The body of a wagon or van would be made from planks of wood, generally
an inch or so thick by about six inches wide, bolted to a supporting framework.
The whole assembly was held together with `coach bolts' (note that when one
hears of `rivet detail' being applied to wooden bodied stock the `rivets' were
in fact the heads of the bolts).
In the early years the reinforcing framework on both wagons and vans was made of wood and was usually on the outside of the body, so called 'outside framed' designs. This left the inside clear of obstructions but the external frames collected water and promoted wood rot. Open wagons had generally switched to metal plate reinforcing (usually called 'strapping') by the 1860's but vans retained the wooden frames much longer. Van frames were generally moved inside the vehicle by the early 1930's and sometimes an inner lining of wood was applied to provide a smooth interior. Wood-framed van designs with the framing on the inside continued in production up to the 1970's.
On wooden bodied mineral wagons it was common practice to add a metal strip called a curb rail to the top of the wagon side to protect it from falling coal and shovels as the wagon was loaded or unloaded. Similar rails were also fitted to some open wagons to prevent people nailing anything to the top of the side planks (this is discussed in more detail in the section on Cargo and Wagon Loads).
The end-door on main line mineral wagons appeared in the 1880's and they were a common though not universal fitting on coal wagons by the turn of the century.
Iron bodies for both open wagons and vans were produced in the 1870's and there was much debate at the turn of the century on the merits of iron bodied vehicles. Metal bodied stock was more robust than wood and iron vehicles weighed less, allowing a higher payload. Against this repairs were more difficult as the wrought iron plates were riveted together and rust replaced rot as the main problem. In general metal was only found to be worthwhile for mineral wagon bodies and even these were still mainly built of wood up to the late 1930's.
The GWR, and several of the Welsh railway companies it absorbed, owned a great many `Iron Mink' general purpose vans. These vans had an iron body made up of panels riveted together with hinged wooden side doors. Introduced in the 1880's the last GWR examples were built in 1901, with a few bogie types built in 1911. Iron bodied vans were a long lived breed and proved popular with private owners, notably with cement firms who bought or leased a number of such vehicles, often painting them in colourful liveries.
Some of these iron vans remained in service long enough to become British Railways 'departmental stock'. The examples in departmental use shown below were used as stores vans at small Welsh stations, vans used in this way featured the large letter X in the data panel area as shown. The plain wagon doors shown on the lower van date from 1927, these replaced the original standard GWR design with its outside frame as shown on then upper van. Sometimes the older pattern doors had a diagonal wooden brace running from the outer bottom corner to the inner top corner. These wagons were photographed, still in departmental service, in the late 1960's.
Fig ___ Iron bodied vans
The lower illustration shows a van with one end vent cover removed, the black 'dots' are the holes in the metal end plate under the cover.
Early designs of iron bodied vehicles had rounded corners on both the open wagons and van type bodies. These corners were separate plates, they added strength and meant that heavy corner posts were not required. The Peco Butterly steel wagon, in the guise of a GWR coal wagon, should have plain ends with rounded corners, a going over with sand paper does the trick, then just add vertical posts to the ends from microstrip and paint out the diagonal white line on the side (these wagons had no end door, which is what the line is to indicate). Not all iron bodied stock had rounded corners however, most iron vehicles built after the turn of the century (gunpowder vans and mineral wagons) had square corners, so get a good look at a photo if modelling a specific prototype. The square cornered version of the GWR iron vans, lined with wood, fitted with iron doors and supplied with a pair of leather `nailless' over-boots, became the basis for the standard RCH approved `Gunpowder van'. This design, with minor variations, was used by most pre-1923 companies, the post-1923 Big Four railway companies and by British Railways for explosives.
A kit of the standard Iron Mink van, with rounded corners and late pattern vertically planked inside framed doors, is available to members of the 2mm Scale Association. To convert this into an early gunpowder van carve off the end vents, sand smooth the doors to represent sheet metal, add a door locking bar to the right hand door and new hinges. More recently the N Gauge Society have introduced an N scale model of this van, the model comes with alternative doors to allow the gunpowder van variant to be made and the society even offers suitable transfers.
