Rites of Passage for a Model Railway - 14: King Coal, Iron Ore and Limestone by Rail - Miniaturised Mined Minerals
Hoppers, easily loaded and unloaded by gravity...
Think of coal wagons and what picture presents itself in your mind?
Do you think of a few wagons on a branchline train, some filled with coal for local merchants or for the stationmaster to augment his income, perhaps give his porter-signalman and lad porter a share in the profits for bagging up? Or do you think of exchange sidings, with wagonfuls of coal to be shipped out to yards or docks? You'd be right both times, although the first picture is a little more romantic.
Think again in model terms. How many different kinds of coal wagon can you envisage on your layout? Does it have a loco shed, perhaps a coal depot or even a pit alongside? In model terms nowadays, what with the range of kits and finished resin-cast building models and the possibility of either kit-bashing or scratch-building you've got more or less free range in what you make of your model. You've a choice between a sleepy little branch line station with a depot that will take perhaps two or three wagons, and a full-size club layout with coal pit or ironstone mine and yards-long (in model terms, remember) exchange sidings.
So what types of wagons do we see in the station coal depot or exchange sidings? Well, depending where your pit/mine is, you've got lots of choice.
Starting in the North East (where else?) you've got wagons largely built by either the London & Nearly Everywhere Railway (LNER) or further back, the North Eastern Railway (NER) and even the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR). In the 1930s the LNER brought out their 21 ton hopper wagons, built mainly at Shildon (local). Dapol brought out their version around twenty-thirty years ago, both painted and unpainted. Recently Parkside Dundas (ph: 01592 640896) brought out their kit version. As I already had quite a lot of Dapol's, I didn't think it necessary to buy the kit. I may yet change my mind! Going back in time we have the plastic kit version of the wooden North Eastern hopper from Slaters to go with their NER 'Birdcage' Brake-van if you're modelling the pre-1920s era. Earlier than that are the early 'Chaldron Wagons' - if you're modelling Seaham Harbour you could have the chaldron wagons on your layout even in the 1950s/1960s! The people to look for here are RT Models, www.rtmodels.co.uk., who produce a white metal kit with an etch for details such as brake levers and brake 'mechanism'.
For those who are hesitant about building wagon kits there is a range of ready-to-run (r-t-r) hoppers and other coal and mineral wagon types from Bachmann and Hornby (aside from the Dapol model of the 21 ton mineral hopper). You have the option of a conversion job, with Smiths (W&H) 3-link brass couplings (either chemically pre-blackened or normal brass) and sprung hooks. Unless your eyesight is good or you wear glasses, don't bother trying to install these. They're very fiddly and need patience to assemble, and that's aside from taking off the original r-t-r coupling and mounting and boring through the headstocks to make a hole big enough to take the shaft of the hook. I usually use a small drill bit, say 0.5mm, and then open it up vertically with a craft knife blade. Unless you've got strong fingers don't try this, or allow children to try it. You could finish up with lacerated fingers! Many r-t-r wagons also have steel weights that need to be taken out - after levering apart both halves of the wagon - and replacing with either cut lead sheet or 'liquid lead', (miniature lead balls sold by Eileen's Emporium). The length of the steel wagon weights prevents the installation of the coupling hooks even when cut down.
In other regions there were mostly private owner six and seven-plank 13t wagon types, many built by Charles Roberts at Gloucester or Wakefield. Slaters do a kit for these with transfer-printed sides and well-detailed brake and door-hinge mouldings. You can also buy the transfers from Modelmaster through Parkside, of an extensive range shown in their catalogue. These wagons had bottom-opening doors, side opening doors that dropped onto bash-plates, and an end-door marked by a long white diagonal stripes on the sides. Then there were also the various types of Loco Coal wagon types, mostly represented as wood- and steel bodied by Hornby and Bachmann, although Parkside and Cooper Craft do kits for the LNER and GWR versions. Parkside also produces a five-plank North British Railway (NBR) loco coal wagon kit. By and large the six and seven plank private owner wagons were widespread throughout Britain, inlcuding the Yorkshire, Lancashire and Midland coal fields for industrial, commercial and home delivery.
I also prefer to build my own coal loads, beginning with measuring the length X width of the load-space, cut a piece of 2mm/2.5mm plain Slaters' plastic sheet, and (after measuring the depth of the wagon to about 1mm below the rim) build supports for the 'load level' in an 'H' formation, with the 'cross-bar' of the 'H' half the depth of the 'side-bars'. Attach the 'H' formation laterally with liquid polystyrene or Plasweld (the latter is stronger). Take a sheet of 1.5mm/2mm sheet and cut 'levels', progressively reducing the size of the surface, and cut off the corners, gradually rounding them off. Add the layers, two or three is enough. When dry spread plastic filler over the layers and allow to dry. [This method can also be used for other bulk mineral loads such as ironstone or limestone etc]. Paint the load surface in the base colour, a little darker than the covering layer will be, for 'depth'. Spread white PVA or diluted wood glue over the painted load surface and sprinkle your 'load' material' over it. Allow to dry and, 'Hey Presto', you've got your Mineral load!
