Apologies, I realise this is quite a long post! And it doesn't finish here, either: there's a second part that I will post in a week or so. But I thought I would try and give as much info as I could about my attempts to use the Bachmann Prussia coach to produce a more representative British carriage of the early 1840s.
1) What are we working with?
The Prussia coach is a nice model moulded in green plastic with yellow window frames and brown door panels printed (I think) onto the body. If you dislike the sheen to the plastic, it can easily be toned down with a coat of matt varnish (or a weathering wash, I suppose, although early carriages seem to have been kept pretty clean from all accounts). If you decide to paint the body another colour, I include a few tips on painting later in the post.
The length of the body is 58 mm. In 1/87 scale this represents 16 feet 7 inches, a typical length for coaches of the early 1840s. (The length over the buffers is 66 mm.)
The width of the body at the widest point (over the windows) is 28 mm. This scales out at 8 feet in HO, which makes it rather wider than an average coach of the time. Loading gauges varied considerably at this time, but most British railways used carriages between 6 feet 6 inches and 8 feet wide. In addition there is quite a significant curve to the sides of the coach, with the sides tapering inwards below the windows.
It would be possible to narrow down the model by removing a vertical strip of plastic from each end of the body (which would mean you would also need to trim the seating unit inside). Achieving flat sides would involve a degree of scratch building: not impossible, but you might as well scratch-build an entire new coach to suit your own requirements.
Personally I’m happy to leave the width and the tapering sides as they are, since the south-eastern railways of the early 1840s tended to have generous loading gauges and rather characterful little coaches. In addition I like the slightly broad-gauge appearance of these low, wide coaches and I think it adds to their charm. However, if I was modelling the London and Birmingham or the Liverpool and Manchester in the 1830s I think I might decide it was too much effort to turn them into the narrow flat-edged coaches common in these very early years, and I might decide to use a different model as a base.
(Of course, if you are modelling in 4mm scale the width is a bit of a bonus: unlike most HO rolling stock, the Prussia coach won’t seem too thin! At just 38 mm high from rail tops to the lamps on the roof it might seem a bit low for 4mm, but some early railways did have some coaches that seem incredibly low by modern standards (and there are several visual tricks to increase apparent height such as placing baggage on the roof.)
The ideas below are simply my own suggestions. You don’t need to follow any of them unless they appeal to you. The coaches are very nice, attractive models as they are and they will give a delightful period flavour to a layout. But they do provide such a convenient base for adaptations and tweaks that they almost call out to be bashed to meet modellers’ individual tastes and requirements.
2) Dismantling the coach body
Most of my suggestions, such as fitting new running boards, do not require any dismantling of the model. In fact it is really only necessary to take the model apart if you want to repaint the window frames (because dismantling the coach lets you remove the glazing inside) or you want to change the roof.
It is easy to dismantle the coaches. There are two small crosshead screws on the underside of the model, visible near the wheel sets on the left-hand coach in the photograph below. Removing them separates the body (including the steps) from the chassis.
The roof is a separate moulding from the rest of the coach body. It is glued fairly lightly onto the top of the body, and in every model I have seen it is easy to find a gap between roof and coach side large enough to insert a small jeweller’s screwdriver. Then gently start loosening the roof and the coach body, working around the roof much as one would gradually prise up a floorboard with a crowbar. I hope the photo above gives some indication of the approach I use. If you do encounter a point where the glue is so strong that it resists a screwdriver, a modelling knife with a sturdy blade will quickly free it.
Prising off the roof allows you to remove the seating unit and the two strips of stiff transparent plastic that slot into the coach sides to provide the glazing. At this point you might consider whether to paint the seats to tone down their glossy shine (bear in mind that second class seats would probably have been bare wood, not upholstery) and possibly paint the inside of the carriage.
And that’s all there is to dismantling the coach body!
3) Tweak 1: adding flat ends to the coach body
The most noticeable thing about the coach sides are the curved gaps (the tumblehomes, I suppose) at the bottom of the coach’s ends. It is visually interesting and it adds character, but almost all British coaches of the period had flat ends rather than tapered or curved ones.
To be honest at most normal viewing angles (i.e. from above) this feature is not especially noticeable. But if you like to run models nearer to eye level or you want to reproduce a specific railway rather than freelance, you might decide to fill in the gaps at the ends of the coach to make the model more representative.
I used Humbrol filler, pressing it into the gaps between the coach body and the top of the chassis until both gaps were completely filled. Of course other fillers would work just as well: Milliput, plaster of Paris, probably DAS or fine PolyFilla as well. All that really matters is that the filler is relatively easy to sand down when it has dried.
