By Derek Wiggins and Keith Skillicorn
Visualise the mid-seventies. Jack Wheldon has just written his milestone article ‘Raising the Pressure’, and Stewart Browne of Archangel is swamped with orders for his Rheidol and Brick models. He is starting on ‘Snowdon Ranger’ and ‘The Princess’, so articulating power bogies is only in its infancy.
Stewart decides to build a Double Fairlie for himself, just to prove that it can be done, and asks his good friend Harvey Watkins to sketch one out, with the proviso ‘not to scale’. The idea was to use two chassis from the then new ‘The Princess’. In the end, Stewart decided to build custom chassis and ‘LITTLE WONDER’ is the result.
Make no mistake, this is a very important loco in the history of 16mm, because it significantly raised the bar for what could be built. It is a large and for the scale very heavy loco. It has a single boiler which holds a pint of water. There is a large meths tank on the trailing end of each bogie, and these feed six burners, a by product being that flare-ups can be spectacular! The boiler itself runs at very high pressure, the safety valve being set to blow off at 90psi.
All this steam feeds four working cylinders, direction being controlled by slip eccentrics. This makes for a very powerful model. The loco has been known to derail, when pulling a large heavy train, and just keep going as it ploughed through the ballast. It ran on Jack Wheldon’s Border Counties Railway.
Mike Morris was a frequent visitor to Stewart’s home, and regularly tried to buy the loco, finally being successful just before Christmas 1978. Not too long afterwards, Mike was running it at a meeting at Blanchelands, and had trouble with the slip eccentrics. Robin Gosling was also there, and volunteered to sort these out, as well as tidying up the plumbing in the cab, and fitting some sort of baffling to try and preserve fingers in the event of a flare-up. He also fitted sprung buffers. Whilst the loco was away for two years, it returned in the form you see it now, and has run like a Swiss watch since – testimony to the design and construction. Mike likes to keep all his locos as working models, ageing gracefully and with a wonderful patina.
The high pressure and heavy weight of the model mean that it is able to pull very heavy trains at scale speeds, and there is no wheelspin moving off. It is possible to run a 16mm loco on a model engineering raised track, between the 3 1/2″ and 5″ gauge outer rails, and Little Wonder has done this, pulling a person.
Mike has always believed that the engine is unique, though it is believed that there is one other Archangel Double Fairlie out there. Any information would be welcome?
Little Wonder brings great interest and pleasure wherever it runs, and it remains a benchmark loco in the history of 16mm modelling, and Archangel products.
A video of the loco in action on Keith’s YouTube Channel:
Derek Wiggins and Keith Skillicorn