Wagon Construction - Building the Slaters 7mm Scale GWR Cattle Van Kit (7054)

Prototype History

The GWR built large numbers of cattle vans between 1979 and 1937. Under the MEX telegraphic code, at least 8 different types of cattle van were built. The Slaters kit represents Diagrams W1 and W5 (MEX B) where W1 was a single-sided conventional hand-brake version and W5 had fully fitted vacuum brake gear.
Between introduction in 1888 and 1904, 1260 were built. They remained in service until the early 1960's.
Many of each type were rebuilt between 1904 and 1910 with the Dean/Churchward either sided brake gear and vacuum braking, so for all intents and purposes, W1 and W5 were virtually identical.
This van patented the use of a movable partition within the van ("S" for Small, "M" for Medium and "L" for Large) and this was later adopted by other companies so that one van could be used instead of the 3 sizes previously required. This allowed users to be charged for the space they needed to use, rather than be charged for the size of van available.

The Kit

Like all Slaters kits (and most 7mm scale kits for that matter), this model is supplied in a box which is suitable for storage of the completed model.
When opened, the box contains a collection of small, neatly packaged parcels:

Of immediate notice was that this kit contains GWR transfers, but no BR transfers. I have built a few Slaters kits in the past and none contained transfers, so this was a pleasant surprise which brings these kits up to the level of Parkside, which have always had transfers supplied. Hopefully, Slaters will continue this trend with all of their kits and make the transfers available for separate purchase!

Getting Started - Building the Chassis

When building any rolling stock kit, I always start with building the chassis: get this straight and sorted from the beginning and the rest of the kit will go together nicely. If the chassis isn't square, the model can never be square and wil have all kinds of running problems for ever more.
This kit is one of the Slaters models which has a compensated chassis. In 7mm you start to experience the reasons for suspension on real rolling stock, so in my opinion, you really need compensation in 7mm scale. Following are a couple of pictures of the main base plate with the W irons fitted. The nearest end is compensated ir will rock side to side:

There are several things to watch out for when building this type of chassis:

  • Make sure that the axles are square to the chassis plate and run true along a length of track
  • Given that each end of this chassis has a different mounting system, make sure that both ends are the same height above rail head and/or workbench surface level - in this case, mine were, but I'm always suspicious of systems like this which can cause differences
  • Check the wheel trueness - unfortunately, I don't seem to have a lot of luck with Slaters wheels - I get a fairly high proportion of wheels which do not run true. There is really no excuse for this in 7mm scale!
  • Check that there is no sideways 'slop' on the wheels in their bearings. Unfortunately, on this kit, the fold-up brass results in quite a bit of sideways slop in the W irons are square to the frame. To prevent this, you need to push them in a bit, although it isn't really noticeable that they aren't square to the floor. An alternative might be to fit washers, but then that defeats the purpose on pin-point bearings
  • Check that the W irons are vertical, when viewed side-on. If they are not, it indicates a problem with the folding of the brass mounting. Personally, I prefer to see a system when the axle boxes can move up and down per the prototype

Following constructing the chassis, the next step is normally to fit the solebars, but since they are purely cosmetic on this design of chassis, I assembled to body in order to achieve structural integrity:

When assembling the body, make sure that the main base-plate is straight - mine had a slight upward curve across the middle which if not corrected at assembly time, will lead to solebars with an upward curve, resulting in the model looking quite incorrect!
There are virtually no alignment tabs on this kit, so you are very much alone in making sure things fit together in the right place and squarely. This is quite common with Slaters kits and makes them a bit more fiddly to build than Parkside kits which I feel are much better kits because they do have alignment tabs and they fit together squarely, first time, with no extensive filing necessary.

I then started fitting buffers and brake gear. The buffers are supplied with the springs and screws already attached, so no risk of loosing parts - a handy touch. It is probably worth mentioning that fitting the buffers before the solebars is a good idea and they can foul each other. It didn't actually happen to me, but I could see that it could be a problem due to the lack of alignment tabs.

The following pictures show all of the brake gear fitted. Note the oritentation of the brake rigging, the brake cylinder and the reversing clutch on one side - it is important to get these the right way round otherwise the brakes wouldn't work in practice! The W iron ties were also fitted - a bit tricky when one set of W irons is actually moveable.

TIP: Don't fit the brake levers and retaining bracket/ratchet until last: it is very fragile and bends easily when adding other parts to the model. To be honest, the parts for this are inadequate: they don't match the picture on the box and there is no indication on the solebars or instructions as to where they fit so I aligned them with the ends of the suspension springs. They also need an extra 'packing' block fitted to the solebars otherwise the brake lever is not able to fit over the springs and into the retaining bracket/ratchet. Not a good design!

Following fitting all the brake rigging, I commence fitting the railings across the side openings and the door locking vertical mechanism. Cutting the latter from the sprews in the box was a challenge: Slaters seems to specialise in adding the maximum number of attachments possible to the smallest of components, making it difficult to cut them from the sprew without breakage! Such a part really only needs an attachment on each end.

Finally, the brake pipes were fitted. These are really neat cast pieces. A really good idea is that the vacuum pipes are actually tight springs which fit over the end of the vacuum pipe. There is also a socket to be fitted to the other end of the spring which plugs into a retainer on the vertical vacuum pipe stand. If it isn't glued to the stand, it can be plugged together with the next wagon, effectively meaning that brake pipes can be coupled up and decoupled per prototype. Ingenious!


I model British Railways Western Region practice as it was in the early 1960's. These cattle wagons survived into that period, but only just. The wagon body will be painted in BR bauxite and the chassis will be well weathered as will the whole wagon.
Here is the completed wagon at different stages of painting:


Numbering this van is presenting a challenge because information on them in BR days seems to minimal.
Since I have a number of other 7mm scale BR wagons needing numbering, I ordered a sheet of HRMS wagon transfers from Tower Models.
In the mean time, I am in communication with the National Railway Museum to locate information, however, they are presently shut down due to COVID-19.
If I can't locate information, I will adopt an original GWR number and place a 'W' in front of it and label the vehicle consistent with other BR vehicles - the WB, XP, Tare etc.

This article will follow the progressive construction of the kit - more to follow...

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Graham Plowman (02/01/2020)

Kit supplied by: Tower Models Logo  and   Slaters

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