What to look for in Rolling Stock

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Gary S., Oct 13, 2005.

  1. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    New to the hobby, would like some advice on what to look for when purchasing freight cars. When I visit the local model train shop, it is stocked with a bewildering asortment of brands and lines and types. Most of the stuff is shelved and in the boxes so I can't get an intimate peek at what lies within. And how do I differentiate quality from the not-so-good? Any advice on the following is welcomed:

    Trucks... metal or plastic?

    What type of couplers?

    Wheels... metal or plastic?

    Kits vs Ready-to-Roll?

    What distinguishes a "nice" car from a "shabby" car? In other words, what should I be looking for?

    Any recommendations on brands and marketing lines?

    What kind of price should I be expecting to pay for a nicely detailed and smoothly operating piece?

    I bought a couple of Proto2000 tank car kits to tinker around with for the next several days. Wish me luck!
  2. urbancowboy

    urbancowboy New Member

    Hi Gary,

    Whenever I buy a freight car I always prefer kit's that you build yourself. I mainly buy new old stock Athearn kits. I find these are easy to build and are decent quality all for a reasonable price. However they lack detail. When I want a really nice detailed freight car I go with Athearn Genesis, Proto, or Intermountain. All are great quality and have good detailed parts. I’ve started to buy Proto metal wheels and have installed them on my Athearn kit builds, they look pretty good. I hope this answer's some of your questions. I'll leave the rest for the experts.
  3. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I would avoid cars with the couplings mounted on the trucks. Sometimes you can't avoid it in passenegr cars, but it's usually a sign of a cheap freight car.
    Suggest you go for Kadee couplers. Lots of cars coming with compatibles; opinions on these vary. The horn-hook can be replaced, usually easily.
    Not sure when I last had a metal truck. Metal wheels are desirable, but, like couplings, can be added afterwards.
    Nice and shabby are opinions. A car with applied detail instead of molded in usually looks better, but may be more delicate.
    Kits vs RTR? Do you see building as an enjoyable part of the hobby or a chore that gets in the way of running? It looks as if simple kits may be on the way out, leaving us with the harder kits.
    If you can handle the P2000 tankers, you can probably handle anything.
  4. eightyeightfan1

    eightyeightfan1 Now I'm AMP'd

    Athearn Blue Boxes are a nice easy kit to build for the beginner modeler. Usually just have to assemble doors on boxcars, roof walks, couplers, brake wheel, brake detail on the chassis, put the trucks on and its ready to roll. Detail is pretty thick(stirrups and grabs) but can take rough handling. Genisis from Athearn is more for the advanced modeler. Brake detail grabs and stirrups have to be added by the modeller which means opening up pre-drilled holes. The detail is finer, and really can't take rough handling. Walthers makes a nice kit also which is for the intermmediate modeller. It has a few more details to be added, than whats on the Athearn Blue Box. I have done all three, and still like the Blue Box. I've occasionaly also built MDC's, Roundhouse and Details West. All three are the same as the Blue Box.
    As far as Ready To Roll, Athearns are nice, Walthers is pretty good. Athearn comes with "rotating bearing caps" on the trucks. In my opinion, wasted detail. But they look good rolling slow through a switch, and if you know they are there. Detail on the Ready To Roll is the same as on the Blue Box. The Walthers aren't really ready to roll. You do have to add some detail such as grabs and smaller detail.
    Ok...I've rambled on enough.......
  5. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Thanks so much for the great advice.

    At the local shop, there were some older looking Walther's kits on sale for $4 to $8 dollars each. I shied away from them because I didn't know anything about them and figured that something that cheap must not be all that great. I'm trying to remember but I think they were in red and creme colored boxes that looked faded and old.

    I opened one of the boxes and looked inside... saw the old type couplers that I remember from when I was a kid and figured that the kit must not be too good. But when I got home with the Proto2000 kits, I discovered that they included both types of couplers. Is this typical of kits? Both types of couplers?

