Written by Richard Grigg
Special thanks to Scott Rhodes for the loan of his models for this review.
As I sit down to begin writing this review the weather outside my window is your typical British weather. The wet and windy rain puts me in mind of the old phrase 'It's raining cats and dogs'. This is rather appropriate for this review as we shall be looking at the latest O scale rolling stock offerings from Heljan. The 'Dogfish' ballast hopper wagon in BR green (item no: 4376) and the 'Catfish' ballast hopper wagon in BR black (item no: 4350). Both have a RRP of £99.95.
Heljan's boxes are easily recognised by the deep blue backdrop with red band colour scheme and in recent times it has been redesigned and so matches the packaging of both Hornby and Bachmann. As a result the well established 'block of ice' style packing is now held inside a recessed cardboard box with a windowed card sleeve over the top. The inner box also comes with two indents cut out of the top and bottom to allow easier access and removal of the 'ice block'. This is something other manufacturers who utilise the same style packing should consider adding in the future.
Both wagons are bristling with detail, something that Heljan never go halves on and they certainly haven't here. Thanks to CAD (Computer Aided Design) the hoppers are perfectly proportioned and correctly overhang their narrow chassis. The operating hand wheels are solidly built and feel robust to the touch however I wish the same could be said for the hand rails that surround them as they look and feel so fragile you're afraid to even touch them.
The buffer beams and sole bars on both models sport moulded rivet detail in the correct areas, they also come with platform steps as part of the overall moulding as opposed to being separately fitted which has resulted in thicker than normal supporting brackets. Heljan have clearly done this to ensure the steps are as durable as they can be as they are in a vulnerable place.
Beneath the sole bar the detail continues on the axleboxes (Timken roller bearing type on the 'Dogfish' and the old oil filled type on the 'Catfish') with the leaf spring suspension and brake blocks. Usually this is where the detail would end but Heljan have gone the extra mile and included the detail underneath in the form of the brake rods and vacuum piping. It's not really necessary as all this can't be seen when the models are on the track but it's great to have it anyway.
The BR green and black liveries on the wagons are well presented and don't appear to be off colour. The builder's plates on the sole bars are so sharp and clear that with the aid of a magnifying glass they are perfectly legible, the rest of the numbering and lettering on the whole is in the correct font as far as I can see.
In reality the insides of the hoppers would be left unpainted however Heljan have opted to paint the inners of theirs in a mid brown to simulate rust. It's not ideal for just like grass rust is not just one uniform colour but this is nothing that a touch of weathering can't solve.
The buffers and coupling hooks are 'all spring loaded, all of which have perfectly sprung weight. In addition the axleboxes are also sprung, sadly though the springs fitted are too slack which results in them fully compressing under the weight of the models even when empty.
Included with both wagons are two fake ballast loads to represent either a full load or a half load. Unfortunately they look less like ballast and more like lumpy concrete so I would recommend making your own using actual ballast stones crushed to the correct scale. In the case of the Catfish wagon, the half load does not fit in the wagon at all without first ripping out the glued in transom beams inside the bottom of the hopper.
On the track both the models are sturdy and firmly planted thanks to their low placed die cast weights and they free wheel really well with only the bare minimum of friction from where the axles rub against the inside of the axleboxes. The only downside is the axleboxes offer little to no suspension when going over rail joints, crossings and point frogs due to the previously mentioned slack springs fitted.
Whenever you pick up a product from Heljan you're very rarely disappointed and both of these models are testament to the high standards of perfection the company strives for. The build quality of the two wagons is first rate and the livery and decals are perfect.
As with any model bought there's always something that you can do to improve it further, in this case a more realistic ballast load and a better looking rust finish to line the inside of the hoppers but certainly stiffer springs to provide better suspension on the track.
All we need now to go with these ballast hopper wagons is a 'Shark' brake van.
How about it Heljan?
Pros & Cons
- Excellent quality build.
- Great value for money.
- Immaculate detail.
- Clear and sharp decals.
- Robust and sturdy.
- Slack sprung axleboxes.
- Unrealistic fake ballast loads.
- Half load does not fit (Catfish only).
- Handrails seem flimsy.
With this I give an overall score of 8.5/10 for the Dogfish and 8/10 for the Catfish.