Build a bullion van
Rail vehicles built to carry ultra high-value cargo were unusual - and models of them are pretty rare too. Solder-shy strikes gold with this brass kit of one that he can glue together.
A bullion van was probably behind City of Truro on its epic run. Chris Leigh finds a brass kit of one that’s designed to be glued.
Parcels vans, or more correctly Non-passenger Coaching Stock (NPCS), have always fascinated modellers, probably because of the wide variety they could offer in a single train. In the steam era, it was not unusual to find a parcels train with at least one vehicle from each of the Big Four companies. This arose mainly from the complex routes and long distances that some through vans worked, and in BR days by its ‘common use’ treatment of them.
Despite the undoubted interest among modellers however, NPCSS have never been well covered by ready-to-run models. Today, we are better served in this respect, but back in the late 1960s the situation was far worse. We did not really expect RTR models, but there were few kits, either. Two friends of mine, Tony Dyer and John Senior, decided that they wanted to scratchbuild a rake of parcels vans. However, when they went shopping for parts, they couldn’t even find a sufficient supply of K’s oval buffers. Tony decided to source them direct from the Anglo-swiss Screw Company. But there was a snag - the minimum order was 10,000! So began Modern Prototype Kits in ‘OO’, marketed as MOPOK. They progressed from packs of parts to complete kits, initially with vac-formed body shells, overlaid with printed sides and with cast whitemetal bogies and underframe fittings. Big developments were happening in model railway technology at that time, and I recall a visit from John and Tony during which they showed me two innovations. They had been asked to market a Midland Railway footbridge kit, made of etched brass and designed by George Pring. Essentially, this was thin, flat brass sheet, which was either laminated or folded to make the girders and steps. However, what was obvious from their unpainted sample was that it had not been assembled with solder. The second innovation was then revealed. This was a brass kit that was designed to be glued together with an amazing new adhesive originally invented for the US Armed Forces to carry out field repairs to flesh wounds. I was seeing cyanoacrylate glue (commonly referred to by trademark name ‘Super Glue’) for the first time. The next kit in that range was a GWR ‘Siphon G’ van. Somewhere along the line, in the years since, etched brass kit construction was hijacked by those who like to solder, and kits were designed for solder construction. However, the kit which is the subject of this ‘How to’, looks to have the potential
for glue assembly. We shall see, but perhaps it is a route into kit-building for those who don’t want to solder.
In the early years of the 20th century, Plymouth was an important port (the first and last in England) for transatlantic steamers. Deep in competition with the London & South Western Railway, which carried the passengers swiftly to and from London, the GWR carried the mail and high-value freight. On May 9 1904, the Great Western provided a five-coach ‘Ocean Mails’ special to connect at Plymouth with the steamer SS Kronprinz Wilhelm on passage from the USA to Germany. Her cargo included gold bullion - payment from the USA to the French for work on the Panama canal. The Americans bought the part-built canal from the French for $40 million, $30m of which went to the French construction company for the work done so far. The US took over the works site on May 4 1904 at a point when the payment must have been en route. Whether the entire $30m was in that one consignment of gold bullion one can only guess. The GWR was determined to whisk this load to London in record time, and the story of No. 3440 City of Truro’s epic run, including the claimed 102.3mph down Wellington Bank, is too well known to need repeating here. Reports, both contemporary and written in the years since by such eminent writers as P.W.B. Semmens and O.S. Nock, concentrate on the controversial high speed claim and pay little attention to the train. An original write-up refers only to ‘five heavily-laden postal bogie vans’ with a combined weight close to 150 tons. There is no mention of a bullion van, but it is inconceivable that the GWR, having two vehicles for the specific purpose of carrying bullion, would not have provided one for this particular load. It was the very job for which they were built, as the immense weight and security would be issues with other types of rolling stock.
The bullion vans were just 36ft long, with no windows and just two pairs of double doors with special locks, on one side only. Nos. 791 and 792 were built in 1902 (Diagram M16, Lot No. 996) followed Nos. 819 and 820 in 1907 (Diagram M17, Lot No. 1139). A further Dia. M17 van was built in 1913 (No. 878, Lot no. 1220). Photographs in Great Western Coaches Appendix Vol. 2 (J.H. Russell, OPC, ISBN 9780860931546) show that both diagrams were similar, all-steel bodies with two pairs of doors on one side only, the other side being completely blank. I can trace no withdrawal dates, but they lasted well into the BR period. Paul Bartlett photographed W819W at Paddington on January 4 1967 in BR maroon, and with two additional ‘boxes’ on the roof, presumably containing additional security equipment. Other photographs show W792W running on Collett heavy-duty 8ft bogies, in BR days, presumably replacements for the 9ft ‘American’ type originally fitted.
GWR ‘King’ 4‑6‑0 No. 6005 King George II passes Norton Fitzwarren with the Up ‘Cornish Riviera’ in 1929, hauling a bullion van.
GWR ‘King’ 4‑6‑0 No. 6004 King George III approaches Dainton summit with an Up express in 1929. The leading vehicle is a bullion van. ROBERT BROOKMAN/RAIL ARCHIVE STEPHENSON