Bachmann Robinson 04 2-8-0
02 August 2010
Tony Wright reviews the Robinson 04 2-8-0, a much-anticipated heavy freight loco from Bachmann.
Perhaps the first question regarding this much-admired type, is why has it taken so long for an OO gauge RTR model to be available?
By this, I don’t mean Bachmann’s lead time, more the fact that it ticks so many boxes regarding what should make a successful big seller. Long-lived (pre-Group, Big Four and BR), wide-ranging (all over the GC/LNER and a large chunk of BR), used on other railways (GE, NER, LMS and the GWR) and an example survives in preservation.
Space limitations mean I can only provide a potted history, but suffice to say that the GCR Class 8K 2-8-0 was introduced by Robinson in 1911, was chosen by the ROD for mass construction in 1916 for war service in this country and overseas and after 1923 was the main heavy goods loco for the LNER.
After WW1, most RODs were repatriated and initialled loaned to several railways before being offered for sale. Most purchases went to the LNER, though the LMS and the GWR bought quite a few each. Some even went as far as Australia for colliery work, where some still survive. The LMS quickly disposed of most of theirs but used the tenders (behind ‘Claughtons’, for instance), and the GWR scrapped some but kept the best, eventually passing them on to the WR in 1948. So reliable was the class that it saw service overseas in WW2 as well, including Europe and the Near/Middle East.
Even as late as 1956, some were dispatched to Egypt during the Suez crisis. It was as late as 1966 that the last of the locos was withdrawn by BR, and we have 63601 preserved. During the long lifetime, several subdivisions appeared in the class, and for the full story I recommend reading Part 6B of the RCTS ‘green’ series and Volume 24 Part A in Willie Yeadon’s Register, published by Book Law.
And the model? Bachman has supplied us with 63635 in earlier BR plain black livery in ‘ex-works’ condition. On initial inspection, I thought this model was spot-on, a point of view confirmed (almost totally, of which more later) as I conducted a lengthy examination.
This model checks out with all the drawings/photographs/literature at my disposal and entirely captures the elegant lines of these wonderful workhorses. The chassis features Bachmann’s normal-style three-pole motor driving smoothly through a gear chain, power to all the drivers then being transmitted through the rods. All the wheels are true-round, to RP25 profile and have consistent back-to-backs, allowing non-bumpy running through a mix of hand-built and proprietary pointwork.
I ran the model in as recommended using a DCC Concepts’ rolling road, for several hours (see later). This didn’t quite cure the tight spot originally encountered, which I think is present in the motion for there’s a persistent ‘clicking’ sound as she runs. However, it did ease up with time so I put the engine on 40+ fully-loaded mineral wagons, and she took the whole lot with ease.
Pick-ups are on all drivers, though some weren’t making proper contact (a tweak with tweezers cured this). There are no tender pick-ups. The crossheads have a peculiar ‘arrow-shaped’ feature at the little end of the connecting rod, though there should really be a disc shape over the bearings.
Though this particular model is not DCC-fitted, it’s DCC ‘ready’, provision for fitting the 21-pin decoder being made inside the tender body. Unusually for some modern models, removal of both the loco and tender bodies was quite easy - two screws for the loco, four for the tender. None was screwed in so tightly as to render removal difficult. This is not always the case!
The bodywork is right out of the top drawer and is beautifully proportioned and accurate. There isn’t too much small detail to be added by the purchaser. Regarding detail, this loco is vacuum-fitted, a rarity with these engines in BR days. I don’t have a picture of 63635 to confirm it’s braking status but if you renumber, the chances are it’ll have to be removed, in which case it should have three-link shackles, not screw couplings.
And I’m puzzled why 63635 has been chosen, since my sources suggest it’s an O4/1 - in which case it should have water pick-up apparatus on its tender. What we seem to have here then is an O4/3, of which none appear to be vacuum-braked. Is this sub-division confusion caused by 63601 (the preserved example) being vacuum-fitted?
Brakes apart, all other detail appears to be spot on. For instance, the cab interior is exceptionally well done. All numbering and lettering is very well applied and even the worksplates are legible (under a glass). The loco’s seen as shedded at Gorton (39A) which must be in the early ‘50s, for by 1955 it was at Tuxford (40D). Sprung buffers are fitted all round but (even though they must have a key-way to prevent complete rotation), the oval front ones can adopt some jaunty positions. Buffer stocks are black (the LNER painting spec’) but in BR condition they should be red.
There’s a vast gap between the loco and tender and the various wires to the decoder are clipped to the drawhook, which will mean modification to closer-to-scale distance won’t be easy.
So what’s the conclusion? Apart from some small detail anomalies, this is a very fine model indeed. In fairness, the LNER’s loco classification is a minefield of inconsistency. For instance, classes O4/1, O4/2 and O4/3 differ only in their sources of birth and whether or not they had water pick-up apparatus on their tenders, yet (for instance) the designations A2/1, A2/2 and A2/3 covered entirely different classes. And, such famous steeds as the A4s had no sub-divisions at all, even though they towed different tenders, had single or double chimneys and had different cylinder sizes.
Simple renumbering and the lopping off of the vacuum standpipe will make this O4 more accurate, and some (heavy) weathering will bring it to life. As you’ll see from one of the photographs, the screw-together nature of the body construction should mean it’ll be easy for Bachmann to offer many of the other class sub-divisions in future. Thus, for latter days, with a slightly different cab an O4/6 can be achieved, with a different (ex-O2) boiler an O4/7 can be modelled and with a B1 boiler and (deeper) cab you’ll have an 04/8.
My own current O4 dates from the dawn of time (K’s kit) and other ex-GCR 2-8-0s in 4mm have been built in the past from Pro-Scale and Little Engines’ kits. If Bachmann does the variations, then the need to build will disappear entirely (how often have you heard me say this?), for what we have here is a superb scale model indeed.
On scrutinising this loco, my memory was worked into overtime, for the prototypes were well known to me. From my bedroom window in Chester, across the teacher training college fields I watched them clank there way on the CLC just west of Liverpool Road, from an aunt’s window I watched them pass through Anston between Shireoaks and Dinnington and from my perch on the ‘wall’ at Retford saw them roll over the flat crossing on the old MS&LR, frequently light engine in groups between jobs.
To really re-kindle those memories, I’ve ‘improved’ this model, and, I hope, have turned it into something special, even though it just about is that right now.
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