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Mol's MSC Wagons

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My other wagon project over the bank holiday weekend was to complete the 'Parrot'. This is the largest wagon for my layout, and will add an extra twist to the 'Inglenook sidings' style shunting puzzle as it is twice as long as the others.


The MSC bought two lots of 'Warflat' bogie bolsters in the mid 1920s, which they numbered 2253-2257 and 2705-2724. Under War Department ownership these had been coded 'Parrot', maybe because they were similar to a Macaw? 

They probably arrived at the MSC Railway still carrying their WD branding, and the 'Parrot' name stuck and remained in use throughout their lives, although latterly they were not branded as such.

Being robustly built and very useful for large and heavy loads, they had long lives in Manchester and were still in use in the 1960s as the MSC Railway operations began to wind down.


There are two photos of them in Don Thorpe's excellent book on the MSC Railways, including this rather nice view taken in WWII when they reprised their original purpose:



Some 1950s aerial photos show them in the MSC sidings; here is a rake of 3:


And here is a single one carrying a very long load, sandwiched between two 4-wheel flats to protect the overhanging ends:




I started with an MM1 resin kit, built mostly as per the instructions but with a few modifications to represent the MSC examples.

I found the kit pretty good, but I won't give it full marks. There were some parts missing, and when I enquired some of these were provided but I didn't get all the required parts and a subsequent email was ignored.

Also, I got the impression that some parts which had originally been lost-wax brass had been replaced with whitemetal castings, which were rather fragile and flashy.

Nevertheless, it was a good basis for the model and most of the parts were very good.

I had some transfers custom printed for the vehicle, also the number plates and handbrake on/off plates were custom etched:


Here is the completed model, one view of each side (Parrots are not symmetrical vehicles):





Being a 50-year old vehicle in my mid-60s period, it's rusty and dirty in places, though the rust doesn't show up too well on the black base colour in these photos.

It doesn't yet have a load; I thought I had that in hand but it turned out that I had bought some unsuitable material. Hopefully I'll get the new stuff soon.

Once I've made the load and roped it down, I'll post some more photos.







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I've completed the loads for the 16t mineral and the Parrot, so here's a quick update.

The mineral wagon has two mounds of iron ore: it's only travelled a couple of miles since it was loaded at Irwell Park, and iron ore has a fairly high angle of repose, so I've made the mounds quite distinct. Of course, it's not filled to the brim because iron ore is much denser than coal.

This load is made from a roughly shaped block of wood coated with DAS clay to get a better shape, then with ballast glued on top and painted in slightly varying red/brown shades:




The Parrot is loaded with steel bars, a scale 28 tons of 2" round bar tied into bundles. Round bar was one of the main products from Irlam steelworks in the latter years.

This load was inspired by these two photos of Manchester Docks, showing steel bars being loaded from a bogie bolster onto the ship 'Manchester Renown' in 1964:

https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/979886/view (note: this photo has been uploaded flipped left to right - you can read 'ESTER' back to front on the ship's side where it would have said 'MANCHESTER LINERS')


The load really is steel, and this wagon is now realistically heavy! I weight all my wagons but this is a bit above average.

I used 18 gauge florists wire supplied ready-cut to length (9"). I bought a big bundle and found some lengths were straighter than others so I tried to pick the better ones. They were supplied in lightly oiled natural finish and I've left them in that state - it looks spot on to me.

There are 7 bundles each of 30 bars; I had originally intended to do 9 bundles for a scale 36 tons which would have been almost a maximum load for the real wagon, but I thought the model was heavy enough with just 7 bundles!

The bundles are tied together with blackened copper wire; some of these ties have little paper labels threaded onto them to represent the labels in the photos of 'Manchester Renown' being loaded.

To add a bit of colour, I decided to paint the ends of the bars yellow to indicate the steel grade. To be honest I'm not sure whether this would have been done by the steelworks or the steel stockholder, but I think it looks good so I'll invoke Rule 1.

I've roped the load down, following what seems to have been MSC Railway practice. Again, this is based on photographic evidence where even heavy loads like this seem to have been usually roped rather than chained down.

I'm not sure if I've got the pattern of roping right, but it works on the model and if I turn it sideways or upside-down the load doesn't fall out!



