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Author Topic: HO freight car quality  (Read 6740 times)

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« on: March 07, 2010, 01:08:04 PM »

I am new to this hobby and I was wondering if someone could address freight car quality.

I have seen prices from $8 to $30. Is there a correlation between price and quality?

And I have noticed several lines by the same manufacturer.

Are there things I should stay away from?


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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2010, 01:36:43 PM »

Dear Orange,

We all have our opinions about MR equipment.  Here's mine--others will have different opinions.

Whether the rolling stock is $8 or $30, I care most about how well the equipment rolls.  Most expensive rolling stock come with very free rolling metal wheelsets and metal knuckle couplers.  These are the two areas that are most important.  Most inexpensive equipment can be made great performers by simply replacing the wheels and couplers. 

Additionally, if you really like fine detail, most expensive rolling stock have brake details under the car and some more detailed, metal parts, instead of thick plastic.

Again, detail is one thing, but I'd rather be able to pull long consists with free rolling wheels.  The great part is that it's not expensive to make rolling stock good performers.

Anyway, my two cents are now spent.



p.s.  The hopper on the left was $6.  The hopper on the right was around $30 (both found at a LHS).  I had to replace the couplers on the left car, about a $1.75 expense.  Love 'em both.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2010, 02:19:00 PM by jonathan » Logged
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2010, 02:01:17 PM »

Where did you get your prices from? Your Local Hobby Shop or the internet/ebay?
At your LHS, generally there is a direct correlation between price and quality, but this is not true online or on ebay. Look for RP25 metal wheel sets and metal knuckle couplers like Kadee and metal detail parts.

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« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2010, 08:01:02 PM »


      The answer to your question is yes,  there is a correlation based on price.   Usually,  the cheaper cars have molded on detail,  where the more expensive cars have seperately applied hand rails,  see thru roof walks,  brake rigging etc.    The cheaper end cars that are nice(12-15 dollar range) are the Atlas Trainman line,  the Bachmann Silver series and some of the Athearn ready to run.
       Cars to stay away from are any that come with a talgo coupler set up.   That is a car where the coupler is mounted on the trucks not on the car body.   This application causes problems when you push back against a talgo equipped car,  putting unnecessary pressure on the trucks,  thus causing derailments.  The Walther's Trainline is another cheap car that,  by today's standards,  is really not that great.   

Bob Rule, Jr.
Hatboro, Pa
In God We Trust
Not so much in Congress

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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2010, 10:55:03 PM »

I don't know but hasn't the talgo coupler just about gone the way of the x2f coupler.  As far as metal coupler, there are a lot of expense car with plastic couplers.  I think that most cars made today are far better than those made even five years ago.  The problem with the highly detailed cars is that unless you have a permanent layout the small detail part soon break off.
Woody Elmore

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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2010, 09:10:11 AM »

Good Grief - when I started in HO you could buy the famous Athearn $1.29 boxcar kit. The little Hustler with rubber band drive I believe was $4.95

I used to tell people who belonged to my club that you never could have enough box cars. At today's prices, that advice isn't helpful. The Kadee HO cars are great but do you really need all that detail? Who sees it?

On an NMRA tour some years ago I visited a wonderfully done Maine 2 foot gauge layout in O scale. The modeler was happy to show us that there was no underbody detail  on any of his cars other than truss rods. He said the cars sat too low for detail to be seen, so he didn't waste time putting it on the cars.

As for price you get what you pay for. Hopefully the more expensive freight cars come with great detail and really good trucks.

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« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2010, 12:34:02 AM »

I really like the Accurail freight cars.  When they are on sale, the boxcar kits are $9.00 or so.  The sale price for hoppers is usually around $11.00.  The regular price for the kits is usually $14.00.  The RTRs are sweet and can run from $12.00 - $19.00.  I never had any problem with them and the details are very good.  They even offer renumbering decals for $3.00 per set so you can order a number of boxcars or hoppers and then renumber them.  The decals match the car colors exactly.  Check their web site and you can get some nice deals.  They always have number of cars on sale.  Accurail is my top recommendation for boxcars and covered hopper kits.  The RTRs come with metal wheels, but kits come with plastic wheels, which I always discard and replace with metal wheels.

