- One For the Milk Train -

by Tony Richards

No Great Western model railway will be complete without at least one of the GW's iconic 'Brown Vehicles', the Siphon. Designed initially for express milk traffic, these vehicles came in various guises and saw use from practically the turn of the last century until nearly the Millenium [although in many different uses by then].

Siphons appeared in 4 wheel, 6 wheel and bogie variants and, in Great Western days,were always painted brown to denote their non-passenger express status. R-t-r versions are limited to three models, all are bogie stock and represent the inside-framed Siphon G [discontinued Lima], the outside-framed Siphon G and the Siphon H [the latter two ex-Airfix-Dapol and available now through Hornby]. No r-t-r models of 4 or 6 wheel Siphons are available although N&C Keyser made plastic kits of the 6 wheel Low Siphon and the bogie Siphon F for some time up to the 1970's. A more-than-convincing 4 wheel Siphon C can easily be bashed from the Keyser Siphon F kit and this short article will show how this can be done.  

These vehicles, which were constructed between 1906 and 1910, had a long life with quite a few soldiering on until 1956 / 1957 and the final two running in service until 1958. They could easily be justified on a post-nationalisation layout also.

First though, a photograph of the Keyser 6-wheel Low Siphon. An open vehicle of some vintage and an attractive model which is still available from time-to-time on eBay. I must fit more discreet couplings at some time, too.....

....and a poor photograph of a badly-made Keyser Siphon F to give an idea of the general dimensions and appearance.

The starting point for this fairly straightforward project is a Keyser Siphon F kit. These kits turn up on eBay from time-to-time but they can be quite unreasonably expensive and consequently some patience may be required if you want to find one. I was lucky enough to acquire two for under £20 however and one will be used for this conversion whilst the other will be dismantled for restoration and detailing.

A quick skim through 'GW Siphons' [Slinn & Clarke - essential reading for this category of 'Brown' Vehicle] provided photos and measurements for what I was looking for, and whilst some inevitable compromises would follow, it was clear that a good likeness was more than possible.

This is what I started with :

A pile of poo really. Most of the bits were present however and the glue which held the body together, whilst applied with a plasterer's trowel, was removable. The chassis to be used in this conversion will come from a broken Ratio coach kit, although some modification will be required. The sides to be cut and shut were in reasonable condition, but see below, why would the previous owner have numbered each, differently, twice ?

After cleaning up the parts of the donor model and doing a trial cut with a razor saw, the new shorter side is shown below the old one, to illustrate the significant reduction in length. The buffers from the original model will not be reused. The halves of the new side are butted together only and are yet to be dressed and glued. The part to be removed from each of the original sides involved the panel labelled 'GW' and the two-door panel immediately to its left. I used a small mitre box to ensure clean straight cuts. The parts for the sides fitted together well without any need for filler. The joints were reinforced from behind with thick plastic card.

Projects like this are always a bit hit-and-miss because they have to be adapted constantly as you go along. I knew that the chassis would need both repair, lengthening and some detailing: absolutely no problem there. The ends and the sections of the sides, the main body parts, had to be cleaned up and glued together before anything else happened however, to see whether they would fit the chassis in the first place. And, of course, they didn't.


It was clear that the body was too narrow to slip over the chassis. Not much too narrow, but sufficiently so for it to splay the joints. The first step was to remove some plastic from the lower inner sides of the body. Then next, remove more plastic from the sides of the floor of the chassis. Constant trial fits showed how much needed to be taken away. I used coarse sand-paper initially and then dressed the ragged edges with an emery board. We got there.

Next, it was obvious that the body sat far too high on the chassis and its buffers risked over-riding what followed. This was dealt with in two stages by cutting away [with some plastic shears] all of the solebar mouldings from the lower body sides, and then cleaning up with an emery board. The part removed is the long run along the bottom of the sides,painted black, in the earlier photos.

This latter operation was a bit nail-biting: I didn't want to damage more than the solebars nor did I want to break the joints in the sides. Happily all went to plan however and the photos below show progress. The body is a loose fit on the chassis at present and the joints will be cleaned up in due course. Damage to the second-hand chassis is evident in these photos, as is the lack of detail.

With some caution, I think that this might turn out reasonably well.

As an aside to the above, dimensionally this conversion is less of a compromise than I initially thought would have been inevitable.

The wheelbase scales out at 18' 9", 3" shorter than the prototype. That's less than 1mm and not worth worrying about.
The length scales at 28' 9", just 3" longer than the original. 
The width is exactly 8', which is what it should be.
The body height at the end scales at 7' 9" whereas it should be 7' 10.5".

With the body now sitting neatly on the rough chassis it was time to consider attaching the roof. This proved not to be a wholly straightforward task.....

To fit the roof, the original over-long bogie roof was first cut to size and offered up. This showed a lot of gaps and failures to join-up. To remedy this the sides of the body had thin square-section plastic strip glued to their top lengths to meet the lower edge of the roof on each side. These were chamfered carefully to produce a triangular section. This is just about visible in the photo below the roof line [note the long white line]. The roof was then glued on with Plastic Magic, starting from the centre of each side and working outwards in each direction. Once glued all around, the corners were reinforced with Evo-Stik from the inside. It's all pretty solid now, but will require just a little filler to seal one or two small gaps at the corners on one side [a consequence of the poor moulding of the roof - all K's Siphon F's seem to suffer from this]. This repair will not be completely invisible because it will add a little thickness here and there, careful painting will disguise it however, and I can live with that [given the nature of the donor parts].

The photo shows a very rough looking affair, which is to be expected at this stage. By the time the photo was taken I had also cut away the broken tie bars and added brake shoes to the chassis. The body is dry-fitted to the chassis still.

The chassis was next to receive attention, Sourced as 'part-built' and 'good' from eBay [with some other Ratio parts - but £2.50, so who's moaning ?], it took rather longer to repair than a new build would have taken to make. A lot of glue required scraping and sanding away and a fair bit of remedial work was given to strengthening the weaker parts. Further detail was added [a gas tank and vacuum brake cylinder], the tie bars reinstated with brass wire and their hangers strengthened or reinstated with plastic strip. The chassis was also lengthened slightly to ensure a snug fit inside the body and  Her Majesty's Treasury has provided the ballast. In hindsight, an additional penny weight would have been useful.

It looks really scruffy in the first two photos but the third photo shows that a flash of primer has worked wonders and everything is fitting together nicely. The body has also received its first coat of chocolate in the final photo. It is still a dry fit. The blobs of 'blu-tak' protect the axle bearings from becoming clogged with paint.

The chassis has now been sprayed black and before being glued in place, the body was given a second coat of chocolate and the roof masked up so that the area under the rainstrips could be painted chocolate also.

Lettering the Siphon proved unexpectedly problematic: seemingly, no-one produces letters of exactly the correct size and so I have had to improvise. Hence 'Tare' will remain slightly incomplete, but I can live with that. Although I bought some 'ModelMaster' decals for this project, the letters actually came from an HRMS 'Pressfix' sheet.

The project is now nearly complete and is just awaiting a further coat of varnish to seal the livery details, light weathering and some couplings. I'll also fit a tail lamp as it will run at the rear of the rake.

A final coat of varnish and some light weathering has now toned down the somewhat 'ex-works' appearance of the above photo. Apart from needing to attach a tail-lamp this build is now complete. It was an easy and satisfying conversion and provided a model that no manufacturer makes. I'm tempted now to see whether the Keyser 6 wheel Siphon [see photo earlier] can be kit-bashed to produce the even earlier short 4 wheel open-slatted Siphon. But that's for another day !