Iron vans, including gunpowder vans, can also be produced from the Peco standard van by sanding all detail from the sides and ends, sanding the corners to a curved section if required, and lowering the roof by about two or three millimetres. Detail such as outside reinforcing frames, handles and doors can then be added using plastic strip, rod and sheet.
Fig ___ Models of iron mink vans
The models shown were all made from the 2mm Scale Association kit many years ago. They first ran on cut down Peco ten foot wheelbase chassis but are now mounted on the Peco nine foot wheelbase chassis. There should be three bands across the roof of the gunpowder van (I only found out about those after making and painting the model). These kits are to 2mm scale and come with the post 1927 type doors, other door types require modification. The N Gauge society now offers a kit for the type in N Scale (1-148) which comes with alternative doors and even transfers (including a colourful cement van livery).
In the early days the only explosive available was black powder or 'gunpowder', Tri Nitro Cellulose or 'Guncotton' was invented in 1846 and a year later an Italian discovered Nitroglycerine, a very powerful explosive but too unstable to transport safely. In 1866 the Swede Alfred Nobel found that mixing nitroglycerine with a clay called kieselguhr rendered it less volatile, he called this new explosive Dynamite. He then discovered that mixing nitroglycerine with gun-cotton produced a jelly like explosive which is called blasting gelatine. Both Dynamite and blasting gelatine are very high explosives, they tend to shatter things. Nobel went on to develop ballistite (a variation on blasting gelatine) which is a lower explosive, offering a pushing action rather than a destructively shattering one. The British decided to use ballistite, without paying any royalties to Nobel, and called their product 'cordite'. Ballistite and cordite enabled people to build better firearms and Nobel was so horrified by the use to which his wares were put he founded the Nobel Prize for people doing work for the benefit of mankind. By 1914 the military were using TNT (Tri Nitro Toluene) and by the outbreak of the Second World War a range of stable explosives had been developed notably PETN and Cyclonite. By the mid 1930's Britain was using over twenty thousand tons of non-military explosives a year, mostly in the coal mines. Dynamite was by far the most widely used explosive in the mines up to about 1955 but new explosives which are safer and more efficient have now largely replaced it. These are based either on a mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (commonly referred to as ANFO) or ammonium nitrate mixed with a thickening jelly like material, sensitised with TNT. The latter are called slurry blasting agents or SBA. Quarries generally preferred old fashioned 'low explosive' and cheap 'black powder' up to the mid 1950's. Black powder was shipped in small casks and the stick-formed explosives preferred by mines were shipped in small wooden boxes.
Steel became a viable wagon building material in the mid 1920's, and by the end of the decade 'pressed steel' panels began to appear in new wagons. Pressed steel is sheet metal which is pressed in a mould to form ribs or bulges which give strength and rigidity to the panel. Examples are the ribbed ends on the Graham Farish single vent van (dating from the late 1920's) and the doors on the Graham Farish steel open wagon (dating from the 1940's). Pressed steel offers a low weight for a given strength and from the 1920's several companies built road/rail containers in this material.
The wagon shown below, sketched from a photo in Peter Mathew's book on PO Wagons (see bibliography) is an all steel wagon equivalent to the three plank design built in 1923 to the then new RCH specification. The livery is that of the wagon builder although it may have operated in this livery for a time before being repainted in the owners colours.
