I recently purchased a 2-pack of these hoppers as an N Scale Enthusiast Special Run, and decided to do a quick review of them while I was opening the boxes and doing some quick photos.
(Courtesy of Bluford Shops) A 2-bay hopper design with offset sides was first proposed in the 1920s and first appeared in the form seen here in 1934. The AAR adopted it as a standard design the following year. The offset design permitted greater interior capacity than a rib side car with the same outside dimensions. It was thought this more than made up for the car’s higher cost of construction. The last new 2-bay offset side hoppers were built in 1960.
Single cars are currently available at a $24.95 MSRP and Bluford has done a fine job of promoting their products and making sure they can be frequently found at smaller hobby shops. Craig Ross of Bluford really pounds the pavement making sure the Bluford products are known and appreciated by N Scale modelers all over North America. Personally, I think he does the work of five people considering he is not only the face of the company but he also deeply involved the R&D effort as well as model production. While not posessing any of the negative qualities of your typical rivet counter, he can face off with and go toe-to-toe with even the most belligerent "this-ain't-like-the-prototype" troll. I have seen him in action facing down the trolls with a near encyclopedic knowledge about revenue service railroads.
So why go on about Craig? Because the models that come out of Bluford are very much shaped by his deep knowledge and personal charm. The more I learn about Bluford, the more I appreciate Craig and the more I learn about Craig, the more I appreciate Bluford - if that makes any sense.
So how does it show? Let me start with the model's biggest flaw. The brake hoses. In my desk drawer I have one of those built-in pencil trays. The pencil tray is not full of pencils. It is filled with pieces of of N Scale models that have broken off. You can find lots of plastic wheels, magnetic trip pins and hopper bay hatches, but one of the most numerous odd bits in there are brake hoses. I am a runner. I put ALL my trains on the track and I run them hard on long NTRAK modules. If pieces can break off they will brake off. And the cool little brake hoses on each end of a Bluford car can and do brake off - frequently.
So what does Bluford do? They put a note in the packaging that says (I am paraphrasing here) "Yep - they brake off - that's cuz you rivet-wankers want your detail so bad. Consider yourself lucky I add as much detail as I do so if they brake off - tough beans." Way to stand up for your product! I approve, though I would like you to start using thse rubber break hoses used by Tangent. They bend instead of break.
Nice blackened metal wheels sit on detailed trucks. The couplers are high-grade MTL-clone body-mount jobs. They just GLIDE along the track when given a little push. You can run a long consist of these puppies behind any transition era motive power and they will run great.
There could be some more detail on the bodies. The stirrups are part of the body molding and could be thinner if they were detail parts. The bay door are separately applied detail parts and look great. The platform under the horizontal brake wheel could be etched metal or at least latticed plastic like what MTL uses instead of being molded in. The air tainks and other end detail look pretty darn good. The coal loads are mid-grade, but I like cast resin loads in all my hoppers that have loads and no plastic load will ever get an "A" grade from me.
If you want to run your cars empty, Bluford did a reasonable job with the interior, which you can only see if you remove the load. Thanks Bluford for making the loads easy to pop out, but with enough friction they don't come out during transport. The inside looks good, but lacks some of the really amazing interior details some other N Scale brands have included in their recent releases. There is some slop in the glue marks and flashing in the inside, but most people won't bother to run their cars empty so not a huge negative.
Bluford never shies from taking on more challenging paint schemes, especially for lesser known railroads. In this case, the Green and Red Peabody scheme was particularly eye catching. Or maybe that is just because the holiday season is approaching. Years ago, Bluford ran a special run for "Blue Coal" which is one of my all-time favorite hopper liveries and am still trying to get my hands on a set (anyone have one to sell?). Sure - there are lots and lots of historically accurate white on red, white on black and
white on brown, but you also can find cool logos, conspicuity stripes (EL has some nice ones) or the awesome Tennessee Alabama & Georgia White on Blue. My favorite part of any Bluford release is looking through the paint schemes to see what surprises Bluford has found in the history books.
A good runner that doesn't price out too high. It has some nice detail but could use more (but I guess that would kill the price point....). Be prepared to lose some brake hoses, but you can be sure the cars look great even without them. Maybe Bluford will figure out the material Tangent is using for theirs and copy it.. But don't let that stop you from buying these. I own a bunch of offset side cars, though my personal fav is the panel-side (why? because they look like they have armor plating!)