Although a Meccano factory had existed in France since 1921 the Série Hornby products sold in France were the same as the English stock, though livery and lettering were changed. France became a major export market, and although items might be finished in France, they had to be labelled ‘Fabrique en Angleterre’ – not good for sales (some items carried the label ‘Série Hornby – Meccano Paris’).
The importance of the French market is demonstrated by Hornby introducing the Riviera ‘Blue Train’ (1926-1940) in 1926, which had the best locomotive to date and two new Riviera boggied coaches, dining and sleeping. They were dark blue with cream roofs. The 4.4.2 No. 3 loco was available in Nord brown or PLM red. There was a choice of clockwork or electric. It was always of English manufacture.
French Hornby started along an independent path in the 1930s after the completion of the new Bobigny factory in France, at last making products for the French market.
In 1931 a new French 20 volt motor (double pickup) was used in the English No.1 Tank loco body to make the No.1ET (1931-33). From now on 20 volt became the standard (though 60 volt was sometimes an alternative) and clockwork locos were in the minority.
The same 20 volt motor unit was used in the new electric profile PO (Paris Orleans) locos (often referred to as the saltbox); the 1E(PO) (1931-35) and 2E(PO) locos (1936-40/46-48).This design was actually based on a real loco, the much publicised Swiss 2BB2 PLM.
Also, in 1931, the English built Riviera ‘Blue Train’ was offered with a 20 volt motor.
Two years later the same 20 volt motor units were used in the two new steam profile locos, both of which sported continental looking double domes. The tank loco No.1TE Special (1933-40) was available in four colours - Nord green, Etat black, PLM red and Est brown. The tender loco No.1E Special (1933-40) was available in three colours - Nord green, Etat black and PLM red.
From 1934 auto reversing was an option but was standard in the Riviera ‘Blue Train’ (1926-1940). This reversing gear operated when full voltage was applied suddenly.
Models of the 200 kph record-breaking Bugati Railcars (1938-1957) run by Etat and PLM companies were introduced in 1935. They had a new simplified double coil motor ‘O’ with very small wheels and a single pickup (clockwork versions were available).
This same motor ‘O’ unit was used in the updated No.1 locos (tank and tender) and the simplified PO loco. The tank loco was now the SNCF O-TE (1938-40/46-50) in gloss black before the war and mat black after. The tender loco was now the SNCF No.O-E (1939-40/46-53) in green, red, black and brown. Later, it became the SNCF OVA (1954-61) in black only. The electric profile PO was now the SNCF OE(PO) in a range of colours and with simplified, cheap looking pantographs
One of the best French Hornby locomotives was the streamlined No.4E, the ‘Etoile du Nord’ (1939-54) whose intended introduction of 1939 was interrupted by the war. It was based on the ‘Superpacific’ Northern type 3-1200. Unfortunately, it had the same motor and small driving wheels as the original old pre-1938 No.1 locos and the type 2E(PO) locomotives.
The 1954 saw the final replacement of the OE(PO) loco with the OBB – SNCF BB-8051 loco. It was a good representation of the real SNCF BB 8100. It had the now standard type ‘O’ motor in the centre but the impression of 4-wheeled bogies was given by adding a pony truck at each end.
In 1957 French Hornby introduced 20 volt 40 watt DC motors (with two pickups) and the ST transformers which allowed remote controlled reversing with the new TBB - SNCF BB-8051 loco (an upgrade of the OBB – SNCF BB-8051). The earlier AC locos ran as before with hand switched reversing. Two locos could be run at once and soon a speed controller was offered (1958) to control a second loco on an isolated circuit.
Both the single coil and double coil AC motors (French and English) can be adapted to have remote reversing when used with the Hornby ST transformers by using diode bridges (this can be done in a non-invasive, reversible manner without soldering). The DC motors are ruined if used with the AC transformers.
Improved points were introduced in 1955, the ‘Aiguilles Talonnable’ which allows a loco to push through wrongly set points. These could be upgraded to be remote controlled, powered by the transformer ST. The frogs of these late electric points were in plastic and were designed for the new cast wheels fitted to all new rolling stock. Unfortunately, Etoile du Nord and Riviera ‘Blue Train’ locos are derailed by these points (as are the earlier deep flanged tin wheeled wagons and coaches). Also, any loco with the motor type ‘O’ which had only one pickup could get isolated and stranded (Bugati Railcars, tank loco O-TE, tender locos No.O-E and OVA, and the electric profile OE(PO) ). An additional pickup can be added to the locos, but the designer of these points certainly took a liberty!
Two superb new electric profile locomotives were introduced in the late 50s (again based on real locos), the TZB – SNCF BB13001 (1957-63) and the TNB –SNCF BB9201 (1958-63); they had a 20 volt DC motor (with two pickups), 4-wheeled bogies at each end and detailed cast metal casings.
The Hornby Acho trains introduced in 1960 sounded the death knell of Gauge ‘O’ range. It was the size and expense of modelling in Gauge ‘O’ that limited sales and doomed Gauge ‘O’ production.
Hornby - Les Trains Français en ‘O’ et ‘HO’ by Clive Lemming
The Hornby Gauge O System by Chris and Julie Graebe
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