Readers of this blog will recall that my father has a significant interest in breakdown cranes; he has published a series of books on them and is the honoury president of the Breakdown Crane Association. As a result of this, a few years ago, he took a call from Bachmann when they started to research the possibility of filling a gap in the ready to run scene for a accurate breakdown crane. He delighted in being sworn to secrecy on this until the model was announced and now, some five years later, it has finally arrived on the shelves.
So after a somewhat unsatisfactory retail experience with Rails of Sheffield (which I won’t be repeating, there are plenty of other retailers out there), an example of a Ransomes & Rapier 45 ton crane arrived not much more than a couple of hours spare so that it could be parcelled up in its Christmas wrapping for my father. Now that it has reemerged, it is time to take a look at it.
The prototypes originate from the early years of the last world war and were initiated by the British Government; in part in anticipation of a lot of emergency repairs being required following enemy action and also for use on the continent once a toehold had been achieved. Initially a total of six were made, going to the SR and GWR but subsequently a further order of nine were made, mostly for the military but with a couple for the LNER and another for the SR. The example I bought being from the latter batch, being initially based in Gorton on the ex GCR system.
There were detail differences, with many of the railway company vehicles utilising standard components from their eventual owners. The valve chests for the cylinders moved to the exterior in the later batches and the operation of the loading of the relieving bogies became hydraulic latterly. The biggest changes, however, related to the match wagons where there was both variety of arrangements of tool boxes at the time of building and generations of modifications thereafter.
The cranes lasted until the mid 1980’s and a number of them survive in preservation, so if you want to see the real thing you might want to head to the Midhants Railway (on which the prototype photographs were taken and reproduced with kind permission of Carl Watson), the Bluebell Railway, the Great Central Railway, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway or the Swanage Railway. Below is a link to a video of the Midhants crane in action:
The first thing you notice with the model is that it is some way from the toy train end of the model train market. The prototype is smothered in detail; with the fine bracing between the sides of the jib, the gear trains, axleboxes and flywheels all being a bit out of the ordinary for the ready to run market. Bachmann have had a really good go at this and for the greater part they have got it right – very few could model a crane as well as this. There are, however, several compromises made to enable them to be operable. This particularly shows at the bearing points at the head of the jib (exposed metal when they shouldn’t be visible) and on the crankpin nuts to the flywheels (way too big and hexagonal). I understand why this was done, but it sticks out to my eyes! Some touching in of paintwork will help (but not be perfect) and the replacement of nuts with something more subtle should be possible.
The detail is very delicate and the model needs to be handled very carefully as a result. Even the most careful (and I don’t count myself in this group) are unlikely to keep all the detail in place on any model that does not merely sit in the display cabinet. With a recommended retail price of £250, substantially more than any other product that is not filled with motors & electronics, it is doubtful that too many will end up in the hands of children – maybe that is just as well!
The model I bought, the early BR model in black – Bachmann ref SKU: 38-802, has a match truck without tool boxes. This is correct for the specific crane post the early 1950s but what is not is the missing insides to the splashers. This seems to be a compromise to accommodate OO wheelsets without making the splashers excessively deep. It is easy enough to fill in the open spaces if you model in one of the wider gauges and it will make a big difference.
The painting and livery is particularly fine on the model. Even better there are some exquisitely delicate etched plates that can be applied on top of some of the plates. I suspect I see the shadow of Mr Hanson on them.
It looks realistic to get P4 wheels into the crane underframe and definitely so for the runners/match wagon. I would, however, be concerned as to whether a four axle vehicle could survive all but perfect track in P4 and how many of us have that? I suspect that it will all be very tight too, so some pretty large radius curves would be needed if a P4 model can get around them. Of course I will have a go, but it is not high on the to do list at the moment!
