10 September 2020
Andy York provides an overview of this miniaturisation of Stephenson's locomotive – a British transportation icon, made famous by its participation in the Rainhill Trials of 1829.
Hornby’s re-tooling of its Stephenson’s Rocket model with matching coaches originally launched in 1963 has landed with retailers in its centenary year.
Two versions of the set have been produced, one in a retro-style Tri-ang Railways red book box which was limited to 1,500 models and the more widely-available gold box version, as reviewed. The Tri-ang set’s three first class coaches are named Times, Despatch and Experience while the gold box set’s coaches are named Wellington, Globe and Renown; the locomotive is identical. The book box is an appealing style of presentation with an informative inside flap and the model held within foam. Removing the acetate cover over the foam leaves the model in a displayable form as I am sure this product might well spend more time in collectable or presentation form than sitting upon a layout.
Care should be taken in removing the model from the foam because there's a lot fine detail. It’s wise to make use of the finger hole behind to assist in removal to equalize pressure on the model. Once freed, the finesse of the model is very impressive with plenty of captivating detail and a superb finish. The locomotive and tender only measure 85mm in length, but the most important dimension for many layout owners is the height with 60mm of clearance required for the tall chimney with decorative crown top.
Although the firebox and footplate area are diecast, the locomotive and tender combination is light at 47g. This isn’t necessarily a problem in reasonable usage but I found that once the tender is coupled using the simple pin arrangement there was a degree of pressure exerted by the wires to the circuitry which slightly lifted the front axle of the tender above the railhead. The one visual distraction in this area is the horizontal split in the water barrel on the tender which is necessary to make sure there is easy access to the 6-pin decoder socket inside the barrel. With a decoder fitted, it’s a tight squeeze to get the arrangement back into the barrel and some patience is needed. Personally I’d remove the socket and hard-wire a decoder in. The fittings pack includes a footplate crew which the locomotive would look ridiculous without if running on a layout.
This is a model of a replica – Stephenson’s original Rocket became much-altered with different cylinder positioning shortly after building. The original is currently exhibited at the National Railway Museum. Several replicas of Rocket have been made over the years and this model would appear to be based on the working 1979 replica built for the 150th anniversary of the Rainhill Trials.
The first-class coaches are a delight, clearly showing their stagecoach lineage. They are correctly a less-orange shade of yellow than the locomotive if the replica Rocket and coaches seen at the NRM are regarded as the basis of the models, and feature some wonderful decoration. Each gilt coach name is a three-stage tampo print of black, blue and gold, precisely executed over the base yellow. The stagecoach-style steps to the end of each carriage are picked out in black, although in some parts edges seem to have been missed on mine.
The coaches are quite light at 25g each which isn’t a problem and is needed for the locomotive to be able to move a train-load. However, where this does become a frustration is keeping everything on track whilst fitting the rigid representations of chain couplings. The holes at the end of them are small and the pins on the headstocks of the coaches even smaller and very easily detached. I would further improve the model by adding loose chain but I will concede this may cause issues in reversing the train over short pointwork. Thankfully there are spares in the fittings pack if any become lost after derailment.
Although I may have expressed reservations about weights, the completed ensemble performs well on the track. I was surprised at how well electrical pick-up was maintained over point frogs with contacts to all tender and locomotive axles. Arguably the top speed is far higher than is appropriate as Stephenson’s Rocket with train achieved 17mph in the Rainhill Trials. As there is only one driven axle on a lightweight model, the haulage potential is limited but it will be interesting to hook up a few more of the open third-class coaches which Hornby is to produce. The slow-speed crawl aspect of the model is limited though, and even after running-in, it would have been good to see some finesse at the bottom end of the speed range but there’s only so much which is practically achievable in a model of this size.
As a product to mark Hornby’s centenary I am sure we will see other occasions when it will re-appear in the future with the 200th anniversary of the Rainhill trials of 1829 and, frighteningly, the 50th anniversary of the Rainhill 150 Cavalcade come 2030. It’s a beautiful model despite some of its niggles presented in this review, all of which are solvable.