I had a bout of fitting Sprat and Winkle couplings a couple of weeks back - the vans (see below) were done and released to traffic and I duly dug the MCV out of the stockbox - quick win , low effort and another model back in traffic. I was half way through when I noticed:
Remember that the shunting micro is Transitional . Airfix kit - modified without top flaps to represent a rebodied wagon. So it's out of period and can't be made in period - these rebodyings started around 1970. It would have had to have the couplers replaced with S+W at some time anyway , so no loss . I think I was probably quite pleased when I originally did this one , and I've added brake cross rods with brass handrail wire and reweathered the brake blocks
This means I still need to build the secondhand Ratio coke wagon kit, despite having also found this :
This is the old Hornby steel mineral - Norstand, Cory, S+C and various other versions down the years - cleaned up. It seems to be based on the GW's "Felix Pole " 20T steel minerals of the 1920s, and the best and closest fit seems to be dia N32, of which about 1000 were built for hire to various private owners as part of the GW's encouragement to private owners to modernise their antiquated mineral wagon fleets. Cory and S&C may be authentic liveries for these (both were major coal traders /coastal shipowners with S.Wales connections) , though I wouldn't bet my life on it and recent debate in MRJ implies that green was not the usual base colour for Stephenson & Clarke. Needless to say MRJ were not discussing anything so humble as a Hornby wagon...
This model has now been displaced in the main Hornby range by the rather better ex Airfix moulding: the Hornby effort is a bit chunky around the top edge. It reappears in the Railroad range , but I am confident none of them ever reached EWS..... The chassis was removed and chucked away, a Parkside 12' wb Morton chassis built onto the bottom , and the whole thing repainted and weathered. A photo in Iain Rice's Irwell book Detailing & Improving RTR Wagons (p10) shows what appears to be one of the breed uprated to 21T (no doubt the standard wartime uprating) and numbered in the PO series as P7826 . This would make some sense with the N32s as they were on hire purchase arrangements with the users, and of course P-series renumbering was completely random , so any P-series number would be plausible on a model. The wagon in the photo is branded under the diagonal stripe "To work within S.Wales and Monmouthshire only"
These wagons are common enough - every second hand table seems to have a few - and if you've got one at home, this is a way of turning it into a credible wagon at low cost. I'm afraid the economics don't quite work if you buy a second hand example - market price for second hand RTR wagons like this seems to be about GBP3 , and by the time you've added the Parkside underframe , wheels and any paint or transfers you need, it's going to be over a fiver. But if you already have one, ex trainset, you can make a proper wagon of it for about GBP2
The tension locks will be ripped off asap, and I need to replace the missing door spring . Given that Ravenser Mk1 was set 1983-4, this wagon didn't really fit it , but as the shunting micro is 50s/60s, depending on the stock used, it is now just as much in period as the MCV is out of it
Couplings have gone on the MCV (obviously) and the remaining vans but not yet on the 21T. I'd like to say that yours truly and S+W couplings were a marriage made in heaven , but I'd be lying . To be quite honest, making and fitting them is a protracted awkward job , and one that I rather dread. If I'm lucky, and determined, I can manage as many as 3 wagons in a whole evening , and this slow messy process rather puts me off.
Sparky has recently posted some shots of the bits and process on his blog here .What follows is my moan after the last bout of S+W fitting reminded me that this is not my favourite modelling job
First fold up your loop, from a coil of brass wire so it isn't straight... If I follow the instructions that come with it (which quote 17mm on each side) , I end up with loops that are far too long and stick well beyond the buffers . Even 15mm seems a bit too long when you try it in place against the wagon . So having soldered the wire in place , you have to unsolder , and then as fast as you resolder one side the other side melts and waves in the air (remember the wire was curved to start with) . So you resolder that , and guess what...
Sparky's tip of using a Bill Bedford handrail bending jig hadn't occured to me and I must try it - it should make things easier, straighter and more reliable
Then you twist up the etches for the coupling hook and counter weight paddle - not a problem - and go quietly mad chasing tiny wire loops with tweezers to form the 3 links of chain. They won't stay together and fall out of the gap in the loop, you drop one on the floor, another one flies out of the tweezers, you try adding them to the coupling hook and the gap opens up and the other two links fall out and you hunt them round the carpet....
