plastic wheelsets can be bought from Alan Gibson to replace older sets, or metal Romford wheelsets. You might need to remove bits from wagon ends, like handrail mouldings. These can be replaced with brass wire - also from Alan Gibson or Eileen's Emporium. Scout around exhibitions and swapmeets for wagons that could be rebuilt. A little bench-work can bring a wagon up to scratch that would never normally pass muster on a modern layout with Code 75/100 track. Even older plastic-bodied Hornby or Rovex products can be given a new lease of life. It all depends on what you are looking for, whether the wagons are in production or whether you are looking for a specific type no longer in production either as r-t-r or as a kit.

As a North Eastern area modeller you might think I only have LNER area stock or locomotives and wagons, but you would be wrong. Traffic entered each region from around the country. I have Western, Midland, even Southern wagons on my layout. With some imagination and even a smaller selection of tools and painting gear you can produce eye-catching wagons. You can see some of my articles for the DOGA Journal on their web site, and on loads.

There's another question: loads. Fixing a load into a wagon has its drawbacks. With loads that can be lifted out - either home-made or from, say Ten Commandments, your wagons run one way laden, the other way empty. Sidings contained both laden and empty wagons in block trains or trains made up with wagons for given destinations. Block trains were of one product, be it pipe, tube, brick or mineral, for example. You can get round 'loading and unloading' wagons by draping tarpaulins over them, pulled tight on sides, overlapped at the ends. You might try 'shaping' the tarpaulins so you can lift them off again and leave a folded one in the bottom of the wagon for the return trip. Again you could 'go the whole hog' by adding cotton 'ties' to the tarpaulins. Look at photographs to see how these are tied down; they even varied within regions, but by and large there was a set method of tying down tarpaulins.

Buffers and couplings can be changed, not only on kits but also on r-t-r wagons. Again Alan Gibson produce white metal buffers with sprung heads for wagons. Smiths' un-assembled three-link couplings (LP10) come in scale size (smaller brass links) as well as the larger size that I find are easier to handle. Also available are instanter couplings (LP2) and screw couplings (LP5). There are packets of magnetic links you can buy, that some people find useful. Exactoscale Limited, www.exactoscale.co.uk produce parts for quality P4 wagons, but if not a P4 modeller, you could still use them, such as Morton brake gear, sprung buffers, sprung chassis.

Depending on your skill level, scale or gauge there is an ample choice of publications for you to match your aspirations. Don't be intimidated by what you see in the pages of, say Model Railway Journal (MRJ), that specialises in finescale modelling. Alternatively look through the pages of British Railway Modelling (BRM), Hornby Magazine or Railway Modeller and a plethora of lesser known railway modelling publications. See what appeals in 2mm, 4mm (OO-Gauge, EM Gauge or Protofour/Scalefour) or 7mm, what era, region or location (city, town or rural, industrial etc).

Now you can look at the pictures

Fitted or unfitted - in layman's terms, continuous brake or only equipped with standard hand released brake (diagram 1)

