What’s in the Shops – Heljan’s O-gauge ‘Large Prairie’ tank

A detail-rich GWR/BR ‘61XX’ Class ‘Large Prairie’ marks Heljan’s debut in O-gauge steam. Nigel Burkin examines No 6132, finished in late-crest lined BR green livery.

Heljan’s first O-gauge steam locomotive model is of a successful tank locomotive design by Charles Collett that dominated suburban services from Paddington for more than 20 years. The GWR ‘61XX’ Class 2-6-2T, referred to as the ‘Large Prairie’, evolved from the GWR ‘5101’ type, itself a development of the 31XX Class that had been successful in suburban traffic.

Constructed between 1931 and 1935, the powerful 61XX Class tank locomotives could run at speed in both directions. A 225 psi boiler pressure, combined with medium-sized driving wheels, gave the locomotives good acceleration and sufficiently high tractive effort to lift heavily-loaded suburban services with tight timings.

A total of 70 61XX Class locomotives, numbered 6100-6169, were constructed at Swindon Works between 1931 and 1935. They were fitted with trip-cock equipment for working LT lines and (either from new or as a retrospective installation) GWR Automatic Train Control.

Tipping the scales at 1625g, the model has excellent tractive effort, but with that weight, a great deal of care was taken not to drop it!

Allocations included Old Oak Common, Slough and Aylesbury until the ‘Large Prairies’ were displaced by Class 117 and 121 DMUs from 1959. By the late 1950s, the writing was on the wall for the class, and withdrawals began in 1958. The locomotives’ roles were diminished to freight and parcels duties in the early 1960s, together with some branch working, until total withdrawal at the end of steam in 1965.

One 61XX Class locomotive, No. 6106, has been preserved and is on static display at the Didcot Railway Centre.

Body moulding

First impressions are important, and the initial one is of a well constructed model that matches published photographs of the full-size locomotives well. The proportions look good, and the character of these hard-worked suburban locomotives has been beautifully crafted in O gauge by Heljan. A closer look reveals a high level of subtly-executed moulded detail on the body sections, including the rivet detail, the line of the tapered boiler, with its fine boiler bands, and the distinctive shape of the firebox top.

For the full article and to view more images, see the December edition of Modelling – available now!

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