Take a look at the pictures on the right...
A few examples ... from Industrial Revolution beginnings to British Railways standardisation
...And in close-up, mixed mineral conveyance, private owner and British Railways
A must on layouts with steam locomotives, 'Loco Coal' wagons were seen everywhere between Thurso and Tonbridge, Ipswich and Ilfracombe (that's ILFRACOMBE in case you were confused by the two verticals at the front).
Motive power depots outside the North-east tended to be labour-intensive before the days of coaling towers. In the North-east originally coaling locomotives was carried out by men employed just for that job, just as fitters and fire-lighters went about their work around the sheds. Often there was a poky rest room at the backs of coaling stages. A shunter pushed empty wagons off the ramps and laden ones on, up a slope. A roof was usually provided for the workmen, and sometimes water cranes were close at hand - sometimes built in to the wall adjacent to where the engines stopped below chutes to be coaled. After coaling towers were built - the one at.York was nicknamed the 'Cenotaph' for its shape - smaller wagons were employed, that could be hoisted one after another, tipped and emptied into the bunkers. Below the drivers only had to wait and a man in the control box high above pressed a button or pulled a lever to let tons of the black stuff drop into tenders or bunkers. Wonderful thing, gravity. thanks Isaac. Just a shame the poor fellows had to climb up all those steps!
High walled wooden wagons of 21 tons capacity initially formed the bulk of the loco coal wagon fleets around mainland Britain and Ireland in order to fulfil the need for coal without endless lines of wagons crowding the sidings. Between the wars railway companies began to turn to steel for both loco coal and commercial supplies, to avoid the bottom planks charring (endless shunting, to-and-fro motion of wagons in transit resulted sometimes in fires breaking out where the bottom layer rubbed). The coaling towers also appeared around this time, and where siding space was limited lower capacity wagons could be turned around quicker.
The National Coal Board was set up under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act of 1946 during Clement Attlee's term of government. The Board took over United Kingdom collieries on 'vesting day', 1st January, 1946.
During Margaret Thatcher's term on office, in 1987 the NCB was renamed the British Coal Corporation and subsequently privatised, thus sounding the death knell for large-scale coal mining in Britain, the last pit to close in 2016 being Kellingly Colliery near Selby in North Yorkshire. Where we now import a lower grade coal from Eastern Europe, we exported a higher calorific value mineral to them.
National Coal Board ownership of 'recycled' railway company stock
Illustrated with colour images wagons in context - to show mineral and freight traffic en route and in marsshalling yards - and in close-up to show 'warts and all', rust, rot, wear and tear. Robert Hendry includes older preserved wagons to show differences in construction and livery. I've had a copy since its first run, now stuffed with historical notes from wagon kits, relevant to various vehicles on my own extensive layout
Here's a taster for a later page in the series of 'Rites of Passage..."...
For real period charm see the 'Bramblewick' layout in the Model Railway Journal
The layout was a joint effort by several Scalefour modellers (18.83 mm gauge = 4mm/foot scale) in the 1980s-1990s, begun by Hull-based artist Tom Harland (now unfortunately deceased). The quality of the scenic modelling was convincing down to the rivets in the buildings, the rust on ironwork, the rock formations and peeling paint on some of the buildings.
Tom was the guiding light in this project, his own forte being scenery. He sketched in the Robin Hood's Bay area ('Bramblewick' is based on RHB, the name coming from Leo Walmsley's stories about characters in the area, the town on the maps marked as Robin Hood's Bay is known locally as 'Bay Town'). The period the model was based on was late 19th-early 20th Century, pre-WWI and the modelling reflects this era with fine North Eastern Railway (NER) wagons, carriages and locomotives. My reason for including the model in this part of the 'Rites of Passage' is the excellent fleet of mineral wagons built from etched brass, white metal and plastic kits (very few ready-to-run models are available for the NER area in this era).
*Bramblewick was not meant to be an accurate representation of Robin Hood's Bay, rather a representation of a North Eastern country station on North Yorkshire's rugged coast.
'Bramblewick' and the artist, tom Harland, 1945-2012
A few images to show coal depots including 'Thoraldby'
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster