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Private Owner Wagon and Van Design

As the canal system had evolved in the 18th century the authorities became concerned about the development of monopolies. They decided that canal companies should not operate their own fleets of barges but instead they would operate rather like toll roads, where the canal company provided the route and charged people for using it. Hence the 'private owner' barge was the norm on the canal, which had the additional benefit for the canal company of using the capital of the private owners to build the barges rather than the canal company's money.

The system worked well enough on canals and in the early days of the horse hauled railways everyone thought they could work in the same way. The Stockton & Darlington Railway used several private sub-contractors for hauling both goods and passenger trains. When the Liverpool & Manchester act was in parliament it was stipulated that private owners could build lines joining to the main line and operate their own rolling stock. The widespread introduction of steam locomotives and the increasing density of traffic on the steam hauled railways made the 'toll road' system unsafe. The 1845 Railway Clauses Act retained the rights of private owners to operate their own wagons but required all trains to be hauled by a railway company locomotive.

In the early years privately owned vehicles were mainly chauldron type mineral wagons (see Goods Rolling Stock Design - Introduction). These were usually unpainted wood with the owners name painted crudely on the side. It was only in the 1860's that more colourful flat-sided open wagons with the merchants name on the side began to appear. The mineral wagon dominated the private owner side of the business and these are considered in detail below. Note that open wagons marked with the name of a firms product, such as Izal disinfectant or Cadbury Chocolate, would probably not be for carrying the product but would be mineral wagons used to supply coal to the factory.

Dumb buffers were common on private owner stock up to the early years of the twentieth century. They can be modelled by trimming down the buffers on a commercial model chassis and building them up with Milliput. Most early wagons had a hand brake on only one side, often acting on only one wheel. This difficult to model using a standard ready-to-run chassis but I have made a few by trimming away the V hanger and brake handle on a Peco chassis and adding a new brake handle from 10x20 thou strip. See 'Goods Rolling Stock Design-Chassis-Buffers' and 'Goods Rolling Stock Design-Chassis- Brakes' for further information.

The Railway Clearing House (RCH), originally set up by the railway companies to handle charges for vehicles wandering onto another company's line, introduced standard minimum specifications for private owner wagons. The first significant RCH specification for private owner wagons was published in 1887 and the Railway companies supported this move by refusing to accept non RCH standard wagons in their trains. The second full RCH specification was issued in 1909 and it was this which required the elimination of dumb buffers (with a time limit set at 1914 for modification or withdrawal of non-standard wagons). There were various amendments added to these specifications and the situation was further complicated by fluctuations in the economy and various wars. The RCH standards took many years to be implemented and in the event dumb buffers lasted rather longer than planned.

Not all 'private owner' wagons were owned by the firm whose name was painted on the side, the railway companies and the wagon builders all offered leased vehicles as an option for the less wealthy operators. Leased railway company rolling stock might be painted with the livery of the hiring company, although a simple marking 'To be returned to. . . .' was more common. In the case of seasonal traffic (for example blankets being shipped to shops ready for the winter) railway company stock would be used but this might have name boards, or just painted tarpaulin signs, attached to some or all of the vans.

There were advantages to owning or leasing your own wagons, for one thing if your wagon was delayed loading or unloading somewhere you did not have to pay the railway company for it's hire. The payment made for retaining a wagon in this way is called 'demurrage'. Some private owner wagons and more particularly vans stayed in the same place for a very long time, in effect being used as a temporary store or warehouse.

The legislation which defined the railways as 'common carriers' allowed the railway companies to refuse to carry cargo in its own wagons which might cause damage to the wagon or to other cargo. A good example of this would be lime. In addition some commodities might be tainted by carriage with more general cargo, one example of this being salt. There were therefore quite a number of specialised vehicles built for the carriage of materials such as lime and salt. These two commodities both had to be kept dry so wagons used for this traffic often had house-type peaked roofs (called 'cottage tops' by railway men). Both Peco and Graham Farish offer roofed wagons suitable for these trades. It should be noted that some lime and salt wagons did not have a solid roof but instead had raised ends to support a tarpaulin. The ends could be rounded or pointed but the latter usually also sported a wooden rail to support the tarpaulin.

Tar coated stone chippings for road surfacing was moved in some quantities in the 1920's and early 1930's but this traffic generally transferred to the roads by 1940. Railway wagons used for this were all privately owned vehicles with low sides, typically three planks high or with similar sized iron bodies. The wooden tarred chippings wagons had steel sheeting added to the floor to protect the wood from the tar and there would be silvery or rust coloured streaks visible on the floor after unloading.

