Hornby HO Wagon Conversions

by David Axup


David sent me this article quite some time ago and I have finally gotten a chance to publish it. Follow along with David as he converts Hornby HO wagons into some really neat four wheel On30 rolling stock.


The conversion of one of the Hornby wagons to a refrigerated van immediately behind the d-cell. It is based on the VR broad gauge T class wagon - now of course designated NT.


David writes: "Some 30 odd years ago I was into HO scale railways and slowly built up a string of Hornby Dublo wagons which I mostly repainted [not very well] in Victorian Railways [VR] wagon red. Then work, family and other circumstances saw my activities in model railways go into limbo. I put the locomotives and rolling stock in a box which I stored.

Two years ago my youngest grand daughter and I discovered On30 at a local model railway exhibition and that was my excuse to get back into the hobby. Both of my grand daughters were enthusiastic participants. Motive power is Bachman and rolling stock a mixture of Victorian narrow gauge [Ian Lindsay Models] and the Tasmanian Tullah Tramway [Milestone Miniatures] with a couple of Bachman pieces. As space is limited on my layout the idea of four wheel wagons was attractive so that trains could consist of more than a loco, two bogie wagons and a guards van. Unfortunately what was on offer in the way of UK prototype or style was not what I wanted. Then my memory dragged up the Hornby wagons I had kept and a search among the boxes stored at the back of the work shop located them and so "Operation Hornby Bash" was commenced.

The wagon chassis are of course British Railways prototype and the detail is reasonable if a bit clunky in size but what the hell - I do this for fun and not to rivet count - mainly because I have several thumbs on each hand. I could also justify four wheel wagons [if I had to] by pointing to the VR broad gauge which used very British looking wagons in large numbers."


"Photograph 1 is an open wagon as extracted from storage. The couplers are huge and have to be replaced as does the body. Some of the couplers are held on by screws and some, like those in the open wagon shown, are rivetted."


"The rivets also hold on the body of the wagon and the holes where they were can be seen in photograph 2 on the top of the wagon body as light coloured spots. The buffers also have to be either sawn or ground off. I chose to saw them off and then carefully file the end flat. My history with a grinder is not good. I also filed two small protrusions which stick out from frame above the brake gear so that they were down to the channel of the sill."


"The wheels, which I intended to re-use as the wagons rolled quite freely, are held in place by small metal strips. At the bottom they hook over the journal box and the top ends come through the wagon body and are then folded over - sort of like the old instructions on cardboard models to put tab A through slot B and then fold. These were removed and the disassembled wagon is in photograph 3."


"The old coupler mounts sit too far from the bottom of the wagon body to allow the fitting of Kadee HO #16 couplers so have to be filed down flush with the wagon sills [photo 4] and this is best done with a hand held file unless you have a really small grinding wheel or milling machine."


"The new hole for mounting the coupler needs to be between the old mount and the end of the wagon body so the coupler will clear the new body. For some reason best known to Hornby there is a small hole in the right place but it does not go right through the body. Using the appropriate size bit for whatever screw or bolt you are going to use the hole can be drilled right through the metal body. Photograph 5 shows the new couplers in place. One end sits on the old coupler mount and the other on the wagon sill. I chose to fill the small intervening gap with an epoxy filler but found on the second wagon that it was not necessary to do so. Fitted in this way the coupler height is just right to be compatible with my other rolling stock.. No matter what the body is there is a common chassis treatment.


My small layout has, as its rationale for existence, the need to carry beer and fine cheese from up a coastal valley to the harbour [and passengers up from the harbour to a resort] and so the four wheel wagons needed had to fit that requirement. As Victorian Railways narrow gauge rolling stock was all bogie stock I needed to go elsewhere for inspiration and so I went to the VR broad gauge.

Mark Bau has an excellent web site covering the Victorian Railways and so I did a trawl through the sections on his site and decided on a modified KT class wagon for the open wagon and an H class wagon for the enclosed ones. The H class was in reality used as a service [or locomotive] wagon but I liked the look of it with its ridged roof and what the hell it's my railway. To see what the originals look like visit Mike's web site and go to rolling stock and then service - and while you are there have a wander through his excellent photographs of the Victorian Railways."


