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.

Model Rail (UK) - - News - CHRIS LEIGH

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

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