There have been lots of centenaries marked in this blog. In a forgotten siding at Froissy (the ‘little train of the Upper Somme’) Jim Hawkesworth snapped this abandoned WD wagon. One hundred years ago, the wagon was taking supplies to the Army in the trenches. In this very area , the British Army was waiting anxiously for a German attack. They knew it was coming, but not where or how. The people involved, their worries, most of the 60 cm railways which served them have all gone, but these mute and aged witnesses remain.
|A WD class D wagon without a side waits on a siding at Cappy, Haute Somme. Photo taken by Jim Hawkesworth 1990|
Perhaps these 100 year old wagons have something to teach us in the modelling community. To truly appreciate the passage of time, we should try to live more in the present. By this I mean enjoy everything and escape the concept of ‘waste-of-time’. Try to shake off the idea that being time-poor is somehow to be materially rich.
For example, ‘time-poor’ people look for meal replacements not real food. Too often, people entering our craft are looking for the equivalent on their scale railways. Yes, meal replacements and convenience foods have their uses. Ready-meals have appeared in the Wright household.
I have never tasted a true ‘meal replacement’ but they have been marketed for years, a staple of old-folks-homes and hospices. Rachel Joyce describes the experience of consuming a ‘nutritional milkshake’. These have hopeful names like strawberry, butter-scotch and vanilla but their colour gives the game away. They are all a shade half-way between beige and pink that has no name except possible ‘blush taupe’. They are a chore, to be consumed without pleasure.
In contrast, consider a simple fruit, a peach. You may wonder what is so special.. Real food has the potential to surprise or disappoint. A peach has non-standard colour, shape and a little ’give’ to the touch. It has a well defined crease and a dimple where it was once attached to a tree. It has a smell. When it is cut, the juice runs out. It dares the most careful eater to consume it without coating his/her chin in pulp. It has flavour, sometimes delightful, sometimes not. When it is eaten, there remains a glorious stickiness.
The same applies to even the simplest of things, boiling a kettle. You could on the one hand, flick a switch and let your super-convenient device supply you with water at exactly 100 degrees. On the other hand, you could watch as the water travelled up to boiling point. At room temperature, water appears stationary. The French and the Chinese have terms for liquid as it starts to heat up – in French étincelant; the Chinese see 'fish eyes' in the water. At the simmer, the French say frémissant, a Chinese poet describes water as ‘pearls from a gushing spring’. At a full boil, the French term is a gros bouillons, the Chinese say ‘galloping waves’. Are we perhaps missing something when we just flick a switch, walk away and come back when the job is done?
|Coal tipper wagon in HO scale produced by Roco International ref 4335a|
In the same way, there are plenty of instant products for the modeller in a hurry. I am not decrying them. Pictured above is a lovely HO Roco wagon produced with painstaking attention to detail. It is, of course, exactly like every other Roco side-discharge tipper wagon reference 4335a .There is a place for this quality on any railway of this scale. But if a railway consists merely of a circle of proprietory track surrounded by ready-made buildings on which run locomotives and wagons straight from neat boxes, there is no individuality, no hopeful travel and no sense of owning the end result. All you have to do is transfer your money to the right quarter and then open the box. Isn’t this the equivalent of swigging down your Soylent Green instant lunch at your desk?
Many modellers may fear the alternative, which is making up a kit. They then miss out on a chief joy of the 16mm craft. A high proportion of available wagons and accessories are only available in kit form. The fact is, we aren’t the large market that is typical of, say, HO. The techniques of mass production are very often not practical. Whatever the reason for being drawn to 32mm or 45 gauge, the charm was not the vast range of readymade stock available.
Most kit suppliers take pride in the customisations possible – early, middle or late versions of a prototype railway. The original wagons were adapted, botched and cannibalised. They were bought up by different orgaisations and used in new places.
|Wrightscale 16mm WD bolster on Wrightscale WD bogies. The bolster was used for carrying long loads such as timber. Something similar was used to carry lengths of prefabricated track. Phot MD Wright|
Making up a wagon is risky. Your first painful effort involves time, materials and the chance of many things going wrong. The end-result may be a wagon which compares poorly to the professional model, especially if it is a first attempt. For many of us, this is uncomfortable. We have been taught to avoid risk. Yet taking a chanc may bring its own rewards.
We are pleased that over the years, we have coaxed thousands of 16mm society members to consider Wrightscale WD bogie kits. On studying them, a fabric of history gradually unrolls. A lot was expected of these bogies. Two had to support a load of up to ten tons, on rough track without derailing. What is more, they had to be produced in their thousands within a few months.
|Wrightscale WD 16mm bogie kit based on a 1917 prototype; long side-frame, short side-frame, end-frames and centre with pin to support one end of a wagon body. The wheels are Binnie Engineering curly-spoked.|
As you get to know the components, you can see how these engineering problems were solved. The rivets are not mere decoration; parts were welded when this was sensible. Rivets and welds turned standard lengths of channel steel into sturdy frame members. Those chunky springs above the axle-boxes earned their keep; without serious springing, the bogie would be upset by rough track. The brakes, operated by prominent brake-wheels were essential to safety under trench conditions. Central to the bogie is the ‘pin’, the link with the wagon body which allowed parts to swing independently where necessary. A trench railway was sinuous at best. In fact, a nice straight line would be a gift to enemy gunners.
Most of all, let’s face it, hands-on modelling is a chance to overcome failure. Look on mistakes as part of the experience. Indeed, trouble-shooting is a valuable life-skill. There is no better achievement than looking failure in the eye and watching failure blink first.
|16mm model of a WD covered wagon made by Jim Hawkesworth. It set on WD bogies. It has sliding doors; adaptations were used as ambulance wagons.|