If you have decided not to dismantle the coach, I suggest putting a bit of tape over the top of the chassis that is visible below the end of the coach before you start adding the filler. This means you don’t end up with the body and chassis permanently fixed together. Sellotape, masking tape, a bit of printer label: all work fine, and probably so would a small piece of cling film, kitchen foil or similar wrapped over the top of the chassis. Afterwards, when you have sanded down the filler, you can trim off any exposed tape.
When the filler has set hard (probably 2-4 hours in most cases, but I waited 24 hours to be on the safe side), sand it down to get the correct profile. I wrapped a strip of very fine 400 grade wet-and-dry paper around a thin block of wood and found I could easily sand each end and the adjacent sides down to a reasonable profile in less than 5 minutes. I definitely recommend a dust mask (and if you have sensitive eyes, some eye protection as well), ideally some good ventilation and a work area that is easy to vacuum or brush afterwards. Sanding Humbrol filler is very quick and easy, but it does produce a fine dust that is light enough to hang around in the air for some time and IMO tastes pretty nasty!
I found it was worth taking the filler to the top of the coach ends (rather than halfway up the side, as I did in the photo above) to prevent the visible joint that I managed to achieve on my first attempt, and which I only noticed after painting:
4) Tweak 2: painting the body
If you have filled in the ends, you will definitely want to paint the body because of the harlequin patchwork of colours that you now have on your model. Even if you are happy with the original shape, you may still want to repaint it in a different livery or tone down the plastic sheen of the model with a coat of matt varnish.
Personally I prefer hand-brushing with Humbrol enamels, and most of these paints only come in matt and/or gloss finishes. When I was painting the coach I found that the matt enamels were too flat and boring and they didn’t seem to reflect any light, while gloss paints looked too brash and toy like. However, a coat of gloss paint covered by a thin coat of Humbrol’s matt varnish did seem to provide the right sort of finish – at least to my mind. The photo below shows the general effect:
In this period railways often still painted the top section of the carriage sides black in imitation of the road coaches that they were putting out of business. This can add to the period charm, although anyone modelling an actual railway will probably want to carry out a bit of research to check whether there is any record of the chosen railway’s actual colour scheme. The Birmingham and Gloucester coaches were buff with black at the top, but I chose to paint my model in the blue of the London and Croydon railway.
I am afraid I can’t offer any useful advice on using acrylic paints on the coaches, although I am practicing with them on scenery and buildings. But I will end this section with one comforting thought for other coarse modellers: remember that no one really knows the exact shade or finish on most early carriages!
5) Tweak 3: fitting running boards below the coach
The coaches have steps moulded beneath each compartment to allow passengers to climb down to the low platforms of the period. Steps like this were used by some early British railways in the 1830s, but the style was already going out of fashion by 1840 with most new coaches (and having just opened, most railways had nothing but new coaches) having running boards stretching along the full length of the coach.
I made the running boards out of a piece of T-section plastic strip 2.4 x 2.4 mm, trimming off one of the arms of the “T” so that I was left with a “L” section 1.2 x 2.4 mm across. The 2.4 mm part of the L becomes the flat running board for the passenger to step on, while the 1.2 mm side is glued vertically to the axle boxes to fix the board in place.
The axle boxes have a bit of detail on them, so I filled this off with a needle file and carried on filing back the axle boxes below the coach springs for about half a millimetre before super-gluing the narrower side of the L strip onto these flat surfaces.
Fixing the L strip to the axle boxes provides all the structural support that is needed. But I also wanted to model the hangers that drop from the underside of the chassis to the running boards. Small pieces of plastic rod or stiff wire would be fine, but I used the very small (Size 25) staples sold for pocket staplers such as the Rexel “Bambi” stapler. I straightened out one of the arms of a strip of staples using a pair of pliers, separated them into individual staples and then superglued the long arms of the resulting L shapes to the underside of the coach chassis and the ends of the short arm to the back of the running board. (The advantage of staples over bent wire is that staples have flat sides, making it easier to fix them in place.) I found a map pin extremely useful in tweaking the staples while the glue was setting. It is important to allow plenty of time for the glue holding the four staples on one side to set firm before starting on the other running board.
The photo below shows the staples in place on one side of the coach before painting.
I hope some of these ideas will be useful, or even better that they will inspire readers to find other ways of converting the model. If anyone has stuck with me this far, I will certainly be very interested in any questions, ideas or comments you have!
In the next post I’ll look at ways to alter the roof (and the lamp covers on the roof), change to finer scale wheels (plus some ideas on how to camouflage the deep flanges on the existing wheels), add weight (the model only weighs 20 grams) and also discuss some ideas on suitable couplers.