So there we are - two distinctive wagons associated with the steelworks traffic on the MSC Railway.


My Ixion Hudswell Clarke saddle tank is lurking on the edge of the photos - at present this is the only loco in use and remains in as-bought condition other than fitting a DCC chip.

In due course it will be modified and detailed to represent MSC 78 which was based at Irlam/Partington in the late 50s and early 60s. It was basically the same type as the Ixion model but differs in several minor details.

However, that's a job for the future, I need to get another loco working before taking this one out of traffic!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I’m terrible for starting projects and not finishing them. So for the last two weeks I have been strict with myself and finished off a few things that had been stuck for one reason or another. 

I haven’t got anything more to completion this week as I’ve been very busy at work, but I have made significant progress with the remaining two unfinished wagons, seen here:



On the left is Lancashire Tar Distillers tank wagon no.507, which is based on a Slaters kit but with a home-made tank to a smaller diameter than the one in the kit. I have made and painted this tank over the last couple of days and I’m pleased with how it has turned out, better than my first attempt which has now been scrapped. Now the tank is complete I can turn my attention back to finishing the chassis. 

Here’s the prototype:



On the right is an open wagon built from at etched kit, modified to represent one of the older MSC wagons still used into the 1960s. This will be in a rather tatty condition so I have started by painting it as ‘unpainted’. Next I will apply some black top-coat and then take much of it off again. 

Here’s a similar vehicle when newly acquired, they seem to have received more conventional brake gear later in life:



The third more major unfinished project lurks in the background and I’ll get back to that when these two wagons are finished. 

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A little progress tonight with some transfers on the two wagons.

Also some trials of representing tar spillage on a scrap tank barrel. Soon I will use the same techniques on the complete barrel. 

The open wagon still needs a lot more weathering, particularly fading out the lettering. 


There will now be a hiatus of a couple of weeks as I have a load of other commitments. 



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While visiting my parents for the first time in many months, I took the opportunity to call in at their local railway museum at Mangapps, which was also open for the first time this year.

They have a couple of wagons of interest to me, particularly Lancashire Tar Distillers rectangular tar tank No.568, seen here. Modelling this will be my next wagon project, once the two above are complete.


Another item in the Mangapps collection is an LNWR 'Crystal Palace' brake van, which the MSC Railway had one of. So I took a lot of detail photos of both vehicles to help me build accurate models.

They also had a 1959 Hudswell Clarke diesel, not the same as the one I'm modelling but it was useful to see certain HC details close up.


The museum at Mangapps has been greatly extended in recent years, and has a great collection of pre-grouping wagons and carriages as well as thousands of small exhibits. Well worth a visit. There's a short train ride too.



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  • 1 month later...

For this weekend's project I am taking a quick diversion into another BR wagon: a steel-bodied High.


In the mid 1950s, over 100 of these were converted into Soda Ash wagons by fitting a sheet rail and reinforced doors.

By the mid 1960s, fewer were needed for Soda Ash traffic, so most reverted to general merchandise Highbars. Around the same time, the MSC was struggling with a chronic shortage of empty goods wagons for distributing imported goods. Some of the former Soda Ash wagons were branded 'Empty to Manchester Ship Canal' or similar. So far, I have found photographic evidence of three wagons branded this way.





In a book I have a 1969 photo of this wagon with its MSC branding; there are also two photos on Paul Bartlett's site of the same wagon at a later date when the branding had been obliterated. It's a wonderful resource, thanks @HMRSpaul !

If anyone has photos of any other steel highs branded for the MSC, I'd be very interested to see them.

I believe there may also have been some vans with the same branding but I've not seen any photos of them.


All three of the MSC-branded wagons have the same basic details though there are subtle variations in axleboxes, couplings etc. I have decided to model two of them:  B482514 (diagram 1/041 lot 2197) and B480031 (diagram 1/041 lot 2195) as these have different axleboxes and couplings which will provide some variety.


I thought this would be a 'quick win' until I realised how many different variations there were in body style and brake gear, and how many differences there were betwen the Slaters kit and the prototypes I wanted to represent. It is not a 'quick win' at all! After lots of research I am finally making good progress.


