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RITES OF PASSAGE FOR A MODEL RAILWAY - 15: SPECIAL PURPOSE, Freight And Departmental Vehicles

Updated on February 5, 2018

A wagon for every job...

This is the tank flat - in this case taken into the British Railways' Western Region fleet, seen at Locomotion, Shildon
This is the tank flat - in this case taken into the British Railways' Western Region fleet, seen at Locomotion, Shildon | Source
Early rail crane with crane runner at Locomotion, Shildon - this is the overflow site for the National Railway Museum, York
Early rail crane with crane runner at Locomotion, Shildon - this is the overflow site for the National Railway Museum, York | Source
British Railways' Tube Wagon awaits restoration - seen at the back of the Peter Allan Building at the NRM, York (form. York Goods)
British Railways' Tube Wagon awaits restoration - seen at the back of the Peter Allan Building at the NRM, York (form. York Goods) | Source
This is the Parkside version of the above with model engineering brass pipe load
This is the Parkside version of the above with model engineering brass pipe load | Source

A first rate reference work by Robert Hendry with excellent colour reproduction - a must for modellers and researchers alike with a welter of images of wagons in traffic in steam and diesel days.

I've had a copy of this book for years. Together with other publications on my shelves there aren't many gaps left to fill. The book below, RAILWAY OPERATION FOR THE MODELLER by Bob Essery is another must-have, with close-ups of fine model work and the real thing (sometimes difficult to tell)

Moving livestock - cattle

Cattle working in the West Midlands behind a GWR freight locomotive
Cattle working in the West Midlands behind a GWR freight locomotive | Source
A countryside cattle dock - livestock being loaded
A countryside cattle dock - livestock being loaded | Source
Livestock dock, Lincoln, England 1935 - sheep and cattle await the next move
Livestock dock, Lincoln, England 1935 - sheep and cattle await the next move | Source

Industrial materials

A pair of Parkside Pipe wagons with painted and chained plastic loads
A pair of Parkside Pipe wagons with painted and chained plastic loads | Source
Close-up of one of the wagons above showing the Instanter couplings
Close-up of one of the wagons above showing the Instanter couplings | Source
Martyn Welch: "The Art of Weathering" published by Wild Swan, available from Amazon.uk
Martyn Welch: "The Art of Weathering" published by Wild Swan, available from Amazon.uk | Source

Martyn Welch guides you through the do's and don'ts of weathering, what types of weathering affect different materials, the colours and powders or paint washes to apply on locomotives, wagons, carriages etc. Great reference to work from

The variations of special purpose wagons are limitless - sadly the space I have isn't. so here's a selection of what you can find to buy

Let's see what your options are. There are a number of manufacturers of boxed wagons, such as Hornby and Bachmann in the mainstream for OO Gauge - which can be converted with etched brass parts for EM and P4 gauges - and then there is also the Danish Heljan range as well as Dapol, Peco and ViTrains.

Graham Farish and Peco are the best known manufacturers for 'N' or 2mm scale.

Where 'O' Gauge is concerned ready-to-run options are limited to Ace Trains (revival of Bassett Lowke patterns), Bachmann and Heljan - and expensive. You can buy unpainted brass vehicles from Bachmann, but the choice is so far limited.

The manufacturers raise the stakes all the time in introducing new prototypes and re-introducing some that have been neglected. I shall restrict myself here in the narrative to 4mm or 1:76 scale, British outline, but I won't exclude 2mm/7mm from the picture gallery for off-the-shelf models. The bigger range is in kits, as much for 2mm as for 7mm. There is also 2mm/7mm Finescale. (Let's see what I can find for you to look at).

As you will see from my RMweb Gallery (and those of others) and these Hub pages, there is a wide range of boxed 4mm or 'OO' Gauge, and an even wider range of kits to augment your wagon fleet. No one manufacturer can hope - nor do they aim - to produce scale versions of every type of wagon ever seen on Britain's railways. Kit manufacturers take up the 'slack'.

What do we understand by 'specialist' wagons? The normal range of wagons takes in mineral and general goods/freight opens - whether in set rakes for express traffic or small batches on branch lines. Bulk commodity - oil, cement, milk and grain for example - wagons come in many shapes and sizes but the loads are enclosed within the body of the wagon to keep dry or uncontaminated. Open bogie or four-wheeled long-wheelbase wagons carry bulk loads of brick, concrete, alumnium or copper tube and pipe or other loads that should not be chained down in case of breakages. Flat bolster, well or plate wagons carry loads that need securing with chain to stop the loads from sliding during transit (in braking or accelleration, or on track unsuited to passenger traffic). There are also trestle wagons to carry wide steel plate at an angle within loading gauge height restrictions.

