Monday, 30 August 2010

The Whistler Conundrum

Class 40s, also know as 'whistlers' due to the noise their four turbos make, have been part of the railway history for over fifty years now. They're a favourite of mine even though most had been withdrawn before I was born! My dad also has a soft spot for them as he remembers them regularly working into Hull when they were new. He always said how massive they appeared! Indeed, their size was the reason for their wheel arrangement, 1Co-Co1, the extra carrying wheels being required to spread their weight! D208 was the first one he saw and this was one we had to have for Eastmoor. This was the result of a teenage project based on the Lima model and detailed using various Craftsman parts. When I finished this I really felt I'd achieved something!

Some parts of the Internet seem to be busy discussing the news that Bachmann are to 'retool' their class 40 after the news appeared in the latest edition of Rail Express Modeller. I must admit I hate the use of 'retool' - there seems to be a lot of confusion as to whether this means that we will see the results of new tooling or if the existing tool. I find it frustrating when people seem not to care that there is a difference between the two since the results of the process could be very different indeed...

Anyway, the Bachmann class 40 has had a hugely difficult life. It seems to be accepted now that the model is severely challenged in terms of dimensional accuracy which throws out the proportions of various parts of the model. As such it's not just a case of the odd misplaced grille which can be rectified by the determined modeller at home, but a something which was so compromised that it could never be corrected without virtually starting again! The rather flat and slab-like appearance of the windscreens didn't help the 'face' of the model either. Even the bogie pivots are in the wrong locations making it hard to add certain chassis details because they would now be in the way of the bogie's wider swing when they weren't in reality.

Now I don't want anyone to think I'm criticising Bachmann for the sake of it; the model in question isn't an excuse to do so. I think my views com from a feeling of disappointment more than anything else - if you look at some of their other offerings, such as their BR standard locos, the class 08 and the mark 1 range of coaches you can see just how good the results can be. This is why it was so frustrating!

So any positives at all? Well, out of the box it appears less offensive to the eye (once they sorted out the ride height) than the Lima model and it has the now familiar central motor and flywheel arrangement driving both bogies, albeit just two axles on each one. Even so it could haul a decent load quite comfortably.

Fairly soon, even in the original Rail Express review in fact, people realised that the chassis frame perfectly fitted the Lima body....

Ah yes, Lima's effort - doesn't look too clever out of the box does it?

Well, with a bit of work it can look superb. Still not a 100% but for many people it could satisfy their desire for a decent class 40. It suffers from numerous problems out of the box but with care can make a decent model, as I hope my effort with 343 above shows. Hornby are just about to release an upgrade version of the Lima model in their Railroad range - it'll have a much better motor and could provide good starting pointing still.

The wide bogies (with the water tanks widened to match) are the major and most obvious visual failing. Careful weathering can help disguise this, but here the Bachmann chassis looks so much better - my only slight criticism being the axleboxes and springs could do with more relief, but the overall effect is much better. Combining the Lima body with the Bachmann chassis seemed like it could be the way ahead for a number of modellers.

One of my versions using a Lima body and a Bachmann chassis
I have tried this with a couple of models - the results seemed quite promising. Certainly some of the locomotives on Mostyn built using this combination are very good indeed! The article in Rail Express Modeller (Rail Express issue 115) is well worth seeking out as it contains a huge amount of useful information for anyone modelling the forties, regardless of which route they choose.

Things do get complicated though. Despite all its faults and flaws the Bachmann loco can look ok! Aside from the weathering, very little has been done.

Not bad, is it? Likewise the class 40 which I saw on Thorne Yard at Pickering, looked 'right' in the context of the layout.

This does make me start to question all of the various options I've looked into and tried out in the past - all that work to work around the problems which in these two examples I can quite happily overlook and enjoy the results as decent models of class forties! This rather contradictory view does unnecessarily complicate matters for me; whilst able to accept things on work by others but on my own work I think I'm just so much more critical. Whether this is a good or bad thing I'm never sure.

One thing of which I can be certain now is that anyone choosing to model a class 40 in four mil' is that they'll never be short of detailing parts - Brian Hanson of Shawplan is due to be releasing a wonderful range of high fidelity etched parts for the class 40! I was priviledged to have a set of preproduction parts and they are superb - his new parts are taking diesel modelling forward in huge leaps!

With the new Bachmann model due soon I'm going to hold off on any class forty projects; I really want to model D282 as there's a superb photo in one book I have of it passing through the village station a few months before the lines closure. I have high hopes for the model as Bachmann's latest round of class 37s have been huge improvements on the original release.

But one thing I'd encourage all those interested in modelling the class forties is to make their own minds up. There are so many people out there ready to make decisions on your behalf but at the end of the day, if a model pleases you despite all its faults, then maybe this is the main thing? There's a wealth of information in books, magazines and on the net to allow a very informed decision to me made. I sometimes think that many models are as good as we want them to be if we're prepared to make the most of all things at our disposal and put some time and effort in. Much like life I suppose.


Diesels in Depth: Class 40s by David Clarke
Rail Express 115: Class 40s for Mostyn


Class 40 Appeal


  1. That's a really nice appreciation and discussion. Almost a magazine article in itself.

    Perhaps you should see if outfits like RailExpress are interested in taking what you write? It's certainly of a good enough quality to merit a wider audience...

  2. Thank you for the very kind words! I often assume that what I write isn't up to much - this blog is partly to share ideas and partly to force me to write creatively.

    I have to admit I'd not thought about submitting anything like this to RailExpress! Though I know young Mr Bayer has read, and commented, on my blog at times.

    Maybe I should submit something to Scalefour News?

  3. Like the ProtoDeltic, the 40 is one of those engines which only slowly reveals its parts relative to other parts.

    Once you start work on butchering a Bachmann shell, you then slowly start noticing other flaws, which then leads to you having to make other changes.....changes which then lead to other changes as you realise that one part is no longer correctly positioned relative to another!