The bodywork of the Slaters kit is right for this diagram as-built (though completely different to what is shown in their advertising!).

I have added some sheet rail mountings and modified the door to represent the Soda Ash conversion. I am also going to add some more 3-dimensional half-round beading along the top of the sides, as the Slaters beading was disappointingly flat.

This was a second-hand kit bought on eBay and for some reason was missing the buffer mouldings, but I found something close in the bits box.

I also think the floor supplied was probably from a BR van kit - it fitted perfectly but I had to scribe the planking in it.


The underframe is more challenging because this diagram has LNER fitted brake gear which is very different to anything provided in any of the Slaters kits. I managed to pick up some ABS whitemetal brake gear parts on eBay (at a rather exorbitant price) and have been battling to fit these to the Slaters wagon. This wagon B482514 had different axleboxes at each end (consistently in the 1968, 1978 and 1979 photos) and I've had to make my own covers for two of them to match the prototype.


There's still a way to go with completing the brake gear and adding the remaining small details, and I should get some more done tomorrow.

Hopefully the second kit and the remaining detailing parts I have ordered will turn up early next week.


Eventually these will form part of my 'railtour' set: steel highs were commonly used for railtours of the MSC system. One day I'll have to model a few dozen gricers to go in them!






Edited by Mol_PMB
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I’m gradually getting there with the detailing of this wagon, though there is still a bit more to do with the brake rigging and safety loops. 


I’ve had to order some more parts to complete it, including some Ambis etched brake lever guides and some material for the door fastenings. 


A little while ago I ordered a selection of Masterclub bolts and rivets and I will make my first use of them to fix the door bangers. 


I’m still enthusiastic about the second one, and may follow it with a third one B487312 which brakes as supplied in the kit. That’s not an MSC branded one nor a soda ash conversion, but It did run in one of the MSC railtours - next to the loco here:



I like the idea of having three similar wagons, but all slightly different. 

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This Slaters kit definitely has an identity crisis! There are lots of variants of these BR steel highs, but the kit doesn't quite seem to model any of them.

Also, the picture on the website and on the box does not match what's inside!

My first one was secondhand so initially I wasn't sure whether it had some mixed up or missing bits in it. My other two kits have now arrived, these are both brand new so I can speak with more confidence.


Let's look at some aspects of the kit:

  • The bodysides and ends have dimples for roping eyes. That's a good start, most steel highs had those.
  • The bodysides and ends have curb rails (i.e. the steel side sheeting goes right to the bottom). That's also the most common type. BUT the catalogue/box photo shows the type without a curb rail (ends of the floor planks are visible at the bottom of the sides, and there are various reinforcements around the base of the body.
  • The doors have a single horizontal bar, again the most common type. Slaters provide extra microstrip to modify the door to other steel types if desired.
  • The kit does not have a sheet rail, also the most common type.
  • The kit has 4-shoe vacuum brakes. That's a less common variant on these wagons - only a few batches were built that way. The common variant was LNER 8-shoe vacuum brakes. There were also a few batches built unfitted that later were rebuilt with the same brakegear as in the kit. However, all the wagons with 4-shoe vacuum brakes differed from the kit in the style of door, buffers or lacked the curb rail.
  • The kit has buffers which are only suitable for the types which lacked a curb rail.

Changing the brakes to the LNER 8-shoe type as I am doing is possible but challenging. That opens up many options though.

The easiest route to an accurate model would be to keep the brakes basically as provided, then either:

  • Replace the spindle buffers with some that have an upward extension (like on a mineral wagon with end doors), and add vertical ribs to the doors, which would then represent the batch B486750 to B487719.
  • Change the buffers to Oleo, Dowty, or extended spindle, which would then represent the batch B490251 to B490748, or ex-LNER E277479 to E277578
  • If modelling the 1940s/50s, you could omit the vacuum cylinder and two shoes and do an unfitted B490251 to B490748, or ex-LNER E277479 to E277578

I suggest that anyone wanting to build an accurate steel high from this kit should pick a specific prototype from https://paulbartlett.zenfolio.com/bropenmerchandisesteel and look very closely at details like the position of lamp irons, worksplates and label clips, the type of axleboxes, as well as the major issues discussed above. The kit could be reworked into any of the possible variants with a little work.