    And as was mentioned above, if I get "serious" about railroading, should I replace all the couplers with the Kaydee couplers anyway?
  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Gary: The couplings aren't a perfect guide. The old ones were used for various reasons, mostly cost and licenscing. It was only a few years ago that you started to get Kadees or imitations in kits. Walthers has a long history of kitmaking -- all the way back to WWII and before, so you could get all sorts of kits from old wood and metal to plastic. If you get serious, you'll probably switch to Kadees, and I suspect that a lot of manufacturers will supply them with their cars.
    The older coupler came from a committee of the NMRA, and was based on their design X2f (X for experimental) but many of the makers ignored a lot of the specs. For years it was called either the NMRA or X2f but neither name was correct (NMRA never adopted it) and it's now often called the "horn-hook".
  7. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    All the information given so far is good. However, you might want to narrow down your choices by choosing an era in which to model. A knowledgeable hobby shop should be able to tell you roughly when a car you choose would have been in service. Unless you already have an era in mind, it might be a good idea to do some reading, especially of the modelling magazines available at your local hobby store. Railroad Model Craftsman, Model Railroader, and Mainline Modeller are all good and there are others. Pick what appeals to you, both from the articles and from the ads, and don't rush. While there's nothing wrong with building a few kits, you don't want to get stuck with a lot of stuff that isn't really suitable for the era that you finally choose. Conversely, there are lots of modellers out there that just like trains and they have no qualms about running a stack train behind a woodburner, and there's no reason you can't do that too, if you wish. I hope that this is also of some assistance.
    By the way, a good hobby shop shouldn't mind if you open boxes and check things out: just be careful not to break or lose anything, and put the boxes back where you found them. And ask questions.
  8. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    I bought a couple of magazines and a "beginner's guide." The magazines are excellent, both the articles and the ads... so much stuff!

    As for era, I have been thinking of that, but where does one get info on what cars and engines were used when?

    (I suppose it is okay to say "cars" and "engines"? Or should I say "rolling stock" and "motive power"?)

    Right now, just starting out, I think I want diesel engines with only two axles per truck and freight cars that are 50 feet and less in length... was reading some stuff about turn radius and figure I am better off with shorter cars and smaller engines. Does this narrow me down to specific time periods?

    Am I wrong in assuming that shorter cars are eaiser to work with?

    Are most modern freight cars longer than 50 feet? Where can I find this type of info?

    Also, where can I find specifications and such for the different brands and models of HO cars? I have been surfing the net and have not found much... plenty of pics and mail order stuff, but nothing that specifies the type of wheels, couplers, materials, etc.

    Also, what types of diesels would be recommended which have only two axles per truck?
  9. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    The era you want probably lies between 1945 and 1975: there were some four axle diesels earlier and of course, they're still in use today. In the '40's, cars were commonly anywhere from 36' to 52' long, although there were exceptions at both ends of the spectrum. By the '70's, almost all of the 36' cars were gone and the 40' one were becoming scarcer. Of course, even in the '60's, larger and larger cars were appearing. Generally, shorter cars and locomotives are better suited to small layouts with tight curves than is the longer stuff. Unfortunately, most manufacturers don't indicate on the box for what era a car or locomotive is suitable. When you browse through the magazines, pick out the featured layouts that appeal to you as far as the railroad equipment is concerned. If you're also impressed by the the presentation of the entire layout, and the workmanship displayed, chances are you might be looking at what you want to model, at least in part. Now go through the ads to see if you can find stuff that looks similar. It's difficult to recommend brands: I've made some nice models out of what others might consider junk, and I've seen junk made out of nice models. In my opinion, some decent manufacturers are Athearn, Model Die Casting, Atlas, Accurail, Proto1000 and 2000, Walthers, and Bachmann Spectrum. Slightly better, and a bit more involved to build are Intermountain, Tichy, and Red Caboose. Most of these companies also sell ready-to-run versions of their products. Above these, both in price and accuracy are the craftsman kits from makers such as Westerfield and Sunshine.
    As far as wheels go, many serious modellers prefer metal, although I have not found any particular advantage in them in my fifty or so years of railroading. In my opinion, you can't go wrong with Kadee couplers, although some Kadee-compatible brands are not too bad. Not too many manufacturers offer Kadees as standard equipment though. Since I model the mid '30's, I'll not offer advice on which diesels to use: while I'm familiar with many that would be suitable, there are probably lots of newer ones out there there of which I'm unaware. I'm sure others will provide more information.
  10. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I would reccomend the 40's and 50's as a good era for what you want to model. The Gp30 came out in the early sixties, so you would be looking for F units, Gp 7's & 9's, Alco Rs1's-3's as well as Rsd4/5's. If you are looking at decorated kits, most freight cars will have a built date stenciled on the side of the car. You may need a magnifying glass to read the numbers, but the date should give you an idea of whether something would fit your era.
  11. KCS

