Aristo-Craft Rolling Stock

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Aristo-Craft was one of the largest manufacturers of 1:29 rolling stock. Since Aristo is out of business, I assume USA Trains is second, and the newcomer AML is third. Overall, Aristo-Craft hadslightly lower cost in the box, but you need to realize they shiped with plastic wheels except for special runs and a few specific cars.

Their fidelity to scale and the graphics are good quality, on par with their competitors (except for some detail items grossly out of scale). Specifically, the paint schemes and fidelity are almost always very good, but sometimes Aristo often picks an unusual example of a prototype to model. 

Often the cars and locos sit too high. It used to be very gross, but it is improving. See the section below on lowered floors on freight cars.

Overall, the level of detail is lower than USAT and AML. Aristo is a good choice for lowest INITIAL cost (save $$ mostly because of plastic wheels), or you would rather have less detail (or out of scale door latches for example) in exchange for rolling stock that can take rougher handling.

If absolute cost is less of an issue, you like higher and finer detail, or have Kadees, or use metal wheels, I would in general recommend the USAT or AML freight cars. I only run metal wheels, and anyone who runs track power will tell you plastic wheels are junk. Personally I look for the product from USAT and AML first, then if they don't have it, I look to Aristo. 

Another factor in deciding if Aristo is for you is coupler mounting. Aristo is improving in this aspect, but older products are a nightmare for mounting Kadees.

Looks, paint, details

Aristo freight cars are nice looking, good graphics, and nicely priced. They are 1:29 scale and follow the prototype well. (The 4 axle and old "Delton" cars are not 1:29)

Aristo has often minimized or scaled up details, ostensibly so that they sustain less damage in derailments and handling. This could be a good or bad thing. If you crash your cars or have clumsy people handle them, the larger door latches and other details are a good thing. If you are concerned about scale appearance, you will like the AML or USAT cars better. Aristo is lower priced than USAT Ultimate series, although you need to include the cost of adding metal wheels when comparing.

Early cars sit way too too high.

Many cars "wobble" (can be corrected easily)

Quality control: For 18 years, the underfloor was been reversed 180 degrees. Early in 2008, it was fixed, but then in late 2008, it was back reversed. Aristo has apparently re-corrected the problem. How tough can this be to remain correct? This was despite many complaints.

Notice here I am not talking about the older lines of cars in both manufacturers, the old Delton 1:24 stuff from Aristo, and the earlier line freight cars from USAT, only the "Ultimate" series with metal wheels. I'm also ignoring the pre-China manufactured cars, they have other quirks.

Wheel Replacement

One big negative, virtually all Aristo cars came with plastic wheels.

The story from Aristo is that people wanted cheaper cars (So why does USAT sell like hotcakes?) so they outfitted them with plastic, and you buy the metal wheels separately and they are still cheaper than USAT.

Goofy logic, obviously if you did not have to buy 2 sets of wheels for every car, the car with metal wheels from the factory would be cheaper. And you can't compare the Aristo to the USAT freight cars, there is more workmanship and finer detail on the USAT stuff.

To top it off, the replacement metal wheels from Aristo are over scale. The USAT are very close to 33" and the AML are EXACTLY 33".

The cheapest metal wheel solution is Bachmann #92421 "31.0 mm Larger Metal Wheel Set". You may get a few ones that wobble, but on the whole good deal for the money. These are somewhat blackened, like a "black chrome".

I would recommend the USAT wheels are replacements. I like the AML wheels, but they are sintered steel and rust easily and have a rough surface with a coating that is often paint.

Note: if you have Aristo roller bearing trucks, the tips of the axles may be knurled to help retain the simulated bearing caps. If you try to remove the wheelsets to replace with metal wheels, this knurling will score and damage the brass bushing the axle rides in. The early roller bearings did not have knurling. Newer ones have knurling. The knurling was added to better secure the plastic caps. It seems that the newer roller bearing trucks with plastic wheels have knurled axle tips.


Truck mounting Kadees:

Kadee recommends 909/831 couplers, they bolt right on. The can be a tight fit, the back of the draft gear often rubs on the plastic axles. These are large offset couplers, with the attendant problems of large offsets and long trains. See my coupler page about this.

The screw hole in the tang on the truck does not quite line up with the hole in the Kadee coupler... using the longer silver screw in the 831 kit, it works, but be sure to check with the Kadee coupler height gauge to make things right.

You can fit other Kadees with zero offset, but they are more work.