Other slightly disappointing features of the kit are the lack of planks on the floor, very understated rib mouldings at the top of the sides, very simplified axlebox bumpstops, and rather crude and fragile brake levers and guides. These look out of place compared to the exquisite lost wax castings and etchings for some other small details.


Would anyone be interested in my list of all the diagrams, lots and major detail differences?

See the attached spreadsheet.



Now, I'd better get back to carving off the wrong bits from my newly arrived kits...





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  • 3 weeks later...

I haven’t had much time for modelling recently but today I have made some more progress on the rake of steel Highs. These are based on the Slaters kits with numerous small tweaks. 


hopefully I’ll get a chance to finish the build this weekend and then they can be prepared for painting. 


Eventually these will need some passengers...


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39 minutes ago, Mol_PMB said:

I haven’t had much time for modelling recently but today I have made some more progress on the rake of steel Highs. These are based on the Slaters kits with numerous small tweaks. 


hopefully I’ll get a chance to finish the build this weekend and then they can be prepared for painting. 


What is the prototype for the one with the vertical (strengtheners?) on the door?

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3 minutes ago, Ruston said:

What is the prototype for the one with the vertical (strengtheners?) on the door?


B487312, the lead wagon in this rake. Lot 2341, B486750 to B487719. These had vertical ribs on the doors, and were built fitted with 4-shoe Morton brakes (note the tiebar between the axleboxes on the prototype, which I have not yet fitted on the model). On the next lot 2342 that the curb rail was deleted, but lot 2341 still had a curb rail:


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  • 2 weeks later...

I have been making progress on the three steel Highs. In retrospect it was a mistake to build these a batch as it seems to be taking forever to get them to the finish line.

However, I'm nearly there - mainly things like brake levers and guides to fit. I am trying to upgrade the brake lever guides with Ambis etched components but I'm finding them very fiddly and frustrating.

I've had enough of those for today - I'll try again when I'm feeling fresher.

I have made many other subtle upgrades to the kits, some examples done today are fitting the sheet roping hooks and using Masterclub bolts to fit the door bangers.

Here are the three of them:


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Here's some potential inspiration for a future project:

92206 at Duffield

No, not the 9F! The Irlam Steelworks iron ore tippler.

I was aware of this type, but the one above looks like a much easier build!



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1 minute ago, hmrspaul said:

The design was in transition, the vertical ribs on the doors were introduced on wagons with an otherwise conventional body, and at the same time the vac brakes were changed from LNER clasp to a simpler 4-shoe arrangement.

Then the curb rail was deleted, as seen on B487829. Not sure why, possibly there were problems with the ends of the floor planks rotting?

I guess that left the lower part of the sides not stiff enough, so soon after a reinforcing rib was added along the bottom of the sides.

A few posts further up I attached a spreadsheet where I tried to list all the variations of these steel highs. 3 models is enough for me at the moment, until someone can produce more photos of ones branded for the MSC!


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  • 2 weeks later...

For the MSC wagons, there's nothing else finished yet, I'm afraid. But there are several more on the way.

This photo shows in the background the three steel Highs which have now been primed and await painting and weathering. They will form the railtour set.

In front is the current build, which will be a Conflat ISO with 'Manchester Liners' container. I am planning a short intermodal train formed of three 4-wheel wagons. Entirely prototypical!


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  • 4 weeks later...

Progress on the train set has been glacial recently I'm afraid - I've been too busy on the full size railways.


But this weekend I have some time and I'm focusing on getting four open wagons a bit closer to completion. The three steel highs and an old MSC open too.

Today the highs have been weathered top and bottom, inside and out. Then I have masked off some of the rusty steel with masking fluid and painted a bauxite top coat.

Now they look almost all the same as in the photo from 4 weeks ago, except a bit more lumpy! Tomorrow I will peel off the masking and then continue the weathering. They will all have different degrees of weathering and different lettering styles.

The MSC open I had only lettered on one side but now I've done the other. The next stage on this is to make the lettering look much more worn and faded, and then continue the weathering. Again a job for tomorrow.



If the painting goes well tomorrow, I may get time to do some more work on the lowmac. I expect that will end up waiting another 2 weeks...

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