Something I’ve been idly thinking about on and off for several years now is the idea of a completely fictional railway. I don’t mean a might-have-been branch of an existing line, or a fictional place served by a real railway. I mean a completely made-up railway company. And not a light railway, either, but a proper main line company.
In America, this sort of model railway is not uncommon. That is largely because American companies tended to buy off-the-shelf, as it were, from major locomotive works. In Britain, this was the case for light railways, industrial railways and narrow gauge railways, but most of the main line companies tended to build in-house. Indeed, while there are layouts depicting fictional British railway companies, they do tend to be in the light railway/industrial railway/narrow gauge railway mould.
So to build a freelance main line is a slightly daunting prospect, as it rather suggests that some serious scratchbuilding is going to be a necessity to represent the weird-and-wonderful locomotives of your fictional company. Or is it? What got me thinking about the idea of a fictional company was the fact that a number of companies over the years have produced freelance locomotives in OO scale. There are enough, if you’re prepared to perform a little modification and sacrifice super-detail, to get a pretty complete locomotive fleet.
There are additional ways you might pad the loco stud out. While I noted above that most companies built in-house, it wasn’t unknown for engines from one company to end up on the lines of another. Midland ‘Jinties’ ended up on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway and the Northern Counties Commission in Northern Ireland. London, Brighton and South Coast ‘Terriers’ found their way on to the London and South Western Railway and the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway. Some London, Midland and Scottish Railway 8Fs could be found on the London and North Eastern Railway. Major companies even, in times of need, bought off-the-shelf, as with the LNER J94s.
Or – how’s this for an idea – suppose your company managed to poach a real-life locomotive designer? Say, your company convinced Stanier or Bulleid to work for them? You could run reliveried Black 5s or West Countries. Or even let your imagination run riot with might-have-been locomotive designs and failed projects. Suppose Bulleid was given the wherewithall to build a full run of Leaders? There’s no shortage of possibilities.
For now, here are the fictional classes I have in mind for my own layout, along with how they might be made. I’ve come up with my own very basic class numbering system.
Description: An 0-4-0 side tank. Their small coal capacity meant that they were almost exclusively used for shunting.
In reality: Hornby’s Guest, Keen and Nettlefold ‘D’ class tank engine. Although this is based on a real locomotive, the body has been so stretched in order to fit the standard 0-4-0 chassis that it’s practically freelance.
Description: A larger side tank, capable of trip working. Often used on branch lines.
In reality: Triang’s Nellie. This has been produced in several variants over the years. It’s theoretically based on an LSWR C12, but in reality looks almost nothing like it.
Description: An 0-4-0 saddle tank, fitted with a bunker to increase its range. Primarily used for shunting, although capable of hauling short goods trains. Problems with adhesion led the designer to devise an unusual extended saddle tank for increased weight. This tank appeared almost to wrap around the engine’s boiler, leading the class to be nicknamed “sausage rolls.”
In reality: A Bachmann Junior 0-4-0.
Description: An enlarged version of the successful B3. They were used for much the same duties as that class of engine. Perhaps inevitably, they were nicknamed “jumbo sausage rolls” or simply “jumbos.”
In reality: A Hornby ‘Percy the Small Engine’ with face removed.
Description: An 0-4-0 with extended side tanks designed for use on passenger service. They were noted for their superb acceleration, although they could be unstable at speed.
In reality: A Hornby Railroad ‘LBSC 0-4-0T’. This was originally manufactured in the guise of an 0-4-0 version of Thomas the Tank Engine.
Description: A rugged 0-4-0 shunter intended for dock shunting and indeed, use anywhere where heavy loads needed to be moved around tight curves.
In reality: Hornby’s ‘International’ tank, a vaguely non-British-looking engine produced in the 1970s.
Description: A mixed traffic 0-6-0 with extended side tanks. Essentially a larger, improved version of the B4, it was a highly successful design and formed the basis of a number of subsequent locomotives.
In reality: Bachmann’s Junior 0-6-0 tank of 2005. This, like the “prototype” of the B4 above, was based on tooling originally devised for a version of Thomas the Tank Engine, hence I’ve said that the E1 was derived from the B4.
Description: A small class. The company bought five Jinties from the Midland Railway to augment the E1.
In reality: Er, a Jinty. Triang, Hornby or Bachmann.
Description: Intended to be a modernised version of the E1, these locomotive bear many similarities to the earlier class. The most obvious difference is that the E3 is a saddle tank. It bears a passing resemblance to the Austerity tank, although it predates that class by a good ten years.
In reality: The current Bachmann Junior 0-6-0 saddle tank. This uses the same chassis as the earlier Junior 0-6-0, and so I’ve accounted for this by saying that, again, one locomotive was based on the other.
