Newbie: Does it really matter which car to buy?

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by Cheetah20, May 22, 2007.

  1. Cheetah20

    Cheetah20 Member

    Please bare with me as this may sound silly to you long time modellers....
    as a new comer to this train modelling world..........
    and after purchasing my (quality..perhaps DCC even) engine.......
    does it NOT matter what kind of rolling stock I buy afterwards??......
    go for the cheapest in cost?
    wheels...couplers... mattering?
    Thanx for any input gang :mrgreen:
  2. Cannonball

    Cannonball More Trains Than Brains

    Do you want metal wheels or plastic?

    Do you want them to run smooth or wabble all over the track and constantly derail because they're out of gauge?

    Do you want to put kits together and spend hours crawling around on the floor looking for microscopic springs you dropped or do you want your cars ready made?

    Do you want rapido styled couplers or couplers that actually look like couplers and mechanicly work?

    In short, it definately matters.
    Take it from someone learning the hard way.
  3. umtrr-author

    umtrr-author Member

    It is largely a matter of personal taste. It's also a matter of "you get what you pay for".

    There are twice as many opinions on this as there are modelers -- maybe more opinions than that-- but I will share mine.

    I divide the rolling stock market into three broad categories:

    Entry Level, which are the items one would usually see in multi-line hobby shops. These are the last of the N Scale equipment that still comes with the Rapido couplers, which served the scale well and reliably until generic knuckle couplers came along. These cars can be found for less than three dollars each without too much searching, but are more likely than not painted in paint schemes that never existed, utilize old tooling (20+ old and more) and as such are not as detailed as the other two categories. Sometimes the wheels are sub-par and must be changed out. Example brands are Model Power, Industrial Rail, and Bachmann (non "Spectrum"). Choices tend to be limited to a few paint schemes on a few types of cars.

    Mid-range cars have better tooling, a bit more detail, are generally more (but not completely) on target with paint schemes, and have the generic knuckle couplers (made possible after the original patent on Micro-Trains Magne-Matic couplers expired). Expect to pay five to ten dollars each for these kinds of cars. There are many choices across a pretty good variety of body styles. Example brands include Atlas "Trainman" (as well as most of their earlier product), Con-Cor, Bowser, and most Athearn and Roundhouse cars. It may surprise some that I would also place some of the earlier Micro-Trains body styles in this category as well as most Intermountain offerings and some Red Caboose.

    Premium cars start at over ten dollars and can go to thirty-plus each. Tooling is usually highly detailed and there is more of an effort to stick to prototype schemes (though this is affected by necessary business-driven compromises more often than not). Some of these cars are works of art. Magne-Matic couplers are often standard equipment on these cars. Most Micro-Trains body styles, the new Atlas cars including their tank cars, wood refrigerator cars and wood box cars, and some Red Caboose offerings fit into this category.

    The time vs. detail and fidelity trade off really applies here. Are you OK with running an Industrial Rail 50 foot refrigerator car for the RF&P when they never owned anything close to that? Or must you have as exact a replica as is possible with today's technology, and have the money to pay for it? It's up to you, and no one really has the right to sneer at whatever choice you make.

    I would suggest sticking to the mid-range if at all possible financially; you will get a good value for your money.

    Also, consider checking out swap meets and eBay for potential bargains, but be careful of overpaying (e.g. add the shipping cost in).
  4. umtrr-author

    umtrr-author Member

    Sorry... more thoughts.

    You might consider thinking about a particular time and place that you would want to model. That may drive some of your decisions about what rolling stock to buy.

    For example, I model a fictional shortline in the Adirondacks of New York in the year 1963.

    That means I should be buying freight cars from mostly Eastern railroads that would have actually operated during that period, and would have been used by the "industries" I have on the layout.

    For example, I have a small manufacturer that takes in sheet steel in covered gondolas and makes loopholes that are shipped out in boxcars. So I need a gondola or two, probably from the Pennsylvania Railroad or the New Haven (to name two that Micro-Trains has done) and boxcars from roads like the New York Central or the Delaware and Hudson.

    Does that mean I make this list and stick slavishly to it, making sure that what I purchase fits precisely into that time period and need?

    Of course not!!!!

    I would submit that the #1 criteria many if not most model railroaders use when deciding whether to buy any given piece of rolling stock is, "Do I like it?"
    Sticking to a time and place can help to narrow your choices which is useful if you are on a budget, but it takes much willpower to stay in that zone for very long, and my willpower is way too weak for that to happen.
  5. Cheetah20

    Cheetah20 Member

    Thanx alot for the time you put in to reply "umtrr-author" ,....
    awesome and a lil more positive lol
    I will consider ALL thoughts for sure !!!!!
  6. railohio

    railohio Active Member

    Once again, opinions are a dime a dozen. Using the three levels noted above I'd say the three categories are "train set," "operating," and "collector."

    "Train set" cars are made by Life-Like, Bachmann, Industrial Rails, and probably other companies that've never crossed my radar. They sell for less than ten bucks each and will most definitely need work to fit in on a model railroad. For kids, however, they're great.

    "Operating" cars come from a variety of sources including Atlas, Athearn/MDC, Red Caboose, InterMountain, and a great many other companies I don't have space to mention. They used to start at under ten dollars, but unfortunately it seems only the Atlas "Trainman" line is less than that anymore. Generally, though, they run from $10 and up depending on the level of detail included. They generally come ready-to-run and with a variety of road numbers available for each road name.