And there are cattle wagons that can run in rakes for the wholesale auctions, be they for dairy or fatstock cattle breeders. Vacuum-fitted cattle wagons could be attached behind the loco on passenger trains. After the early 1950s this traffic fell off steeply and many wagons were adapted for other traffic, including departmental use (for example tunnel inspectors). Horse boxes were also specialist in nature, but being vacuum-fitted they were considered suitable to run on passenger (through or semi-fast) trains even though they were shorter than pigeon vans.

Lastly, machine wagons also used as tank transports in both WWI and WWII. They were built for transporting tractors, farm machinery and other agricultural or commercial vehicles (such as steam rollers, even!)

All of these vehicles can be bought boxed, ready to run with automatic couplers. Although suitable for youngsters over the age of twelve, there are many older collectors who buy them for their own layouts. Me, I'm a 'tinker', I want to see them with 'proper' couplings and set to work on them as soon as they're out of the box. The boxes go in the recycling; i'm not a collector. When I take my models to show they're transported in batches, in plastic boxes.

Now for the interesting bit. Plastic kits come in all shapes and sizes, some in flat boxes (like Ratio or Slaters) or in flat plastic packaging like Cooper Craft or Parkside Dundas. Ratio produce wagon kits of Midland, LMS, Southern and GW vehicles, Slaters are a 'broader church', with North Eastern wagons as well as Midland and LMS. Cooper Craft produce exclusively GW wagon kits and Parkside Dundas are in the market with NBR, LNER and B R. They've also come up with a number of GW wagon kits. If you're sharp-eyed you can find discontinued kits at swapmeets or exhibitions, or kits whose production has been temporarily 'shelved'.

There is also Chivers Finelines, contact them by phone or e-mail under the name of Slimrails (contact details are on their website under 'Slimrails'. They will send you a list of their products that include 009 (narrow-gauge) stock. I bought an LMS tube wagon from them, and will buy another... or more, as soon as I can. These kits go 'magically' together, (just like the Pigeon Vans I bought, but that's another story)!

I've mentioned before that when I buy a kit I tend to set aside a few components from the sprues and reach for the 'gubbins' box. Or boxes. for instance I leave the plastic buffers from kits and insert steel ones from Alan Gibson. Same as when it comes to couplings there's a great choice aside from the automatic (I call them 'toy') couplings. Depending on the nature of the vehicle and what its vintage is, I use Smiths (W&H) couplings or 247 Developments (used to be Jacksons'). The parts of Smiths range I use are: LP2 Instanter Couplings (unassembled) for British Railways-built non-vacuum fitted wagons, LP4 3-link (larger links) couplings for earlier unfitted wagons and LP5 Screw Link couplings for vacuum-fitted wagons that won't be in long trains with a likely amount of strain on the coupling. I have a stiff, curved gradient at one end of the Thoraldby layout that could pull the links out of a weak coupling, so for longer freight trains I use (even re-cycle) my Jackson screw couplings or try to get hold of some from 247 Developments. In terms of vacuum pipes I've used them from various sources. The more realistic are made with copper wire wound on brass wire stems. These look right, and are more durable than those of cast white metal that can break easily.

When you re-work ready-to-run wagons keep the steel weights to use on the underside of longer kit-built wagons (i.e.longer than scale 10'-0" wheelbase, 40mm or 1-9/16"). Preferably use either 'liquid lead' (minute lead balls poured into a cavity) or 2.5mm lead sheet cut-outs trimmed to the lateral space between the brake mechanisms.

Both Bachmann and Hornby have latched onto the weathered wagon syndrome. You can either leave the wagon weathered the way they've boxed it, or you can take the 'natural process' a step further with weathering powders from Carrs - amongst others - with thinned-down matt enamels or acrylics (I've got to try them myself some time). Check the internet for close-up colour images, there are paperback books on weathering and there are books showing wagons in a distressed state after years of neglect in revenue-earning service. Rust is a big feature on freight wagons. Standing around on sidings, in yards, rain, frost, ice and dirt all work into the paintwork and leave their mark. Different parts of the country, or different countries altogether, have varied effects on wood and metal. The bottom planks on wagons might be rotten in places - there's an idea, distressing the bottom planks to show the railway beneath! - or the end panels on steel-built stock might have rust-holes. Wagon strapping on plank-built wagons suffers, the planks themselves might be replaced and new lettering panels have to be inserted/painted.