"The bodies are built in styrene and this is my first venture into its use - and not the last as I find it easy to work with. I decided the bodies should be a neat press fit onto the Hornby chassis and so each body is built to match its host in size. The Hornby chassis are not precisely rectangular so there will be slight variations in size from body to body. The new sills are made by welding 3mm x 1mm strip to 3mm U channel and then cutting to fit neatly around the host chassis and welding/gluing the mitred corners. I am using Testors Plastic Cement which contains Methyl Ethyl Keytone and so needs to be used in a well ventilated area. The bottom of the new body is shown in photograph 6 and the same method is used both for the KT and H wagons - now designated NKT and NH with the N obviously being for narrow gauge."


"The KT wagon has high ends and so the corners are of 3mm angle and the two uprights each end are of 2mm x 1mm strip. The top edge of the sill is cut away so that the upright sits snug against the inside of the channel section and on the bottom of the channel. In its prototype state the KT has bracing on each end but I decided against that. They were designed to carry timber and so had stakes along the side but as mine are to carry beer in crates they were also superfluous to requirements and omitted. The floor and ends are of strip balsa wood. The finished body is shown in photo 7."


"The original wagon has steel sheet ends but as mine are for a narrow gauge system and home built at the Wombat Ridge workshops the ends are timber planks as is the floor. The frame and ends were painted with acrylic red oxide and weathered and the floor boards with artists acrylic greys and white to hopefully look like they had been there for a while. The finished wagon is shown in photograph 8."


"The H class wagon base was made the same way as the KT around the Hornby chassis it was going to sit on. As it requires a body I approached the project by first drawing up the body on my CAD system at full size using the height of my VR narrow gauge van to obtain a body height. I chose the prototype with the ridged roof rather than the curved roof for no other reason than I like it better. The same process for the corner uprights was followed with 2mm angle section but for the two uprights at the ends I used 2mm T section. The upper part of the sill was checked out to take both the corner and end uprights and the corner uprights glued in place [photograph 9]."


"The original wagons were vertical planked and so the end and sides of the first one were cut from 0.5 mm styrene sheet and scribed to give a planked look. The second one has sides and ends cut from 1mm sheet as the 0.5mm is not solid enough for my liking and needed bracing [photograph 10]. Once these were glued in place a floor was cut to fit into the body from 2mm sheet and slipped in and glued. The T section end pieces were then fitted and glued to the sill and the ends."


"Square section styrene was cut and glued to the tops of the end and sides on the insides to give the roof something to hang on to and these were glued in place. Channel section with a 1.5mm channel was glued in place top and bottom of the sides to take the sliding doors which were cut from 1mm sheet. The body was then given a coat of Floquil grey primer and set aside to dry.

The roof is ridged and so two 0.5mm pieces were cut to fit and glued in place to support the corrugated roof which was cut from corrugated card board manufactured by Artwrap here in Oz. I was introduced to this product by Charles Schuster from the Australian Capitol Territory and it has been a godsend as it is much easier to work with than corrugated metal and a lot less expensive.[photograph 11]

I decided not to put the holes for doors in the sides of the body of these first wagons and to leave the doors shut. The doors are lying on the bench top in photo 11 prior to top coats of paint and sliding into their tracks. The door stops and latches are cut from styrene strip with the latch bar cut from .01" strip. It is hinged by drilling a hole for an N gauge Peco track nail through it and the stop on which it sits and carefully gluing it in place so that it will still move - not sure why I did that because I glued the door in place. The hook on which it sits on the door is made from 0.3mm wire."


"Painting is done with a brush and I used VR wagon red on the first H which I sort of weathered and I am not that happy with the result. The second wagon is painted with Floquil Santa Fe red - it's not VR wagon red but then my trains don't belong to the VR and when weathered a bit it looks fine. Photograph 12 shows the completed body with steps and grab irons fitted but not yet painted. Touch up painting to finish off the body is done with a very fine brush."


"The finished NH01 [if it ever gets lettered] is shown in Photograph 13 sitting on a trestle on the layout.

None of the already existing wagons on my layout are lettered [well almost none] and so these have not been lettered either. One of those things I mean to do one day - I suppose I'll get a round-tuit.

In the mean time the expansion of the Hornby Dublo On30 fleet continues. There are another 10 wagons waiting in the wings one of which is a six wheeler which will either end up as a passenger coach or a narrow gauge version of the very distinctive VR Z class guards van."


Editor's Note: Thanks for a great article, David. I hope it will inspire other On30 modelers to try some 4 wheel HO bashes.


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This page updated January 24, 2008
Webpage © Lawrence Rickert
Title and contents © David Axup