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  • Writer's pictureTom Everitt

REVIEW - Sonic Models N Gauge GWR 5101/61XX Large Prairie

Sonic Models new N Gauge GWR 5101/61xx 'Large Prairie has now landed with Rails of Sheffield, who once again are the exclusive retailer, following on from the 56xx and J50. With the previous Graham Farish tooling dating from 1977 and featuring under scale driving wheels, a new version of the class has been long overdue. Have Sonic built on their previous releases and delivered again? Read on to find out!

sonic models n gauge 61xx large prairie
The Prototype

The 5101 Class were designed as medium-sized tank engines for use on suburban and local passenger services across the Great Western Railway system. An updated version of Churchward's 1903 3100/5100 Class, further development was overseen by Charles Collett and the first 5101s were introduced into service in 1929 with 140 eventually being constructed. Outwardly little different from the original Churchward design, they featured an increased axle loading of 17.9 tons giving them blue route availability on the GWR network.


The 6100 class were effectively a further development of the 5101 class, but using the nickel-steel 225psi version of the Standard 2 boiler. This produced a more powerful locomotive with a tractive effort of 27,340lbs vs the 24,300lbs of the 5101. Intended and used for suburban services in and around London, the higher boiler pressure produced better acceleration and all were fitted with a tripcock for working on London Underground tracks.

60 61xx were built between 1931 and 1933 followed by another ten in 1935 and externally they were not were almost indistinguishable from the 5101 class.


Ten 5101 class and one 61xx survived into preservation.



The Model

The 5101/61xx is Sonic's third N Gauge steam outline locomotive, and follows the same design practices as the previous 56xx and J50. Whilst it may not have some of the more recent developments such as Next18 decoder socket or pre-fitted speaker, it represents another solid model in the Sonic line up and will no doubt be a very useful model for anyone modelling the GWR area.


The main body of the model is comprised of a one piece bunker, cab, tank & boiler moulding, with the cab roof, firebox top and forward portion of the boiler and smokebox being separately fitted sections. Also separately fitted are the safety valve cover and a nicely turned brass chimney cap. The distinctive shape of the chimney looks about right and it's really quite a nice copper turning. The Safety valve cover is a plastic moulding painted brass.


sonic models n gauge large prairie

The extensive rivet detailing along the tank & bunker sides is neatly done and not overbearing and appears to be accurate in pattern when comparing to photographs. The smokebox door features a moulded representation of the handles in the correct position for closed along with hinge and strapping.


The footplate & running board is a separate plastic moulding fixed to the chassis and does exhibit some slight downward curvature forward of the tanks, but not really enough to be obviously noticeable except in extreme close up photos like those here. As with the body, it features some nice rivet detail along the top edge and includes the cabside steps. Front steps are provided for the user to fit but they will restrict the movement in the front pony truck, so those with corners of tighter radii should be aware when fitting them. In addition to the steps, the user fitted parts bag also contains screwlink couplings, coupling hooks, additional pipework and a handbrake handle to be fitted in the cab.


sonic models n gauge large prairie

The distinctive front footplate supports are represented with fine metal wire and handrails are predominantly the same, with the cab door and boiler top rails being the exceptions and are plastic mouldings, although these are commendably find and not noticeably chunkier as can sometimes be the case! The tank tops feature separately fitted water filler caps and overflow vents whilst a fine whistle moulding adorns the firebox top.


sonic models n gauge large prairie

The bunker has a separately fitted coal load, with steps and lamp irons being moulded as part of the body. Front and rear cab windows are flush glazed, with the rear windows featuring moulded protective rails. There is some cab backhead detailing, with gauges, pipework and regulator all picked out in appropriate colours, however much of the backhead is lost to the cut out for the blanking plate/DCC chip.

sonic models n gauge large prairie

Below the running board, the 5ft 8in driving wheels check out the correct size, as do the leading and trailing pony wheels. The characteristic large balance weights are all present, and the all wheels have the correct number of spokes.


The motion is nice & fine and feels solidly put together, and it should be noted that this is the first Sonic model with anything more than a simple connecting rod. Whilst not overly complex, it's nice to see Sonic tackling outside valve gear and is hopefully a sign that we'll see them progressing to prototypes with more complex motion. The cylinders are full depth and drain cocks are moulded to the underside.


