Dapol 34T 'Turbot' wagon

06 October 2020
A bogie engineers' wagon with looks to boot – Howard Smith reviews this latest model to emerge from Dapol's Chirk factory.

Dapol's bogie ballast engineers’ wagon has arrived with stockists in 'Dutch' livery suitable for the 1982-2002 period and EWS livery suitable for the 1997-2002 period. This has to be the best RTR wagon my desk has seen – a bold statement from the outset, I'll admit. Granted, it’s an engineers’ wagon, and it’s O gauge, instantly ticking two boxes for me, but its looks are excellent. The wagons are available in six guises, three in EWS maroon and gold and three in engineers’ yellow and grey.

Dapol O gauge turbot wagon

End detail is pleasing, with door springs and hefty axles on display.

For a few years, Dapol’s O gauge offerings have remained loyal to the steam-era fraternity. This is one of its first wagons to emerge that’s aimed purely at diesel-era modellers, complementing the ever-growing range of RTR diesels in the scale, including its popular Class 08, and soon, Class 66 Co-Co. To choose such a prototype a decade ago would have been considered 'brave'.

The 'Turbot' bogie ballast wagons were modified from the earlier Bogie Bolster E wagons, manufactured in the early 1960s and intended for the conveyance of steel. After a number of years in use, the wagons were found to be too short, and they became surplus. Adding a low-sided three door body, however, made them suitable for transporting spent ballast, sand, rubble, sleepers or even point components for the civil engineer’s fleet, whose many inherited wagons from the 'Big Four' were fast becoming life-expired.

Dapol O gauge turbot wagon

Resplendent in ex-works condition, TOPS data panels were often the only thing re-painted during the wagons' lives.

Over 1,000 of the wagons were rebuilt by BR Shildon and RFS Engineering at Doncaster between 1982 and 1988, and nicknamed 'Turbot' with the TOPS classification, YCV. In the late-1990s, the wagons would pass to Trainload Freight West, which soon became known as ‘Transrail’ and would cascade to EWS a few years later after the buyout by Wisconsin Central. Some wagons would be fitted with end steps to opposing corners and a grab rail for staff to check wagon contents. During the sea wall defence boulder contract, a few wagons were converted with reinforced fixed sides and painted into EWS colours. Of those unconverted however, their numbers dwindled rapidly, more robust, air-braked wagons entered service, themselves, ironically often built on redundant wagon chassis, too.

The end of vacuum-braked operations on the national network in 2002 saw an end to all types, with the exception of 60 conversions for the overground sections of the London Underground, carried out in 1995 by ABB at Crewe. These wagons were equipped with air brakes.

Dapol O gauge turbot wagon

The wagon has a realistic dull satin finish, difficult to better, save for chemically-blackening the wheels and painting the underframe trusses.

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Presented new to the engineers in ‘Dutch’ livery and rarely repainted, but for a patch over welding repairs or a data panel, many of the wagons would carry the ever-fading livery, with increasing levels of rust until they were withdrawn. From 1997, some of those left in service would be repainted into EWS colours for the seawall defence programme in Devon. Those offered by Dapol in EWS livery correctly feature the extra corner steps on opposing diagonals.

Dapol O gauge turbot wagon

Lettering is pin-sharp and legible, though you'll need good eyesight!

At least someone has a sense of humour at Dapol because one of the wagon side inscriptions reads ‘This wagon must not be worked round curves of less than 3 metres radius’. Impossible for the prototype, with a minimum radius of 31 metres, but quite manageable for this capable model, which eats up second radius curves. Other inscriptions are legible and the colours look right, but I question the font used for the ‘YCV’ lettering on the TOPS panel – the letters don’t seem quite thick enough. A sheet of transfers could soon rectify this if felt necessary, while changing numbers, too.

Dapol O gauge turbot wagon

Underneath the wagon is where I find the detail to be very captivating. Everything you could possibly expect of an RTR wagon in the scale is present, and then some! Bogies are cast in metal for strength, with plastic brake beam inserts. It’s cleverly-designed and most importantly, isn’t fragile. The side frames sit close to the wheel faces to give as close an appearance to the prototype as possible, though a conversion to Scale 7 will require a new bogie stretcher. Though non-functional, real springs are in the side frames for appearances’ sake. The wheels have a very realistic dish profile to the front and rear faces, and the axles are of a realistic thickness, too, better than many aftermarket options. My only observation is in the relief to the axlebox covers, which I feel are too shallow.

Dapol O gauge turbot wagon

Underframe detail is impressive. Sprung buffers and instanter couplings complete the look. 

Between the brake beam apertures sit the brake levers, wonderfully-represented. The mechanism can be traced back to the ‘V’ hangers via a series of detailed rods. You can see how it would operate, with linkages, adjusters to compensate for wear in the mechanism and pin detail all being present at close scrutiny. Best of all, the manufacturer has gone to great lengths to design these, and it’s pleasing to see that even such fine round bar details when viewed up close are free of plastic flash.

Why go to such great lengths in this quest for detail on the underside of a wagon, you might ask? Place your camera low enough at track level and all detail, bar the underframe trussing, is visible. With model detail increasing around the board, more-so from market newcomers with stand-out models, nothing quite sets the tone for things to come like ‘upping the ante’. I’m certainly not complaining – detail in this scale is a reason why so many modellers celebrate it. This model from Dapol lives up to that expectation, and then some.