Scratchbuilt GWR horsedrawn float

These past weeks I have had some pleasant early morning modelling sessions, building a GWR covered float for my early 1900s setting.

 The model was built using  two drawings in Great Western Horse Power by Janet Russel (figs 180 and 182) and a photo in Great Western Way p.163 (original edition). I was a bit slow to discover that there are variations between the drawings and the photo. The prototype is not in the GWR diagram book for horse-drawn carriages, but is arguably a variant of  the E5 diagram (see GWR Goods Cartage Vol 1 by Tony Atkins).

I say 'scratchbuilt', but the wheels are from an Arch Laser kit for another wagon. They conveniently represent the correct 4'6" diameter 14 spoke pattern used by the GWR in earlier days.

 Although just a lowly float, the prototype had a certain Victorian elegance in the design. Like all floats, they had cranked axels to allow for a low floor and thereby easier loading of goods.


The hoop sticks for the tilt were formed over a jig, stuck on with duct tape and dunked in boiling water.

The drawings show the tilt with vertical sides and a curved top. The wagon in the reference photo suggests a rounder shape. I initially concluded that this was an optical illusion. In retrospect I am not so sure.

The shafts were also nicked from the Arch Laser kit. They are flat as they come, but on my prototype they have a curve so I rolled them with a round scalpel, and modifed them to allow proper fixing to the body.

The shafts had extended mounting plates/irons along the side of the wagon. Mine are a bit over scale.

The springs were cut on my Silhouette. A rough outline was enough as the wheels obscure the details.

The brake design seems to have varied on these vehicles. The reference photo shows a somewhat crude external design, operated by a lever from the front, so I imitated this.

For the painting, I followed Tony Atkins who in GWR Goods Cartage Vol 1 states: "According to the Railway Magazine, at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries GW horse lorries for delivering goods had red wheels, shafts and framing, while horse-drawn  vans used for collecting and delivering passenger train parcels were painted chocolate all over [...] In 1909 horse vans were also given the same red shafts and wheels as lorries."  Although floats sometimes doubled as parcels vans at rural stations, they were first and foremost intended for goods cartage, so I opted for red wheels, springs and shafts for my early 1900s period. As an aside, I'm never entirely confident about livery references in the Railway Magazine of the 1900s, but that is another story.

Then along came Charlie, new to the GWR stables. Young and hopeful, he dreamt of a career in tap dancing and an endless supply of Cheese & Cucumber sandwiches.


We quickly put an end to that! Here he is being modified with extra harness.

I modelled the harness so that it loosely indicates the method used to pull fixed-shaft wagons, while also allowing the wagon to rest on the back of the now disillusioned Charlie. This solved the problem of balancing a one-axle vehicle.

The tilt was made from plain paper, with the lettering copied from the reference photo. Period photos show that tilts of this type were very taut, with the impression of the hoop sticks sometimes showing through. To indicate this I wetted the paper and formed it around the hoop sticks.

The tarp was then varnished several times, and holes punched in the sides to emulate how it was fixed in place. I wish I had used the number of a wagon that hadn't been photographed, as that would have solved the problem of inconsistencies between the drawings and the reference photo!

The reference photo shows two thin and rather unsightly boards along the sides of the tilt, presumably to pin it down further and stabilise it. I made them from masking tape.

The lettering in the reference photo shows a style used during the 1890s (sometimes with, sometimes without the "Co."). I pieced it together from a couple of photos using this style.

The tilt had separate protective tarps fitted on the inside of the hoops at the front and rear. Again, these were simply made from paper. Photos suggest that in daily practice the rear "flap" on horsedrawn vehicles was often secured in half-open or fully open position.

Lastly the wheels hubs were fitted, made from a styrene tube and filled with putty.

So that's it. I won’t be fitting reins at this point, as I have to set up my layouts every time I want to run trains, so reins are just not practical. In this view you can see that the wheels are Lasercut, but it's OK from normal viewing distance.

There are photos of fixed-shaft vehicles resting like this in GWR yards. Smaller carts without a tilt were sometimes, er, tilted the other way.

By and large, Charlie appears to have accepted his fate. Though sometimes, out of the corner of my eye, I can see him doing a secret little tap dance.

Lastly a view of the horsedrawn GWR fleet at Farthing as it currently appears (click to enlarge). So much for corporate identity!