13 ton LNER Steel open, painted dark (weathered) bauxite, built as 'fitted' with vacuum pipes but with 3-link Smiths' couplings. Part loaded with strips of painted 'steel' drums.
13 ton LNER Steel open, painted dark (weathered) bauxite, built as 'fitted' with vacuum pipes but with 3-link Smiths' couplings. Part loaded with strips of painted 'steel' drums. | Source
Wagon underframe detail - Morton brake arrangement, usually applied to unfitted wagons (no vacuum operated brakes, three-link or instanter couplings)
Wagon underframe detail - Morton brake arrangement, usually applied to unfitted wagons (no vacuum operated brakes, three-link or instanter couplings)
Wagon underframe detail - clasp brake arrangement, usually applied to fitted wagons with vacuum operated brakes, screw couplings
Wagon underframe detail - clasp brake arrangement, usually applied to fitted wagons with vacuum operated brakes, screw couplings
Screw coupling with vacuum pipe on fitted wagon buffer beam, British Railways Oleo buffers - most durable model version is Jackson screw coupling from Markits in blackened, etched brass with un-treated brass coupling unit
Screw coupling with vacuum pipe on fitted wagon buffer beam, British Railways Oleo buffers - most durable model version is Jackson screw coupling from Markits in blackened, etched brass with un-treated brass coupling unit | Source
Instanter couplings with vacuum pipe on an open wagon model
Instanter couplings with vacuum pipe on an open wagon model | Source
Instanter coupling diagram - middle link can be positioned horizontally for loose coupling, or vertically for close coupling. Available with blackened etched brass hooks and blackened brass links
Instanter coupling diagram - middle link can be positioned horizontally for loose coupling, or vertically for close coupling. Available with blackened etched brass hooks and blackened brass links
Briitish Railways machine wagon with instanter coupling and vacuum pipe; loaded with small tarpaulined locomotive boiler load seen at Embsay Station near Skipton on the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway in North Yorkshire (formerly West Riding)
Briitish Railways machine wagon with instanter coupling and vacuum pipe; loaded with small tarpaulined locomotive boiler load seen at Embsay Station near Skipton on the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway in North Yorkshire (formerly West Riding) | Source
Close up of buffer beam and buffers - instanter couplings fitted to this wagon (coupled to its neighbour by screw coupling)
Close up of buffer beam and buffers - instanter couplings fitted to this wagon (coupled to its neighbour by screw coupling) | Source
In their 'Wonderful Wagons' range, here's a Peco model of the British Railways' 27 ton Iron Ore Tippler with three link couplings - also a Smiths product available through various outlets
In their 'Wonderful Wagons' range, here's a Peco model of the British Railways' 27 ton Iron Ore Tippler with three link couplings - also a Smiths product available through various outlets | Source
See description below
See description below | Source

Messrs Grant and Taylor are retired career railwaymen with in-depth and practical experience of freight handling and loading by rail. Bill Taylor was Chief Loads Inspector on the Eastern Region of British Railways and its successors. Brian Grant has previously related his 40 years of experience on the railways in 'Home and Distant', also published by Silver Link in the 'Working Lives' range of books. This is the second of two books on the subject of load practice on British Railways

Open merchandise and drop-side wagons for horizontal loading and unloading

'Tarpaulined' Steel-bodied 13 ton ex-LNER open (Parkside kit - I have several different types with tarpaulins fixed permanently over plastic formes)  Block of plastic under the tarpaulin is enough for the illusion to work.
'Tarpaulined' Steel-bodied 13 ton ex-LNER open (Parkside kit - I have several different types with tarpaulins fixed permanently over plastic formes) Block of plastic under the tarpaulin is enough for the illusion to work. | Source
Another one of the 13 ton steel opens (Parkside) with tarpaulined 'load' - many were built to the same drawings by British Railways
Another one of the 13 ton steel opens (Parkside) with tarpaulined 'load' - many were built to the same drawings by British Railways | Source
The unfitted version with railway scrap load  - the LNER built many of these wagons without vacuum brake cylinders and clasp brakes, putting Morton type on instead. Parkside kit modified with Morton Brake detailing. Weathered plastic load
The unfitted version with railway scrap load - the LNER built many of these wagons without vacuum brake cylinders and clasp brakes, putting Morton type on instead. Parkside kit modified with Morton Brake detailing. Weathered plastic load | Source
Parkside BR Lowfit with Smiths' Instanter couplings and cut-off cast brass vacuum pipes - resin cast crate load from Hornby - although this would obviously be too much for a an average forklift truck
Parkside BR Lowfit with Smiths' Instanter couplings and cut-off cast brass vacuum pipes - resin cast crate load from Hornby - although this would obviously be too much for a an average forklift truck | Source
Brass chain on silver-painted plastic pipe load fills this drop-sided BR Pipe Wagon. Parkside kit with Smiths' 3-link couplings and Alan Gibson steel sprung buffer-heads to replace the plastic moulding
Brass chain on silver-painted plastic pipe load fills this drop-sided BR Pipe Wagon. Parkside kit with Smiths' 3-link couplings and Alan Gibson steel sprung buffer-heads to replace the plastic moulding | Source
Another drop-sided, long wheelbase four-wheeled BR Tube Wagon - painted and chained 4mm aluminium tube load represents steel tube in this Parkside wagon (fine 2mm scale chain from Eileen's Emporium)
Another drop-sided, long wheelbase four-wheeled BR Tube Wagon - painted and chained 4mm aluminium tube load represents steel tube in this Parkside wagon (fine 2mm scale chain from Eileen's Emporium) | Source
See description below
See description below | Source

Robert Hendry's book looks at pre-Grouping, Grouping and British Railways 1948-1965 wagons and vans in period photographs. See also the drawings and series numbering with variants, updates and rebuilds at the back of this handy volume. The information contained in these pages is invaluable to modellers and historians alike (me being both). Modellers in particular will appreciate the assistance given for weathering in these first-rate colour images.

