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By Phillipa Beesley on

Conserving a model wagon

From full-size rolling stock to more diminutive models, the National Railway Museum conservators look after objects of all sizes.

Volunteering in the National Railway Museum’s Conservation Department is exciting, challenging and essential for professional development. Despite being a qualified objects conservator, the work involves the new challenge of large objects of a technical nature. There is also the chance to deal with ethical issues such as operating stock.

Philippa working on Railway Models
Philippa working on Railway Models

A current project involves the conservation of three ‘0’ gauge railway wagons, all of which have suffered areas of damage or loss. One of these is a London Midland & Scottish Railway 12-ton open wagon. The model wagon has a wooden body and underframe; interestingly using materials similar to its full size counterpart.

Before Conservation
Before Conservation

As part of the national collection the procedure includes written and photographic analysis of the current condition. Issues identified with the LMS wagon include surface dirt on the interior base and the loss of four structural component areas. This affects the appearance, rather than the stability of the object.

The conservation proposal considered to what extent replication of components is appropriate. This depended on materials available and the object’s proposed function; in this case likely static display or storage.

The final treatment included cleaning with a conservation grade sponge and the removal of splashes of paint. The majority of work was in the replication of missing structural components which were fabricated in metal before being adhered to the model and colour matched accordingly.

After Conservation
After Conservation


7 comments on “Conserving a model wagon

  1. Pingback: Märklin 58268 Track 1 Rail-cleaning wagon of DB | Model Trains & Railway Sets Toys
  2. It would be lovely to read a much more detailed article by Philippa. What is a ‘conservation grade sponge’ and why is this better than other implements for cleaning the wagon? Should all modellers have one in their toolbox for cleaning their wagons and locols?
    Removal of splashes of paint? What type of paint had to be removedand what chemicals were used, so as not to damage the base paint?
    Fabricating the missing components? Was this made of sheet metal cut out and embossed? By hand, or with a rivet punching tool?
    Please tell. Are there secrets known only to conservators, or are the techniques identical to those in the modelling magazines?
    Thank you and a lovely end result.

  3. Thank you for your comments and questions. The sponge chosen for cleaning was a Smoke Sponge which we purchase from conservation suppliers and is specifically designed for conservation purposes. This proved effective in this instance as the dry sponge was able to collect the minimal surface dirt, but these sponges are versatile and can be suitable for many purposes.
    The removal of the paint necessitated carrying out a spot testing process of various solvents to determine which would remove the paint without damaging the underlying layers.
    The fabricated components were indeed made from brass sheet metal which was cut out and embossed.
    As conservators we are more committed to choosing materials and techniques to preserve the longevity of objects, but there are undoubtedly areas where there may be overlap in techniques used in model making.

  4. This story reminded me of how I got started building model trains many years ago. It was rough at first, I have to admit. I would get caught up surfing the Internet for ours on end for answers or would spend too much time going through the painful process of dealing with inexperienced sales people at my local hobby shop. But somehow I learned to create my own detailed model train layouts without having a big budget or a lot of space, even though I wasn’t good with my hands nor was I an electrician, a carpenter, or an artist. Now me and my two boys spend all our free time with this wonderful hobby. I’m glad that we are having fun together and they are doing something educational with their time. By the way, if you’re interested in learning about model trains quickly, you might want to check out this great article, which will save you tons of time and money and keep you from making a lot of easily avoidable mistakes:
    Hope it helps anyone reading this!

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