Up to the First World War iron and steel companies operated a number of privately owned wagons for carrying ingots, forgings and even sheet and rod. The railways were happy to build stock for this work as the traffic was regular and profitable so these private owner iron and steel wagons had largely disappeared by the time of the First World War.

The private owner vans were rather rare but were often of interesting non standard designs featuring lower than normal roofs or even 'peaked' roofs. The main problem with modelling these vans is that many of the early examples had complex external framing, making lettering difficult. Up to the 1930's quite a number of outside framed vans were operated by the South Wales tin-plate companies and modelling one of these vans, with one suggestion for lettering the model, has been included in the section on Livery Modification. The cement companies owned quite a number of the GWR type iron bodied vans, usually painted in rather complex liveries. They also owned a number of wooden vehicles as well and some early examples had the relatively simple BPCM livery. The British Portland Cement Manufacturers and other cement distributors such as Blue Circle are discussed in detail in Volume 2 under Cement.

In Scotland there were several fleets of small (ten or nine foot wheelbase) grain hopper wagons, two are preserved at the Bo'ness and Kinniel Steam Railway and one of these forms the basis for a Parkside Dundas (formerly Westykits) 'OO' kit. Modelling these wagons is discussed in the section on 'Kit Bashing'.

Fig ___ Unusual Private Owner wagons
Sketch showing some Unusual Private Owner wagons

Fig ___ Models of a cement van and Scottish grain hopper

Photo of a Scottish grain hopper van

Private Owner Mineral Wagons

It is in the nature of the British railway system that mineral wagons, used for coal, stone or metal ores, have always outnumbered other wagons in use. Of these the most common has always been the coal wagon, millions of which were built.

The early coal wagons were of the chauldron type, a hopper shaped body with spoked wheels and inside bearings (see Goods Rolling Stock Design - Introduction for a sketch of one of these wagons). By the 1840's square bodied wooden mineral wagons were becoming more common although it was not until the 1860's that these became the accepted standard. At this time the sides of coal wagons were generally only four planks high and a typical load was eight tons. Heavy outside frames of timber were still commonly being used for the wagon bodies but metal reinforcing had started to appear. The Morton brake appeared in the 1880's and soon became a common standard for private owner wagons, early examples retained the large brake blocks as shown in the sketch below.

Fig ___ Early Private Owner Mineral Wagons

Sketch of some Early Private Owner Mineral Wagons

Modelling these wagons was described in Railway Modeller July 2001 (Traffic for Tickling Article 4)

By the turn of the century coal wagons were built with sides of seven or even eight planks, capable of carrying a load of up to 12 tons. These were still outnumbered by the smaller four and five plank wagons which had a capacity of perhaps eight tons each. Collieries and larger concerns favoured the larger wagons, local traders preferred the smaller vehicles. Prior to the First World War it was not uncommon to see raised ends on private owner coal wagons. The owners would try and rent their vehicles out for other traffic during the summer months and the raised ends were provided to support a tarpaulin. By the later 1920's very few private owner mineral wagons were built with raised ends, reflecting their abandonment on general goods wagons by the larger railway companies.

On mineral wagons the top one or two planks were usually continuous above the drop-down side doors. Generally the five plank coal wagons had both ends fixed but some of these and many of the 7 or 8 plank wagons might have one or both ends fitted with a door hinged along the top edge. In Scotland some wagon builders favoured cupboard style double doors in the sides and vertically planked end doors, with heavy timber external frames, the LNER inherited quite a number of this kind of wagon from the pre-grouping companies. The end door was hung from a timber beam rather than a metal rod, supported by metal hoops attached to the framing on the door itself. These can be produced from the Peco five plank wagon with a bit of carving, but they were rarely seen south of the border.

Fig ___ Scottish designed wagon with cupboard style side doors and vertically planked iron hooped end door

Photo of a model of an end door wagon

Modelling these wagons was discussed in Railway Modeller July 2001 (Traffic for Tickling Article 4), the livery shown is for a fictional light railway

Elsewhere drop-down side doors and horizontal planked end doors with metal strips were the norm. Wagons with end doors could be emptied by tipping them up but the method of tipping these 'end door' wagons depended upon the location. In some cases this involved a hinged section of track or the wagon might be emptied into a barge or ship by lifting it bodily with a crane or hoist. The maximum angle a wagon could be tipped was about forty five degrees, any more than this put unusual loading on the axle bearings (see Volume 2 Fig ___).

