Emulating British Railways steam locomotive practices, diesel and electric locomotives initially used headcodes to indicate train type and destination. This was achieved with a system of framed rolling blinds, similar to some bus route indicator panels, cranked round to display the required section of the roll. The character blinds were illuminated from the rear.

In these packs we have printed headcode characters as strips - just like the real blinds unwound, now in 2mm N-gauge, as well as 7mm O-gauge and 4mm OO-gauge forms. This enables any vertical alignment to be modelled - often the real codes were not cranked fully into position, so that some part of another character on the roll was visible. Each of the characters has been created from manipulated real photographs so that they are precisely to scale. The order and spacing of the characters on the strips, with certain letters missing from the full alphabet, has again been determined from study of the real life practice.

For many engine types, the blinds operated in a multiple window frame. A feature of which was occasional horizontal misalignment, so that at night, light could be seen escaping from the sides of the blinds. However two-character code boxes were without such visible frames. We have modelled various such self-adhesive window frames to include with the packs.

The headcode characters are offered on two materials:
  • Backlit Film - BL41* packs (not N 2mm) - with a translucent white non-adhesive plastic film, designed to go inside models with light boxes like for example by Heljan.
  • Labels - L41* packs - self-adhesive waterproof printed thin paper labels, suitable for models such as those by Bachmann, Lima and Hornby, where external application is easier.
Two sizes of characters are offered on each of these materials in N-Gauge, O-gauge and OO-gauge forms:
  • 6.4mm (O), 3.6mm (OO) and 1.8mm (N) - e.g. for engine Classes 20, 25, 27, 31, 40, 44-6, 50 & 52.
  • 7.0mm (O), 4.0mm (OO) and 2.0mm (N) - e.g. slightly larger for Classes 29, 35, 37, 42, 47 & 55.
Note that model sizes vary from true scale, so please check what mm size of characters best suit your model. We believe all real codes would be the same larger size, but models are often made with distortions that required the smaller codes to keep the displays in proportion which is why we offer the smaller codes.

The BL41* Pack Fronts. The L41* Pack Fronts.
The BL41* Pack Rears. The L41* Pack Rears.

BL41A6.4mm Backlit Headcodes O-Gauge 7mm Scale£9.99
BL41B3.6mm Backlit Headcodes OO-Gauge 4mm Scale£6.99
BL41C7.0mm Backlit Headcodes O-Gauge 7mm Scale£9.99
BL41D4.0mm Backlit Headcodes OO-Gauge 4mm Scale£6.99

L41A6.4mm Headcode Labels O-Gauge 7mm Scale£9.99
L41B3.6mm Headcode Labels OO-Gauge 4mm Scale£6.99
L41C7.0mm Headcode Labels O-Gauge 7mm Scale£9.99
L41D4.0mm Headcode Labels OO-Gauge 4mm Scale£6.99
L41E1.8mm Headcode Labels N-Gauge 2mm Scale£6.99
L41F2.0mm Headcode Labels N-Gauge 2mm Scale£6.99

Note that we also offer fixed headcode options in our BL51* and L51* packs - i.e. code and frame assemblies specifically sized for certain model types. For example, L51G is designed specifically for Class 47 models where external application of the code may be simpler. Whereas the BL41* and L41* packs here allow any code to be created.

Bachmann's latest models have illuminated headcodes that are permanently painted on the inside of a glued in piece of glazing. Our externally applied L41D labels are the easiest to apply to those models. The label paper is thin enough to allow some illumination from behind, especially if you are able to remove the painted headcode, with say some "T-Cut" polishing on the inside of the model, to allow more light to pass. Model Rail Magazine issue 277 for Summer 2020 shows the backlit codes and frame assemblies being glued in behind a cleaned off glass. Another approach might be to remove the original painted glazing completely and use our BL41D strips with the supplied front glazing frame sections to hold them in place.

With some O-gauge kits it may be possible to fix the ends of a suitably sized paper-clip wire arrangement inside the nose of some engines, so that the complete character strips can slide between the interlocking loops and allow codes to be changed like the real thing.

Charlie Bishop at Chadwick TMD on YouTube has made some videos showing how he fitted headcodes to various models using our backlit BL41D pack:

Our pack instructions include details of the meaning of the codes. In summary, the format of the codes used was: number, letter, number, number. Where the first number would indicate the type of train, letters on the second blind indicated specific destinations and areas by region. The final two numbers completed a unique code for the working - famous named trains often used the same codes daily. Between 1973 and 1976 the system was phased out: most codes were set to show “0O00” or “. . . .” until the boxes could be modified or removed. Western region engines would commonly display their running numbers. Where the boxes were retained, the four character displays were ultimately replaced with perspex sheets showing large dot marker lights. The strips include the numbers "0", letter "O" and "." characters; the final large dot markers are included separately to the strips.

For more details of headcode usage, we recommend the M. R. Bailey book “British Railways Headcodes”, published by Ian Allen: ISBN 0-7110-2696-3.