Fig ___ PO steel bodied road stone or tarmacadam wagon
Iron was preferred to steel for goods stock bodies prior to the 1930's because it was less prone to rusting and better able to withstand shock loads when shunting. Steel chassis however became increasingly common after the turn of the century. The early GWR 'Felix Pole' mineral wagons used wrought iron bodies on a steel chassis. The LNER were noted for experimenting with iron bodied stock, although they generally preferred wooden underframes long after most of the other companies designs had shifted to metal
The GWR was in the forefront of metal underframe development. They built a large number of steel mineral wagons and in 1934 they built fifty or so steel bodied open wagons to the same general dimensions as the five plank open wagon. These steel merchandise wagons had a wooden floor and a wooden inner lining to the drop-down doors (to give a better grip to working boots when loading). The diagonal strapping on the sides was a thin L section and the verticals to either side of the doors was also L section. The ends supports were T section and the capping strip along the top of the sides was fine L section. My model was made by carving and sanding the sides and ends of a Peco 5 plank wagon body until they were flat. The heavy L section strapping to either side of the doors was represented using 20x30 thou strip, with a strip of 10x10 thou laid beside it (on the door side). The end T section was also 20x30 thou but with 10x10 thou to both sides. Had I sanded down the 20x30 thou to a thinner section (about 10x30 thou) it would have looked better. The fine L section diagonals were 10x20 thou with a strip of 10x10 thou laid on top to one side, the top capping strip was just 10x10 thou laid along the top of the side. The LNER built a number of steel bodied wagons in 1945, the later type with a steel door and dimples on the sides is available from Parkwood Models, mine is a Peco butterly wagon with the ends sanded smooth and a door section cut from a Peco five plank wagon set into the centre representing the early models. This is a five plank door not six plank but from normal viewing distance I think it looks okay.
Fig ___ GWR and LNER steel bodied goods open wagons
The Peco 'Butterly' steel wagon is a design dating from 1935, however very similar wagons were built earlier than that date.
The LNER built some concrete bodied brake vans to their standard pattern (the Queen Mary design, similar to the Minitrix model), but this was not a success. In 1945 the LNER built some steel bodied open wagons on a steel chassis. These were built with both wooden and steel doors and some of the latter type had distinctive 'dimples' on the sides where securing rings were fitted internally. Some of the steel doored type were fitted with a vacuum brake for use in the Green Arrow all-fitted goods service and under British Railways the unfitted wagons in this series were fitted with vacuum brakes. The version with steel doors is available in the Parkwood Models range of kits and these remained in service into the 1970's.
The roof on most vans was wooden tongue and groove planking laid lengthways and pulled down to follow the curve of the roof using a metal frame forced down with 'bottle screws' or 'turnbuckles'. The planks were then nailed down and covered with tarpaulin which was nailed into place under the `eaves'. The roof was coated usually with a white lead based paint for water-proofing, some companies used tar, producing a black roof. After the 1930's some van roofs were painted with an aluminium paint, giving a silvery grey finish, but this was not common. This wood and cloth roof remained standard well into the British Railways era, with only a few experiments into the use of fibreglass, sheet metal or plastic taking place prior to the introduction of the modern air-braked stock.
An iron roof was sometimes used on wooden bodied rolling stock, these can usually be spotted because they had rounded rather than square corners and two or three narrow iron strips across the top riveted over the joints in the roof sections. The early GWR 'Mex' wooden bodied cattle wagons (as available from Peco) had an iron roof and these had the three strips evenly spaced along them.
On pre-war stock the nails used to attach the canvas to wooden roofs sometimes poked through into the inside of the vehicle. Where this was a problem, such as on cattle or other livestock vans and the roofed wagons used for carrying bagged salt, it was standard practice to add wooden strips across the roof and drive the nails down through these to ensure they did not penetrate through into the inside of the vehicle. These strips, generally at about two foot intervals along the roof, are quite noticeable in photographs of older vehicles.
Several of the pre-grouping companies built vans with a removable section of roof (an example of this can be seen on the Graham Farish ex NER bogie van). The idea was to allow heavy loads to be lifted in by a crane. The opening in the roof was usually covered by a roof door, which could be slid either to the side or more commonly from one side to the other. Not all vans had the door however, on some vehicles a simple tarpaulin cover was used. Problems with leaking, and the extra cost of building a van with these roof doors meant that they were progressively phased out and few were built after the turn of the century.
