The Rapido Trains GWR Iron Mink models feature:
- Three types of door
- Two types of end ventilator plus plated-over
- Three types of brake gear
- NEM coupling pockets
- UK designed
The Great Western was an early adopter of iron and steel for underframe construction and in the mid 1880s started experiments with iron construction for wagon bodies as well. The Iron Mink ventilated box van, given diagram book reference V6 by the GWR, is one of the best known, long-lived and widely travelled results. The use of iron construction also proved successful for locomotive coal and engineers ballast wagons, direct antecedents of the 'Felix Pole' 20-ton and BR 21-ton mineral and BR Grampus wagons.
From the 1890s until the 1950s GWR Iron Minks could be seen all over the country, photos of marshalling yards and sometimes local station good yards will reveal a distinctive low-profile, metal roofed wagon. Two wagons spotted in 1927 at Inverness are often quoted as an example, but many many more can be found.
Iron was also the preferred material for the construction of vehicle for the conveyance of explosives, known as Gunpowder Vans, abbreviated to GPV. The GWR built a variant of the Iron Mink for their first standard Gunpowder Van design, designated diagram Z1, comprising 49 vans built between 1897 & 1909. When WW1 created a increase in explosives traffic the GWR converted many standard ventilated Iron Minks to 'Improvised Gunpowder Vans' with the vents plated over and heavier GPV doors fitted. Although returned to standard service after the armistice many vans were converted again during WW2, with some of these Improvised GPVs being loaned to the Southern Railway.
Wagons based on the GWR Iron Mink were also offered by industry contractors for other railway companies and private owners, both in the form of ventilated vans and as gunpowder vans. The Taff Vale, Barry, Rhymney, Cambrian, North British, Great Northern, London & South Western, London, Tilbury & Southend, London & North Western and Caledonian Railways all owned examples. Private owners included Spillers flour and the Rugby and British Portland Cement companies, the iron body providing excellent weather protection for their respective products at a time when often the best alternative offered was a tarpaulin sheet. The often yellow painted BPCM vans were still in service into the 1960s, proving the durability of the design!
The GWR reverted to wood body construction for box vans in the 1900s as, although the iron bodies were tough, they were more difficult to repair when they did get damaged and remote repair depots simply did not have the capabilities to fix them. The cost of construction had also risen, increasing the differential between wood and metal bodied vans.
The GWR fleet meanwhile increased to over 5,000 vans following the purchase of the 300 Spillers flour vans and addition of vans built for the South Wales companies at the grouping. Not all of these Iron Minks were exactly identical, though the most noticeable change occurring over the years was the fitting of replacement vertically-planked wood doors to many vans. Less noticeable was the addition of a second brake lever, often working just one brake block, to meet Board of Trade requirements, the Iron Minks mostly having been built with brakes on one side only.
The first Iron Minks were withdrawn from traffic service in the 1930s, but often found alternative uses with the locomotive and engineering departments. Many were converted for service as mobile stores, tools or dry sand vans for internal use at depots or restricted running between depots. Later many more were grounded as ready-made lock-up goods stores, lamp huts, etc. Two grounded vans were well-known for serving as stop-blocks at Machynlleth!
Although numbers were whittled down after WW2 (many Iron Minks being over 40 years old) most surviving Iron Minks and Z1 GPVs were withdrawn in the early 1950s, with the last mobile examples in departmental use being withdrawn circa 1960.
Fortunately three GWR and two Barry Railway Iron Minks have survived to be preserved.