Body mounting Kadees:

This is a problem with Aristo, and they have been a pain to do for years. There is some light on the horizon, the recen 2 bay hopper cars are almost there.

There are several versions of Aristo underbodies:

  • The earliest versions result in cars that sit way too high, don't even bother, but buy the replacement lowered floors from Aristo.
  • The first version of lowered floors, where the car sits at pretty much the right height, but there is a weird transverse rib in the middle of the coupler mounting pad (for the standard Kadee 830 G scale coupler), plus some of the center frame rib usually needs to be removed.
  • The second lowered version has some of the center frame rib removed, and the tranverse rib has been replaced with 2 curved ribs. This ribs are also at the wrong height, and will have to be trimmed down. You can see this trimming on my page on the covered hopper car, and Ted's page on the DD box cars.

The transverse rib was there to keep the stock truck-mount couplers from riding up.

None of the standard cars have an easy way to body mount Kadee couplers.(one newer production product is better)

Please see Ted Doskaris' article on body mounting in this section.

On the newer cars, there is a mounting pad that was obviously designed for the standard Kadee 830/906 coupler

  • the height of the pad is wrong
  • the screw holes are in the wrong spot (too close to the end of the car

Apparently Kadee 820 (#1 scale) do not need the pad trimmed, but just the holes re-drilled, but I do not recommend the #1 gauge couplers, most people have too much trouble with them being smaller.  

Here's a site with some Kadee conversions for Aristo cars:

All couplers:

Notice that if you are using the stock plastic wheels (ugh) or Bachmann metal wheels, they have a thick plastic axle and it can rub on the back of the Kadee draft gear box. First, since the screw hole is larger than the diameter of the screw, try to tighten the coupler down while pushing the draft gear away from the axle. If that does not give enough clearance, grind away the back of the draft gear box.

Notice that since the truck is sprung, when the springs are compressed the axle gets nearer the draft gear box. When you are working with the car on its back and unloaded, you have more clearance than when it is on the rails, so don't miss this or the extra drag will be noticable!

Finally, the replacement metal wheels from Aristo are slightly different in diameter, so fit your final wheels before mounting  couplers or you will making new shims!

Cars Wobble from side to side

Many cars "wobble" from side to side. There is a thin washer between the truck and the bolster. Remove the truck, take out the washer, put the truck back on, and then center the washer carefully on the bolster pin, then replace the screw. Be careful, there is just enough of the bolster pin sticking up to get the washer to stay in place. If you let it slide out of place and screw it down, you will interfere with free pivoting of the truck, and score the top of the bolster pin.


How to tell the differences between the 2 generations of lowered floors:

There are 2 generations of lowered floors. The 2nd generation floors have 2 curved ribs in the coupler pad area, the 1st generation floor just has a plain pad, or a pad with a single transverse rib. (This transverse rib was apparently an attempt to limit upward motion of truck mounted couplers)

Another difference is tha the 2nd generation cars have part of the center spine or rib cut away so that if you reverse the trucks 180 degrees, the coupler tang will not hit the center spine (although most people converting to body mount couplers cut the tang off entirely).

For more information, consult Ted's vignette on this site:


General Tips

The springs in the trucks are identical to the springs in the hook and loop couplers provided. They can rust pretty easily, so spray them with armorall, or drip some plastic-compatible oil on them.

 DO NOT use the Aristo "electralube" which is not plastic compatible, even though it is still advertised as such. It's destruction of truck sideframes is well documented on the Aristo forum. Aristo has since changed the formulation on the 2 axle freight cars to a form of nylon, but apparently not all trucks or the passenger cars.


Click the links below to go "deeper" into details on individual rolling stock by Aristo Craft

  Version Information    Truck Springs   40' lowered floors   Metal wheel issues 
  Frt Trk Ball Bearings   Roof Walks   Lowered Floors & Kadees vignette    Kadee Truck Mounts 
  40' Plug Box Car   40' Double Door Box Car vignette     53' Evans Box Car    Cotton Belt Freight Train  
  Steel Caboose   2 Bay Covered Hopper   Covered Gondola   34' 2 Bay Offset Hopper 
  3 Bay 100 Ton Hopper  Passenger, Smoothside  Passenger, Heavyweight    Passenger, ribbed streamliner  
40' Reefer w/ball bearings  Napa Valley Wine TrainTank Car, Single Dome    Flat & Gon lowered, weighted, kadees 
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