There were a limited number of vans built with a peaked roof. Most were private owner vehicles (such as the Peco and Graham Farish salt and lime wagons) but a few were built for smaller railway companies. The Garstang & Knot End Railway in Lancashire converted some old eight plank goods wagons to peaked roof vans to carry bagged salt. The wagons were originally dumb-buffered and had only a seven foot wheelbase. I understand that the resulting vans had horizontally planked sides ten planks high with a single side-hinged door in place of the open wagon drop door. These vans survived into LMS ownership but apparently they were scrapped before carrying any cargo under the new owners and there is no record of any being re-painted in LMS colours.
Fig ___ Garstang & Knott End Railway Van
Modelling these vans is discussed in Railway Modeller March 2002 (Traffic for Tickling Article 8). I built a couple for a Light Railway layout.
For further information on this company see The Garstang & Knott End Railway - R. W. Rush & M.R.C. Price, Oakwood Press (1985) ISBN 0 85361 318 4 (available through the library system).
Vans tend to heat up, especially in summer, and certain cargo required ventilation. The most extreme expedient was to miss out alternate planks on the sides as seen on the slat-sided vans used for milk and beer traffic. Slightly more sophisticated were openings covered with slats of wood, and some fish vans had these, an example being the Graham Farish fish van, a Great Northern Railway design which has slatted upper sides. The drawback of both alternate planking and slats was simply that they let in the rain.
Louvered openings cost more, were more difficult to maintain and were more likely to get damaged, but they did keep out the rain. Small louvered openings were used on meat vans and some fish and milk van designs had louvers all along the sides, anything from a third to half the height of the vehicle. The lower portions of these milk van sides were solid planking due to the danger of damage as the heavy milk churns were man-handled inside. An good example is the Lima model of the GWR Siphon G, which has louvers along the upper sides. Louvered openings, being pretty well rain proof, enabled these vehicles to be used as parcels vans when milk churn traffic declined.
The early GWR Mink C van (available as a kit from the N Gauge Society) has louvered ventilators on the ends. Where ventilation might be optional or required a degree of control a standard technique in the early years was to fit a louvered opening which could be covered by a sliding wooden shutter. This idea did not catch on however and these shutters, which were never very common, were often removed later. By about the 1890's most companies had switched to using simple slatted openings in the ends of the body, covered by a shaped metal hood or bonnet. Examples of these will be seen on the ends of the Peco ventilated van and the Graham Farish twin vent vans. Iron bodied vans, such as the GWR Iron Mink, had rows of one inch diameter holes under the ventilator bonnet. These holes can be included in an old iron van body being used as a rough store at some outlying station. British Railways meat vans and some fruit vans had additional small oblong 'air scoop' ventilators built into their lower sides and the meat vans often had louvered openings on the upper sides as well as the ends.
The final form of ventilation was the roof ventilator. Early designs were many and varied, some were simply a T shaped tube, from which were developed the 'torpedo' ventilators. These proved popular and were used by the LMS and LNER for goods and some passenger vehicles. The alternative was the 'shell' ventilator, which was often seen on passenger and non-passenger coaching stock and which was used by both the Southern Railway and Great Western railway for goods vans as well.
Fig ___ Ventilators
There are roof ventilators available from various suppliers, I am still using up a couple of packets of cast metal 'shell' ventilators by Beaver that I bought in the early 1980's. Ultima, the firm who offer a range of passenger coach models, offer some very neat torpedo and shell ventilators and every bits box would benefit from a couple of packets of each. Most ventilators are sold for use with coaches, so you get a lot in a packet, and the improvement in appearance with a few vans in a rake appropriately fitted is well worth the effort. Having said which I do have a few vans with 'shell' vents made by crushing the head of a Peco track pin and you do have to look rather closely to see the difference.
By the middle of the Second World War all the companies were producing some of their vans with plywood side panels instead of planks as an economy measure. They were outwardly identical to standard planked designs but lacked the lines of planking. To model these the best option is simply to sand all the detail off a Peco Insulated Van kit then add strapping, doors and other details from microstrip, microrod and plastic card.
