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Starting from scratch

I've been meaning to cover this ground for some time, in the belief that scratch-building has acquired a mythical status, when in the past, before the arrival of zillions of kits, it was normal to scratch build what you wanted (or these days, to get something that isn't available). In the magazines, articles about scratch building were common and you just got stuck in using Plastikard and castings from the Kenline range. The latter were generic, rather than "LMS" or "LNER"-dedicated, or if based on an actual prototype, it wasn't divulged. How times have changed for the supply of dedicated parts nowadays, as castings and etched brass, is enormous. In addition, advent of "W-irons" has made it easier to assemble reliably square (and hence, good running) underframes,

My first efforts were by making different bodies on RTR wagon underframes and it remains a good way of learning basic techniques in Plastikard. I soon moved on to the whole shooting match, encouraged by a steady stream of articles on wagons for the LMS and LNER from the likes of Nick Campling and Peter Tatlow, who went on to fly even bigger flags for modellers in the hobby. The age of the first models shown here can be guessed by the fact that they preceded transfers, hence the shaky, hand-painted lettering! The "NE", however, came from Letraset. Ex-GNR CLC vans

Two of the manually braked 19ft vans showing the simple body and underframe (one of which is still incomplete - I must have run out of parts!

Secondly, they were built entirely on the dining table in the living room, using completely basic tools: craft knife, Swiss files, and a brush for the solvent (Mekpak). I didn't even possess a steel ruler at the time and used a plastic one. Wet & dry emery came from a friend at work, as I recall - useful for sanding edges square and reducing slightly over-size dimensions. It also helps to use a pair of steel dividers to transfer dimensions although the most useful technique is not to get too wrapped up in precise dimensions for their own sake, but to make sure that parts line up with each other. It's amazing how little you actually need to scratch-build wagons.

How much has changed over the years? Very little. Best of all, scalpels outperform craft knives, and "scrawkers" are more efficient when scoring the planks. A vernier can help but remember what I said above about making/fettling parts so that they line up and fit with each other.

Next question, why after mucking about with open wagons, did I choose the vans shown, and why so many? In the first place they were pretty simple and the insides could be braced to ensure long term stability. Secondly, when scribing the sides and ends for a model it's as easy to make half a dozen as it is to make one: you just extend the length as far as a sheet of PK will let you. I actually made 5 but have only shown four of them here. Where I rang the changes was by making slightly different versions: manually braked and AVB, and one that wasn't ventilated on the roof and was lettered for the CLC. Ideal sources of info may be found in Peter Talows "LNER wagons" book, the original single volume version (that was reprinted), and the currently vastly expanded version in several volumes.

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The pair fitted with AVB. The novel twin vee-hanger arrangement was continued by the LNER; I made it up using Plastikard, which survives intact. Today there is a cast version from ABS, and an etched one from Masokits: you can build the whole shooting match, or as I did with Plastikard, just the parts that show from the outside. Both should have screw-link couplings.

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For the strapping I used toothpaste tube, which in those days was made out of zinc sheet - easily cut and impressed for bolt heads. Attached with Evostik. Today, you can get etched strapping but the simple (but fiddly) solution is to lay Plastikard strip and make up the bolt heads individually with chippings of PK laid with the tip of a scalpel. If you think that's asking too much, my son managed perfectly well at the age of 14 1/2! A key thing to bear in mind is that Plastikard is so easy to work with that, if you drop a clanger, you scrap the part and do it again. The standard you set yourself is personal, of course, the point is you'd be surprised how well you can do.

I painted the vans with Humbrol which used to be so good when brush painted that the models look as if they were sprayed. Individual planks were picked out in different shades to simulate weathering.

It's useful to return to the subject of accuracy and standards. These models were built when I was quite young and sharp eyes will find more faults or simplistic aspects on these models. The key thing is they were what I was capable of at the time - they are models "of their time", and a step towards more models, and as you get better........

To reinforce that point, here is source information that is available today:


This spread from Peter Tatlow's "LNER Wagons, Volume One, LNER Southern Area" shows the same picture and drawing that was reproduced in the original magazine article. The next two pages contain four more illustrations, from as-built to BR days, details of changes and running numbers.

It's immediately apparent that my two ex-GNR AVB models, and the manually braked CLC one, are based on illustrations, but I cannot find anything about ex-GNR manually braked ones. This is because there weren't any! The solution, I now learn (thank you Peter), is to cover the ones built for the CLC (original numbers 1500-1551 carried on a small, almost invisible plate on the solebar) from which, from 1930, the LNER acquired examples and renumbered them somewhere in the series 545001-547746. No further details there, yet, I'm afraid. The roof vents would have to come off, too. It's a fine example of a young modeller's efforts being updated by more accurate information. Happens all the time...

Since I built these models of a once-numerous type, there has been no kit (although D&S did produce a "ventilated" version of which some were produced, with end louvres). It pleases me to have five vans on my layout that will only have been duplicated by other modellers who read the same article. :)

To be continued: Next - some open wagons, and a more recent pair built jointly with my son (age fourteen and a half).... :)

GNR wagons from D&S kits: are here.

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