Tag Archives: Heljan

Heljan BR Class 05 Diesel Shunter Review (Pt1: Out of the box)

On friday Heljan’s new BR Class 05 arrived on my door step, so I thought I would let you know a thing or two about the model and the prototype:

The prototype
The Hunslet Engine Co 204hp 0-6-0 diesel mechanical was introduced in 1955 and ran in British Railways service until the late 1960s when most of the class was scrapped. A few examples continued life in Departmental and Industrial service and only four of the original fleet of 120 made it into preservation.

Much of their BR working life was spent in North-East England, Scotland, and North Wales.

Likeness to prototype

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This version of the model is based on the later design of the Hunslet, which featured a larger cab with more windows, longer and thicker buffer beam weights, oval buffers, and larger diameter wheels.

This later version only ran in BR Green while in BR service, so anyone who fancy’s modifying the model to its 1950s design will have a fair amount of work to do.

The model seems to match the prototype very well in terms of proportion and general appearance (based on the reference photography I own).

The model even features the coloured jack-shaft seen on many prototypes and the wheel castings are very accurate.

The wheel rims stand out in photography, but anyone planning to do some weathering on the model won’t be too concerned about this.

Level of detail
Heljan models have always featured a wealth of little details and extras. This model is one of the first Heljan diesels I have purchased that has all the details pre-fitted.

All of the details are very finely produced and rival recent Bachmann releases. In fact, you could be easily convinced that this is a Bachmann loco, rather than a Heljan model.

The most impressive bits of detail are the fine mesh that can just be seen between the radiator grills and the cab detail (which features control levers and buttons). The flush glazing is also very impressive.

Wires linking up the lamps are also included (it looks like these will light up). The blue wires that flop over the front buffer beam are also a nice touch.

Here is a turntable video which gives a good overview of the finer details including the etched makers plaque and the cab detail:

Handling
Care is still needed when picking it up as there are a number of details that will not last if frequently handled (including the plunger on the top of the bonnet and the hand rails near the buffer beam).

A few details were bent on the front of the model when I took it out of the box (a hand rail and the tips of the front lamps). I carefully re-adjusted them and reinforced them with some cyano-based super glue.

Chassis
It is a surprisingly ‘solid’ and weighty model. If the motor is good this should be a strong puller.

It rivals the weight of my white metal steam sentinel!

The chassis block and axles are nice and solid with none of that sloppy side-play seen in the Class 14.

The NEM coupling is masked by a colour matched block. I am yet to discover how the block is removed to take the NEM coupling (I might look at this in the next blog).

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Livery application
The BR livery is a convincing shade that matches well with other model manufacturer releases and has the green hue of BR Blue. All black areas are painted matt black.

Box and instructions
The boxes keeps the loco tightly in place, but at the cost of putting a little too much pressure on smaller details.

The instruction sheet has an error where it introduces the model as a Class 33 (Heljan’s previous release). This makes it a bit difficult to be certain whether some of the information that follows (including the motor spec) relates to the Class 33 or 05, but I presume the latter.

However, there is a lot of detail about the Hunslet’s service history included, including livery alternatives and class member allocations.

Conclusion
It is obvious that a lot of time has gone into getting the appearance of this shunter spot on. The weight of the shunter also bodes well for its running qualities, but that will have to wait until part 2.

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Beyer Garratt Test Running and Modifications

Garratt trials
I currently have insufficient running space for my recently purchased Beyer Garrett, so my Dad borrowed the loco to see how it would get on around point work and curves. After a few weeks my Dad highlighted some issues regarding derailments over points. I decided to investigate further and took the Garratt for a test run at the Swindon Model Railway Club.

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Double Garratts
I did a little bit of work adjusting the gauge of the pony wheels just before the tests in Swindon, but this didn’t seem to make too much difference, as it still derailed sometimes on points. Despite the occasional derailment, I had a great time at the club and I had the opportunity to do some consist running with x2 Garratts. Here is a video of the two Garratts double heading:

A couple of bits broke off the Garratt while it moved around the rather tight curved platforms on the club layout, but I had already considered removing some of these finer details anyway (knowing that they wouldn’t stay on the loco too long while being run).

Garratt on the work bench.
On returning to my workbench I decided to remove some of the detail more likely to go amiss. I clipped off some of the detail beneath the boiler and removed the ultra fine steps from the buffer beams. I also taped down the wires leading between the two motors so they are completely concealed. Very simple jobs, but these changes looked good and made the Garratt easier to move around in my hands (an awkward task).

Pony Wheel Brakes
The version of the Garratt I have is one that had the brakes on the pony wheels removed. I have heard some people compaining on model railway forums that these brakes shouldn’t have been present, but they are a doddle to remove. I just used some sharp plastic cutters and within a few seconds the brakes were in the bits box.

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Pony wheel compensation

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I started to wonder whether the cause of derailments was due to the pony wheel jumping over point work. I looked at my other locomotives with pony trucks and wheels and found that most are sprung or weighted. I removed the pony wheels and roughed up the top of the pony wheel with some wet and dry paper to act as a key for super glue. I then super glued a spring to the top of the bar attached to the pony wheel. This modification provides a little bit of compensation to the pony wheel, which should help keep them firmly on the tracks.

I haven’t had the time to conduct a further test run, to see whether the sprung pony wheels have done the job, but I will report back when I have to let you know whether this modification was a success.

Beyer Garratt Arrives

Yesterday my new Beyer Garratt arrived. These engines were the largest steamers to ever run on British metals, and what a beast it is too. The Beyer Garratt is essentially two steam engines operating across a single (yet very substantial) boiler. This particular model was commissioned by Hattons of Liverpool and built by Heljan.