The end fitted with the door was on railway company stock usually indicated in some way. The Midland Railway and in the early years is successor the LMS used a white vertical stripe on the wagon side at the end with the door. By the late 1920's by a diagonal white stripe on the side became the norm for all companies although the size and location of the stripe varied somewhat. Some wagons were built with only an end door and no side doors, some of these wagons had end doors at both ends. These were used for supplying larger consumers such as electricity generating stations or for the docks in South Wales, where wagon tipping facilities were the standard method of emptying the wagons.

Fig ___ Ex Private Owner end-door only steel wagons in British Railways livery
Sketch showing two examples of ex Private Owner end-door only steel wagons in British Railways livery

Mineral wagons also often had bottom doors, to allow the load to be emptied through the bottom. Bottom doors were usually indicated by a shallow open V symbol, something on the lines of \ / painted near the bottom on the side of the wagon. Details of all such markings are considered separately under Liveries. If the wagon's side door was damaged these bottom doors could be used to empty the load onto the track underneath, the coal then being shovelled out by hand.

Private owner coal wagons presented several problems for the railways. By the nature of the trade half the wagons would be empties being returned to collieries and because of the government regulations on charging these brought in very little revenue. Their low capacity meant they occupied a disproportionate amount of siding space and they were often poorly maintained and many of the private owner wagons were old and poorly maintained. The grease filled axle box was virtually standard on privately owned rolling stock but these grease boxes tended to dry out, causing fires and sometimes melting the ends off the axles. Wagons of this type had to have their axle boxes inspected frequently when in transit. There were various attempts to rationalise this situation, the Midland Railway made a serious attempt to buy up all the private owner rolling stock on its lines, but they found they couldn't afford the exercise.

From the 1880's various experiments were made with higher capacity mineral wagons, mainly by the railway companies themselves. The Caledonian Railway up in Scotland built some large bogie coal wagons at about this time.

Only the railways of the North East made extensive use of hopper wagons for coal although they had to provide coal drops or ramped discharging bays for hoppers in their goods yards. The North Eastern Railway actively discouraged private owner coal wagons, offering instead a range of four wheeled wooden bodied hoppers of up to twenty ton capacity for lease to coal traders at preferential rates. There were some private owners who still preferred to operate their own wagons even under this regime and they built hopper wagons of a broadly similar design (see Fig ___). Other companies tried similar schemes and the GWR followed the example of the North Eastern by building rolling stock itself and offering preferential rates for people leasing these wagons. They built large numbers of 20 ton four wheel wagons on a twelve foot wheelbase with oil axle boxes from about 1900, these were iron bodied with curved corners and early versions had no end doors. The same basic design was developed, adding square corners in about 1918 and they were built with doors at one or both ends and either one or two doors on either side. The 20 ton wagons required something like a third less siding space for a given quantity of coal and they had fewer axles for a given load, so a loco could pull a larger payload. The drawbacks were the poor quality of many colliery lines, restricting the maximum axle loading, and the cost. In 1923 the GWR's Felix Pole introduced a thousand 20 ton end-door wagons to be leased or sold on hire-purchase to the larger private owners.

Fig ___ Felix Pole 20 ton coal wagons

Sketch of Felix Pole 20 ton coal wagons

By the early twentieth century there were about half a million private owner coal wagons on the system, typically of seven to ten tons capacity and usually fitted with grease-filled axle boxes. In 1920 the Railway Company Association suggested a standard for a seven plank coal wagon of 12 tons capacity with a 10 foot wheel base which formed the basis for the Railway Clearing House standard specification of 1923, but the older wagons continued in use for many years.

Fig ___ RCH 1923 Standard Coal Wagon
Sketch showing an RCH 1923 Standard Coal Wagon

Converting a Peco mineral wagon to an end door type was described in Railway Modeller March 2001 (Traffic for Tickling Article 2)

Coal exports stopped during the First World War and many of these trades never resumed. With the General Strike of 1926 and the general depression in the 1920's and 1930's domestic demand for coal slumped and investment was scarce. In spite of this more of the 'Felix Pole' wagons were built using the government low interest loan scheme in the 1930's and by the outbreak of the Second World War there were over five thousand GWR built twenty ton iron and steel coal wagons on the system.

Smaller private owners in the main stayed with the older wooden bodied stock, often retaining grease filled axle boxes. The generally poor quality and capacity of the private owner fleets was a matter of some concern from a safety point of view and in 1919 the Ministry of Transport Act obtained powers to restrict or prohibit the use of private owner wagons on railway company lines. In the event these powers were never used, mainly because of external economic factors such as the strikes of the 1920's and the depression of the 1930's.

