The new release of N Scale ACF cylindrical hoppers by Bowser Manufacturing arrived at retailers earlier this month. This re-release is the fifth (I believe) release by Bowser since they acquired this tooling from Delaware Valley in 1998. This model comes in two different versions, one version models the 6-bay prototype and the other models the 3-bay version.
The quality of the tooling for this model is fairly typical for its age. Since the original models were created in the early 1990s, the degree of detail is reasonably good, though not excellent. For example, the roofwalk is made of a piece of flat textured plastic. The texture is meant to give the feel of a metal grate, but a texture is no substitute for a true 'see-through' lattice. Today's injection molded process can and does deliver see-through walkways made in plastic so when you see a textured roofwalk, it is a clear indication of an older model. And even see-through plastic walkways are a step below the modern gold standard of etched metal walkways.
Similarly, the stirrups are a huge leap forward in appearance from the models from the 1960s and 1970s, but are still noticeably thicker than other similar models such as the InterMountain cylindrical hopper. The underframe detail is acceptable by modern standards but nothing special either. There are no detail parts such as hoses and bay covers. The roof is the same - the hatches are molded, not detail parts like you see on Micro-Trains hopper roofs.
The two huge wins for this model are the updates to the trucks, couplers and wheels and the excellent choices for paint schemes.
As I am sure you have heard me comment on ad nauseum, today's modeler expects two key features from his rolling stock that he did not expect five years ago. He wants to see body-mounted couplers and he wants to see metal wheels. Bowser delivers both. Not only do they deliver modern chemically blackened metal wheels, but these wheels and trucks are made by Fox Valley - the industry standard for high end bogeys. Thank you Bowser for getting this right.
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 Chinesee 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.
I am not sure who decides on which paint schemes these things will be run in, but I think whoever it is has one of the best eyes for attractive cars in the N Scale space. I don't give even half a hoot whether these are prototypical or not. Bowser's cars are BEAUTIFUL. And if they are not prototypical, they should have been. What is key is that they look like they *could* have been prototypical. In a similar way, Lowell Smith's fruit reefers look like they should have been real cars even though they were not. There is a huge difference between cars that look like they were prototypical and were not and those that don't even pretend. These cars may be pretenders, but like Marky, I want my Maypo car in my cereal consist anyways.
These cars are being priced by the discounters at about $15 each, and with metal wheels, Micro-Trains (replica) body mount couplers, reasonably good detail, these cars are very fairly priced. I bought three of them and ran them in my Covered Hopper consist this past weekend at the NTRAK meet in Lexingon MA. I suspect they will sell quickly at this price. Grab them while you can.