In through the man cave doors this week from Hornby is their latest release of a GWR 61xx design. The original Hornby 61XX model was the 1970’s Airfix model, well thought of in its day, and one that responds well to some detailing TLC, however this is a completely new model with no connection in any of its components to that earlier version. One of my best friends reports he’s just about completed a makeover of an Airfix Prairie, so obviously this arrival is of moderate amusement to myself. Him? not so much…
The model under review in this article is as follows:
61xx Hornby Large Prairie BR Black No.6145
R3723 / R3723X
The prototype 6145 was built with a batch of other locomotives 6130-6159 at Swindon during 1932-1933. The locomotive 6145 was a London Division engine based at Reading, Old Oak Common, and Oxford during the BR era. The model comes in standard packaging in a cardboard outer carton with a vacuum formed plastic cradle for the model. The space inside the cradle indicates that the cylinder drain cocks and brake pull rods should be able to be fitted and left in place. These are separate components supplied with the model. The locomotive arrived with no items damaged or missing in transit.
The superstructure is dimensionally correct, cross checked against measurements from a couple of sources, the neatly moulded plastic body with joint lines all discreet. Two parallel lines are faintly noticeable under the strongest of natural or photographic light along the boiler top from the smoke box to the tank front. The prominent boiler band and tank strap was sitting slightly proud of the boiler by a few thousandths of an inch. A touch of glue will sit it tightly to the boiler outer face. The front steps are splayed outwards, whereas prototypes are angled inwards. This is clearly to give adequate clearance to the leading pony truck. It isn’t immediately obvious and the subterfuge largely works.
The tank top is correct for 6145 with top mounted lubricators. Not all 61xx’s had this configuration so choose carefully if changing the number, or remove them if appropriate. NB. if you remove them carefully they may be useful if doing a 64xx with the visible lubricators abeam the centre of the tank. The brake pull rods are included in the details pack and are a simple fitting process, a minor omission noted are the sanding pipes for the leading drivers, again hard to see on the prototype so a practical step to leave them off in my opinion. For these London based engines the London Transport (LT) trip cock is missing. These were fitted on 61XX class London engines for working over electrified lines, and generally removed when engines located away from the London sheds. The trip cock is mounted between the centre driver and the rear brake blocks. No facility is shown on the model for fitting this so it’s reasonable I feel to assume it won’t be fitted to 61XX’s in other liveries. This then allows the same chassis to be used for other class variants with a saving on tooling. It is a notable omission, but taking a pragmatic view perhaps better left off, than included.
The tank front steps varied between a ‘high’ fitting, correct for this number, and a lower setting around half the tank height, another detail to be mindful of if swapping the identity. The high fitting just beneath the boiler handrail is the more common. The cab handrails and roof grab rails are all in the correct place and lengths for this variant. The same for the firemans bunker steps, these do exhibit a variation but this model has a very common configuration, (correct for 6145), which will be helpful for any identity change. Cab doors are fixed in a half open position and the top roof vent slides, allowing additional light into the cab. The cab roof is firmly fixed and placing crew accurately in this one will be a challenge, I’ll likely do a breaking and entering job later.
The bunker coal load is removable leaving an apparently correct shaped internal bunker. Underneath the bunker is space for a DCC sound speaker when fixed to the chassis. The livery is an excellent satin black finish, the printing being sharp, opaque and legible. The Route restriction marking (blue disc), is in an uncommon position on the driver’s side of the bunker, the fireman’s side marking is also in an uncommon position, but less so. That’s difficult to explain, take a look at drivers side images of 31/41/51/61/81XX and the comment will make sense. The chimney and safety valve bonnet appear to be separate fittings, and of note there’s no evidence of any glue or paint overspray on either. The copper chimney cap and the bonnet are in subdued, appropriate, metallic colours.
Both trucks, front and rear are cast metal, including the guard irons which are integral to each casting.
The chassis is a cast metal block, with plenty of weight, the access to which is very simple, four screws, including the removal of the front bogie, and the chassis assembly drops easily away. Sprung fitted parallel buffers are fitted to the body, clearance slots for the shanks are included in the chassis for easy removal. The motor is five pole with a brass flywheel, and mated to a vertical gear train to the centre axle. The resulting drive is smooth across the whole speed range and no cogging under load on a downhill gradient. Back to back measurements on all three driving wheelsets were at 14.5mm as were the pony trucks! All phosphor bronze pickups were in positive contact with the drivers, no electrical issues have arisen.
Driving wheels have correct shaped spoke profile and centre hubs, this includes the balance weights, and solid section between the crankpin and wheel rim. Clearances look tight for those who may want to gauge widen this model particularly behind the leading crankpin and crossheads. The driver’s side crosshead should have the triangular vacuum pump connecting arm bracket, but this is missing. It’s hard to see on the full size version so not a huge omission. The motion has been chemically blackened and has a nice subdued finish to it which matches the overall chassis and wheel tread colours. Connecting rods are straight with no joggle in them to make OO clearances ‘work’.
The pony trucks are well engineered and cast in metal improve their track holding. The cylinders have a small cut out in their front face to allow the swing of the pony truck to be viable for second radius curves. The rear truck is a discrete and clever design radial truck, which encompasses part of the chassis. This was first done if I recall by Oxford Rail with their Adams Radial model. Again to allow the clearance for ‘trainset’ curves Hornby have taken this step, but also added a 1mm fore and aft movement similar to that on the 52XX model varieties. This variation in wheelbase length is very hard to see, giving clearance behind the rear water tank balance pipes and ejector pipework. If it means trouble free running, it certainly gets my vote. DCC fitting looks to be a simple process. It’s an 8-pin fitting with a slot in the chassis to allow the chip to sit unrestricted. Sound provision is for a flat speaker inside the bunker. Wiring channels are visible on the chassis casting again making this option to fit sound easier. The bunker internal structure could be easily modified to fit a sugar cube or larger type if required.
The performance under test so far has been excellent. Initially I run a chassis under power on one of my layouts just to see if there’s power getting into the model and that in runs well in each direction. Assuming it passes that base test, (only one model has ever failed), it’s onto the rollers for about an hour through the speed range in each direction on a rolling road. The Prairie passed these tests with no problems at all. The locomotive has been run now through Shelfie2 and Shelfie3, these have Peco Code 75 medium and long radii points and no issues were encountered. The same for the Kato Unitrack Code 83 points that I also use as test pieces. Finally a basic haulage test, with the Prairie weighing in at 235 grams. I use the Woodland Scenics polystyrene gradients as simple testers. On a 3% gradient the Prairie started and pulled with limited slipping a five coach train of Bachmann BG’s, that’s around 720 grams of weight. The model pulls this load slightly better backwards than forwards, almost certainly due to the weight distribution on the model itself.
So my thoughts on this one are that it’s an excellent value for money model, balancing the compromises of a scale appearance and user practicality well. DCC fitting has been thought of in the design and I think will be a simple process to fit. For me though it has that look of the mass and bulk of the real thing, in the same way Heljan has captured with its long standing and well regarded Hymek. I think it will be well received by the market, it’s another example of when Hornby get it right, they really do.
Dapol’s large Prairie currently under development has got a tough act to follow