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I have planned to build a Garratt kit for a long time, but I always knew that I would have to be well versed in putting together the chassis components if I was to ever get a good build from a Garratt kit. Lucky for me, Heljan have saved me a lot of hassle.

The Garratt is now officially the most awkward model to handle that I own. It has lots of detailed and fragile parts and it is very awkward to find a suitable place to grip onto it with your fingers when taking it off the track or moving it into a display case. I eventually placed it on a display base so I could move it around a bit easier.

There has been some discussion about build quality on this model, and I can see where such concerns from, but they don’t cause me significant concern. There are a few marks and stains on the rather plastic-looking body, but this will be resolved when I weather the loco. A piece of plastic had also come free beneath the rotating coal bunker, but this just needs a dab of glue to fix it back in place. I think the cab is also a bit loose, but I can glue that easy enough.

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What is really impressive is the motors and chassis. Just like my Heljan diesels, this loco is a quiet and powerful loco. All I have managed to do so far is run it on the rolling road, but I will soon be putting it through some haulage trials.

 

RTR ups and downs

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I have enjoyed some distance from the model railway hobby this year, and I am just starting to rekindle some interest for those long, dark winter months. Having been absent from the usual model railway forums for a while, I revisited and saw much discussion of quality control issues and demands for improvement from unhappy consumers and this got me thinking…

Are we modellers?

My collection of Ready To Run (RTR) models is far from immune of quality control issues, but very few have been returned to the manufacturer or shop, ‘Why?’ you ask, because I can resolve some of the problems myself. Be it: clipping off flash; swapping wheels sets around; re-positioning pick-ups; re-seating motors; pressing loose wheel-rims back onto axels; I can do these things (and have done). Building brass loco kits and chopping up different RTR models to create weird new locos can give you a clear perspective of running performance and the issues that can occur.

Even the simple act of removing the body of a loco to fit a DCC chip helps build confidence in tackling certain issues. I can only assume how difficult it must be for someone to approach these running problems or cosmetic issues if they fear to fiddle with the internals of these expensive models. But how fair is it to pass this back to the manufacturer?

Manufacturing RTR models

Let’s be honest about this: we are discussing a highly complex and highly detailed miniature with circuit boards, cogs, motors, pick-ups and fly wheels. They are a strange hybrid of analogue and digital technology. How many similarly complex items are sold by manufacturers on mass? Watches and cameras are all I can think of. Cars, I suppose, but they are a tad bigger and a tad more expensive.

Mobile phones, tablets and PCs don’t really count because they don’t have any moving parts these days, and just think how many issues are reported for these devices (just look at the software issues associated with updates to Apple devices and Windows etc.). Apple and co. can fix many problems on the fly, after release, by remotely sending fixes and updates. We are not in a position yet for this to happen with our trains.

Some questions for you:

  • Would you pay much attention to a noisier-than-expected servo in a camera lens or a loudly ticking watch? – Maybe.
  • Do you compare the running of your car against a friend’s one?  – I suppose some car-addicts do.

The decision to keep or return a model train might hinge on similar questions to those above. I completely agree that it is our right as consumers to receive accurate running and functioning models, and I think it would be brilliant, but I am not so sure how realistic these expectations are. What testing procedure would remove 98% of failures and deficiencies? We would have to wait even longer for our models and they would be unsustainably expensive, thus is this actually a possibility? Hornby’s recent retro-grade approach is about reducing costs of manufacturing. How much of this decision is based around quality control requirements?

Companies like Heljan, Dapol, Bachmann are not monstrously sized businesses. Every returned model surely imposes a cost to their business. Do we ever consider how much the Heljan Clayton engine failure episode financially impacted Heljan? I don’t really want to be a part of destroying these companies. Thus I try to separate any problems associated with my models into two groups:

  • Actual manufacturing faults, which jeopardise the prolonged life of the model and things that are beyond my ability to fix, which will ultimately result in product returns.
  • Issues that are just unsurprising results of an industrial manufacturing process on a miniature, which I can fix or resolve.

RTR examples

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I have a few new models on my workbench.

  • My Heljan Class 16 diesels operate perfectly and silently, just bliss to watch.
  • My Heljan Class 15 is a tad noisy, I have taken the motor out to investigate and have found the chassis to run quietly when the body is not on, thus I am putting this down to the vibration of the plastic body. I may also lubricate the cogs a bit more. I might also put it through a haulage test to make sure that the motor is sound.
  • My Heljan Class 14 teddy bear wouldn’t move at all. No lights, nothing. However, it did seem to be receiving electric current. I quickly decided not to attempt cranking up the voltage (this is based on previous experience with loco chassis construction). I unscrewed the chassis keeper plate (which is screwed down very tight). The little loco then lurched into life and is a lovely smooth runner.

Granted the Class 14 is based on previous experience, this being my second one for my layout… well… technically it’s my third! My first model was bought at product launch and went up in a puff of smoke! The replacement came and attempted a similar death, until I discovered that the chassis cogs seemed to be locked up by the overly tight keeper plate screws. I could have thrown all three models back at Hattons/Heljan, but there is nothing wrong with the model. It just needed a little tweak. A tweak I was able to diagnose and resolve. I have to confess to finding this process quite fun.

Somebody on a model railway forum recently proposed that it is better to consider our RTR models as almost completed kits, which might need a bit of ‘tweaking’. I am 100% behind this analogy.

I do not know how many of my fellow railway modellers are happy to fix these type of issues, but I do wish we would be more open and acceptant of these problems and try to resolve them, rather than bang the drum of our ‘trading standards’ act. Much like the H&S legislation that we laugh at for its pedantic approach, maybe our ‘quality assurance’ and ‘consumer rights’ policies and legislation can be just as senseless and unrealistic.