    KCS Member

    I normally buy Athearn blue box kit's and super detail them myself. As for wheels and trucks, Kato has by far the best one's around that even beats the Athearn Genesis series trucks. They are a bit expensive at $5.98 a pair but are worth it. If you can get to some train shows you can find them sometimes cheaper. I was at the show in Temple, TX. a month ago and a guy was selling 100ton roller bearing trucks for $3.00 a pair. I decided to buy the whole box which had about 50 pair (give or take) so he bumped them down to $2.00 a pair sense I bought them all in a bulk purchase. It was out of his personal items sense he was down sizing. As for cars. If you want great detail and are willing to shell out the $$$$ then have a look at Kadee's (The coupler people) Ready To Run (RTR) rolling stock. These are beautiful cars and I highly don't recommend them for kids. Proto2000's are very nice too but you have to build those yourself and is better to have a good knowledge of building cars. The detail parts can be broken very easy. Stay away from McKean until you get a few years experience of building as these car's require a lot of work and technique that you won't use on any other car that I know of. These car's require, sanding, cutting, drilling, filling, (some cars require paint and decals) and mostly don't have any reference points as to where the part actually goes, so you will have to study pictures to get them assembled correctly. Atlas also makes some very nice cars but are about a couple dollars difference in price from Kadee. Tyco. Stay away from these as they are a big waste of money and are nothing more than toys. Now I have a hand full of them but they have been modified and super detailed so they look nothing more than like a nice decent car. Couplers: Kadee would be the best way to go. Now you have to watch out because there are a couple other companies that make look alikes but they are no where near the same. They can be plastic but once you see a Kadee coupler you'll be able to spot the fakes. There is a lot of stuff I can go on pointing out but it's getting late so I'll stop there for now.
  12. santafewillie

    santafewillie Member

    My experience is that the kits from Athearn, Roundhouse, Accurail, and Walthers are all reasonably priced and easy to build. They all lack fine details but are rugged and durable. Extra details can be added later on as your modeling skills improve. I have built many Proto 2000 kits...they are highly detailed but take lots more time and they are a bit fragile. Good for long winter evenings. Like 60103 said, if you can handle those Proto 2000 tank cars, you can handle any kits.
    I am switching my models to the Proto 2000 metal wheels as my budget permits, other brands are probably just as good but that's what my LHS stocks and I have had no problems. It's not that I've had any problems with plastic (except Accurail), they just look better and I'm upgrading my whole fleet as time and money permits.
    Couplers are another thing. Kadees are still the best in my opinion. I also like the Accurail Accumates. In my experience McHenrys and Bachmann EZ Mates are not durable and I have replaced nearly 100 of them. Ditto the Proto 2000's.
    I have reluctantly started to purchase RTR freight cars. I have Athearns and Walthers. The Walthers are not really RTR as you have to add weight to all of them, as well as the grabirons. Their tank cars are worth the extra effort. Most of the Athearns are just bluebox kits assembled by someone else and are reasonably priced. Athearn has also started to issue some old Roundhouse kits as RTR. I have purchased one Athearn Genesis and it's really sweet. Detailing is great and I haven't broken anything yet. Kadee RTR are out of my price range and don't fit my era anyway so I have no comments on them.
    Around here most dealers have no problem with opening boxes to see what you will get. I have only commented on stuff that I have used, there may be other brands that fellow Gauge members have used and can offer their advice.
    Good Luck and Happy Modeling.
  13. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    All this information is great and I appreciate the time all of you have given me. I plan to hit the LHS again this evening and will keep the suggestions in mind.