The buffer beams feature separately fitted buffers and vacuum pipes and the keeper plate includes moulded representations of the springs and break shoes, with the only detail missing being the break rodding itself.

sonic models n gauge large prairie

Mechanism

The chassis follows the standard Sonic design, with current collection coming from all wheels thanks to driving wheel pickup bushes and both pony trucks featuring pickups. The pony trucks are a simple clip fit into their pivot mounting, and feature a spring to ensure contact with the rail. It was noted that these springs are quite firm, and whilst test running the model even a very shallow incline could result in loss of traction as a result of the driving wheels losing contact with the rail surface due to the force with which the pony trucks are pushed downward by the springs. If you have totally level track, this shouldn't be a problem, but those with inclines or uneven trackwork may encounter haulage issues. The pony trucks are both fitted with standard NEM coupling pockets.


sonic models n gauge large prairie

To remove the body, the first thing you must do is prise the footplate support wires out from the sides of the smokebox. These are glued to the footplate but are a loose fit to the smokebox so if you attempt to lift the body with them in place you will likely break or bend them! A single screw under the bunker holds the body in place, and once removed the body can be tilted upward from the rear to release the clip under the smokebox. This reveals a sizeable metal weight, which has a removeable section in the bunker which may allow a small speaker to be fitted for those who want their Prairie to make noise! A coreless motor driving the centre axle is held in place with a plastic cover, and the 6pin DCC socket is located in the cab area. Whilst this doesn't intrude into the cab space when viewed side on, the blanking plate/chip will be visible when the model is viewed from an angle. A chip with 90 degree pins (such as the Bachmann 36-556RA) will be required, unless you are confident in bending the pins of a normal chip to an angle, in which case a Zimo MX615 would be a perfect candidate.

sonic models n gauge large prairie

Out of the box, performance was excellent with no sign of wobble or hesitation and slightly smoother running than the 56xx and J50 with only minimal noise from the gear chain that will probably decrease with further use. On a level Kato Unitrack test circuit, the model easily handled eight Farish Mark 1 coaches, but as mentioned above those with inclines or uneven track may find it necessary to tweak, or even remove the pony truck springs if they encounter problems with haulage.


sonic models n gauge large prairie

For 2mm Finescale modellers looking to convert the the model, the driving wheel axles are 2.96mm diameter at the pickup bushes, and 1.15mm for the central section on which the gear is mounted. Pony truck axles are both 1.45mm diameter.



Finish

The finish is up to the same high standard as previous Sonic models with smooth, blemish free paint application and sharp printing of lettering. The only niggle we had was the printing of the bunker side numbers, which on both sides of the example reviewed here were slightly out of alignment. The GWR green appears a good match to accepted colouring, and the finer details such as the blue circle route indicator and bufferbeam numbers are nicely printed.


sonic models n gauge large prairie

The Great Western lettering on the model reviewed here is correctly spaced and features good colour density over the base green. Impressively, Sonic have managed to include all three colours (Gold, Red & Black) used on the GW typeface. Moving below the footplate, the motion & tyres are chemically blackened whilst the wheel centres are painted black and buffer beams in red.


sonic models n gauge large prairie

The standard of finish overall is generally excellent, with the alignment of the cabside numbers being the only real issue identified on the model in this review and hopefully this can be avoided in any future versions released.



Summary

Sonic have shown yet again that they are capable of producing N Gauge steam models to a very high standard indeed, and the Large Prairie is certainly captures the look and feel of the real thing exceptionally well. With smooth and quiet running and an excellent finish, it can certainly hold it's own next to recent models from Graham Farish, and Sonic are quickly becoming a staple provider of N Gauge Steam outline models. The only area for modellers to be aware of is the perhaps overly strong springing of the pony trucks, but this doesn't stop us from congratulating Sonic on another excellent N Gauge model or highly recommending it!



Availability

Eight versions are currently available exclusively from Rails of Sheffield at a price of £129.95. The model in this review was purchased by the reviewer at the retail price.


S2103-01

CLASS 5101 LARGE PRAIRIE NO.5164

GREAT WESTERN GWR GREEN


S2103-02

CLASS 61XX LARGE PRAIRIE NO.6106

GREAT WESTERN GWR GREEN


S2103-03

CLASS 5101 LARGE PRAIRIE NO.4144

BRITISH RAILWAYS BR GREEN


S2103-04

CLASS 5101 LARGE PRAIRIE NO.5199

BRITISH RAILWAYS BR BLACK (EARLY CREST)


S2103-05

CLASS 5101 LARGE PRAIRIE NO.4167

BRITISH RAILWAYS BR LINED GREEN (EARLY CREST)


S2103-06

CLASS 5101 LARGE PRAIRIE NO.4141

BRITISH RAILWAYS BR LINED GREEN (LATE CREST)


S2103-07

CLASS 5101 LARGE PRAIRIE NO.5101

BRITISH RAILWAYS BR LINED GREEN (LATE CREST)


S2103-08

CLASS 5101 LARGE PRAIRIE NO.4156

BRITISH RAILWAYS BR BLACK (LATE CREST)



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