Fig ___ Big-Four Plywood vans
After nationalisation British Railways built versions of its own standard van designs with plywood sides, these are illustrated in the section on Post Nationalisation Wagon Development.
Standard Wagon and Van Designs
Flat wagons with no sides or ends and one plank wagons have been used by all the railway companies. Early four wheeled types could carry smaller farm implements (loaded from the side) or heavy materials such as blocks of stone. Do remember that the load on a one plank wagon was not necessarily small, as an example bales of cotton and wool were piled quite high on these wagons, covered with a tarpaulin and roped securely in place.
Fig ___ Sketches of a one plank wagon with cotton bale load before and after covering with tarpaulins.
One, two and three plank wagon were common up to about 1890, but were increasingly replaced by higher sided open wagons after that. It is worth noting that two plank wagons were never as common as the one and three plank types.
The RCH specification of 1887 had a marked impact on wagons design and from the 1890's to the 1970's the open three, four or five plank (high sided) wagons were the most common type used for general merchandise. These were recognisable cousins of the RCH standard mineral wagon.
The one plank (low) wagons and three plank (medium) wagons sometimes had sides which hinged down along the bottom edge. Four and five plank open wagons were equipped with side doors which dropped down to form a ramp onto the platform. These doors were called `sack-truck' doors as they permitted staff to wheel the standard two wheeled porters trolley (or sack truck) in and out of the wagon. The four plank wagons were common on the GWR, although they switched to five plank designs after abut 1900. The top plank on wagons taller than three planks was usually wider than the lower three which modelling the four plank type a little difficult. You can do it by cutting the top plank from a Peco five plank wagon then cutting the next plank down away and re-fitting the top section. I have tried this but to date the results have been disappointing.
Higher seven or eight plank general merchandise wagons were also built, usually with two cupboard style outward opening doors at the top of the standard five plank 'sack-truck' drop door. The Peco seven plank open wagon can be easily modified to represent this kind of vehicle.
Fig ___ High Open Merchandise Wagons
Some odd designs were to be seen, the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway built a number of three plank open wagons on a twelve foot wheelbase chassis which had fixed sides but drop down ends. These wagons could be conveniently loaded from an end loading dock, but otherwise cargo had to be lifted in to it by hand or crane. They survived into LMS ownership and under that company the white diagonal stripes indicating end doors were painted on the sides in the form of a shallow V not quite meeting at the bottom. Some of these wagons had one end screwed shut, the remaining end retained its hinges and a single diagonal white line was painted right across the side, rising to the door end.
Some seasonal traffic such as fruit also attracted special wagons, fruit vans were built from the 1890's but there were seldom enough available. Fruit and vegetables often travelled in cattle wagons with a tarpaulin over the top to keep out rain and prevent pilfering. Wood pulp, sugar beet, imported esparto grass and most other seasonal traffic was carried in standard wagons.
It was usual to add a tarpaulin over the load to protect it from rain and to a lesser extent from pilferage. The tarpaulin was fastened in place using ropes which could be tied to hooks provided on the chassis of the wagon. The ropes were often also tied through the holes or hooks on the chassis provided for attaching horses and they were also looped over the buffers. Tarpaulins were sometimes seen draped over vans with leaking roofs or cattle wagons being used for fruit traffic. As noted earlier some open wagons had a fixed wooden bar to support the tarpaulin, some were fitted with curved raised ends to lift the tarpaulin. These raised ends were a feature of several general merchandise open wagon designs in the South prior to the 1923 grouping but by the mid 1920's they were increasingly confined to private owner wagons such as lime and salt stock. From about the turn of the century some open wagons were equipped with a hinged steel bar, as seen on the Peco long wheelbase 8 plank open wagon. These `patent' hinged tarpaulin rails were an expensive item and were usually removed from stock pooled under the common user scheme after the First World War. The Peco fifteen foot wheel base 'tarpaulin wagon' is a British Railways development of an older ten foot wheel base Southern Railway eight plank general merchandise wagon. This in turn was based on a design by the LSWR. The LSWR or SR wagon can be modelled by cutting the door section and the end sections from the tarpaulin wagon and assembling them on a 10 foot wheel base chassis. Some of these survived well into the BR era.