    So, thinking about all these things over the past few days, here is what I am considering doing:

    I live south of Houston and the oil industry is quite prolific. From my childhood in the 60's and 70's, I remember a stretch of road with tracks and a tank car filling facility beside it. It was an "open structure" type of thing, pipe structure supporting a walkway with piping and hoses and there was always a bunch of tank cars sitting underneath, and of course storage tanks and related equipment and facilities. There are still some "riveted" storage tanks around here that are in use. I would like to try my hand at building a smallish diorama of something like that, not an exact replica but just a conglomeration of ideas.

    I figure that I should start small instead of having grandiose plans of 100's of feet of track, etc. If my diorama were to come together, then I could use it as a starting point for further expansion into a working layout.

    As a kid, I had a few trains back in the 60's and 70's and built a lot of plastic models and was fairly proficient at it, building, painting, weathering, scratch building a few things, so I kind of know what to expect.

    I will take some pictures of several facilities around the area to use as guidelines on what to build.

    Any comments or suggestions?
  14. Ralph

    Ralph Remember...it's for fun!

    Hi Gary,

    Lots of good advice up above!

    I think a lot of us model the era we first started noticing trains as kids. I think your oil industry idea is a good inspiration and your memories will fuel research and layout construction. Starting with a diaroma is an excellent thought too. Best wishes!
  15. dsfraser

    dsfraser Member

    From my experience, best brands for locomotives:
    Kato, Altlas, Proto, Genesis, Spectrum, more or less in that order. You will find they are priced accordingly.

    For rolling stock:
    Intermountain, Proto, Atlas, Branchline, Red Caboose, then Athearn, MDC and others. For me, the most telling point is whether the grabs are moulded on teh sides or are included as separate parts. I try to avoid anything with moulded-on detail.

    Nowadays you won't find metal trucks except on high-end brass models. I have found that metal wheelsets make a huge difference in reducing the rolling friction of cars and reducing the grundge that accumulates on the track. For couplers, Kadee #5 is pretty well the industry standard, and all my cars are fitted with them.

    Kits vs. RTR is one of those endless, unwinnable debates. I'm a detail-oriented model builder, so I prefer kits. Other people cut themselves just picking up an X-Acto knife, and prefer RTR. Cost may seem like a factor, but not alweays. RTR costs pretty well twice or more what kits do, but by the time you factor in replacement wheelsets, couplers, paint, decals and tools, walkways and otehr accessories, RTR is not that much more expensive. It's whatever turns your crank.

    As for era and prototype, that's a very individual choice. If you want to run four-axle diesels, you have fifty years of railroading to embrace. Forty-foot boxcars continued in use in Canadian grain service until the mid-1980s. Nowadays longer cars and longer diesels are the rule, containers have replaced boxcars and TOFC (trailer-on -flatcar), so wider turns are necessary, although if you're interested in passenger service, wider turns are required regardless of era — passenger cars are typically 80' long.
  16. green_elite_cab

    green_elite_cab Keep It Moving!

    Get the Walthers Oil Loading Platform. It is still up for sale ( but I have a funny feeling its gonna get discontinued soon) and you can get it at Walthers, or Train shows. they are pretty cheap, and they will create your " "open structure" type of thing, pipe structure supporting a walkway with piping and hoses and there was always a bunch of tank cars sitting underneath". I have 2 put together on my layout. Similarly walthes sells a pipeing kit, a refinery pipeing kit( i think its discontinued, but you can find it at shows), Reinery Cracking towers (i don't know about this one availability), tall and wide tanks, and the horse head pumps.

