Fox Valley N-Scale PS Coal Gondola: Rugged & Well Made

Jenna Nov 1, 2019

  1. Jenna

    Jenna TrainBoard Member

    Author: gdm
    Double rotary version of the Pullman Standard coal gondola released by Fox Valley

    Fox Valley announced this model at Trainfest in 2018. It first shipped in March of 2019. These models feature detailed injection-molded bodies, static couplers, accurate decoration and metal wheelsets. Cars are available in six packs except for specially decorated cars such as double rotary cars.

    The single cars in this series were initially offered with an MSRP of $27.95, but we were able to obtain an example car for $21. The six-packs carried an MSRP of $159.95, but we were able to obtain a set for $120.

    The Prototype
    In the 1970s, as demand for clean-burning coal rapidly increased, Pullman-Standard introduced a coal gondola for unit train service. Many of these cars were engineered as 'rotary' gondolas, designed to allow the entire rail car to be flipped upside down while still being coupled to its neighbors, which allowed for almost instantaneous discharge of the load. This was accomplished by having one of the two coupler units set into a socket that allowed for 360 degree rotation. Certain cars would need to have rotary couplers on both ends. These cars would be the head car (or the tail car where a caboose was present) to allow these cars to be rotated when their neighbors (the locomotive or the caboose) didn't have rotating couplers. These double-rotary cars were painted differently than their more common single-rotary siblings so as to stand out visually in the freight yard.

    The Box
    These cars come in 6 3/4" acrylic jewel boxes. Each container comes in a single plastic nest with no plastic sleeve. The six-packs have the acrylic boxes set inside a cardboard box. The lack of a double nest or a protective sleeve is indicative that either Fox Valley didn't believe this extra protection was needed given the durability of the cars, or they were trying to save a few pennies on packaging or both. My opinion is that for this car, given the lack of breakable detail parts, that the extra protection would have been silly and wasteful.

    Couplers and Trucks
    These cars carry body-mounted couplers. The couplers are interesting. They are dummy knuckles. They don't open or close and they don't have magnetic metal bits masquerading as brake lines to trigger decoupling when rolled over a magnet. Not really a big deal as few people I know use these magnets. However, there are folks out there with operations-intensive home layouts who will likely be unhappy with this decision. However, couplers can be VERY expensive, and Fox Valley's decision to go with dummy knuckles likely shaved a dollar or two off the price of this car.


    The wheels are (of course) Fox Valley's own world-class metal wheel sets. Metal wheels are noisier to operate but leave less track residue and tend to roll more smoothly. We tested one of these new coal gondolas on our home track and it ran smoothly.

    The Model
    This is not an extremely detailed model. In fact, it is somewhat basic. It does come with unassembled detail parts (five plastic sprues) to be attached. More on that later.

    This is a rugged runner's model. It sturdy (with no pieces to break off) and features a nice solid construction. Definitely OK for smaller hands to touch. I had the chance to speak with Matt at the Pittsburgh NSE convention and I chastised him mildly for having boring under-frames. Apparently whoever designs their toolings got the memo, because these models have enough carefully tooled detail molded in to the bottom to hold their own. Nice work Fox Valley! Also, the detail was accomplished without using detail parts so the basic durability was not compromised.

    There are few detail parts. Beside the ubiquitous brake wheel (brake wheels have pretty much always been detail parts, even in 1960s toolings) Fox Valley added a brakeman's platform below the wheel. I was unable to ascertain (due to the paint) whether this is an etched metal detail part or a plastic part. The paint is a bit heavy and ruins some of the effect of this really nice part. Fox Valley's model demonstrates that an amazing level of detail is now possible with the injection molding process. The car-end details, the under-frame, the fineness of the stirrups and the ribs all speak to the capability of achieving much finer results now possible from this ages-old process. The ladders are the weakest element and on close inspection they look a little melted. Unfortunately the ladders are some of the first details a modeler might notice. Similarly the grab irons look the same. Using detail parts for grab irons and ladders detracts for the durability and adds to the cost, so we understand why this choice was made, but given the excellent detail in the molding for so much of the car, it is a little surprising that these two elements don't look as good.

    The paint work can be improved. First, as I previously mentioned, the heavy paint on the brakeman's platform partially offsets the excellent workmanship that went into designing and installing this part. Second, on the ends, there are some shadowy circles around the printing. Perhaps these are by design, but I suspect not. I believe they are artifacts of not-quite-perfectly executed pad printing. The sides are gorgeous with that typical "cool-I-can-read-it-with-a-magnifying-glass" effect. No paint artifacts from the angle most people will view these cars. Perhaps that is why this defect got through the QA process. If someone from FV reads this and can clarify that the shadow circles on the end were intentional, I will be happy to amend this paragraph.

    Interior of gondola fresh out of the box.

    So far we have described a pretty good quality $20 model car. We are getting a good quality mold with high-end trucks and body-mounted couplers. We also get a set of detail parts that we can install ourselves. If you plan to display or run these cars with loads, then you might as well toss the detail sprues back in the box. But in reality, 50% of the time, these cars run empty.

    Bracing detail parts

    I was originally going to skip installing the sprues. But I consulted the boss and she said "what kind of review would it be if you didn't talk about installation of the detail parts?" As always, she is right. So I took the plunge and located the following tools: sprue cutters (Xuron makes the best), an X-Acto hobby knife, Testors polystyrene cement and the boss lent me her pair of needle nose tweezers.

    Interior with braces installed

    One hour and twenty minutes later I was done. The angled braces weren't so bad, but the top braces were a cast-iron dog. I would happily have paid $8 more to get a car with these things pre-installed. Furthermore, the eight exterior braces don't fit. It seems the sprues were identical to the ones provided with the Fox Valley Silversides gondola. The smallest set of braces don't fit onto this model. That is because the exterior posts for this model are closer together than the ones on the Silversides. So they just won't fit! (Felt kind of like the OJ trial). These final 8 braces were designed to go on the outside and sit between the five middle posts on the sides of the cars. This is OK as I was sick of installing braces by the time I got to these, and as I understand it, the prototypes sometimes had this exterior bracing and sometimes not. I decided, on my model railroad, the procurement team would opt for the no-braces look.
    Exterior braces don't fit

    This is a rugged and well made $20 car. The paintwork needs some love. If it adds less than $1.50 per car, I would suggest Fox Valley upgrade to MTL couplers. I hated installing the braces. However, if I can find a decent quality third-party resin load for these, I could see running nice unit trains. At this price point, buying a lot of them would be great. Oh, and by the way, these cars will look dumb in a mixed consist. They were designed (due to the rotary coupler mechanism) to run in unit trains only.
    drbnc, Kurt Moose and BNSF FAN like this.

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