I have some Intermountain hoppers that I really like that are a little more expensive that I got for around $25.00 apiece.

I had some problems with the 50' Athearn freight car kits which involved derailment at switches.  The RTRs and 40' car kits worked out fine.  The price is anywhere between $9.00 and $20.00.  I also really like Athearn's RTR covered hoppers, which usually run anywhere from $13.00 to $20.00. 

The one thing that I don't like about Athearn kits are their coupler boxes and covers, which do not screw on.  With the RTR kits, however, the coupler box covers do screw on.  That is a very important feature to me and that is just the voice of experience talking.

I also always replace the couplers with Kadee couplers (the #5s or the #11s) if the cars don't already have them.

When it comes to tank cars, I love Walthers and Atlas.  I have seen the price run from $13.00 on sale all the way to $28.00 (MSPR), but you can usually get them on Amazon or from several other dealers for $5.00 or so cheaper than that.  They have lots of detailing and I think that they look just as good as anybody's and far better than most..

I only have a very few Bachmann freight cars.

Anyway, that's my two cents...
« Last Edit: March 09, 2010, 10:59:55 PM by BradKT » Logged
CNE Runner

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« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2010, 11:30:34 AM »

My last layout (the Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut) was themed to be in 1889. Rolling stock, of this era, is hard to find - or is of the craftsman type kit. Over the years, I amassed quite a collection of Roundhouse Old Time stock (they really represent cars of the early 20th century; rather than those of the mid to late 19th). In addition to the Roundhouse items, I added cars from Pocher, AHM, Bachmann and Rivarossi. The common bond of all these cars was their toylike, cheap construction and general lack of detail.

All of these cars can look great if some repainting/redecorating and weathering are accomplished. The two most important things to change are the couplers (I like Bachmann EZmate II...but to each his/her own), and new trucks. While you can't make a purse out of a sow's can come reasonably close with a little work and not much expenditure. I suggest you check at your next train show for some of these 'orphans'.

On the Monks' Island Brewery/Railway I took the Bachmann MDT - weathered it and dry-brushed the highlights on the running gear (check out my thread for an image). This simple process took a toylike locomotive and transformed it into a believable part of the scene. Don't like the weathering job you did - or the original color? This unit comes apart easily and can be repainted to your liking (as an aside: Mr. Bachmann...why did you have to glue the window glass unit in?).

In summary: even the cheapest, simplest car can be 'upgraded' considerably with a little effort. If you totally mess it much money are you really out? Chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.


"Keeping my hand on the throttle...and my eyes on the rail"

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« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2010, 11:48:40 AM »

The most highly detailed cars do have a tendency to break (and wouldn't ya know it that is the one you will drop) The cheaper cars seem to last longer I think cause they were designed for kids. 

However there is no reason why one could not take a cheap car (I sometimes pick up used rolling stock at train shows) and make it better by adding metal wheels and better couplers.  I am far more focused on having my cars run well rather then obsessing over details.
Johnson Bar Jeff

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« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2010, 12:55:49 PM »

The most highly detailed cars do have a tendency to break (and wouldn't ya know it that is the one you will drop) The cheaper cars seem to last longer I think cause they were designed for kids. 

The likelihood that a car will make a trip from the layout to the floor is directly proportional to the price and detail of the car. ...

I've always been partial to the Roundhouse/MDC 36-foot "old-timer" boxcars. I'm not a rivet counter, so the detail is sufficient for me, and I liked that they had cast metal underframes.

About two yeas ago I had the good fortune to get my hands on a about a half a dozen early-1960s Mantua freight car kits. The kits had been assembled, but there was no or little evidence of track time on the wheels. Those cars have truck-mounted couplers, but it probably wouldn't be too difficult to change them to body-mounted couplers, as they also have cast metal underframes.

