Wagon Detailing - Fitting Vacuum Pipes


Many years ago, Airfix used to supply their RTR wagons with brake pipes fitted. They were a separate plastic attachment which fitted into a hole on the underside of the buffer beam. Subsequently, when Dapol took these models over, they continued this on some models, although over time, the trend seems to have stopped, only to be re-introduced on some recent Bachmann wagons. If we look at current Hornby models such as the one described in this article which is a former Airfix model, it is still possible to see the original Airfix brake pipe attachment holes, although it is on the wrong side of the coupling (nearest the camera), hence, we need to drill a new hole (furthest from the camera). When viewing a vehicle end-on, vacuum pipes are normally on the left of the coupling.
The two wagons shown below are examples of brake fitted vans which at the time of writing (15/6/2009) are the latest models available from Bachmann. Both are superb models, however, they are not supplied with brake pipes, either fitted or in a separate fittings pack:

In this article, we show you how to fit brake pipes to your wagons.


Early BR brake-fitted wagons as shown above were built with vacuum brakes which used a single pipe attached to each end of a vehicle. From the 1960's onwards, BR wagons were progressively built with air brakes which used smaller pipes.
It is the earlier vacuum types which are the subject of this article.

Model Modifications

To make the brake pipes, I use 20mm lengths of copper 'bell wire', suitably bent at the ends and filed square for neatness and realism as shown in the following picture:

The wire is bent so as to represent a pipe appearing from under the buffer beam and to provide a method of anchoring it to the vehicle. Most early wagons had brake pipes emanating from under the buffer beam however, more modern vehicles, locomotives and coaches sometimes had them appearing through holes in the buffer beam.

I then apply a light coating of glue, usually an impact adhesive, to the wire and then commence winding some cotton thread around it, starting at the end of the pipe. Note that there should be a small gap between each winding so as to replicate the 'ribbed' appearance of a vacuum pipe. It is also a good idea to use cotton thread which isn't 'furry' (like I didn't here, but have subsequently!) otherwise you will need to give it a 'hair cut' prior to painting:

To attach the pipes to the wagon, I drill a hole on the underside of the buffer beam 4mm to the left of the centre line of the coupling when looking at the end of the wagon in an upright position. It is best to research the actual distance from photos because individual vehicles may be slightly different. 4mm also tends to be the measurement used by the RTR manufacturers.
I apply some superglue to the end of the pipe wire and slot this into the hole:

I then paint the pipes using my standard chassis brown colour to give a final result:

This technique can be used on locomotives and carriages. In some cases, these vehicles had brake pipes appearing through holes in the buffer beam, therefore, the 'U' bend I have used above should be omitted and the wire threaded directly into the buffer beam.

Modern rolling stock is usually air braked and does not use the large ribbed pipes of vacuum braking. Air pipes are usually rubber hoses. These can be modelled using this same technique described here except that you do not need to wind cotton around the wire - just use wire 'as is', squash the end in some pliers to create a 'hand' shape for the connector and then paint the pipe matt black and the connector, red, yellow or white, depending on the prototype.

Graham Plowman

Wagon models supplied by: Bachmann  and   Hornby

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