Heljan’s ‘O2’ en­ters the big freight league of 2-8-0s, but is it con­sis­tently good enough to be premier­ship ma­te­rial? RICHARD FOS­TER finds out.

Model Rail (UK) - - Contents -

Heljan’s ‘O2’ 2-8-0 is the star at­trac­tion this month, while a nar­row gauge of­fer­ing is ex­am­ined by our ex­perts.

Most foot­ball fans will recog­nise how painful in­con­sis­tency can be. You can ham­mer the league lead­ers one week, only to be thrashed by a team you re­ally ought to have beaten the next.

Heljan feels very much like an in­con­sis­tent foot­ball team. Its early ven­tures into ‘OO’ were gen­er­ally very good, but there was al­ways that one area that stopped it from get­ting top marks. Its early mech­a­nisms were prob­lem­atic, but have since gained a rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity. Re­cent mod­els, such as the Class 05 and Metropoli­tan electrics showed real flair.

Then the ‘O2’ ar­rived. We waited ages for an LNER 2-8-0 in ‘OO’ and the Bach­mann ‘O4’ and Hornby ‘O1’ turned up in quick suc­ces­sion. They seemed to be the ‘in thing’, so Heljan got in on the act with the Gres­ley ‘O2’.


At first glance it seemed like an odd choice. Nigel Gres­ley’s pow­er­ful freight slog­ger was hardly top of most en­thu­si­asts’ wish­lists, but it was a log­i­cal choice. The class owed its ori­gins to pi­o­neer­ing three-cylin­der 2-8-0 No. 461, and it was the LNER’S stan­dard 2-8-0 for over 20 years. It was a pow­er­ful beast and de­serves to rank along­side the LMS ‘8F’, GWR ‘28XX’ and BR ‘9F’ as one of Bri­tain’s best freight lo­co­mo­tives.

It’s also Heljan’s first con­ven­tional ‘OO’ gauge steam lo­co­mo­tive and, as such, war­rants close scru­tiny.

Be­fore we get into the nitty-gritty, here’s a short his­tory les­son. The first ‘O2’ was No. 461, built in 1918 for the Great North­ern Rail­way. A fur­ther ten ap­peared in 1921, built by North Bri­tish, but with a re­vised valve gear ar­range­ment.

Af­ter the Group­ing, 15 more were built. They weren’t iden­ti­cal to the GNR ma­chines as they were built to the LNER’S 13ft 1in ‘Com­pos­ite Load­ing Gauge’. This meant that they had a re­vised cab pro­file and shorter chim­ney.

The ‘O2’ was cho­sen as the LNER Group Stan­dard design, which meant that it had to fit within the 13ft load­ing gauge on ex-great East­ern routes. A to­tal of 41 were built to this spec­i­fi­ca­tion, eas­ily iden­ti­fied by the side win­dow cab. No. 461 be­came ‘O2’, GNR ma­chines were ‘O2/1’, Com­pos­ite Load­ing Gauge were ‘O2/2’ and Group Stan­dards were ‘O2/3’.

Still with me? Well, one fur­ther tweak came when Ed­ward Thomp­son started to fit Di­a­gram 100A boil­ers (es­sen­tially ‘B1’ boil­ers) to both GNR and LNER ‘O2s’. These be­came ‘O2/4’.


We re­ceived a pair of ‘O2s’ for re­view: ‘O2/3’ No. 63954, in un­lined black with Bri­tish Rail­ways let­ter­ing and ‘O2/4’ No. 63983 with the pre-1956 em­blem. Both fea­ture side-win­dow cabs and LNER Group Stan­dard 4,200gal ten­ders (al­beit one flush and the other with flared raves). GNR style cabs and ten­ders are set to fol­low.

Pre-pro­duc­tion sam­ples sug­gested that Heljan had got the dis­tinc­tive Gres­ley shape right, and the good work has def­i­nitely found its way onto pro­duc­tion mod­els. Heljan has done its home­work too, for the de­tail dif­fer­ences be­tween the boil­ers are clear to see.

This truly is a fine model in most cases and it’s dif­fi­cult to de­cide where to start with ini­tial ob­ser­va­tions. Firstly, the face looks great. The dish­ing of Hornby’s smoke­box doors is al­ways first class, but the Danes have given Margate a run for its money in this case. The dart is a par­tic­u­larly fine sep­a­rate fit­ting and Heljan has cre­ated the 5ft ¼in di­am­e­ter door ring, with ¾in as­bestos-

packed re­cess. Un­for­tu­nately, No. 63983 has a ring of riv­ets around the door, which pic­tures of real ‘O2/4s’ in both Brian Hares­nape’s Gres­ley Lo­co­mo­tives and Part 6B of the RCTS’S Lo­co­mo­tives of the LNER se­ries don’t seem to show.

Usu­ally it’s some­thing up top that catches the eye first, but apart from the face, it’s ac­tu­ally be­low the run­ning plate where we go first. The mo­tion is black­ened, but it’s re­ally fine and looks the part. The wheels are also re­ally good-look­ing and the flanges are also com­mend­ably thin.

The pony truck de­serves com­ment, for not only do the wheels look just like the real thing but the ‘O2’s’ frame ar­range­ment means that you don’t get the huge gaps above it that you of­ten get in model form. The splash guards and guard irons are all present and cor­rect and com­bine to make the ‘O2’ look like the real thing.