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« Reply #10 on: March 16, 2010, 05:32:53 PM »

If you plan on staging a few cars that will not be moved frequently (i.e., cars parked on an industry spur or siding) and you are not a rivet counter -- I am definitely not -- you can get away with purchasing less expensive rolling stock.  Truck/wheel/coupler upgrades are optional, though you might want all of your cars to have the same type of coupler just in case.  While the inexpensive but easily upgradeable Athearn Blue Box kits of yesteryear have been discontinued, you can still find them if you're willing to check around.  Check out the "close-out" bin at your LHS or search online sites, and not just for Athearn Blue Box kits.  It's amazing what you can sometimes find on clearance.  Accurail also offers some inexpensive kits that are decent and easy to assemble.  In addition, Accurail offers runs of 3, 6, 12 (and more) different car numbers for some of their kits, which is nice.  Finally, you can also do quite a bit of inexpensive "upgrading" (detailing) to a cheap-looking car with appropriate paints/coatings/chalks/decals. 

For rolling stock that will be moved about the layout frequently, I recommend making sure the cars either come equipped with or are upgraded to better trucks/wheels (RP25), couplers, and (if necessary -- but usually not needed) proper weights.  Using a computer analogy, you might be able to play a computer game using Intel GMA 4500 (integrated graphics) on an 17" monitor at 800x600 @20fps with medium settings but you'll enjoy the experience much more if you have an AMD HD5870 graphics card and can max out the eye candy on a 24" monitor (okay, 3 of them using Eyefinity) at 1920 x 1080 @60fps. 

IMO, Atlas Trainman, Accuready and Bachmann Silver Series (excluding the log cars) are pretty good in terms of bang for the buck ready-to-run rolling stock.  You should be able to buy most freight cars from the above lines for well under $20 per car, often $10 to $15.  BTW, the Bachmann Silver Series log cars are very nice -- I have several of them -- but the list price is @$43 per car (c'mon, Bachmann -- help me out!).  When Walthers runs a sale on its branded rolling stock (Platinum/Gold Line/Proto 2K), that's usually worth taking a look.  I really like Atlas cars (and their trucks), too - probably my favorite overall, but a bit more expensive on average than some of the other vendor offerings.     

At the end of the day, it's your layout and you make the rules (and set the budget).  Everyone has their favorites, but in the end we'll end up with similar cars for a given road name from multiple vendors just for the varying car numbers and different detailing.

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« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2010, 05:11:26 AM »

Yes, there is a correlation between price and quality but it isn't a linear correlation, that is, it isn't perfect.  Some moderately-priced cars will run better than pricey ones and some cheepos turn out to run surprisingly well.  You have to know the merchandise.

Look for quality trucks and couplers.  The amount of detail and paint quality are secondary indicators of how well a model is made.  In any case, recognize that you can improve any model by making sure you have good running gear (trucks and coupers), in guage and properly tuned.  Couplers should be firmly attached, at the right height and center reliably.  Trucks should be loosely enough attached that they swivel easily and allow the car to rock a little.  One can be a little tighter but you want at least one to rock.

Look to ebay, train shows and even your LHS for used equipment in great condition or for solid cars which will run great after a little updating or servicing.  These may seem to be priced a little high but you can almost always haggle about the prices on used merchandise.  Plus, it's a real accomplishment to take some sorry derelict from a train show and turn it into a good runner and a good looker.
Stephen D. Richards

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« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2010, 12:17:44 PM »

orangeman,  a lot of great info and opinions here.  My thing is I am a stickler for detail....but not that much either.  I try to make as much detail on all my rolling stock as well as my locomotives.  That is just what I like to do though.  That is a part of the hobby for me.  I also remove most of the molded on detail and apply the detail, usually with jigs I make myself.  I like to do that as well.  Most of the information I have received to get started in this hobby, came from this forum.  A lot of knowledge here.  Don't ever be afraid to ask!  With that said, the most important thing for rolling stock, whether expensive or cheap, is the couplers and the trucks.  My personal opinion is Kadee couplers, good plastic, non talgo trucks and Intermountain Wheel sets.  They are metal wheels and metall axles and insulated as well.  The number one thing to remember here is your railroad and your preferences.  Hope that helps a bit and again don't be afraid to ask.   Stephen

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« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2010, 10:09:06 PM »

Both Accurail and Bowser make great kits
Branchline is very detailed but the parts are very delicate and beyond what I want to handle

« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2010, 10:48:25 PM »

If you check your local hobby shop, you may find soon to be gone forever blue box kits from athearn. You can find them in e-bay and they are still a good value if you can find them. Accurail and bowser offer a good selection of kits at a reasonable cost. I didn't see tichy mentioned, but they make very detailed kits.
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