Eye-strainers: Detailing for the dedicated modeller

I don't know about you but I'd get bored just pulling a wagon out of its box to plonk it on the tracks behind a locomotive I've taken from the box and done nothing to either. I don't just buy ready-made wagons, I build kits. Many are Parkside, some are from the Chivers Finelines range, others are Ratio or from different sources. If there isn't a ready-to-run version there'll be a kit. I'm happy to fill the gap and by my reckoning maybe half my wagon fleet is kit-built. Ready-made loads don't always look right either. Sometimes they have to be 'jiggled' a bit, weathered, worked on to fit the bill. Tarpaulins usually come in neat packs. They need to be scrunched up, opened up and spread over the load, then wetted, dried and painted, maybe a rip where a tie rope failed to look weather-beaten and aged. Rarely did they look new. Sometimes more than one tarpaulin needs to be added, one covering the edges of the next. Use your imagination about what can happen to old canvas, look at lots of pictures in a number of books, magazines and online. Observation is the ticket to good modelling. You'll get better as time goes on, re-do some you're not satisfied with. The environment's a tough one, materials are often unkind to the skin as much as they are to man-made materials meant to protect railway workers from flying debris or dust (chemical or mined). Coal and other minerals are covered on a different page, this page concerns itself with 'regular' loads that need to be protected from the elements.

I feel 'cheated' at exhibitions if loads don't look right, and I try not to cheat those who observe my efforts. Sometimes I fail, and then i'll go back and re-work what I've done before (if time allows). Take a long look at your open wagons and see what's missing after checking images of the real McCoy. That's entertainment!

The wagon loads shown below are for insertion in, say, five plank or steel open wagons. They can be taken out to show wagons being returned empty, or to be replaced with other loads. Alternatively you can fix a tarpaulin of your choice (British Railways or pre-Nationalisation) permanently, or fold a tarpaulin to shape over a wagon and - without fixing it to the body - take it off to show a folded tarpaulin on the bottom. Try also inserting a tall 'load' (it doesn't matter what if you (or spectators at an exhibition) can't see it and fitting a tarpaulin over that. If you don't intend to remove the tarpaulin you can secure it with cotton to represent rope. Attach rings to the wagon side to take the 'rope' (you can get them from 'Masokits', who provide such things as movable brake levers and all manner of associated wagon detailing parts, but beware, this is why the label is 'Masokits'. You need to have very short eyesight to cope, or a set of good tweezers to go with your toolkit - and a clamp stand with magnifying.glass).

In later years you sometimes saw containers loaded into open wagons (desperation brings interesting solutions) if a container flat was not available in the goods yard when needed. In the steel bodied wagons; there were steel rings on the inside wagon walls to secure the containers to.(note 'dimples' on the exterior walls).

Wagon loads for opens, lowfits and container flats

Wagon load for 13t steel LNER open, crates and barrels from Peco, 'floor' is Slater's 4mm plank mounted on 2.5mm thick plain card
Wagon load for 13t steel LNER open, crates and barrels from Peco, 'floor' is Slater's 4mm plank mounted on 2.5mm thick plain card | Source
'Concrete' piping chained load - plastic tube from Evergreen with 2mm chain from Eileen's Emporium
'Concrete' piping chained load - plastic tube from Evergreen with 2mm chain from Eileen's Emporium | Source
Real wood,(cocktail sticks) painted dark to look like hardwood, 2mm chain again - for either timber or steel-built wagons
Real wood,(cocktail sticks) painted dark to look like hardwood, 2mm chain again - for either timber or steel-built wagons | Source
Wholly tarpaulined resin cast load for open wagons (Hornby, part of a set of 3,, painted dark grey Humbrol 67)
Wholly tarpaulined resin cast load for open wagons (Hornby, part of a set of 3,, painted dark grey Humbrol 67) | Source
A chained pipe load - see above - made up from Evergreen plastic tubing and again fine chain from Eileen's Emporium
A chained pipe load - see above - made up from Evergreen plastic tubing and again fine chain from Eileen's Emporium | Source
Chained refractory piping for open wagons with 'chalk marks', made up from plastic tube, artists' fine-liner pen for the chalk marks
Chained refractory piping for open wagons with 'chalk marks', made up from plastic tube, artists' fine-liner pen for the chalk marks | Source
'Roped' cement bag loads - resin castings with darning cotton. I chopped up the castings a bit and glued some 'bags' on top
'Roped' cement bag loads - resin castings with darning cotton. I chopped up the castings a bit and glued some 'bags' on top | Source

