By Andrew Cox
For several years now, I’ve been attempting to recreate some of the flavour of the Welsh Highland Railway in my back garden – the old, struggling, Welsh Highland of the 1920s and 30s. A Roundhouse Russell and Accucraft Baldwin have joined my locomotive fleet, and I’ve built models of the Gladstone Car, the Buffet Car and other carriages, but I have remained rather short of appropriate wagons. Happily for me, the Welsh Highland had a bad habit of borrowing rolling stock from the neighbouring Ffestiniog line, and with kits for the latter’s slate wagons readily available at low cost, that seemed a good way of achieving a “quick fix”. I set to work.
Two Binnie kits of wooden-bodied wagons were quickly assembled, as were a pair of 3D-printed three ton wagons from the now-discontinued PMVR range. With those four under my belt, I took to the internet to purchase some of the well-known Coopercraft kits of the numerous iron-bodied 2 ton variety. To my surprise, supplier after supplier seemed to have sold out, and none had new supplies on the way – I eventually discovered that Coopercraft’s machine had expired. With the prices of second-hand examples soaring and Slaters’ beautiful kits beyond both my pocket and my modelling abilities, I needed a Plan B…
Planning and preparation
Many of my WHR and FR carriages have been scratch-built, a process I’ve greatly enjoyed, but I had initially discounted the idea of taking that approach with slate wagons, thinking them too delicate and fiddly. The Coopercraft conundrum forced me to reconsider, and so I began by looking at photographs, drawings and other models to think about how it might be done. Planning soon spilled over into building, and within a relatively short space of time I was amazed to end up with five wagons that run well, are reasonably accurate, and remarkably robust. Here’s how I did it…
I started with a plan, drawn up on graph paper with 1mm squares generated for free online. For strength and simplicity, I had decided to use Plastruct plastic strip and L section, available from my local model shop, and my initial design was as close to scale as could be achieved with the available range. That might have been fine, but it looked a little flimsy, so for added strength I decided to use slightly overscale section strip and angle. I kept the overall dimensions the same, with the result that the model is strong, but slightly chunkier than the original. You can download the plan I used below, but be aware that it’s a bit rough and ready, and that I modified it as I went along! I made several copies, so I could use it as a guide when cutting and sticking.
- Slate wagon plan – print at 100% size (“Actual size” using Adobe Reader) on A4 paper
The floor came first, an 96mm by 50mm rectangle, with extra bits where the floor protrudes beyond the corner uprights – these could be left off a freelance wagon to simplify things, or the whole plan could be adapted for a 45mm gauge wagon. A copy of the plan was stuck to a sheet of 1.5mm plasticard using Copydex (which rubs off afterwards) and the floor cut out.
The plan was used again to cut the solebars and headstocks of the wagon from a length of 6.4mm L-section plastic and these were glued underneath the floor with plastic cement. I was pleased to realise that it didn’t matter if the corners weren’t an accurate fit (they weren’t!) because they end up being covered by the uprights.
The long slats along the sides were cut next, 96mm lengths of 1.5 x 2.5mm plastic strip, along with the corner uprights, more 6.4mm L-section, 30mm long. I glued these together to form the sides, resting the pieces on the plan to ensure that the slats were at the right distance apart and that each assembly was square.
The inside edges of the L section taper in slightly towards the tips, meaning that the inside angle is actually a little greater than 90 degrees and so won’t fit exactly round the corners of the floor. To compensate for this, and to allow time for adjustment, I used a thick UHU-type adhesive to affix the sides, letting the glue dry a little before attaching both sides at once. I added the top one of the end slats (a 50mm length of strip) to ensure the sides were the correct distance apart, checking constantly with a set square as the glue dried – even so, some of my wagons are a little wonky!
The bottom and middle end slats were glued into place next, again using photographs for guidance, before I could start adding additional detail using 0.8 x 3.2mm strip. The vertical bars on each side were followed by horizontal strips to turn the top slats and the middle ones on each end into a representation of angle iron. Again, these were cut using the drawing for guidance, then trimmed carefully to ensure a good fit. I rounded the top corners before filling and sanding where necessary to achieve a neat finish.
Additional detailing came principally in the form of “nail art” jewels to represent rivets. I used photographs to get the positions more or less right, brushing a little liquid poly onto the required locations and then adding the jewels with the tip of a knife blade. They’re a little overscale, but I like the extra character they provide. Further detail came in the form of the rectangular plates that sit above the axleguards on the frames of original. These were cut from plasticard, and with small scrap pieces cut to shape and added to represent the square nuts that presumably hold the axleguards in place.
Running gear and couplings are from the Binnie Engineering range, with slight modifications to suit my requirements. The “steel slate wagon” axleguards had their angular protrusions removed and replaced with Wilko craft jewels filed a little flatter to represent the hinged oiling flaps seeming sported by most Ffestiniog slate wagons, and the “Carmarthen” couplings had their moulded hooks replaced with brass ones. Neither modification is strictly necessary, and both could be dispensed with if modelling generic freelance slate wagons. The Binnie parts were affixed with two-part epoxy, and a small stack of curtain weights added beneath each wagon to aid good running – each now weighs in at 75g.
Painting was carried out using a variety of grey and red oxide primers (including a very good value one from Poundland), with 4mm high numbering added from the BECC range intended for model boats. Although there’s plenty of information available online regarding colours and numbers of surviving wagons, I decided that livery, at least, would have changed over the years, so just allocated colours and numbers arbitrarily. The numbers chosen include an old house number, my wedding anniversary and my children’s birthdays! Weathering was carried out using washes of dark grey and brown acrylic, with a little rust colouring dry-brushed on to bring out some of the detail.
One of the wagons has now gained a removeable slate load, using 4mm scale corrugated iron and plastic sheet over a foamboard shell. At some point I’ll make one of these for each of my wagons, so that I can run loaded trains as well as empty ones – the loads will also act as a useful way of adding a little extra weight if it proves necessary.
The techniques used to create these wagons will eventually be developed to recreate some genuine Welsh Highland slate wagons. I’m expecting this to be quite a challenge, given their unusual design (without corner uprights) and the fact that drawings and photographs are rare. In the meantime, my mixed rake of kit and scratchbuilt wagons are holding the fort admirably, bringing an unmistakably Welsh feel to my Bristol back garden.
If you’re interested in future progress on the (Windmill Hill) Welsh Highland Railway, visit the relevant threads of the excellent Garden Railway Forum.