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Title: ScaleTrains.com's 4727 Carbon Black Hopper: A Fine Product To Be Handled With Care

Collection: N Scale Model Trains
Category: Product Reviews
Publication Date:
Last Modification Date: 2018-04-03
Author:
I was excited when we heard last year (2017) that these new cars were being released by ScaleTrains.com. We had been so impressed with their work on the Big Blow that I had purchased one as a promotional giveaway item for the Northeast N-Trak Winterfest raffle this past January at the Amherst Railway Show. Furthermore, ScaleTrains.com also contributed to the Winterfest event by giving away some 100 of their most excellent 53 foot reefer containers. I have not yet reviewed either of these two models, but I liked the reefer enough that we added a number of these containers to my personal collection for running at N-Trak layouts. Needless to say, I was happy enough with both of these models (the Big Blow and the 53 foot reefer containers) that I was thrilled to hear about ScaleTrains.com’s first venture into rolling stock. I pre-ordered two of the newly announced hoppers, one of each type.

Excellent examples of 3rd generation N Scale Rolling stock
These cars arrived a bit late (there was a small snafu in my pre-order that delayed them a week or so). I was excited to open them. Overall after examining them closely and running them, my reaction was fairly positive with a moderate caveat – which I will get to later. These are excellent examples of 3rd generation N Scale Rolling stock. For more details on what we consider to be 3rd generation see our blog article here. These models are part of ScaleTrains ‘Rivet Counter’ line of products and claim to be among the best detail level of anything in N Scale. We happen to agree with their claim.

A bit about this reviewer's perspective
I believe that many folks buy model trains to run them, or at least with the idea that they will run them. Sure, there are plenty of ‘hoarders’ who buy stuff, put it away in storage boxes and never look at the item again. We are of the opinion that most folks don’t do this and furthermore, that the items that do get ‘hoarded’ are often acquired because the model is popular with the more traditional hobbyist who likes to ‘run’ or at least ‘display’ his models. Hence, we also believe that most models will be handled and should be designed with the idea that they will be removed from their boxes by hand, set on rails and pulled by locomotives. It is with this in our minds, that we write a review.

Big bang for the buck
We are also of the opinion that today’s best models should cost about $30 - $40 and have a range of ‘modern’ features. These include body-mount couplers, metal wheels, and an array of details parts including etched metal parts where appropriate. This is where the ScaleTrains 4727 hopper scores big on all counts. At a discounted price of $31.99 each, I feel I got a LOT for my money.

And now for the review
Here are some of the details. The wheel set is excellent. The quality of the metal wheels was made clear both by sight (they look good) and by sound (I rolled the car up and down a piece of track). They look as close to prototypical as any N Scale wheel set I have seen. Next, the couplers are body-mounted just as they should be and include some pipe/hose detail I don’t recollect seeing on any other model. There is a cut lever next to the coupler mounting that is a nice add-on that I have only seen before on Bluford models. I can only hope it doesn’t break off as these cars are mashed together in operating sessions. There are some inset doodads on the sides of the car between the ribs. I have no idea what these are or whether they are specific to Carbon Black hoppers. However, they look like they are durable as they are set into little pockets and likely won’t come off with handling.

The underframe is excellent. If you have seen my rants about the awful underframes typical in otherwise excellent Fox Valley models, you know I have a thing for detail under the car. These underframes rock! They have hoses and tanks and bay caps and cool loops and stirrups. I love them. The detail on the top ios awesome with an etched metal roofwalk, grab irons and what looks like 24 separately glued on roof hatches! I think these may actually have been individually glued on. If not they are part of one of the best molded-on details I have ever seen and are every bit as good as separately applied detail parts. Cool.

The couplers are NOT Micro-Trains. They should be as people expect them because all their other rolling stock will likely have them. Remember, we are N-Trak members and we actually RUN our trains. We want MTL (or replicas made in China). However, we approach every new coupler with an open mind and we tried coupling these to a recently arrived MTL Husky Stack well car. It coupled perfectly and seemed to hold well. They exhibit nice side-to-side motion and absolutely no forward-backward motion. Both of these are good as the former allows re-centering and the latter prevents the slink effect. These couplers are called ‘Type E Semi-Scale Knuckle‘ couplers. We believe that ScaleTrainis went with this new coupler type for two reasons. 1) They couple well with MTL couplers and 2) They don’t slinky your trains (yes I am making this a verb). Personally I don’t give a hoot about slinky trains, so I simply prefer MTL couplers. However if these babies hold up when your locos are pulling 80+ cars, I can live with them. I will give it a try. My verdict: the jury is still out.

So they are gorgeous cars. Unfortunately none of the prototypes represented had very interesting paint schemes, but that is just history. I support ScaleTrains not making up foobie paint schemes, though I would have bought something in B&M ‘Bluebird’ had they made one. The print quality is excellent and the contrast between the metal roofwalks and the black paint is eye-catching. Well-executed printing can partially make up for boring paint schemes.

So what don’t I like?
These things are DELICATE. Although this is a review of the 4727 hopper, I would like to mention that almost everything written here applies to the 5750 version as well. Both models had issues with how easily they can break. The 4727 arrived in the package with a broken coupler. This is the first clear strike I have against these Semi-Scale couplers, and hopefully won’t be the last. When I complained to ScaleTrains.com, they never replied to me. They did, however, ship me a new coupler. They are a bit of a hassle to replace and I suspect most people would be annoyed with receiving a coupler part in place of an entirely new car when the car needs to be partially disassembled in order to replace the part. In this case, I had to carefully separate the brake hose from the coupler mount prior to removing the mount cover, popping out the old coupler, and then every-so-carefully wedging in the new piece, replacing the cover (first attempt was upside down) without breaking the hose, and then carefully re-attaching the hose to the mount cover. I had explained that this model was for review, and I kind of expected that they would take a good look at the model before sending it to me as well as giving me white glove service when it arrived broken. Notsomuch.

But it wasn’t just the coupler. On the 5750 as I turned the model upside down to examine the (awesome) underframe, one of the ladders simply fell off. Luckily I was holding the model over my desk under the lights, so it was easy to find the piece and a dab of CA glue re-attached it (with a heck of a lot less work than replacing the aforementioned broken coupler). However, to be honest, I was hoping for slightly better quality control. I guess that in order to provide all this amazing detail at this price, something had to give and apparently it is the QA team that got short shrift.

My only other less-than-optimal experience was that the friction on the trucks is a little high. When compared to how nicely the Fox Valley and ExactRail models run on their metal wheel sets, the ScaleTrains models don’t roll quite as effortlessly. Again, please remember that I like to run consists with 80+ cars and this kind of thing matters.

In summary
We are looking at a top rate N Scale model made to please modelers and Rivet Counters. The price point is excellent considering what you are getting for your money. The models run pretty well and the couplers interface nicely with MTL couplers so you CAN run them. Just be careful with how you handle them as they seem to break easily. I am guessing that the cut levers won’t survive their first run on our local club’s roving N-Trak layout.

Congratulations to ScaleTrains for their debut rolling stock model. We hope they sell well and that ScaleTrains' upcoming N Scale models are of equivalent quality. We also expect that their repairs group will provide good feedback to the design team so that future releases can better handle the rigors of being handled by us operators.

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