The Graham Farish Story
Graham Farish - Going from domestic appliances to model trains.
Anyone with a passing interest in UK model trains will have come across the name ‘Graham Farish’. Latterly the brand was more associated with its N gauge range, which started in 1970 and was bought by Bachmann in 2000. However the story starts much earlier, just after the Great War, in fact.
The company was set up to manufacture radio components in 1919. Its founder was one Thomas Graham Farish. Evidently Mr Farish had an eye for the latest opportunities, as the company successfully added related domestic products through the 1920s and ‘30s. These included electric fires, water pumps, and even lids for vacuum sealing glass jars. It was also one of the first companies to exploit an exciting new material: Bakelite. During the Second World War, the business was largely engaged in military production, with its diecasting, general engineering and electronics expertise proving ideal. After the war, many firms were looking for new products, and like many others, Farish felt the model railway market offered new opportunities. The most obvious gap in the market was for two rail flexible track, which was a perfect product for the talents available to the company. The production of ‘Formo’ and later ‘Formoway’ track and points (turnouts) in many varieties was highly successful into the 1960s.
Farish was early into the production of two rail locos. There is a high probability that the motor it chose was one that had abundant and cheap availability from having been used in other wartime products.
There are a couple of accepted ways to propel an electric model steam locomotive. The motor can go in the loco, or the tender. Putting the motor in the tender and pushing a dummy locomotive is a solution used by Hornby in the 1980s. However Farish came up with a third way, due to the size and nature of the motor, it ended up with the motor in the tender, but driving the loco wheels through a drive shaft. This worked well when the engine was gallivanting along the track, but not so well at slow speeds and over point work. Current collection on the tender drive locos was also problematic. Conventional wisdom is, the more pickup points the better but early Farish locos only collected power from a single sprung pickup on each rail. With only one plunger making contact with each rail, it only took a momentary loss of power to cause the loco to stall; anathema to the serious model train operator.
The Black 5
The first release was a creditable model of the ex-LMS Black 5. With a reasonably accurate diecast chassis and body, the loco was propelled by the unorthodox tender-mounted motor driving the loco wheels via a gearbox, long drive shaft and further gears. The possible army surplus origins necessitated the special production of many other components for the complicated drive-line, which rather let the model down. Although claimed to adhere to the new BRMSB standards, other unsightly aspects were the strangely-designed centre driver, and the very crude representation of the valve-gear.
The Bullied Pacific
The second Farish loco used the same unusual drive mechanism as the Black 5. It was a model of the Southern Railway 4-6-2 Pacifics designed by Bullied. These charismatic locos were not described as ‘streamlined’ like the Gresley A4, but ‘air smoothed’. The result was an art deco styled brute that gained the nickname ‘spamcan’ due to its rounded edges resembling the tins of the infamous processed meat which was a staple diet of post war Britain.
From the survival rate it appears that production was on a large scale. Advertised in advance as the ‘Battle of Britain’, the model appeared indiscriminately in the guise of the similar-looking ‘Merchant Navy’ and ‘West Country’ classes in a total of six different names and two standard SR or BR (blue) liveries, plus the collector’s treasure: Sir Eustace Missenden, which came with full Golden Arrow insignia. The Farish spamcan had a diecast body, while the body of the tender was actually made from Bakelite.
The Prairie tank
Being a tank loco, the GWR Prairie of course had to have the motor within the loco body. This was never a success as apparently the metal bodyshell interfered with eddy currents from the unorthodox motor, restricting the available power. Certainly, a very small number of these have survived in working order, although yet a further problem is apparent in the often-found disintegration of the cast drive gearbox. An acceptable model, this had the distinction of later being resurrected with a new motor and chassis.
The early large locos were only in production for a few years. By 1957/8 they were appearing in clearance adverts in the trade press. It is likely that the strange mechanism puzzled the average modeller, and many are found today to have been remotored. The second phase locos were the original Prairie and a new GWR pannier tank, with diecast bodies and a common basic chassis. These were available from about 1963 for around 10 years. With near scale wheels and a conventional motor these were reliable models of reasonable accuracy and indeed the only ready to run versions of these prototypes until the advent of Mainline and Airfix in the late ‘70s.
The problems with the locos resulted in Farish clearing its railway stocks and not returning to train production until eight years later in 1961. However, the later plastic rolling stock enjoyed wide popularity and the range of coaches and wagons supplemented the mainstream manufacturers, filling numerous holes in the range. The company then shrewdly moved decisively into N gauge and discontinued its OO range when its saw Airfix and Palitoy about to enter the OO market. And we all know what happened there, don’t we?
Due to the scarcity of surviving records, it is difficult to come up with exact production dates; particularly of when specific models ended production. Many dates have been deduced from adverts in the trade and model press.
It has to be said that Farish looks more utilitarian than its main counterparts; Hornby Dublo, Tri-ang and Trix. The Farish collector’s lot is not an easy one. Locos are often found with valve gear missing, an indication that Farish never quite got this right. The Mazac problems, leading to disintegration or distortion of models and components, will have discouraged many collectors. But for those with open minds and a willingness to get stuck in, Graham Farish OO gauge has proved to be an interesting range to run and collect.