PRODUCT REVIEW: 1:29 SCALE CABOOSE AND FLATCAR
Manufacturer: ARISTO-CRAFT Trains, 346 Bergen Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07304. Price: ART-42204 Southern Pacific, ART-42208 Union Pacific, ART-42210 Denver & Rio Grande Western, or ART-42211 Santa Fe wood side bobber caboose $29.95 each suggested list. ART-46307-Jersey Central, ART-46309 D&RGW, ART-46320 Santa Fe, ART-46322 Virginia & Truckee 40 foot steel flatcar $39.95 each suggested list.
YOU HAVE SEEN previous versions of ARISTO-CRAFT's caboose and flatcar many times. I will refrain from a point by point analysis of each car's detail and construction because the primary difference between them and earlier ARISTO-CRAFT rolling stock is their finish. The manufacturer has gone to great lengths to improve the quality and accuracy of the paint and lettering of its entire line of 1:29 scale rolling stock.
The bobber caboose represents a four-wheel wood side car dating from the turn of the century. ARISTO-CRAFT specifies no prototype but somewhere in the recesses of my memory I seem to recall a similar caboose from an eastern railroad. Frankly, I am unaware of any western line with a caboose very close in appearance and proportion to the ARISTO-CRAFT model but such transgressions seem to characterize our hobby. Besides, the models look good anyway.
The flatcar represents a 40 foot steel version from the 1930s. Again, it appears to be a semi-freelance model.
The design of both cars reflects ARISTO-CRAFT's earliest efforts and they are primarily entry-level models for starter sets. The main material in their construction is plastic. The quality of the injection molding is very good. The detail is crisp. The flatcar has solid brass grab irons. Metal screws hold it together. The caboose has flexible plastic end rails and grab irons. The trucks on both cars have working springs for equalization. The weight of the car body entirely compresses the springs on the caboose.
The flatcar scales just under 41 feet long by 10 feet 3 inches wide. The caboose dimensions are 29 feet long by 10 feet 3 inches wide; the top of its cupola is about 15 scale feet above the railhead. Of course, one important dimension, the gauge, is 5 inches too narrow. That is because the models are 1:29 scale but run on 45mm Gauge 1 track.
All the samples had a "flat satin" finish. That is just about ideal for most models. Dead flat finishes seem to detract from a model's detail. Glossy finishes often seem unrealistic. The colors also appeared accurate. For example, they duplicate the subtleties of Southern Pacific orange and the road's particular shade of boxcar red, the vivid contrast between black, red, and yellow on a Santa Fe freight car or caboose, and the more subdued shade of yellow on a Union Pacific caboose.
The graphics on our samples were crisp, clean, opaque, and even the smallest and finest lettering was perfectly legible. Any variation from a prototype scheme was clearly intentional. The lettering styles were characteristic of each prototype. ARISTO-CRAFT's painters have done an excellent job.
Overall, then, each car's materials, workmanship, appearance, and overall quality were quite good.
But I want to make a couple of comments:
We know ARISTO-CRAFT is capable of turning out accurate models. The major dimensions and details of their 40 foot AAR boxcar and their new U-25B diesel locomotive, for example, are almost perfect.
True, it is an earlier model, but the flatcar fails to live up to that standard. It may reflect an ungainly prototype but, more likely, somebody incorrectly adjusted the shape and dimensions of its side and end sills. The appearance of the brakewheel housing resembles nothing I have previously encountered. Every other stake pocket seems to be missing; in its place is an odd plastic ridge. And the stakes seem oversize; by all means replace them with something more appropriate. While you're at it, plank the deck with real wood. The red plastic wood grain deck fits inside the side and end sills; it should sit on top of them and extend to the edges of the car and its color should be that of weathered wood.
The caboose seems to have fewer discrepancies, but why must ARISTO-CRAFT put shiny, bright brass plating on the window framing? The paint on the window frames of real cabooses usually matches the rest of the car. Brass is inappropriate and toylike.
Our hobby already has too many manufacturers competing for a piece of the toy market. A much larger market exists among scale model railroaders and ARISTO-CRAFT has exhibited the potential to be a dominant factor there-if that is what they want.
Inconsistencies aside, ARISTO-CRAFT's flatcars and bobber cabooses are quality products, and each clearly benefits from the improvements in its finish. Admittedly, neither is any more toylike than products from many other manufacturers. But because their slogan is "America's Realistic Trains", we expect ARISTO-CRAFT to maintain a higher standard.-RR
ARISTO-CRAFT's Product Manager, Walter Matuch, responds:
Yes, the flatcar may seem a bit out of proportion but that results from a production necessity of utilizing "family" components such as the same underframe, floor, and brakewheel on more than just one freight car style.
Regarding the size of the flatcar stakes, in real life the load is braced by at least 4 x 4 inch stakes and sometimes larger. The ARISTO-CRAFT TRAINS stake accurately depicts that cross section. The design of the model stakes was to give strength to the stake so it is not easily broken when attached to the car pocket.
You are not entirely correct in saying the wood deck must be on top of the steel frame. Certain flatcars, such as some used by circuses, have inboard wood flooring and, also depending upon railroad requirements, some general interchange flatcars also have inboard wood flooring. If I had a personal preference, it would indeed be for outboard wood flooring but, as stated above, this underframe and floor are used for other freight cars. The choice of the red color, actually a close match for mineral brown, was again to be compatible with all ARISTO-CRAFT TRAINS freight cars.
The shiny brass plating on the bobber caboose windows has already been changed. The later 1993 production in the 0-4-0 Starter Freight Sets will have a realistic "wood grain brown" window trim. That will continue when the bobber cabooses are re-run for separate sale. Because of the quantities required, we cannot paint each window frame to match the caboose side. But please remember, other manufacturers don't even give a clear plastic window-just a hole.
To summarize, both the flatcar and bobber caboose are meant for "entry-level" use in the 0-4-0 Freight Starter Sets. But that doesn't mean that ARISTO-CRAFT TRAINS does not give the same level of painting, detailing accuracy, prototypical look, and (operating) features such as knuckle couplers and windows as in the complete product line.