Not all private owner mineral wagons were standard wooden bodied types, as well as the various steel bodied wagons there were also hopper wagons in both wood and steel but these were only operated by larger companies. Also not all mineral wagons were for carrying coal, the iron and steel industry built a number of mineral wagons for carrying ores, these are low value cargo and hence of less interest to the railway companies. The steel twenty ton hopper shown in Fig ___ was built in 1909 and was used for iron ore traffic.
Iron ore required low sided wagons to keep the axle loading on a four wheeled wagon within the permissible range, it was also moved in hopper wagons, fitted with relatively small metal hopper bodies. The model shown in Fig ___ was built using a body from a Graham Farish open hopper wagon, full details on modelling this wagon have been included in the section on Kit Bashing (see Fig ___). These private owner ore hopper wagons were never commonplace and would have operated on very restricted circuit workings between the mine and the iron or steel works.

Fig ___ Unusual Private Owner Mineral Wagons
Sketch showing a selection of unusual PO mineral wagons

Stone, again a heavy and dense material, was moved in low-sided wagons. Large blocks of stone were often carried on one plank open wagons, dressed stone would travel in one or three plank wagons and broken stone or 'road stone' usually travel led in three or five plank wagons although this latter material was not a common cargo prior to World War Two.

China clay, shipped as a thick, wet, white sludge is also heavy and the areas in which china clay was found there were some private owner 1, 2 or 3 plank open wagons built for this traffic. These tended not to travel very far, running mainly between production centres and river or canal wharves where the clay was loaded into barges or small coastal sailing ships. The GWR, which moved most of this traffic, built about a thousand special five plank open wagons for this traffic in the late 1920's. Modelling the china clay wagons was described in Railway Modeller May 2001 (Traffic for Tickling Article 3. The conversion is simple, carve and scrape the supports from one end of the body, scribe in the planks acros the ends, add a rail of 20 thou rod across the top of the end and add three vertical straps (up the end and bent over the top of the rail) from 10x20 thou strip or strips of Bacofoil. You can also add three longitudinal strips of Bacofoil to the floor of the wagon, shiny side down, to represent the zinc sheets added to reduce rot from the wet clay.)

Fig___ GWR/BR china clay wagon model
BR china clay wagon model

When war broke out in 1939 well over ninety percent of the private owner rolling stock consisted of coal wagons. During the war all these private owner mineral wagons (not including specialised stock, such as tar tanks, lime, salt and cement wagons) were requisitioned by the Government and formed into a common pool. After the war British Railways bought these mineral wagons from their previous owners, paying compensation based on the capacity of the wagon and regardless of condition (sixteen pound ten shillings for an 8-ton Private Owner wagon). Some new private owner mineral wagons were built just after the war but there were not many of these and with British Railways policy of moving coal in its own wagons they had all been withdrawn from service by the early 1960's.

In about 1952 the older, low capacity wagons with grease axle boxes were all burned, a few of the more modern wooden bodied wagons and many of the steel bodied ex private owner wagons remained in British Railways service into the 1970's. There were many privately owned railways however, collieries, docks and larger factories. These continued to use their own, often elderly, rolling stock for many years and wooden bodied coal wagons operated into the 1980's in docks and collieries.

Considering the private owner wagons on offer the five plank wagons would mainly have been private traders wagons. The seven plank mineral wagons were favoured by collieries in the South Wales coal areas but the eight plank type seems to have been more common in the Midlands and North East coal fields. Minitrix offer an eight plank end door wagon, Lima had a seven plank model (which looks better on a Peco ten foot chassis) and P D Marsh offer a white metal kit of a seven plank end door type. Peco have released a seven plank end door wagon as a kit running on their nine foot wheelbase chassis and any layout set before the 1970's should have a number of these. The Peco and Graham Farish seven plank wagons have no end door, but the Peco five and seven plank wagons can be modified to end door types. This was described in Railway Modeller March 2001 (Traffic for Tickling Article 2).

The Minitrix chassis used on their eight plank and steel bodied coal wagons is of a 'fitted' type with clasp brakes but virtually all private owner stock was unfitted so for accuracy one should remove the outer brake shoes on the Minitrix chassis. If you feel up to it you could try carving away the vacuum cylinder as well, but that would be difficult. Alternatively you can swop bodies with a Graham Farish single-vent van, which was more likely to have such a brake. Most of the pre 1940 vans would not have had the tie-rods between the wheels but some did have them and they are tricky to remove neatly.

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