The new release of N Scale GLa open hoppers by Bowser Manufacturing arrived at retailers earlier this month. Unlike the cylindrical hoppers also re-released by Bowser this month, the GLa's are made from a tooling developed by Bowser (the Cylindricals were acquired from Delaware Valley).
The prototype: In 1898, Pressed Steel Car Co. built the first all-steel hopper car designated the GL. The Pennsylvania Railroad would purchase several thousand of this design. Due to production backlogs at P.S.C.Co. and flaws in the initial design, the Penny came up with its own all-steel, bottom-discharge hopper car in 1904 designated the GLa. Approximately 30,000 GLa's were produced between 1904 and 1920. The Pennsy also built Gla's for numerous coal companies who were anxious for the well-built and reasonably priced cars. Until the 1960s, this design was one of the three most numerous classes of PRR freight cars. Although by this time, these cars began to rapidly disappear from the PRR roster, a few made it into the Penn Central and even Conrail rosters, lasting into the early 1980s.
The model: This is a very nice little model which has been appropriately updated for the current marketplace. Furthermore, the price-point makes it well more affordable than competitors' products of equivalent quality. The recent addition of body mount MTL-knockoff couplers as well as high-end blackened-metal wheelsets are things we like to see in every new release. We don't expect them always to show up in re-releases like this one, so it is a welcome surprise to see that Bowser is paying attention to what people want and are willing to price it fairly..
The body detail, however, is not as nice as the similar, larger, Micro-Trains 33' 2-bay open hopper models. The bay doors for the Bowser model are molded-in and the car-end details are much less refined. We think that these cars deserve more detail parts. In fact, the only detail part evident is the brake wheel which echos back to 1960s vintage models and is not very impressive.
The cars do however, come with a built-in load. It is better than no-load at all, but it is a relatively cheap plastic shell mold that is unfortunately, inappropriately shiny. We are great fans of the loads made by Hay Brothers, and with some luck they make some resin-cast molds for this model.
The couplers are Chinese replicas of Micro-Trains 1015 body-mount couplers. It is a shame that they couldn't use the real thing, but we understand the sensitivity of N Scale modelers to even small price differences. With the steadily climbing prices of Chinese labor, we expect to see the Chinese replicas to become pricier than the Oregon-made originals within the next few years, so sooner or later it will be economical for companies such as Bowser, Bluford and InterMountain to use the real thing. That being said, these couplers are superior to everything else on the market besides real OEM MTL couplers. I would rather see a Chinese knock-off of a 1015 coupler than Accumates, McHenries, EZ-Mates or any of the other annoying doesn't-quite-work-well-with-my-MTL-rolling-stock wannabes.
These cars are being priced by the discounters at about $15 each, and with metal wheels and Micro-Trains (knokoff) body mount couplers, these cars are very fairly priced. I bought four of them as they were a fairly common prototype in use by the railroads of the Northeast which I love to model.