A look at a cross-section of the railway modelling press

One of the leading British railway modelling magazines, takes a close look at various aspects of motive power, freight and passenger stock as well as controls and an all-round overview of railway modelling
One of the leading British railway modelling magazines, takes a close look at various aspects of motive power, freight and passenger stock as well as controls and an all-round overview of railway modelling | Source
almost a Bible with scale modellers. Carries fewer advertisements and specialises in detail building or conversion to P4 or EM gauges (scale 18.84 and 18.5 mm = 4'-8.5"). Many modellers consider the publication 'elitist', modelling standards are high
almost a Bible with scale modellers. Carries fewer advertisements and specialises in detail building or conversion to P4 or EM gauges (scale 18.84 and 18.5 mm = 4'-8.5"). Many modellers consider the publication 'elitist', modelling standards are high | Source
The popularist approach to railway modelling is taken by Railway Modeller, published by Peco with masses of advertisements for all products and services. Don't knock it, one of my early articles, REETH appeared in the late 1980s
The popularist approach to railway modelling is taken by Railway Modeller, published by Peco with masses of advertisements for all products and services. Don't knock it, one of my early articles, REETH appeared in the late 1980s | Source

Consult some of the experts of the model press for advice, information and inspiration

Take a look in the railway press - modelling, research, prototype - for ideas to set you off on the hobby. There is a wide range of books and periodicals, as here from the Wild Swan range. Whichever is the era or region of your choice, you can be assured there will be information to research for your stock, scenery or signalling. The MRJ goes back decades, although magazine stock storage is limited. There are many dealers at exhibitions who may be able to secure copies of what you want if they do not have the copies with them.

The modelling press in the UK - available worldwide - includes Hornby Magazine, Model Railway Journal, British Railway Journal and Peco's Railway Modeller magazine among others.

What I've included here demonstrates the standard and quality of only a fraction of what is on offer. For obvious reasons (space, purely) I've only shown the products offered by four publishers. Make yourself familiar with their products, you may wish to shop around, see what skill range various periodicals cater for. A little of everything or a lot of a few, the choice is infinite. I've got copies of several magazines and books from various sources (usually editions that offer information on the NER/LNER-NE/BR-NE).

You might specialise in one company, or a representative area serviced by that company. or even a particular branch line that you have plans for. The publishers listed here will have something for you somewhere. Call or contact them, their editorial staff may be able to help or refer you. There are specialist interest groups that offer information. Give them a try, join them maybe.

Each of the model railway magazines - British Railway Modelling or BRM, Hornby Magazine (nothing but the name to do with the manufacturer), Model Railway Journal and Railway Modeller amongst several others - has set itself the task of publicising the skills and enterprises of its readership and encourages others to join the throng. They're not 'playing' but 'recreating'. There is a vast difference between play and recreation. For example, the quality of ready-to-run models has improved in leaps and bounds over the past few decades, in 2mm, 3.5mm, 4mm and 7mm scales. The range of 7mm ready-to-run products has increased, although so have the prices in this scale. You obviously have the option of making the hobby cheaper if you have the modelling skills to build your own track, motive power and stock. Many don't but enjoy seeing what they've bought working as it should.

I model in OO. When I buy ready-to-run locomotives or stock I replace the proprietary couplings with couplings from various ranges, mostly the Smith's rsange of 3-link and instanter (for closer coupling) types for freight stock. I have used Smith's screw couplings for fitted stock (parcels vans, brake vans and even locomotives) but have found them very fragile and are not up to frequent handling or heavy loads. For this job I tend to use the Jackson type, slightly bigger - some say out of scale - and much.more robust. Everyone has their own preferences, but we learn about other products through reading the model press. That's its purpose, besides entertainment, to inform and advise..

Enjoy your hobby,. enjoy your reading.

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster

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