There are a couple of two-step methods of showing rust on wagon bodies:

1) Paint the body in a rust colour, leave to dry; paint patches, strapping, bracing panels or random drips with Maskol and allow to dry; paint the whole body with the livery colour and allow to dry; peel off the Maskol; apply lettering (you might do this with larger post-Grouping company lettering - NE, LMS etc - and then peel off the Maskol;

2) Paint the wagon in the livery colour; apply stage 1 of Deluxe Scenic Rust in patches (after studying photographs/images of the way wagons are affected by rust) and allow to dry; apply stage 2 of Scenic Rust, and after drying apply stage 3 (There's another product with just two stages, but I've forgotten the name).

Another method is to keep the sludge you've created in your white spirit jar and brush that on in strategic places to look like dirt accumulated in running or from damp rot. Remember, study images and read up on rust and dirt effects on wood and metal. Have fun!


One-offs: Slurry Tenders and Engineer's Train

Sand wagons at Ayton Lane mpd with a couple of LNER Group Standard tenders behind in use as slurry tanks - engines may have been written off after bombing in WWII - one from a Bachmann J39 loco, the other etched brass kit-built bought separately
Sand wagons at Ayton Lane mpd with a couple of LNER Group Standard tenders behind in use as slurry tanks - engines may have been written off after bombing in WWII - one from a Bachmann J39 loco, the other etched brass kit-built bought separately | Source
Close-up of one of the tenders in the view above - an etched brass kit-built tender bought loose for 'scenic' purposes and heavily weathered
Close-up of one of the tenders in the view above - an etched brass kit-built tender bought loose for 'scenic' purposes and heavily weathered | Source
This is the crane runner, a former (Parkside) LNER plate wagon 'commandeered' for Departmental use by the North Riding District Engineer - (Middlesbrough Area) You can see the crane jib overhanging
This is the crane runner, a former (Parkside) LNER plate wagon 'commandeered' for Departmental use by the North Riding District Engineer - (Middlesbrough Area) You can see the crane jib overhanging | Source
Booth Rodley of  Leeds produced large numbers of cranes for the railways. This is an Airfix/Dapol Bogie Diesel crane I built over several days, taking care not to get adhesive in the working parts. I used grey thread to resemble steel cable.
Booth Rodley of Leeds produced large numbers of cranes for the railways. This is an Airfix/Dapol Bogie Diesel crane I built over several days, taking care not to get adhesive in the working parts. I used grey thread to resemble steel cable. | Source
Crane train. At the back an Airfix/Dapol unfitted brake to the left of a modified Ian Kirk coach (part of a quad-art set). At the front is the crane runner to the left is the crane itself. I intend to convert a 4-wh. pigeon/parcels van to a tool van
Crane train. At the back an Airfix/Dapol unfitted brake to the left of a modified Ian Kirk coach (part of a quad-art set). At the front is the crane runner to the left is the crane itself. I intend to convert a 4-wh. pigeon/parcels van to a tool van | Source
Close-up of the engineer's mess coach - re-working of an Ian Kirk quad-art body with Gresley bogies and short underframe trussing (taken across a condemned plate wagon)
Close-up of the engineer's mess coach - re-working of an Ian Kirk quad-art body with Gresley bogies and short underframe trussing (taken across a condemned plate wagon) | Source

Reading/Reference list:

The Beginner's Guide Weathering with the February 2012 edition of Hornby Magazine (Ian Allen Publishing Ltd);

The Art of Weathering by Martin Welch, Wild Swan Publications ISBN 1 874103 11 9 (there are other books in the series, check pages of Model Railway Journal for available publications, ph: 01235 826478) a good grounding in the options and techniques for modellers;

Railway Operation For The Modeller by Bob Essery, Midland Publishing ISBN 1 85780 168 7 - gives an idea of what treatment wagons undergo in service, clues to weathering;

LNER Wagons Before 1948 Vol 1 No13 Opens, Vans & Special Stock by David & Claire Williamson, ed. Peter Midwinter, Cheona Publications ISBN 1 900298 16 3 - Mainly b&w images, colour covers, pages 17, 20-21, 32-33 and 36-41. Very useful for LNER modellers;

British Railway Wagons No5 Cattle & Brake Vans comp. G Gamble, Cheona Publications ISBN 1 900298 05 8 - mostly b&w images, colour cover images, handy for numbering and variety of images of ranges;

Wagons Of The Early British Rail Era - A Pictorial Study of the 1969-1982 Period, by David Larkin, Kestrel Railway Books ISBN 978 1 905505 0 4 - all b&w images but comprehensive image bank and numbering sequences with loading and load sheeting, handy for the section 'Wagon Liveries and Lettering' (pp 6-8) and includes lots of special load wagons ;

British Railway Goods Wagons In Colour For the Modeller and Historian by Robert Hendry, Midland Publishing ISBN 1 83780 094 X - What the title says. A gold mine of images - not everything, but a wide range of images and a good guide to weathering

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