27 March 2023
Mark Thatcher builds a 7/8th’s Woolwich Arsenal Railway van kit.
The prototype for this model resides at the Conwyn museum and is the only one of its type to survive. Woolwich Arsenal Railway itself was based in South London and construction started in 1824. By 1859 it had become a standard gauge railway and by 1871 had a permanent way extending to over 50 miles. The final trains ran on the WAR in 1996 when there was over 120 miles of track. However, the prototype for this kit is pre-standard gauge times and would have run on 18” gauge track.
Right from the start, I could see this kit would not be too challenging to fit together. The instructions are very good with a colour reference photo on the front page of the manual. Apart from the overall quality of the wood parts there are other nice touches including separate buffers, door handles and hinges, riveted solebar detail, a vacuum-formed roof, two axle boxes and two hooks and chains.
You also get either a set of 32 or 45mm wheelsets. I opted for 45mm, and the wheels in my kit came from Accucraft. Also supplied are circular overlays which slot over the axles to cover the outside of the wheels up to the rims. These are a very good representation of the prototype. A lot of these detail parts have been SLS-printed and the quality is excellent.
The kit builds up into two sub-assemblies: the chassis and body. This is useful as I opted to spray the chassis black and hand-paint the body red, at least initially.
Starting with the chassis, some of the parts needed to be carefully removed from their frets. Make sure you cut from the back of the fret which is the side that you can see the components are more firmly attached to. It is difficult to explain, but will be obvious when you buy the kit.
The chassis is basically a three-layer sandwich. The base layer has locating holes cut into it to locate the axle boxes. The next layer is aligned by cutting down the supplied brass rod into roughly 1cm lengths and pushing them through the holes in the chassis to keep everything square. I found the rod supplied a little too thin for this job, so put that aside and used cocktail sticks instead.
The 3D-printed axle boxes came on one sprue. Make sure that when separating each axle box from each other that you leave the locating pips on them. These pips locate in the holes on the underside of the chassis and the axle boxes are then held in place with two small screws located on either side of the pips.
Once the wooden layers of the chassis were built up, it was time for a quick spray of satin black before I added the buffers, solebars and hooks. There is a right and wrong way up when fitting the solebars, but this is pointed out in the instructions. It is far easier to add the three-link coupling chains to the hooks before you locate them on the chassis. These hooks are also secured with two small screws, just like the axle boxes. I elected not to paint these parts as they had a great roughcast finish to them and were moulded in black already.
Once painted and detailed I added the axle boxes and wheelsets and in a couple of hours' work I had a very nice-looking rolling chassis to admire. I wonder if this could be the basis for other models as different freelance bodies could be easily added.
Flipping over to the body now, it was an easy job to add the four overlays to the wagon sides and ends. Then, when these were dry I opted to add the completed wagon ends to the floor. It is a good idea to use a set square to ensure the ends are exactly 90 degrees to the floor at this point.
Next, I added the sides of the wagon. These are such a good push-fit between the ends, they hardly needing gluing, but I elected to push them into place, put an elastic band around the whole body and drizzle glue down the inside edges. That way there is no risk of glue contamination on the outside surfaces of the model.
The final stage in this assembly was to add the central doors and overlays into the remaining gaps on the wagon sides and glue on the door hinges, door bolts and fixings.
I decided to blow over an undercoat of dark grey etching primer. Then I undercoated the entire body with matt white primer as I find red goes over white better. Some people however think a grey primer-coat works better - the choice is yours. Not having the right shade of red paint in stock, I used the reference colour of the photograph of the wagon in the instructions as a guide. Even this is not infallible, as for some reason I always struggle with red paint – oh and also painting wasp stripes on buffer beams in yellow too!
According to the photograph, the wagon looked quite red, so I opted for Valspar’s matt Scarlet Tanager that I had to hand as it is quite a challenge getting paint mixed currently. It did not look right at all and was far too bright.
Handy tip: If you are not sure about a colour, try it out on the underside of the model rather than somewhere it will be more noticeable.
So I scrapped that idea and went back to a Halfords rattle can red oxide primer instead which I think is closer to the original.
Thanks to John Candy, who was a massive help getting the decals made for this model to finish it off nicely.
The roof does need to be trimmed to size. I opted to cut along the sides with it away from the model, then trim the ends when it was attached to the body. That way there is less chance of getting the measurements wrong.
This was a simple and fun kit to build and really only took a couple of evenings to finish. The rate-limiting factor was waiting for the glue to dry, and I am sure if you used Superglue, it could easily be built in an evening. I personally did not want to risk that as it is easier to remove wood glue if it gets in the wrong place and I prefer the PVA bond too. The separate chassis and body made for an easy paint job as well. So maybe this is one model you should put in your own arsenal – boom-boom!
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