Henry Greenly's first 'Challenger'

Back to Gauge 2

Note to readers: back in the formative days of model engineering, a dispute broke out between Henry Greenly, who had virtually invented the modern model railway, and Lillian Lawrence ('LBSC') over the which was the best type of boiler for model locomotives. This disagreement became known as the "Battle of the boilers", perhaps after a similar episode that galvanised engineering officers in the Royal Navy in the 1890's regarding the merits of water tube vs. fire tube boilers for warships. The model dispute came to a head in 1924 when LBSC went head to head with Greenly and Bassett Lowke at that year's Model Engineering Exhibition. LBSC firmly established the superiority of the firetube boiler with his wonderful 2 1/2" Gauge Atlantic 'Ayesha', a superb miniature locomotive that not only still exists, but has actually run in the 21st Century! The Greenly / Bassett Lowke engine also still exists and is currently being restored. It was called 'Challenger'.

Long before, Greenly had produced another 'Challenger' (he never called it that), this time in the clockwork dominated world of Gauge 2. Back in 1911, model builders were struggling to obtain sufficient power from model locomotives for their ever expanding layouts. Miniature steam engines, especially in Gauge 2, were adequately powerful but also difficult to manage and potentially dangerous for indoor layouts. Electric drive was in it's infancy and so that left clockwork, the cheapest and safest source of power.

When Bassett Lowke released their Bing manufactured Great Central class 9N 4-6-2 tank in G2 in 1913, it was billed as 'the most powerful clockwork locomotive ever made'. Perhaps it was, but it still only runs 130' in high gear, not much more than one full circuit of the layouts then being built.

The superb clockwork Gauge 2 Great Central class 9N 4-6-2 tank, "The most powerful clockwork locomotive ever made", December 2020, getting a little help from it's friend 'Abergavenny'.

This power crisis led to considerable correspondence in the pages of 'Models, Railways and Locomotives' around the subject of dual motor locomotives. There didn't seem to be much practical implimentation of this idea (It might increase the power of a clockwork locomotive, but in many cases it was distance that counted. The distance that a clockwork model can run is determined simply by the number of turns wound on the spring and the step up gear ratio applied to the wheels, multiplied by the tyre circumference. No amount of doubling up motors can change that).

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Greenly published in the December 1911 edition of 'Models' and article called "A model articulated shunting locomotive". Here it is: (Click for full article page 1 page 2).

I've often looked at this article and wondered what became of this unusual and imposing locomotive, especially as it was built by the Great Man's own hand. The answer perhaps lies in the text, where Greenly describes the performance of this complex dual clockwork articulated loco as "not out of the ordinary" and needing to be "worked in" before it could be considered a success. And there it rested.....

Until one day a chance conversation between my Brother, Jeremy, and a well respected vintage model dealer revealed that the gentleman was downsizing his own collection and "might have something of Gauge 2 interest". Hmmm...

What appeared in the email was a Great Northern tank engine, very nicely re-finished and running on a modern 0-8-2 chassis. It had come from an elderly gentleman who, many years ago, still had a Gauge 2 garden railway. It had never been motorised and it was quite reasonably assumed that it was the well known Bing for Bassett Lowke N1 tank modified to resemble a Great Northern L1 tank of 1902. Here it is: (Photo: Mike Cooke).

It soon became clear that this was no Bing model. The superstructure is built in brass and the engine is far larger than the Gauge 2 version of the N1, actually being close to scale against the prototype, which embarrassingly for the GN had to be severely cut down soon after introduction due to being overweight for the lines it was intended for. Here it is with the Bing N1 tank: (Both models are gauge 2).

Both these engines were designed by Greenly for Gauge 2, the N1 to be produced by Bing and the L1 made by Greenly himself. Like all the Bing for Bassett Lowke models, the N1 is compressed, being about 1" shorter than scale length. The Bing model is often incorrectly described as an N2, a later type of 0-6-2T designed by Sir Nigel Gresley.

However, these large tank engines were a gift to Edwardian modellers because of the huge boilers and ample space for mechanisms. Indeed, Greenly had published a series of articles on the big tanks written by CJ Allen earlier in the year: (Click for full article Page 1 Page 2).

Gauge 2 modellers could choose between 4-6-2 tanks from Butcher - the glorious 4-6-2 'Abergavenny' (the best G2 locomotive ever made, IMHO) as well as either of Bassett Lowke's LNWR Bowen Cooke tank or the Great Central class 9N model shown at the top of this article. Here they are together:

(A cabal of Gauge 2 Pacific tanks: Left to Right: Abergavenny, Great Central 9N, Bowen Cooke 4-6-2 tank).

The new loco did not fit in to this cabal of Pacific tanks at all. So far as I know, no L1 tank was ever offered commercially. And why did it have a modern, but never motorised chassis? A nagging doubt came to mind: maybe the whole loco was modern. It didn't quite conform to scale, being about 1:26 rather than G2's 1:27.4, and the bunker was longer than the prototype. Why would someone have built an oversize G2 locomotive in modern times? It didn't make sense.

The answer was in plain sight, but so surprising that it went undetected for almost a whole day! Showing the newly arrived model to son Paul, he pointed out the unusual wing plates on the L1's smokebox front, something that did not feature on the prototype engine. I looked at this feature and realised that I'd seen it before - in "Models, Railways and Locomotives".