You would expect a railroad like the Rio Grande to have a large fleet of cars for carrying coal, ore and rock. You'd be right. Perhaps no other car is more at place on a Colorado narrow gauge layout than these high-side gondolas.
Blackstone Models' replica of the D&RGW cars takes ready-to-run plastic models to the next level. Not only are the details outstanding, some of them are actually made appropriate not only to the class but to individual cars! No other manufacturer that I'm aware of has ever offered details so specific on a freight car. Does it show? You bet!
Manufacturer: Blackstone Models
Scale: HOn3 (HO scale, 3 foot narrow gauge)
Roadnames - Second Release Nov. 2008: Denver and Rio Grande Western (3 schemes,8 numbers, weathered and non-weathered versions of each), painted / unlettered
MSRP: $54.95 unweathered, $59.95 weathered
These models are all based on cars as they appeared after rebuilding in the 1920s (see Prototype History below.) The models are available in three Rio Grande paint schemes. The famous "Flying Grande" logo is available in five numbers. The similar "Moffat Tunnel" and "Royal Gorge Route" schemes are offered in one and two numbers respectively. Each model is available in fresh paint and in weathered versions. Features common to all models include:
- Die-cast metal and plastic construction
- Seperately applied wire detail parts
- Detailed interior sides
- Side stake and splice placement appropriate to individual cars
- Detailed brake rigging
- Kadee couplers
- Historic profile of the cars
- Completely Ready to Run
I purchased two of these cars for review and for use on the D&RGW project layout; one in the "Flying Grande" and one in the "Royal Gorge" scheme. Both were weathered at the factory. Although the railroad has all the cars it needs, the individual detailing of these cars makes it tempting to add even more.
The Denver and Rio Grande purchased around 1,300 gondolas from American Car and Foundry between 1898 and 1906. Like much of the freight car fleet, the cars were rebuilt in the 1920s. These rebuilds greatly changed the look of the cars which had been built in several different designs. The "new" cars eliminated many of those differences but also introduced a few new ones. Old numbers were retained.
A rotary dumper is not a technology typically associated with narrow gauge trains, but one was installed at Salida, CO to dump the loads into standard gauge cars. This dumper, and the effect it had on the wood sides of the cars, led to changes in their appearance over the years. As side boards and stakes were replaced, workers added splices to support the upper stakes. Since these were sporadic repairs, there was little consistency between cars. To its credit, Blackstone Models has recreated this detail with great accuracy.
Cars carried coal, ore, limestone, maintenance equipment and materials, lumber and other products. In the 1950s, more than 100 were converted for hauling long sections of pipe. Flat cars were used as idlers between the gondolas whose ends were lowered or removed. These pipe trains were a signature move on the D&RGW in the 1950s.
By the 1960s, only about 175 of the cars remained on the roster. Several have been preserved throughout Colorado and New Mexico and can still be seen in photo freights today.
- Historic data from Jeff Johnson's excelent data sheet included with the models.
If you've read any of the other reviews of Blackstone Models' rolling stock, you already know that the detailing, painting and factory-applied weathering make their models among the best of the best anywhere. That said, what sets these high-side gon's apart from the rest?
First, there is a feature that is found on some other gondola models, but not nearly as often as it should be - interior details. The inside of this car has recieved the same level of attention as the exterior. Board details in the floor and sides are all present so these cars will look good empty. Two small details are included for installation by the modeler. These small blocks are attached to the inside walls near the corners and were steps to help workers get out of the car. See the company website for placement instructions.
Then there are the details that nobody else has ever done. The side stakes and splices, a distinctive part of these cars' character and history, are individually applied to accurately reflect specific prototype cars. Accurate-to-the-roadnumber modeling on a freight car is unheard of. These details could have been made as after-market consumer-applied parts, but they are factory-installed. Even on locomotives, this level of detail is rarely seen. On a lowly gondola, it's in a class all its own.
Customizing the Model
With so much already done by Blackstone Models, there is very little that needs to be done to these models. Of course you could add loads or some additional weathering, but what else?
One interesting modification would be to use this as the starting point for pipe service cars. Removing the ends and installing loads would be a fairly easy modification. The resulting car(s) would be very interesting and with the details available could be just as accurate as the production models.
If you just stick with the more convetional uses, a load of ore or coal could be easily made. More interesting loads of maintenance equipment or machinery would compliment the details of the car nicely. Even an empty car would likely have some residual coal or stone left in the bottom from its last load. A sprinkle of coal dust or ballast would show use without hiding all of the wonderful details already in place.
Loaded or empty, these free-rolling cars will track well on any layout. All together, Blackstone has released 16 road numbers for these cars in two releases. Hopefully future releases are coming to provide even more variety for larger rosters.