For those who remember my article on the Bachman 2-8-0, I am now dabbling in 1:20.3 as part of with my membership in the Sundance Central Modular Group. Most of the freight cars for this scale have been produced by AMS/Accucraft, but Bachman has now entered the market with their Spectrum line of 1:20.3 freight cars. I wanted to compare these brands since there is a fairly large difference in cost. I have an AMS/Accucraft box car and a Bachman Spectrum boxcar which I will use for my basis of comparison. This may turn out to be an "apples and oranges" comparison, but at least I can point out the differences, and then you can decide which to purchase.
I will start with the trucks. Both models have highly detailed trucks which includes separately applied brake gear. Bachman scores a plus in my mind because the journal box covers open, which while not necessary, is a "neat" added feature. Both cars come with metal wheels. The AMS car has blackened wheels, Bachman comes with shiny wheels that have the outside blackened. A coat of Floquil Roof Brown paint gives them a nice rusty appearance, but the Bachman again scores points because the wheel tread is shiny like the prototype, whereas the AMS has blackened treads. I will find out if this blackening wears off over time. AMS provides four brass angle pieces, which are supposed to support the truck sideframes. Apparently there have been problems with the sideframes coming loose and falling off under load, causing derailments. These angle pieces need to be attached for trouble-free railroading. A note of warning here. The original hex head screws do not come out easily. I used a 1/8" nut driver and could barely remove them. I replaced these screws with phillips head screws that were much easier to tighten. The original screws are metric, and I did not have the proper metric nut driver to work with them. Both manufacturers provide working springs on their trucks which are prototypical archbar.
AMS of course has installed their excellent metal knuckle couplers as standard. The coupler lift bar works and opens the coupler for coupling and uncoupling just like the prototype. Bachman has their own version metal couplers installed which are similar to the AMS couplers in style and in the way they way the work. The Bachman coupler has a different height to the knuckle, but will couple with the Accucraft coupler. In fact the coupler height of the new Spectrum cars matches the AMS coupler height. Bachman also includes a second set of couplers in case you want lower mounting than the originals to match their locomotives. I have raised the coupler height on my locomotives to standardize with the Accucraft and the new Spectrum coupler height.
The AMS car is a museum piece with great underbody detail. All brake rigging and truss rods are attached as separate pieces. Turnbuckles have their "stopper boards" in place just like the prototype. All this detail shows even when viewing the car from the side. The stirrups are metal, and have a very realistic profile. They are attached with simulated bolts like the actual car. The doors open and have a latching mechanism which is extremely realistic. The mechanism is also very fragile, so care must be taken when handling it. All grabs are metal, and any molded on detail does not appear to be such. My car is lettered for the D&RGW and is number 3038. The paint has been applied smoothly, and all lettering is crisp and opaque. The servicing information on this car is 12/51, so it is fairly modern in terms of fittings and paint. The running boards are see through and have a nice wood grain to them. They are painted, which was the norm for this time period. There is a lot of extra labeling stenciled on this car which you do not normally find on models of this type. This car is modeled after a D&RGW car, and is only available in the various Colorado Narrow Gauge road names. The AMS cars simply represent American Car and Foundry cars that were originally built in 1904 and delivered to the D&RG then extensively rebuilt by the D&RGW in the mid twenties.
The Bachman car appears to be molded out of boxcar red plastic (the manufacturer says it is painted). The finish is a little shiny and a spray of Testor's Dullcote will be necessary to make this car look more realistic. The underbody detail is just as good as the AMS car, and has also been also applied as separate pieces. The doors open on this car, but are plain when compared to the detail (bracing) that the AMS car has. The latches on this car are also delicate and difficult to operate without a magnifying glass and tweezers. I had a stirrup and a door stop that had to be glued on, and one of the brackets that holds the coupler lift bar in place was also broken. I fabricated a new coupler lift bar bracket from a brass eye. Yes the coupler lift bars operate the couplers in a manner similar to the AMS car. I had to re-glue the eye in the top of one of the couplers because it had pulled out during shipping. All grabs and stirrups on this car are metal and appear to be to scale. The roof detail on the two cars is quite different, which makes for a nice contrast between the two. The AMS car has a panel roof, whereas the Bachman car has a board on board roof (with good wood grain detail). The end (vent?) door on the Bachman car opens with the same sort of latch that the side door has. The one on the AMS car appears to be molded on and is non-functional. The running boards on the Bachman car are also see through and have wood grain, though it is not as pronounced as the AMS car. The pawl on the handbrake wheel moves when you turn the brake wheel. This is a neat feature even though it does not engage in the gear on the shaft like the prototype does.
The Bachmann models are of American Car & Foundry manufactured cars built in 1900 for the Florence and Cripple Creek RR. About 1915, these boxcars were sold by the F&CC to other western NG railroads. Eventual owners included the Nevada-California-Oregon, Pacific Coast Rwy, Magma Arizona, Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge, Nevada County Narrow Gauge and others.
Both cars are 18 inches long and 4 3/4 inches wide. The Bachman car is 1/4 inch taller than the AMS car. Both weigh about the same, but the Bachman car appears to be made out of a thinner plastic. In the real world these cars were often built and re-built in company shops, so there was often quite a variation in design and style even for the same railroad. Which car to choose? I like both cars, and feel that they would add a nice variety to any narrow gauge 1:20.3 consist. With proper weathering, they would both look great, and match what I have seen in many prototype narrow gauge photos. The price is another matter. The AMS car can be had for about $100.00, and the Bachman will run about $83.00.