One of the vehicles I need for my planned 1868 Mail Train is a Luggage Van, which was the last vehicle in the train that was involved in the Bullo Pill accident.
When I noticed that the Broad Gauge Society (BGS) has launched a new series of laser-cut plastic kits, which included an early luggage van, I thought it would be interesting to try building one. As readers of my blog will know, I like to scratch-build as much as possible but there is always a lot to be learned from building kits and in seeing the various problems that their designers have overcome.
The kit arrived, nicely packaged in a small cardboard box, with the various components collected together in self-sealing plastic bags. There was a coloured instruction sheet and a copy of the relevant sheet from the series of excellent data sheets, produced by the BGS. Six of these vans were built, with iron sides and wooden framing, in 1861.
Another advantage of building kits is that someone else has had the task of getting together the small parts needed to apply the finishing touches. In this, case, however, it is a very basic kit and the only additional white-metal parts are springs and axleboxes (to the appropriate Normanville pattern), and buffers. Other parts, including roof, oil lamps, wheels, and details such as door handles, etc. still have to be provided by the builder.
According to the instructions, the first step is to remove a few small plastic parts from the floor piece. When separated, these are very small and light components, so I immediately put them into one of the self-seal plastic bags, to try and minimise the chance of their getting lost! Once separated, I cleaned the burrs left behind, using emery boards intended for smoothing finger nails.
Most of the plastic parts are described as ‘Rowmark’ material, which is a laser-etchable plastic that can be solvent welded. Most are cut from 30 thou (0.8 mm) thickness plastic sheet, with some of the larger parts and overlays of 35 thou (0.9 mm) sheet. While it would be fairly easy to cut out similar parts with my Silhouette cutter, that machine is limited to cutting 10thou (0.25 mm) styrene, so several layers would have to be laminated to make a strong structure.
Of course, if cutting out your own parts, the major tasks lie in designing the various components and then preparing the drawings, to produce an accurate and robust model – something that is completely avoided by buying a kit! The components in the kit are well-designed and include various tabs and slots to assist assembling them in accurate alignment. The slots in the sides are cleverly placed, so that they are subsequently hidden, when the outside framing is added.
The first part of the assembly is to locate the various internal partitions into the slots in the floor piece. I used Slaters Mek-Pak as the solvent and noticed that it seemed to need more time to ‘take’ than when used on polystyrene card. On the other hand, as I discovered when some solvent leaked under my fingers that were holding the parts, the solvent does not damage the surface as much as can be the case with ordinary plastic card.
The sides are fitted next, ensuring that the tabs on the sides of the partitions locate into the slots in the body sides. Once the joints have hardened, the end pieces are then added. It’s important to hold the sides in the correct positions, relative to the ends, since the are no tabs to assist with correct alignment at these junctions. The outside edges did not all align perfectly but it is not worth trimming them at this point, since the overlays to represent the outside wooden frames have to be added next.
It’s now time to add the outside frames and, here, I encountered the first problem. The instructions state to stick the detailed ends onto the inner box and to sand the edges flush with the sides. When I carefully aligned the small holes for the buffer shanks in both the main body and the overlay, I found that the framing was quite a lot wider than the end of the body, so that sanding down the edges removed almost all the vertical part of the framing at one side.
I’m not sure whether there has been ‘double accounting’ in the kit and that the ends of the side overlays are meant to replace these parts of the end framing. The prototype vehicles were constructed from iron sheet, which was presumably much thinner than is represented by the plastic of this kit. Only the outside frames were of wood.
The next step is to add the side frames. These are both labelled ‘J’ in the instructions but the two sides are, in fact, mirror images of one another, so not identical. The important things are to make sure that the window openings, at one end, are aligned correctly with the openings in the inner sides, and that the laser-engraved detail is on the outside. A little more sanding is needed to remove any slight overlaps at the ends. Once this is done, the main body is complete and the etched engraving on the side frames looks very nice.
Once the body is complete, the next task is to add the underframe sides. These are in a transparent material and there is a warning, at the top of the instructions, that “the Perspex is delicate until laminated together”. Elsewhere, it is stated that the ‘mylar’ needs to be stuck with small amounts of superglue.
There are lots of small holes in the side frames, which have to be lined up with one another. I ran in a small drop of superglue, starting at one end, while squeezing the parts together. Inevitably, the superglue oozes out through the many small holes (and fills them) and goes all over your fingers! It also marks the hitherto smooth sides of the frames. When laminated, it is difficult to avoid warping of the frames, since there are only two layers. The Perspex/mylar continues to be delicate after laminating, as I discovered when I tried to straighten the warping and the material promptly snapped. I’m not sure why the designers chose this material and method of construction but I may make some frames of my own out of either polystyrene or brass strip.
The remaining parts included in the kit comprise windows, with separate frames, some corner brackets, on a small flexible 'fret', for the outside frames, and white-metal springs/axleboxes and buffers. There are also some small parts that were cut off from the floor plate. Despite my precautions, one of the tiny tie-bars went AWOL for the photograph but turned up later, from where it had ‘skipped’ to the side of my worktop! There’s a thread in the Forums about ‘Why are modellers so clumsy?’
I shall delay fitting these parts until after making final decisions about solebars and axle guards.
As I mentioned at the outset, this is not a ‘complete’ kit and I still have to construct my own roof and think about what additional fittings I shall add, including oil lamps, hinges, grab handles, door handles, etc. The modeller still has quite a few decisions to take after building this van body.
On the subject of other Forum threads, there has been some discussion about Broad Gauge horseboxes, with a wheelbase of only 6 feet (1.83 m), in Mikkel’s Workshop Thread.
Well, it wasn’t only horses that had to suffer in such vehicles, as some very early passenger carriages had this same wheelbase!
Having seen this drawing, I find it hardly surprising that, according to the diary of George Gibbs (an early GWR Director), these 4-wheel carriages were ordered off the line at a Board Meeting on 12th July 1838! George Gibbs’ diary contains many interesting descriptions of the tribulations which the GWR suffered in those very early days.