Description: A one-off 1930s experiment in diesel traction, using the frames of a withdrawn E1. Its designer had hoped to replace the railway’s tank engines with diesel traction. Unfortunately, while the engine was fine for shunting, it had very poor acceleration and low speed, and was virtually unusable for trip working. No further members of this class were built.
In reality: The Bachmann Junior diesel shunter. This uses the standard Junior 0-6-0 chassis, and so I’ve said that it uses a steam locomotive’s frames. It wasn’t unknown for this to happen with early diesel shunters. For instance, I know Sentinel used the same frames for their early diesels as for their vertical boilered steam shunters.
Description: Another one-off 0-6-0 diesel experiment carried out with the assistance of English Electric. As a result, it bore a strong resemblance to early diesel shunters of the LMS, LNER and Southern Railway. However, unlike those, the aim with this engine was to again produce a mixed traffic locomotive capable of doing anything a tank engine could. The resulting engine was a failure on trip working due, again, to low speed and poor acceleration. Furthermore, it was unreliable, and ended its days as a mobile generator.
In reality: The Triang 0-6-0 shunter, which looks almost but not quite like a Class 08. A lot of early diesel shunters bore a resemblance to the Class 08s, even if they weren’t directly related to them. Therefore it’s not too ridiculous to suggest that another “almost-08” was constructed experimentally.
Description: A Victorian 4-4-2 passenger tank designed for commuter trains. Although fast, they were incapable of hauling the longer commuter trains and so were relegated to secondary services by the First World War.
In reality: A Bachmann ‘Emily’ from their Thomas range. This character is based on a Great Northern Railway Stirling ‘Single’. My version is being converted into a tank engine, with the tender reserved for an I1.
Description: A 4-4-0 passenger engine used mostly for secondary passenger services and pilot duties, although they could occasionally be found substituting on expresses.
In reality: A Bachmann ‘Edward’ from their Thomas range with face removed and a more realistic tender (haven’t decided what, though). The tender supplied is utterly hopeless as a scale model.
Description: Known as the ‘Small Moguls,’ these were basically a tender version of the now-legendary E1s. Like the H1s, they were capable of pulling occasional express trains. However, they were primarily used for secondary passenger services and fast goods.
In reality: A Bachmann ‘James’, again from the Thomas range, with the tender from the aforementioned ‘Emily’. As you may have guessed, this also uses the Junior chassis, this time with the addition of a pony truck.
Description: The ‘Large Mogul’, a powerful mixed traffic engine which really came into its own for heavy goods work. Indeed, they were the favoured class for these duties.
In reality: Hornby’s version of James. This is larger than the Bachmann version, being a modified version of Triang’s hopeless 3F tender engine. The extended front and Schools Class tender serve to make this a freelance engine.
Description: A 4-6-0 intended for heavy freight but, in reality, offering no advantages over the established I2. However, they were excellent passenger locomotives and, before the arrival of the K1s, were reckoned to be the best express engines on the railway.
In reality: Bachmann’s ‘Henry,’ yet again from the Thomas range. This engine, in the original Railway Series books, is based on a Black 5. In the TV series it looks like no engine living or dead.
Description: The railway’s first Pacific. The J1 ‘s success as an express engine was noted, but it was not without its faults. The rear of the locomotive looked somewhat ungainly, being unsupported, and the unusually large cab windows were prone to breakage . The K1 was designed to correct these faults, and also boasted a larger boiler. The resulting engine was perhaps not as elegant as the Pacifics developed on other railways in the 1920s, but it was more than capable of the jobs it was given.
In reality: Yes, once again, it’s from the Bachmann Thomas range. This time it’s Gordon, which uses many of Henry’s chassis components. It’s commonly asserted that Gordon is based on a Gresley A3, but in fact there’s not much of a resemblance. Hence, again, I feel no guilt whatsoever for claiming it as a freelance model. However, the tender is again hopeless and will be replaced.
Description: A somewhat inelegant Pacific with inside motion, developed in the mid-1930s to work the routes for which the K1 was too heavy. The resemblance to the LMS ‘Princess Royal’ class has been noted, and allegations of industrial espionage against Crewe have been made, although never proved. In fact, given that this engine has few similarities to the Princess beyond the visual, the theory is largely discredited.
In reality: A Triang Princess. These were too short to be considered ‘scale models,’ and didn’t have outside motion – once again, it’s a case of an engine that’s bad enough to be freelance.
So there you go – 18 different classes of locomotive, sufficient to cover most duties on a railway. These aren’t the only freelance or semi-freelance models that have been produced, not by a long way. With a little imagination you could probably do a lot more, but I hope I’ve proven that it’s possible to create a freelance fleet. In future entries, I hope to explore the fictional company a bit more.