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Broad Gauge Mail Coach - part 1





In my first post in this blog, I explained that the inspiration behind my exploration of the Broad Gauge was the discovery, when researching family history, that during the 1860s, my wife's great-grandfather worked for the GWR on the South Wales line at Bullo Pill.


During his time there, there was a serious accident in 1868, south of the station, when the 5 pm fast Mail train from New Milford ran into the back of a special cattle train, making its way laboriously from Carmarthen to Gloucester.


Bullo Pill Accident – 5th November 1868


The Accident Report provides details of the two trains involved and I decided to use this information as a basis for my start in Broad Gauge modelling. The Mail train was headed by the large 4-4-0 locomotive 'Rob Roy', of the 'Waverley' class, with three passenger carriages, and a luggage van. The leading carriage had a break (sic) compartment in it, in which rode a guard; and the third carriage, which was a mail carriage as well as a break carriage and passenger carriage, also carried a guard.


I was quite surprised to learn from MacDermot's 'History of the Great Western Railway' that, in 1855, the GWR introduced the first Postal Train in the world and then, in 1866, apparatus to allow mails to be picked up and delivered without stopping was installed at Slough and Maidenhead. A number of carriages were altered to meet Post Office requirements; the modifications included an increased ceiling height, wide access doorway, PO designed delivery arms, and net apparatus. It is also recorded that three Second Class Mail Carriages with Net apparatus (Nos. 20 86 & 87), fitted with one delivery arm, were assigned to work the South Wales line.


As I was considering these facts, the Broad Gauge Society (BGS) announced that they were introducing a model of a GWR Mail Coach, initially in 7mm scale and then in 4mm. I immediately placed an order for one of the first of the 4mm models and, while the brass etchings were soon available, the cast parts took longer to arrive.


In the meantime, my wife and I had planned a long holiday in New Zealand, so my modelling activities have been 'on hold' for some time. At last, the time has come when I can once again set up my work table and start working on the Mail Coach kit.


The major components of the coach are contained on two etched-brass frets. The instructions, which are based on the construction of a 7mm scale model, seem clear, although they assume reasonable knowledge of etched-brass kit construction. I was a little apprehensive that a 'scaled' kit might have some problems, such as in the fit of various tabs, but, initially, the sides have gone together very well.




The first step, according to the instructions, is to build the two sides. There are tabs running along the tops of the sides and these need to be folded over, to provide additional strength. I find it best to place a steel rule along the back of the side, with its edge aligned with the fold line. I then press the tabs against a hard surface and rotate the sides upwards, holding the rule firmly against the fold line. This pressure causes the tabs to move quite easily into the right-angle position, from where they can then be pushed over, by hand, to lie flush against the inner sides. The next step is to form the 'tumble-home' on the lower sides.




The 'tumble-home' needs to be a smooth curve so, to achieve this, I first marked a line along the back of each side, to indicate the top of the curved section. I then used my fingers to roll the lower sides gently around the cylindrical body of a ball-point pen. I found that by working along the length of a side with my thumbs, it was possible to achieve a smooth curve, since the grade of brass used for the frets seem quite 'soft' and pliable.


Two more folds are required, to form the sides of the inset doorway, on one side of the coach. These folded sides carry tabs, which fitted readily into slots etched into the door itself. The lower edges of the folded sides are curved to match the 'tumble-home' of the coach body. Making these folds is more difficult than the tabs along the top since, after making the tumble-home, the sides are no longer flat. I used the end of my steel rule, laid along the length of the coach, as a jig to make these folds.




The drop-lights have to be be fitted to the insides of the window openings. I found that this was a tricky procedure, since there are no alignment marks on the inside and it is hard to hold the drop-lights in the correct positions, which need to be viewed from the outside, while fixing them on the inside. In the end, I decided to tack them in place with a small dot of super-glue before turning the sides over for soldering. I used 60/40 solder with phosphoric acid flux.




At this point, the instructions start to describe assembling the body. I always 'read ahead' a little, to help understand the processes and to foresee potential pitfalls. In this case, it proved valuable since, after assembling the body, the instructions move on to fit the hinges from the inside. This might be reasonable in 7mm scale but space is very limited for this sort of assembly, inside a 4mm scale body.