As well as the smoke­box door, Heljan has done a de­cent job of those all-im­por­tant LNER styling fea­tures: the grace­ful curves on the run­ning plate, the round-topped fire­box and the cab with its two side win­dows.

A brief word about the cab: there’s fire­box back­head de­tail, but it’s mainly moulded and looks pretty con­vinc­ing. Maybe it’s not up to Bach­mann or Hornby stan­dards, but it does the job - ex­cept that some ar­eas look a bit pla­s­ticky and there’s no reg­u­la­tor han­dle.

Post-group­ing built ‘O2s’ ini­tially came with a 3,200gal ten­der, but the 4,200gal Group Stan­dard was in­tro­duced later. Heljan has mod­elled both the flush-sided and flared rave types.

It looks con­vinc­ing too, with some neat curves and some nicely moulded un­der­frame de­tail. Only the moulded coal and slightly bare, plas­tic na­ture, lets it down. Bare plas­tic is also a crit­i­cism of the area be­hind the smoke­box sad­dle where there should be some rep­re­sen­ta­tion of valve gear.

Chris Leigh tested the model on his home lay­out. He says: “The ‘O2’ has far less ‘play’ in the chas­sis than we might nor­mally ex­pect on a 2‑8‑0 with all RP‑25 flanged wheelsets. As a re­sult, it may well high­light any de­fects in your track. When first tested, it stum­bled at one spot on my lay­out and the lead­ing wheel set would de­rail - ex­cept, of course, when it was be­ing closely watched! By care­ful driv­ing over the joint that it did not like, I ran it in for an hour with five coaches in tow.

“Sev­eral days later, when I per­formed the tests for Model Rail, it seemed to have freed up slightly and did not de­rail once. It was smooth and quiet and it has that el­e­gant, ‘ca­sual’ gait that is a fea­ture of many 2‑8‑0s. It looks re­ally good, with its fine flanges and del­i­cate, scale size out­side mo­tion.

“I added coaches, two and three at a time, un­til I had 18 mixed Hornby, Lima and Bach­mann bo­gie coaches be­hind it. At be­tween two and three wag­ons to one coach, I reckon a 45‑50 wagon train would be within its ca­pa­bil­i­ties, de­pend­ing on how heavy the wag­ons are and how tight the curves. On my 2ft 6in-plus radius curves, the 18 coaches stretched well over half­way round the lay­out. Im­pres­sive per­for­mance by Heljan’s de­but steam model.”


But re­mem­ber what I said about in­con­sis­tency? Well, if you be­lieve that the model press re­ceives mod­els that have been tweaked to garner a bet­ter re­view, then think again.

The only area where Heljan hasn’t got it quite right is the chim­ney, which is too tall and doesn’t match the shape of the prototype. But the rim had traces of flash on it, with No. 63983 be­ing worse than No. 63954. In the­ory, this should be quite straight­for­ward to rec­tify with a sharp blade and abra­sives.

The im­pact of No. 63983’s ‘face’ was spoilt by the poorly pro­por­tioned smoke­box num­ber­plate, whereas No. 63954 didn’t have one. Ac­cord­ing to the RCTS, the real No. 63954 was ex-works in May 1948 with 12in plain nu­mer­als and a smoke­box plate.

De­spite the re­ally good work in some ar­eas, the ‘O2’ was let down by a lack of fi­nesse in oth­ers. Wipers col­lect cur­rent from the wheel backs but the con­tact strip has been left shiny and not black­ened and this re­ally stands out against the fine wheels and mo­tion.


The thing to bear in mind most is the need to han­dle it gen­tly - the ‘O2’ is ex­tremely frag­ile. No. 63983 was bet­ter - only the in­jec­tor pipework came away - whereas No. 63954 lost this, plus its smoke­box and rear ten­der handrails. Grip­ping the model firmly by the run­ning plate, I ac­ci­den­tally caught the boiler handrail and one of the knobs sheared off. This hap­pened days be­fore our stu­dio shoot, hence no pic­tures. Care­ful han­dling is def­i­nitely re­quired. The most wor­ry­ing prob­lem was that No. 63954’s ten­der was only at­tached to the lo­co­mo­tive by two fine wires. Four wires are re­quired to make the join, but two had snapped. As I feared, No. 63954 didn’t work. The screw to hold the draw­bar in place was in the bag of sep­a­rate fit­tings rather than se­cur­ing the ten­der to the lo­co­mo­tive. Thank­fully,




No. 63983 didn’t have this prob­lem.

One can put up with the few ques­tion­able ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly when other ar­eas are strong - such as the finely turned sprung metal buf­fers and ex­quis­ite front cou­pling chain - but to find handrails fall­ing off and snapped wires on a model that’s just £15 away from £200? That might make you think again.

Of course, the build qual­ity is­sues we suf­fered on No. 63954 might just be lim­ited to our sam­ple, and we hope that’s true. How­ever, it might be worth in­spect­ing your model be­fore you part with your cash.

Heljan’s ‘O2’ isn’t ex­actly like the famed cu­rate’s egg, of which some parts were ex­cel­lent. In this case, the ma­jor­ity is truly ex­cel­lent. It’s just dis­ap­point­ing when one or two loose passes and mist­imed tack­les spoil the re­sult.

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