Today's entry moves swiftly onwards from the building of a selection of Thompson A2s onto history and opinions of their performance in service.
Firstly may I thank those correspondents who've wished me well? I'll not say I'm 'better', just 'better' than I was a year ago. Being involved in a little way with RMWeb at least has given me something to do, so thanks to all RMWebbers, too.
I state again my admiration for what Tim Easter and Graeme King have produced, and in most ways their conversions are easier than building a kit of the same prototype (as one of your correspondents has acknowledged), but the end results aren't necessarily better. That said, as I hope my descriptions of each of the following models show, in some cases they might well be.
A2/2 60501. This loco has already appeared on RMWeb, appearing on Gilbert Barnatt's Peterborough North. Though (I hope) it looked all right, it didn't run that well over the tighter radii present in some sections (tighter than Stoke Summit or Little Bytham). It is the actual progenitor of all DJH's subsequent A2/2 and A2/3 kits, and has a much more convoluted pedigree than anything Tim or Graeme could have dreamt up! I kept on pestering DJH to make a kit of an A2/2 (as long as it was to be 60501, 60502, 60505 or 60506 towards the end of their lives - 60503 and 60504 weren't considered because both of these retained their original boilers and cabs) and an A2/3 because they just about had all the bits in their various other kits. Thus the smokebox/boiler/firebox, smokebox door, cab front, cab roof, cylinders, parts of the motion/rods, boiler fittings, rear footplate, Cartazzi frames and bogie could come from their A1 or A2 kits, the cabsides from their A3 kit and the tenders from their A1/A2 kits or A3 kit. I asked the late John Hughes of DJH if he would send me all the bits I needed. I also asked the late Peter Wright of Millholme models if he would provide me with the front framing/footplate/bufferbeam, frames and valve gear off his A2/2 kit. Thus armed, and with a little bit of scratch-building, I produced this loco, wrote about it and photographed it for the late-lamented Modelling Railways Illustrated towards the end of the last century, and then sent it back to DJH for their inspection. A few years later, a mixed assortment of etchings and castings were delivered to my door, together with a few rudimentary drawings, with a request that I build the 'prototype' A2/2 kit (someone else had already built the first A2/3) and write the instructions. This I did, reported on it in BRM, and sold it. DJH then asked me to build one for them, which I did, at the same time making the first independent-build of their A2/3 kit (also written-up in BRM). I think that's the chronology. Ian Rathbone painted it.
A2/3 60500. This is built from a Crownline kit and is fitted with a SE Finecast A2 boiler (I'm not a fan of resin - too soft, and every time you try to solder it it just makes a stink!). The boiler band configuration is in four sections (as originally fitted to 500, and 511 when built). It's seen romping northwards through Little Bytham as a track gang looks on. I don't think this kit is in the same league as DJH's equivalents (look closely and you'll see how the cabsides have been modified) but it makes up all right. An account of its building (and that of the same firm's A2/2) appeared in Railway Modeller at the end of the last century. Ian Rathbone painted it. It is certainly no better than Tim Easter's A2/3s
A2/1 60508. This was built from a Jamieson hand-cut kit in 1976. EAMES used to offer a service of actually making you a kit of nickel silver/brass parts in the Jamieson style to order, at a price. It cost me over £27.00 all those years ago (and I didn't even get the right tender - this one tows a SE-Finecast one). It's seen dashing southwards through little Bytham past one of the types it was derived from, as a new-fangled contraption heads north. I include it only as an item of interest, for such kits have long been unobtainable. I painted it - I didn't know Ian Rathbone then.
A2/1 60510. This is built from a Nu-cast kit and is seen exiting the south portal of Stoke Tunnel on Stoke Summit. Its construction was a bit of a fight to be sure, and I'd advise modellers who require such a class example to keep a look at what Graeme King is doing in that regard - 'fiddling' with a Hornby A3/Bachmann V2 I believe (Graeme, if that's wrong, please post a disclaimer). A result via the Graeme King path is recommended, though the Crownline/PDK kit makes up quite well. I reported on how I built one in BRM some little time ago. Ian Rathbone painted 60510 (and the Crownline/PDK one for BRM). Other than having Mr Rathbone's painting, in no way is this superior to what Graeme King will produce.
A1/1 60113. I'd definitely venture down the Graeme King path for getting a model of this locomotive. This one is built from a Crownline kit (written up in MORILL in the last century) and could definitely be improved upon. As already mentioned, I don't like resin as a medium for kit building (though I think Graeme's mouldings are superior to this) and I don't like the way the wrap-around, brass smokebox is a greater diameter than the boiler. Though it's better than my scratch-built attempt at Great Northern from donkeys' years ago, I think a better result could now be achieved by using Graeme King's Hornby A3-based techniques. With regard to this particular A1/1, there's something not quite right about the front end and the cab isn't entirely convincing. Only Ian Rathbone's painting sets up this loco as anything rather than 'ordinary'. Still, in fairness, for many years it was the only way of getting a model of 60113 without scratch-building, and I've seen other models from this source which are superior. Put it down to grotty building!