    Speaking of oil refinerys and such, the most recent (november 2005) issue Model Railroader has a whole article on the Oil industry and how to model it. it mostly describes the time period around the 1940-50s, but in general the same things apply today. its probably worth picking up.

    HO lineside Industries you can build is also another source for building oil industry structures. (once again set in an earlier time.) It also gives ideas on what to build your diorama on.

    A previous Model railroader Magazine suggested Gatorplast and Gatorfoam. a thin piece of wood might work. i bet the gator foam would be best though. lets just see what happens.
  17. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    For me its:
    1.Atlas and Athearn engines
    2.Cars :80% of my cars are Athearn RTR,kit (including Bev-Bel and CM Shops) or Genesis.15% Atlas and 10% Accurail.
  18. eightyeightfan1

    eightyeightfan1 Now I'm AMP'd

    Some more ramblings.......
    As far as couplers go, switch to the Kadees. Even the newer ready to rolls come with either McHenry, Bachmann, or Kato "Scale" couplers. I always convert my rolling stock and locos to the Kadees, even if they came with those I mentioned. They are made of metal, and not plastic like those mentioned above, and seem to stay "hooked" together when running long or unit trains. I have had problems with the plastic one coming apart in long heavy trains. Thats why they don't stay on very long. Need some..Gotta a drawer full of them...The plastic ones that is.
    Of course...All this is personal preference.
    Done rambling..........
  19. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    I bought a few more tank car kits.... Walthers and Athearn. The Athearn kits are simple to build! Not nearly as much detail as the proto2000 but the ease of assembly is a definite plus. The Proto2000s are going to take some effort to get built... especially with me trying to learn the rudimentary aspects of trimmng and gluing and etc.

    I saw some of the oil industries stuff mentioned above in the LHS. I am also figuring that storage tanks and refactories could be built out of PVC pipe.

    Any comments on using different sizes of steel or copper wire for piping and support structures and stuff? Possibly soldering the wires to make support structures?

    How would a person go about building a domed top for a tank that was made from PVC?
  20. dsfraser

    dsfraser Member

    I gather you don't have a lot of experience in kit-building, much less scratchbuilding. Something like a refinery or even just a tank farm will require lots of scratchbuilt components, and might best be deferred for a couple of years.

    That said, I would avoid steel wire, because it is bloody hard to bend and must be welded, not soldered. Copper is easy to bend and solder, but has no strength. Brass rod is probably more suited to what you have in mind.

    Another material is plastic. You can get dimensional plastic shapes from Plastruct, for example, or make your own just as easily.

    Learn how to "stretch sprue", sprue being the plstic frames that hold the parts in a conventional injection-moulded styrene kit. Take a straight piece of sprue with no gates (bumps) and heat it gently over a candle, holding it two or three inches above the flame. When it starts to sag, remove it from the heat and pull it apart with a smooth motion, and you will end up with a plastic filament. The faster you pull, the thinner teh filament. A slow, steady pull will yield different thicknesses of plastic rod. Practice it a bit, and you'll see how easy it is.

    The other cool part about this technique is that the plastic retains its cross-section. It you start with a rod, you get a rod. If you start with a half-round section or triangular section, you get a thinner half-round or triangular section. This also holds for strips, I-beams, tubes, et.

    Finally, look into polyurethane casting, using two-part resin and RTV rubber for the moulds. That way you can make one part, say a valve, and reproduce it as many times as needed.

    This is a lot to bite into all at once, but what you're describing is a very ambitious project, and you'll need all of these skills, and more, to pull it off.

    What diameter? My first instinct would be to turn a master from wood or acrylic using a lathe and then mould it on a vacuform table from sheet styrene. (More new techniques to learn!) Plan B would be to build it up like the original — cut rounded sections from sturdy styrene sheet, say .040", glue them into a circular array at the center, and then lay overlapping triangular pieces cut from thin .010" sheet styrene.

    I hope all this is helpful. If you search teh Web you will find lots of information about vacuuforming, mould-making and casting, and scratchbuilding. Good luck with it.

    Scott Fraser
    Calgary, Alberta

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