One of the manufacturers that we had a chance to talk to at the national NMRA convention this year was a small company called Wheels of Time. They were showing preproduction samples of 60-foot Harriman style baggage cars in N scale. As I've become more interested in modeling specific passenger trains recently, I was pleased to find someone taking N scale passenger train modeling seriously. I'm working on models of a few Milwaukee Road and Pennsylvania Railroad passenger trains while my wife is now putting together one of Southern Pacific's Daylight trains (well, the Kato GS-4 she bought last year has to pull something!). I was impressed with the preproductions enough that we each ordered a set when reservations opened in September. We saw the manufacturer again at Trainfest in November and we talked a little more about the cars and the company's upcoming city bus models. Our baggage car order arrived yesterday, so let's take a look at the final products...
I've purchased my fair share of rolling stock multipacks in the past (and I have a couple others on my Christmas wish list), so I was expecting to find the cars packaged more like Kato or MicroTrains does with many of their multipacks where each car is packaged in its own plastic box and the multiple car boxes are packaged in one outer box. The Harriman cars were all packaged in the same size box for the two sets. Within the box is one large foam insert with contoured cutouts to fit two sizes of baggage cars, either 60-foot or 65-foot cars. The foam is actually wider than these cars are long (as you can see from the two cars in front of the box here), so the company has the option of using the same boxes for 80-foot cars by just making larger cutouts in the foam. The cars are a snug fit in the foam, so there is little danger of them banging around and getting damaged just from the packaging. Also included in each box is a slip of paper with brief information about the cars' prototypes. In the UP set that I purchased, this page describes three sets of UP models, while in the SP set, this page describes three sets of SP models. In all, the packaging gave me the sense that the company is being frugal and doing what is necessary to reduce costs while concentrating on the quality of the models themselves.
So, the next step is to take the cars out of the box and take a closer look. The UP set that I ordered included four cars: OSL 1827 and 1831 and UP 3008 and 3011. The OSL cars are four-axle cars while the UP cars are six-axle. The SP set that my wife ordered included two cars: SP 6318 and 6034. On all the cars, the rivet and small details are quite well done and the paint is crisp and thin enough that it doesn't hide the details. The stripes and lettering all appear straight, even for the stripes that continue across the doors of the SP cars, and I don't see any hint of any decal film nor do I see any bleeding of any of the colors applied to the cars. The stirrup steps under the side doors are separately attached, but the steps at the corners appear to be part of the main body molding. However, the corner steps don't have that horribly-out-of-scale look that many less expensive cars include, so I don't think I'll be shaving them off for etched brass steps any time soon. These steps certainly pass the two-foot rule (they look right from two feet away). On one of the UP cars, one of the door stirrups seemed a shade misaligned, but again, they pass the two-foot rule. Now, I may be old-fashioned, but I think operating doors in N scale are still way cool, and all of the side doors on these cars slid open and closed very easily (the end doors are all molded shut). It seems like the doors are recessed a little farther than they might be on the prototype, but looking at various prototype photos around teh intarwebs, there is an easily noticeable depth between the car side and the door. I don't have detailed car plans with me, but it seems like the model should have a smaller recess depth. On the model the doors are recessed from the car sides by about six scale inches, so this is probably correct after all. On first glance, the car ends look completely undetailed. They are in fact detailed, with rivet lines on the ends and door details within the diaphragms. These details are hard to see in the thumbnail photo. Click on the photo to see the enlarged version and you can see what I mean. Looking under the cars, the underframes are also detailed. The various beams and support structure of the underframes look appropriate for this type of car. The pipes for the steam and brake lines are included, but molded into the underframe. The brake details include the air reservoirs, triple valve, cylinder and control bars. There is also an electric generator and a pair of battery boxes attached to the underframes. The reservoirs, triple valve and battery boxes are molded into the underframe, but the cylinder and control bars are applied separately, as is the electric generator. The details on the underframe are included but designed in a way that they are less likely to be broken off and not to impede the cars' regular operations on the layout. Looking at the car in operation, the details that extend below the floor are clearly visible from the side and provide enough of a hint that there is much more detail there to add to the illusion.
I put them on my layout to test how well they couple and roll. All the cars are equipped with MicroTrains couplers and low-profile wheels, so they coupled to my existing rolling stock and they worked on my code 55 track. In each of the two sets, I found one axle on one car was a little stiff and prevented the cars from free-rolling and some of the truck pins were a little tight which prevented those trucks from swinging as easily as the others. A little tweaking on the axle boxes and truck pins should resolve these issues. The cars ride high enough above the trucks that they don't bind on the underframe and the wheels don't rub on the car floor. The coupler positions keep the cars closely coupled, so much so that when the slack is pushed in, the car diaphragms touch. With the slack pulled out, the diaphragms are about a scale 8 inches apart (about 1/16 of an inch). The cars operated around the 18-inch radius curves on my layout both being pulled and pushed without binding. With truck-mounted couplers, it looked like they would negotiate tighter curves when being pulled, but as the diaphragms touch when the cars are pushed, this might cause a problem.
In all, I'm pleased with these models. They will make excellent additions to the passenger train models that we are building. I'm giving these cars four out of five spikes (with five being best) because they look super out of the box, and the little bit of adjustments needed to two axle boxes and a couple truck pins seems reasonable to me. We'll see how well the close coupling holds up without derailing the train once the cars are in regular use on the layout. The biggest drawback that I can find on these models is their price and availability. These sets retail for an average of $40 per car, so I won't be able to afford a complete set of all the UP-painted or SP-painted cars, and their limited production runs means that the baggage car sets are all sold out at the manufacturer. A quick search on eBay today found one UP car in kit form, but no ready-to-run sets listed yet. Wheels of Time has a dealer list on their website, so a few phone calls might find the specific set you're looking for.