Fig ___ Peco long wheel base tarpaulin wagon cut down to LSWR/SR type
Goods carried in open wagons were vulnerable to pilferage and the tarpaulin was often less than effective in protecting the contents from rain. Several companies increased their stock of vans at one time or another to reduce these problems. The various railway companies had differing policies on vans, some favouring sliding doors others preferring hinged types. After the 1923 grouping the LMS and LNER opted for sliding door types in the main, whilst the GWR and SR preferred hinged doors. The problems came when a GWR or SR van arrived at a depot with higher than normal platforms but this did not occur very frequently. When it did happen the vehicle was shunted clear (by men or horses), the doors opened and the vehicle shunted back.
Vans with moveable internal partitions were introduced in the mid 1930's, when road transport was making an impact and it was not practical to wait until a van was full before dispatching it. These added to the cost of the van and they were usually reserved for high value cargoes such as eggs.
Shock Absorbing Vehicles
Shock absorbing vans and open wagons, in which the body sits on a spring-loaded frame and can move lengthways on the chassis to absorb more of the impact when shunting, were introduced in the mid to late 1930's. As my own interests are mid 1920's and mid 1960's I have not made many notes on the pre-BR shock absorbing vehicles however the notes which follow should serve as a guide for these.
Shock-absorbing vehicles were aimed at cargo such as bone china and the
like, which were then still largely conveyed by the canals (I believe some
shock absorbing vans were also used for eggs). BR built a number of shock
absorbing vans and opens, one common cargo for the latter being bricks and
roofing tiles. The pre-war and early BR shock absorbing wagons and vans
employed a shortened standard body on a standard seventeen foot six inch
chassis fitted with the shock absorbing gear. On early examples the springs
were visible on the sides of the chassis but following a number of accidents it
became standard practice to cover the springs in sheet metal.
Fig___ Shock Absorbing chassis
The visible spring type can be modelled in N by adding three lengths of 1mm diameter plastic rod to the chassis sides. The central spring was the actual shock absorber, the two smaller springs to either side were buffer springs, these only came into play when the vehicle received a severe shunt. For the sheathed spring chassis I just use lengths of 30x30 thou strip which I think look about right on a Peco chassis. BR built a number of twelve foot wheelbase shock absorbing wagons, used I believe for speel traffic, fitted with a fold-down hood and coded 'shockhood b'.
Fig ___ Model of a BR shock absorbing 'SHOCKHOOD B' wagon
My model of the Shockhood B runs on a cut down Peco fifteen foot wheelbase chassis. As these had a fixed hood, hiding the inside, they are not difficult to model. The sides are plain card and the corrugated ends can be cut from some Slaters corrugated card (my model used the ends from a Peco long wheelbase tube wagon body. These proved less than ideal.)
As the shock absorbing vehicles used a shorter than normal body you can reduce the length of a Peco or Farish open wagon by cutting down to either side of the doors and sanding slightly to reduce the length by 2mm. Vans are slightly more awkward and an alternative approach is shown on the shock van below. Here the Peco chassis was cut diagonally in from each end, producing a triangular section with the buffers and coupling pocket. The V shaped hole in the end of the chassis was then packed with strips of 40x40 thou card and the end piece glued back in place. The coupling pins were cut from the bottom of the body and used to secure the couplings in place and the body was then glued on top. This extends the buffers to give the look of a 'shockvan' chassis but keeps the relationship between the buffers and coupling constant and avoids messing with the body and roof.
Fig ___ BR 'SHOCKVAN' wagon using a modified Peco chassis