I think it is only a matter of time before someone looks at trying to motorise the crane. I think I will say good luck to them! Getting micromotors in might be possible for at least movement along the track but that still leaves slewing of the crane deck, raising of the jib and raising of the hook to go – getting another three in looks pretty difficult to me! The model does include internal hand operated mechanisms for the latter two movements – there are access panels that pop out to reveal a socket to receive a hand wheel. Thus, it is realistic to stage scenes, but not (in my eyes anyway – I really do look forward to someone having a go!) to make a fully operating model.
What is a must though is to add the paraphernalia of clutter the real cranes acquired in operation. Photographs show that they typically attracted lumber sections, jacks, chains and tarpaulins as if they were magnets. Cranes, not being front line stock in the public eye, tended not to suffer repaints very frequently and as they stood outside, they did weather and pick up corrosion spots. So any self respecting modeller needs to do something about how clean they look.
Although there is a very long in the tooth model crane from Hornby, it is somewhat of an uncomfortable marriage of several different cranes (the really old Hornby Doublo diecast version is better but quite crude), so does not cut the mustard. There are a limited number of kits for other cranes – notably the D&S Models Cowen Sheldon 15 ton breakdown crane (an example of one might grace these pages eventually!) but these are full on kits. Thus Bachmanns cranes are not only attractive models in their own right but they have a field fairly clear of competitors.
If you want the book on the prototype you need volume 2 of my father’s book – at present it is out of print but it is hoped with a bit of pressure on the publishers, Crecy, they can be persuaded to do a further print run.
The Bachmann crane is presently available in an SR livery, a GWR livery and then a pair of BR liveries – the 1950s livery shown above and a later gulf red livery. An example of the latter is below:
I am presently cracking on with a batch of NER hoppers for Benfieldside. Having acquired the layout, Tim and Julian have very little stock to run on it, so as part of the repayment for the use of their facilities and expertese on my boards, I thought I would help to correct this shortfall.
The origins of all of this present batch of hoppers all go back to the Slaters’ injection moulded kit, which is of diagram P7 wagon. There were around 17,500 of these wagons at the time of the grouping and the LNER carried on building them for some years thereafter with only subtle differences; so not unsurprisingly there were quite a lot of variants. Thus, I have been doing a lot of modifying!
In each case, I replaced the very clunky W irons with Bill Bedford replacements; even though these were to be to EM, I felt that they would improve their performance. The first examples were essentially built as the kit was intended with fairly traditional brake gear (which was to one side only). However, having built my first one, I decided to refine the brake gear by drawing an etch for replacement steps, V hangers, morton brake mechanisms and brake levers. This (along with a comparison with the plastic equivalent – the painted wagon), is below:
However, a significant proportion were modified with end levers that operated a crank that was connected to the Morton gear. At the ends, there was a much more chunky ratchet arrangement to retain the lever in position. Again, I drew this up on the etch, and the arrangement looks like this:
The NER undertook a number of experiments with these vehicles to attempt to reduce rolling resistance and this was the subject of my next modification. On the right (below), shows the provision of a second outside set of W irons. This was to add stiffening to the axles. There is a set of Bill Bedford W irons to cater for this, but I chose instead to create a fresh set on the etch. On the left is a further variant, where an anti-friction bearing was added in addition to the outer W irons. This was a wheel that ran on the top of the axle and I presume the idea was that as it rotated less, there would be less friction. I suspect that the introduction of an open bearing surface that would instantly get contaminated with coal and grot would actually have the exact opposite impact – as these were removed by the grouping era, I may well be right!
The final variation of construction that I have modelled was a slot cut into the ends, which appeared on some vehicles. The NER used these on vehicles that were hauled up rope inclines – of which they had many. A plank of wood was inserted into the hole and wedged such that it was secured behind the end posts to ensure that the haulage point was close to the centre of the wagon. They found without this that there was a tendency to pull the end posts loose due to the uneven point of pressure.
Next up will be the painting and lettering of these; where I have three eras to chose from that would have all been apparent immediately pre- first war, which is when Benfieldside will be set. More on this in a future post.
If there is a desire from anybody for the etches, I would be able to offer them; so drop me a note?