There are several 'hinges' provided on the fret but, even with the sides laid flat and fully accessible, I soon realised that fitting these was going to be the proverbial PITA. They may have been a reasonable size in 7mm scale but, even using my finest tweezers and a good magnifier, they were, to put it mildly, 'difficult' in 4 mm. I tried soldering one but when I looked again the 'hinge' had disappeared. I next tried a dot of super-glue but alignment was still a great problem and I lost another one! (eventually, these all turned up – two stuck to the Q-tip I had used to apply flux and one to the nozzle of the super-glue bottle)




The instructions suggest “you may prefer to replace the etched ones with 2mm wide pieces ...” - yes, indeed, although this translates to 1mm at my scale.


I've decided to take a break at this point to think about the best way forward :)


Regarding the prototypes, they seem to have been rather shy of photographers, although one can just be seen (note the stepped roof), next to the engine, in the 1880s photo of a train at Ivybridge, which appears in Great Western Way (1st edition, p.6) There is also an excellent article in the BGS Journal 'Broadsheet' No.75 (Spring 2016).




Link to Part 2

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  • Craftsmanship/clever 1


Recommended Comments

  • RMweb Gold

Hi Mike, good to see you posting on this blog again. Thanks for the detailed step-by-step account, I know it takes ages to write but it is very useful for the rest of us. I'm very impressed by the tumble home, which looks just right.


The BGS  have some great stuff - also for NG modellers - and it seems a pity that it is not more widely known.

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Thank you Mikkel and, yes, it's good to be posting!  I enjoy writing these accounts and hope that they may encourage others to have a go.  Years ago, I thought that modelling in brass was only for experts but I have found that it is an easy material to work with, and provides a lot of interest and satisfaction.  Perhaps I'm telling some people 'how to suck eggs' but part of the fun is in finding one's own solutions to modelling challenges and, if others know better methods, I'm always pleased to learn from them.


I agree also that the BGS have many fascinating model kits, including several for the 'narrow' gauge, so it is worth a look at their website.

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  • RMweb Gold

For every one person that already knows how to suck eggs there are many more of us who don't. I have been doing a little testing with brass sheets to see what it felt like. I must admit I am still a little doubtful whether it is for me, but I haven't given up yet! Meanwhile I continue to enjoy your work.

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TBH, I'm not sure about using brass for wooden coaches - I prefer softer materials that echo the construction of the real thing.  This kit was such an unusual prototype that I felt that i had to try it.


The panels of the real coaches were made of papier maché, so, taken together with the wooden frame, they were not too far removed from the mediaeval construction method of using wattle and daub :)

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  • RMweb Gold

I didn't know they were papier maché! Did that originate with the stage coaches I wonder. There must have been some repair work occasionally, you would think.

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According to MacDermot, papier maché was used initially, as an experiment, on a 1st class carriage, in July 1850.


After that, nearly all 1st and 2nd class carriages were panelled in this way from 1851 to 1858.  Third class carriages were initially iron and changed to wood in about 1852.

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  • RMweb Gold

Late again!  What a wonderful carriage,  and I do like your description of its making.  I cut my teeth with brass on Shire Scenes coach sides and made a jig of aluminium angle and G clamps, although I seem to remember a steel rule as well.  The advised method for the tumble home was a rod of some sort and roll it on the back of a mouse mat so it pushed it in.  It sort of worked but I think in the end I did what you did and just pushed it round although I has a inch dowel rod.  I will have to catch up as I am four behind.

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Thank you looking in, Chris.  As you will see, if you move on to Part 2, I have also used both the aluminium-angle method and the mouse-mat with a roller!


As you know, I like your Traeth Mawr carriages very much and, overall, I think I prefer scratch building to kits.

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  • RMweb Gold


Thanks for the link to my carriages, I think I may just stick to brass kits for a while, although I suppose if you find that it does not work/ fit then you know who to blame if it is scratch built.

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Hi Chris.  I'm currently scratch-building the chassis (slowly), since the kit represents the later vacuum-braked version.  After I'd started, i found a drawing if the original 2nd-class carriage, from which the Mail Coach was converted.  This shows some components in different locations from where I had started to place them.  As you say, with scratch-building, the buck stops here :)

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