GWR iron cattle wagon

– an absurd quickie

by Tony McSean

There are lots of valid reasons for choosing to build a particular model. Like most people I sometimes find myself building something miles (and years) away from my usual range of interest – and doing so for no other reason than that I found it compulsively fascinating or charming. Before coming across the Shire Scenes/Ratio kit for the GWR iron cattle wagon, though, I'd never built anything solely because the sheer absurdity of the prototype made me laugh out loud.

Goodness knows what possessed the GWR to design and build an all-iron cattle wagon based on its standard iron mink box van. Anyone with the most passing experience of cattle will understand that there are aspects of their lifestyle which make the idea an iron-built transport just plain daft, and that is without considering the animal welfare aspects of hoof and unyielding floor. Suffice it to say that they only built one example of this diagram, that it was not an operational success and was either scrapped or disintegrated of its own accord after a short and unhappy life.

The kit, though, is a delight. If the reason I bought it was that I was charmed, the reasons I built it almost immediately I got it home from Scaleforum was that it looked like it might be a satisfying, distracting quickie, and that it would give be the perfect opportunity to try out the new airbrush and the rusting techniques described in Martyn Welch's incomparable Art of Weathering.

There are two parts to the kit. The basic shell is provided by an ordinary Ratio iron mink kit minus its sides. Although this is now a very old kit, it shows the standard Ratio virtues of accuracy, fine detail and ease of building and even a serious duffer should have no problem getting everything square and neat. Because I intended to modernise the Ratio running gear a bit, I resorted to the usual expedient of putting the floor in upside down in order to give myself a flat surface to work on. Shouldn't have left it at that, as will be explained later The sides are a beautifully engineered Shire Scenes fold-up brass etch, designed by master coach builder E R H Francis. Folding up, soldering down and tacking on the door latch took me a leisurely 10 minutes, and the finished article fitted perfectly into the Ratio shell.

As hinted at above, the one place where the Ratio kit does show its age is in the underframe and I decided to replace most of this. D&S w-irons were attached to the floor, and a couple of spare D&S V-hangers stuck to the solebar. MJT RCH axleboxes and buffers were fitted and with Gibson spoked wheels the whole thing rolls easily and true. I could find no information about what brake gear was fitted so I fitted the Ratio brake unit to one side (mainly because like the spoked wheels it contributed to the spindly look I was aiming for) and fitted scrapbox levers on both sides.

At this point the kit was built and ready for painting, and also at this time I realised that I had made two totally daft mistakes. Firstly, I had completed the body without rusting up the inside, which in real life must have been orange with corrosion. Secondly, the body side was much more low-cut and open than the more modern cattle wagons I have built. Consequently, the ribs and coupling pocket on the upturned floor are clearly and embarrassingly visible when you look at the model from a high angle. On the next one I build I will be more thoughtful...

The model is finished quite unprototypically in BR grey with BR lettering from the Fox range. The real thing was apparently scrapped before world war 2, but I wanted a model that fitted in visually (on a superficial level) with the rest of my BR-period stock. The basic airbrushed finish was easy and incredible smooth – beginner's luck no doubt – and by painting on a basic rust mix and misting it over with dark grey I was able to achieve a reasonable representation of a badly-maintained iron roof rusting through. The body was weathered using a blend of Railmatch filth colours following closely Martyn Welch's precepts with lashings of sickly-smelling but very cheap talc. The pictures show the wagon after it's third application of rusting, but I think I'll probably go back and make it even worse next time I'm doing a batch of corrosion. Using memories of an old Austin 1100 as a guide, the rusting was applied with particular attention to likely areas of particular filth – around the floor/walls joint, dribbling down from the holes in the side, up the ends, etc. I painted the wooden doors a slightly darker shade of grey to reflect the different nature of the weathering.

All in all it was an excellent quickie, satisfying to build and still capable of raising a smile at the thought of the decision process that led to the original's being built. As absurd as a Lartigue steam monorail and a lot less trouble to model.

© Tony McSean

April 2000