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Menards gondolas are the ultimate budget cargo carrier

The first installment of a new "Fleet Fillers" series
Bill Zuback
Price: $19.99 Road names currently available: Baltimore & Ohio (blue, orange, and white), CSX (yellow and blue), Chicago & North Western (black and yellow with North Western logo), New Haven (orange, black, and white), Pennsylvania RR (Tuscan red and white with keystone logo), Santa Fe (silver and red with logo), Soo Line (red, white, and black), Union Pacific (yellow, red, black, and the UP shield), U.S. Army (green, white, and a camouflage pattern), U.S. Navy (blue and white), Western Pacific (silver and black with orange feather logo). Available from: www.Menards stores;
This is the first installation of Fleet Fillers, reviews of equipment to help fill out a car roster inexpensively. Items may be new or vintage, but must be commonly available in stores or on the secondary market for $25 or less in good condition. The goal is to help create colorful operating collections in a budget-friendly manner.

My favorite freight car is the boxcar, because, as Darren McGavin said in A Christmas Story, “There could be anything in there.” But the gondola gets lots of points for play value from old and young alike.

Anyone who owns a gondola knows you can load one with ready-made O gauge cargo such as crates, barrels, or loose coal.

Don’t like those? Create your own: A pile of washers of assorted sizes, broken train parts like side rods, or small metal bits make a scrap load. Railroad ties are also good; Get some balsa and trim the pieces to a uniform size, then couple the gondola to a wreck train. You can even collect twigs from your shrubs and pose them as wood on the way to a paper mill.

If you really want to get into the holiday spirit, gondolas are particularly good for hauling candy around the Christmas tree, unless you have curious pets!

Why these cars?
These Menards gondolas tick a lot of boxes. They are colorful cars with modern graphics and unique numbers. Last but not least, they come in below the $25 price point.

The cars measure 11 inches long, 27/16 inches wide, and 2 inches tall. They operate on O-27 curves, the tightest in O gauge.

While you can find inexpensive used gondolas at a train show or swap meet, these cars are factory fresh. They have metal wheels, operating couplers, and contemporary design. This makes a difference in regard to painting and decoration. Modern techniques are superior to those of the postwar period, and it shows.

The graphics of the Menards cars are skillfully applied. If you asked a modeler which he or she prefers – six gondolas with the same car number, or six cars with six numbers – I’m sure the varied numbers will win.

Can you get variety on a budget? Absolutely. There are 12 road names from all over the country. At about $20 each, they give the prospective buyer plenty to think about.


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