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The Big City Hobbies HOn30 Minitrains 0-4-0 Mining Set Review

October 12, 2011

BCH Minitrains 0-4-0

Surprisingly Great- The Minitrains 0-4-0ST Saddle-tank.

 The new re-release of the almost forty year old tooling of the much loved AHM ‘Minitrains’ has caused quite a stir among the narrow gauge modelers this year. They came out with the Plymouth diesel model first, and this summer they debuted this fine little 0-4-0. With a completely new motor (thank goodness) and plenty of updates both cosmetic and mechanical, it sure is a neat thing to have.

For the uninitiated, HOn30 is HO scale (1:87) that depicts 2foot-six inch gauge (30″) which fortunately is N scale track. 30″ gauge operations were found all over the world, and was popular in the Americas for industrial, mining and logging operations. One should look at all the resources that has sprung up for On30 to more fully research some of these prototypes, as HOn30 isn’t a popular gauge to model, yet. Hopefully these offerings from Big City Hobbies will change this.


Minitrains Box 2011 HOn30

BCH made a classy move by deciding to use the original 1960’s era box art shared with its AHM predecessor. 
Inside the Minitrains HOn30 box

The box arrived in the mail today and once opened revealed a neat collection of 8 pieces of rolling stock, and of course the Porter. The Red driver inserts were also included for the modeler who wants the original look for his little steamer. Quizzically, there aren’t any instructions or documentation of any type that came with the set. I suppose if you’re buying something like this, you’re already an advanced enough modeler not to worry about anything. An exploded isometric-view parts diagram of the little Locomotive would have been a nice addition though, but alas.

BCH HOn30 Porter Mining Cars

The cars are all sharp injection-molded plastic side-dump cars of two types. The “Vee” type was built by the Irwin Sensenich Corporation, the “Box” style by American Car & Foundry. These could be used to move any commodity that an open-hopper typically carries, coal, gravel, clay, sand, ash, ballast, stone, iron pellets, metal ores, dirt, etc.

The cars themselves are extremely light, almost featherweight. Be careful when shoving them around your layout, they have a tendency (if not loaded with something) to jack-knife. The nicely machined metal wheels do give them a nice, low center of gravity and track very well. Their unusual loop couplers must be of period European vintage.  Despite the cars’ weight, these little loop couplers work reliably. When filled with loose “live” loads (I used decomposed granite) they track VERY well and seem pretty content to ride behind the little 0-4-0. That’s not to say that the empty cars don’t perform well unloaded, just don’t sneeze, or you’ll find them in the next county.

HOn30 Baldwin 0-4-0T

The locomotive itself is SMALL, and I mean small. It’s the same size and length as a scale Ford F-150 pickup truck. The miniscule 26″ drivers are smaller than even the Lifelike 0-4-0T “Docksider” in N scale and the little Stephenson valve gear works hard at any speed above a crawl. This adds a flurry of whirling siderods as your little saddletank locomotive plods along at 15 scale mph.

The prototype for this model is NOT a Porter, as advertised. It’s a Baldwin 0-4-0ST “Mastiff” in the Baldwin catalog parlance. Model No. 4-10-C. For some reason BCH got it in their head that it’s a Porter, and have adorned it with a remarkably beautiful builder’s plate for their company. I plan to leave it on, because it’s an excellent piece of laser-printing, but I’d like to see this remedied in the future releases.

Baldwin 0-4-0T HOn30


I’m sure everybody wants to know how this little beauty runs. Right out of the box it ran beautifully and quiet. It has a really bright LED for a headlight that came on at low voltage and remained constant throughout the throttle settings. It obviously can go MUCH faster than its prototype ever could, but once you break it in at fast throttle for half and hour in EACH direction, you can really get it to crawl around your layout just as it should. It’s pretty strong too. I filled the mining cars with heavy crushed granite and it easily pulled all 8 loaded cars around my not-so-even mainline. Gear noise is minimal, and probably will disappear completely as it breaks in. It’s pretty heavy considering its size and plastic shell, the interior is almost entirely weight and motor, and since it’s an 0-4-0, all of that weight goes on the little 26″ drivers.

HOn30 Steam Locomotive

Detail wise, it’s pretty unchanged from the original except for the LED light. It has all molded on detail save for a separate (nice looking) bell casting. The only cheesy details it posses are a sledgehammer and pick molded to the back of the cab. Other than that, it’s a pretty crisp casting and the domes, drivers and smokebox front look great.

Expect to pay between $100-$80 for this set, depending on where you shop. You’ll need N gauge track and a transformer for this set, as it ONLY comes with the Locomotive and rolling stock.

HOn30 set, track and transformer not included.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 18, 2012 8:41 pm

    I love ’em I want a couiple to go with my Eggerbahn and liliput sets. I am just about finished a 4’X3′ layout of a dock and limestone crushing setup. Have had to make all the points due to the unusual geometry. I can’t wait to get it going. Hasten slowly seems a good idea.

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