    "Collector" cars are a slippery bunch to nail down, though most consider them to be products from Micro-Trains. They're generally the best detailed and most accurate cars available and their cost reflects this. I, however, have no problem buying a Micro-Trains car, weathering it, and operating it on my layout. I guess it just depends on where your priorities lie. I'd also include what few high-end kits remain in the group as well.

  7. Cheetah20

    Cheetah20 Member

    so..guess an operating mid-range car would be for me......
    keeping the cost down./..however, maintaining abit of quality
    for longivity and durability !! $10-$15 per car?????
  8. Travellar

    Travellar Member

    You may be able to do better than that.

    I'd say the above lists are pretty accurate, but considering your needs with a new layout, you don't need to be driven entirely by quality. (I know, I know, heresey.) My two biggest concerns for starting are both driven around compatability. 1) Do all of your cars have compatable couplers? 2) Do all of your cars belong on the same layout? Stay in, or close to one period, and don't buy yourself any complete junk, and you'll do fine. As time goes by, and you can afford to integrate more quality into your layout, some of the older cars you find you were never happy with (heck, that happens with some of the 'quality' cars I've bought) can be turned to other duties. Weathered, sold, or converted into a trackside themed-diner.
  9. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    The trainset cars can be upgraded but by the time you buy better trucks and new couplers, you've spent as much as your mid-range car but maybe with a cruder look. If you need hundreds of cars to fill a large yard, you might want to go on the cheaper end; if you plan a small layout for exquisite photography you'll want the high-end cars.
    Of course they can be mixed, and you may find that the cars you absolutely need are only available as cheapies!
  10. Cannonball

    Cannonball More Trains Than Brains

    Burlington Northern with rapidos!
    I really want to upgrade those trucks though.
    Plastic wheels suck.
  11. Cheetah20

    Cheetah20 Member

    I heard to stay away from Atlas Trainman Locomotives..but is their rolling stock ok?????
  12. umtrr-author

    umtrr-author Member

    The Atlas Trainman rolling stock is fine and fits neatly into the mid-range or operator (I like that term also!) category.

    Much of it is the older tooling from their standard line, including their version of the PS-1 boxcar. All of the cars have trucks with the generic "Accumate" couplers. They are magnetically operating couplers that have gotten mixed reviews, but they are better appearing and easier to operate with than the Rapidos that they replaced. I will eventually replace all of those couplers with body mounted Micro-Trains couplers, but that's my personal choice.

    The short center flow (too lazy to look up the exact model type) is actually new tooling for the Trainman line. I converted one to the Tim Hortons car I posted in another thread.

    I don't understand why there was advice to avoid the Trainman locomotives. I am not even sure that these are out yet in N Scale. I should add that there are any number of good deals on the regular line Atlas locomotives right now. If you're not terribly choosy it's possible to get one for the $40 to $50 range. These are closeouts of earlier runs but still excellent runners. I don't think you'll see this sort of a sale again since Atlas is producing much closer to pre-order quantities only.

    The MSRP on these cars is $9.95 (US) and the street price in the USA is around $8 depending on where you shop. I know you're in Canada so there will be a difference with the customs, the GST/PST et al which makes the prices higher. But still a good choice especially for people on a budget.
  13. umtrr-author

    umtrr-author Member

    Cannonball, the Micro-Trains wheels or even the later Atlas wheels are plastic and will fit in most of the entry level / train set cars. I've done this and it's an instant "upgrade" in running quality without changing anything else.

    As some modelers change to the low profile wheels that MTL and others offer they sometimes dump the wheels that they've changed out on eBay or elsewhere. You could look around for an offer like that.
  14. Cheetah20

    Cheetah20 Member

    you're awesome..thank you
    So Atlas Trainman rolling stock is fine...good
    as far as my locomotive UI want to do it right and buy a good one....
    DCC installed even !!....$150?
    Any thoughts and what to buy..?? ERA doesn't mind.....
    Guess I know when I see it
  15. Cheetah20

    Cheetah20 Member

    My engine will have metal wheels...BUT'
    does the wheels on a rolling stock matter?...
  16. umtrr-author

    umtrr-author Member

    My view: as long as they are good quality, no.

    A few folks I know do get replacement metal wheels and they tell me that they track better, help bring the center of gravity of the car down a bit and perhaps most importantly, provide a satisfying sound as they roll down the rails.

    But the large majority of N Scalers I know use plastic wheels.
  17. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Warning! If you intend to use magnetic couplers, you can't have metal wheels. The cars stick like glue where your magnets are!! :))) Obvious really, but I only twigged when I first did it. So now I swap out all wheels.

    But my 2c (tuppence? That's only 1p?) worth for the question at the top, is buy the very best you can afford (unless they're for your two-year-old). I say 2, because my three-year-old complains about Rapido couplers on rougher rolling stock. I stick to the very latest top of the Atlas range (which are getting very seriously good recently) and the better MT and Intermountain stuff. For a little more money the increase in quality and detail is superb.

  18. dks2855

    dks2855 New Member

    This only happens if the axles are steel. If they are nickel or brass, there is no problem; nickel and brass are non-magnetic.
  19. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Yes of course, but most 'nickel' ones are nickel-plated steel. The ones you get with cars tend to be plated steel of some description. When was the last time you saw freight cars in N with solid brass wheels? :))

  20. dks2855

    dks2855 New Member

    Well, you're right, they are not frequently seen on manufactured rolling stock. I just wanted folks to know that they can buy replacement wheelsets that won't interfere with coupling if they want metal ones on their rolling stock.

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