I've also noted by following various threads how, by merely mentioning Thompson's Pacifics all Heaven seems to be in a rage! I've also noted controversy in the past when I've written in the various journals about how I built models of them. Clearly, there is no middle ground, and to encourage enmity on a 'constructive' thread such as this is counter-productive. However, might I lay claim to having built as many 4mm Thompson Pacifics as anyone else in the last 36 years - at least 20-plus from kits or from scratch, mainly in OO but some in EM? I mention this not to boast (it's a matter of fact) but to make clear that I've probably read/talked as much about them as most folk, in my research to get the the models 'right', so to speak. I don't mean just the established works, but access to first-hand notes (not published) and conversations with several men who had to work on/with them, sadly, mainly now deceased. My notes made from conversations with several Yorkshire drivers go back 35 years now! One can read the published works and make judgements in whatever way one wishes regarding Thompson's Pacifics. If you choose to regard the words (in part) of Cecil J Allen (who worked for the LNER) and Colonel H C B Rogers, then his 4-6-2s were little short of diabolical. If, however, one chooses to regard more the writings of Peter Coster and Peter Townend (the latter 34A's shedmaster during the ECML's steam finale) then, perhaps, a more measured view is given. By the way, Peter Grafton's biography of the man (though written with sincerity) reads more like a defence counsellor's work, and misses out some vital 'criticisms' in my opinion. I mention all the above not to claim greater knowledge than anybody else (I'm certainly not a professional railwayman), but just to show I have done a little research. My view, for what it's worth is this - any chief taking over from one of the greatest CME's in this country's history under the the most appalling privations the war could possibly throw at him was facing a most difficult job. Problems of maintenance/availability/labour and myriads more must have taxed even the greatest of men. (By the way, did one correspondent claim Thompson to be a genius? Surely not, for that would mean the likes of his contemporaries - Hawksworth, Fairburn and Bulleid - who also faced the same wartime difficulties deserves the same. In my opinion, titling British CMEs thus is reserved for only three in the 20th Century - Churchward, Gresley and Stanier). Without doubt, under those most difficult of times, Thompson was doing all he could to improve the situation. No intelligent man in a senior engineering position deliberately tries to 'wreck' the work of his predecessor - such a claim against Thompson is surely misguided and ignorant. But, and this is not unique in engineering history, by trying to improve/develop some of a predecessor's work, the result is not always entirely satisfactory. With regard to the P2 - A2/2 rebuilds, it's all well and good saying to the guys who've then got to run and maintain them that 'I've cured the over-heating/breaking of the cranks problems but the loco won't pull what it did before. In fact, it won't pull as much as the previous Pacifics - not because it's not powerful, it's just that its factor of adhesion is hopeless. That said, on lighter trains, it'll run fast. However, the cylinders will work loose and it'll spend more time in shops. And, because of the rebuilding we don't now have anything that'll pull 550-600 tons betwixt Edinburgh and Aberdeen; which is a pity, because several of the trains are that weight. But don't worry, you sons of Caledonia, for we'll take the locos away from you and they can be a problem to someone else'. Apologies if this appears to be flippant, but it sums up the reality.
As for the A2/1s, there's no doubt they were fast and powerful, but their shopping-intervals were much more frequent than those from which they were derived, and a V2 with a double Kylchap chimney would have been a much more sensible (and cheaper) option. Without doubt, the A2/3s were the best (and highly-regarded by Peter Townend) but there was no need for the same front-end problem to be perpetuated in new-build locomotives. The principle of having equal-length connecting rods does have merit but to compromise the front end of a loco because of it is poor practice. That the immediate successors reverted to the more conventional arrangement says it all, though they did perpetuate divided drive/independent valve gear which Thompson must be credited for. There is no doubt that Great Northern was admittedly much more powerful than that from which it was (ostensibly) rebuilt, and I don't entirely buy into the notion that Thompson chose the pioneer GNR Pacific to be 'obliterated' because of spite. However, the same frequent shop-necessitating front end was perpetuated, and one can argue that the best bits of it - the boiler/firebox and the double Kylchap chimney - actually came from Gresley. That being the case, and was later proven to be so, why not just fit those items to an A3? The fact that Thompson's successor and his team chose to produce quite different Pacifics for post-war construction says it all, really. Apart from the abandonment of the conjugated valve gear and by using divided drive, Peppercorn's A1s, and his double-chimney A2s, owe more to Gresley than to Thompson. The boiler (derived from the P2), big firebox (as in the W1 and P2), perforated steam collector (A3, A4, P2, V2) and the V-fronted (in part) cab (A4, P2, V2) all came from locos designed by Gresley's team. Where they did completely inherit Thompson's features, the results were certainly mixed. The independent valve gear was definitely more reliable than the conjugated type, particularly when lack of maintenance issues were apparent. However, by inheriting the B1 bogie (fine on a lightweight 4-6-0 but not on something much, much bigger), they rode just as badly as their immediate predecessors - and all Thompson's Pacifics had a reputation for 'lively riding. Unlike Gresley's Pacifics, which rode superbly. As for Thompson's Pacifics being 'ugly', that's certainly subjective. Having seen examples of every type (though not every individual loco), I had to have models of them - hence the pictures contained in this piece. And, in fairness, as models of big engines they're relatively easy to get to go properly. Because the cylinders are a distance from other than the rear bogie wheels, there's far less chance of shorting/interference, even in EM. Also in fairness, do you really need to know all about the prototypes in question when making a model? I think it helps, but that's my opinion, and I don't think I could have got my models as 'accurate as possible' just by looking at pictures/drawings. To me, Thompson's Pacifics most certainly had a real 'presence', and, without the variety they provided, 'spotting on the ECML during my day would have been far less interesting. I might also call them visually impressive - certainly that's the feeling I got whilst watching Great Northern get away southwards from Retford in the summer of 1958 (or it could have been '59?). She slipped so violently that she wore away part of the rail heads, and what came out of the chimney both visually and audibly was nothing short of fantastic!
Of course, my greatest regret is not seeing a P2 (which I would have done had they not been rebuilt). But, if all goes to plan, a full-sized new one will emerge in time. Perhaps then, the greatest of Thompson's supporters should get together and build a 27th example of one of his 4-6-2s. Now, that really would be something.