A Reprint of an Article in The Coupling of May 1998 - by Ray Whitmore
Rule number 1: There are exceptions to all rules.
Private Owner Wagons, at least coal wagons, were generally split into four categories:
At the start of World War II, private owner coal wagons were pooled, which meant that they
ended up all over Britain, but generally speaking, coal carrying private owner wagons became
obsolete on the foundation of the National Coal Board in 1948. Some wagons went into
National Coal Board stock and sent to the collieries, the rest were scattered all over Britain and
became British Railway coal wagons. Some wagons were exempt from this practice included
sand, salt, lime, stone, vans, tanks etc., open wagons and some of the others had the words
non pool painted on their sides.
When painting a model of any open wooden wagon, one is always faced with the question of
what colour is the inside painted. The answer is, (in all cases that I know of), that the wood is
left unpainted and all metal plates, hinges, bolt heads etc., are painted black. The bare wood
would turn grey over the years and also pick up some colour from the contents it carried. Try
not to make the same mistake I did in my early days, of using the outside body colour or matte
black. On the outside, the solebars and buffer beams were usually painted the colour of the
body. Buffer castings (not the head or shank) could be painted either black or body colour,
wheel rims and ends of brake handles could be painted white, so check the photographs
The following is taken out of a book called PRIVATE OWNER WAGONS by Peter
Mathews and published by Model Allied Press (Model Railway News) in 1973. Peter had a
regular line of articles on private owner wagons during the late 50 s and 60 s in the Model
Railway News and Model Railway Constructor.
The Correct Operation of Private Owner Wagons
Much confusion has arisen frequently owing to the lack of information regarding the correct
operation and use of private owner wagons on model railway layouts. These notes will aid
correct working of vehicles of this type.
Briefly, in earlier days, the average small coal merchant, quarry owner, gas company, etc.
would have owned or hired five to nine wagons, while many of the larger combines, especially
colliery agents, operated several hundred vehicles.
One sees many photographs of model railway layouts showing a mixture of wagons of
Scottish and English local coal merchants. This is incorrect and out of keeping with operational
procedure. In most cases Scottish private trader mineral wagons would not have worked to
various places in England - least of all Devon or Cornwall!
A more correct assembly would be two to three local coal merchants wagons together with
one or more colliery agents and colliery wagons. The actual number of wagons used would of
course depend upon the size of the model layout. Similarly, it would be very unlikely to find
brewery vans in a local coal merchants yard. They were usually operated only from the brewer s
private sidings to large towns and cities.
As an example of why changes in local named wagons took place, consider the case of the
Withernsea Coal Company of Yorkshire - very much the local coal merchant with a small fleet
of wagons. Supplies to the area eventually were made by Revell Bros. of Hull and the
Withernsea Coal Company s wagons disappeared gradually.
The use of many wagons was restricted to block load coal trains especially in South
Wales, where a colliery would deliver a complete load from trans-shipment to boats at Cardiff
Three P.O.Wagons at Cardiff Docks Museum. (18K) Brian McDonald, 1991.
Wagons conveying Welsh anthracite had a larger terrain and worked to London,
Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and similar places. This coal would arrive either in colliery owned
wagons or in wagons operated by a colliery agent themselves. In latter years many coal
merchants used colliery agents or colliery wagons for economic reasons, a fact which explains
why some railway station coal yards were not served by private traders wagons belonging to
their local coal merchant.
A coal merchant s wagon was mainly confined to circuit working between the colliery
supplying the coal, and the station at which the load was received. However, during the slack
summer period, when less coal was handled, many coal merchants traded in receiving roofing
tiles, bricks, lime, granite, hence a local coal merchant s wagon would, occasionally be seen in a
quarry or brickworks siding, often some considerable distance away from his home base. Coal
merchants wagons not required for use during the quiet summer season were usually stored at
the colliery sidings by mutual agreement with the colliery.
Some of the larger firms of coal merchants and also of colliery agents maintained their own
wagons and the slack period during summertime afforded an opportunity of making minor
repairs. These included replacing faulty planks or repainting the wagon.
Wagons used by colliery agents covered a much wider field of traffic operation. For
example, a load of coal could be ordered by a merchant for a load of Yorkshire coal (from the
Doncaster coal fields area) and this would eventually appear at the coal merchants depot or coal
yard, even though this depot was situated as far south as Bedford or St. Albans. This specially
ordered coal would have been conveyed either in colliery owned wagons or in wagons operated
by the colliery agent themselves.
A typical case in point was that many stations in North Wales and Anglesey had their coal
supplied from the North Staffordshire coal fields area. This coal would be sent from most coal
producing areas to practically any place where a local coal merchant had customers who
required Yorkshire, Welsh coal etc. and, as already stated, these loads were supplied by colliery
agents or colliery owned wagons and not in the coal merchant s own wagons.
Wagons used by anthracite producing collieries from South Wales covered a larger area
generally than the more usual colliery wagon from other coal fields and, one would see wagons
conveying Welsh anthracite in places as far afield as London and Hitchin, or in the south or
midlands area of England.
Although, as stated earlier, a Scottish private trader s wagon would have been in most cases
out of place in England or Wales, we do have factual and photographic proof of a working of
English petroleum rail-tank wagons in Scotland - even to such remote places as stations on the
area served by the Highland Railway or Great North of Scotland Railway companies. These
latter remarks refer mainly to rail-tank wagons in traffic service on behalf of the larger
petroleum companies only.
Coal for trawler owners provide a slight exemption to this rule - in some cases a trawler
based at Lowestoft might, through incle-ment weather conditions, berth at, say, Padstow or
Falmouth. Then a train of private traders wagons would be diverted from Lowestoft to supply
coal to the trawler.
Wagons used by gas companies, glass bottle manufacturers, jute and jam manufacturers,
iron and steel companies usually were operated between the operator s work and the colliery
from whence they obtained the coal supply. All in all, this proves the point that a local coal
merchant s wagon from, for example, Southampton, would not have been operated to places as
far afield as Crewe or Doncaster!
Private trader s vans conveying portland cement usually were only run as single vehicles
supplying their load to building sites, etc. When a large building project was taking place,
however, it was not at all unusual at all to find about six or eight of these vans at the railway
station yard adjacent to where this work was being undertaken.
Similar remarks apply to the present day presflow cement hoppers which can be found near
to sites of new motorways.
It would be correct prototype procedure to operate the presflow type vehicle, and, also
present day Portland cement rail-tank wagons in block load trains if a layout is based upon areas
from whence cement is manufactured.
I hope the foregoing notes will prove of interest to modellers and help them to avoid pitfalls regarding the correct function and operation of private owner wagons.
© Ray Whitmore 1998.