Then there's the hasp... Like most folk , I avoid the suggestion of making one from soft wire and us a staple, melted in to the mounting block from above. But straightening one leg of a staple and rebending it to the right width and them leaning on the thing with force and a 25W Antex until it finally starts to sink (but don't push too far else you'll pin the coupling hook etch so tight it can't move) . Then repeat...
I have a little difficulty getting the wire loop to the right, matching height . To deal with this , I've built a gauge or jig from scraps - which is what the wagons in two of the photos are sitting on. The block gives a height for the wire loop, and a basis on which to bend it down - the slot takes the coupling hook and limits the angle at which it is set, to a more or less consistant value. I found you couldn't possibly do either of these by having a "reference wagon".
When a wagon has clasp brakes, the outer brake shoes invariably foul the mounting plate . So out with the tinsnips and chop away the corners of the plate - then flatten them back.
It's all a slow painful process.
How do S+Ws work in practice? Well - one of the purposes of the shunting micro was to test them out. And results have been a little mixed. Coupling is normally reliable - there's one place , crossing a rather rough board joint, where some wagons insist on uncoupling . This almost certainly requires me patiently to track down and tweak each of the couplings that gives a problem. It only happens when the loco is pulling a single wagon : perhaps the drag of a trailing load keeps the couplings in tension (though that would imply the couplings might part at the rear wagon - and they don't. However locos are not fitted with hooks- just bars). It is going to be a long and patient process to find and adjust all the rogue couplings, and to be honest the micro hasn't been run as often as it might, which doesn't help.
I haven't been very successful with auto-uncoupling let alone delayed action. However the fact I was trying the couplings out on a micro forced to me put the uncoupling magnets in thoroughly unsuitable places - the middle of a crossover made up of small radius Y points for example - so I'm not sure this is really fair comment . Manual uncoupling with a jeweller's screwdriver is easy enough , and I've seen them working fine on other layouts , including one I've operated briefly, so I think the problem is simply that I've pushed the application beyond its reasonable limits
How do they compare with the Kadees I use on Blacklade for locos, airbraked stock and multiple units? Fitting Kadees is certainly a great deal quicker and easier - even excluding the NEM versions which plug in in a matter of seconds. The Kadees are slightly more reliable in coupling, but I can't comment much on uncoupling as my electromagnets are not yet wired - exacept to say that manual uncoupling is much more awkward. Where I've operated another layout using Kadees I've found auto-uncoupling using electromagnets a bit hit and miss , though it appears alignment of the electromagnet is actually quite critical (I'm not sure the ones that went onto Blacklade were spot on). Kadees allow you to lift a wagon straight out of a train. But they are quite expensive - fitting them runs out at about GBP2/vehicle . Ouch! S+W is a cheaper option, though it doesn't work out at pennies either
I now have almost 30 wagons fitted with S+W coulings , so in a sense I'm committed. But would I consider a return to tension-locks? No. Despite the problems I've had- which may well not be the fault of the couplers - Sprat and Winkle couplers do everything tension locks do, and do it more reliably- even at this stage. It might be possible to improve tension lock performance by standardising everything on one specific type of tension lock - but that itself wouldbe significant work. And Sprat and Winkle couplings look a great deal less obtrusive than the old "Volvo bumper bar " of the tensionlock
So we press on.
Meanwhile, the saga of the open wagon to go with them continues. I couldn't find suitable Cambrian kit at St Albans, but I did manage to find a second hand Dapol wagon, which I think is one of these (photo courtesy Paul Barlett's site) LMS open .
It looks as if most of these , at least the late survivors, were retrofitted with Morton vac brakes by BR. Wheelbase is 10' The older wooden chassis opens to dia1666 seem not to have been - very naturally - and it has been suggested most of the latter went in the late 50s/early 60s. Since the balance was shifting rapidly towards vans (BR inherited 2 opens for every van , but built two and a bit vans for every open) , it looks like wagon fleet modernisation took the form of breaking up old wooden chassis opens and replacing them with new fitted vans, while upgrading the more modern opens with vac brakes to boost the fitted proportions of the fleet. Hence I intend adding tiebars, vac cylinder and cross shaft
Someone has handlettered one side neatly - my dried up old Modelstrip wouldn't shift any of it , so a coat of bauxite will be applied over the top. If the original owner sees this - sorry, but a weathered bauxite fitted version is what is appropriate for my layout....
The wagon seems to have a further type of coupling , which I take to be the"Lincs" coupling. As this is single ended and I have portable layouts, I won't be adopting it....