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Plastic or Metal Wheels?

James asks this question:

“I want to change some of my rolling stock wheels from plastic to metal. What size 33/36 is the best?”

8 Responses to Plastic or Metal Wheels?

  • Antonsays:

    33 or 36 or maybe even 28 depends on rolling stock. Most US passenger cars have 36″ wheels. Exceptions are LRC (Light-Rapid-Comfortable) cars with 28″ wheels, mostly operated by VIA RAIL in Canada. 3-level autoracks ride on 28″ wheels. Most transition era freight equipment has 33″ wheels while many modern freight cars, especially tankcars have 36″. Heavy duty 100 ton hoppers as well as intermediate trucks on articulated indermodal trains – 38″. Also 38″ is suitable for replacing wheels with deep “pizza cutter” flanges on most European passenger cars that have 950mm wheels. Some EU sleeping cars with 1000mm wheels – 40″ replacement is the closest one. EU yard locomotives often have 1050mm wheels where 42″ substitute would be the closest. And some mainline EU locomotives – 1150mm wheels (close to 45″). Most EU locomotives are the thing I struggle with: they have 1250mm wheels or 49.2″. And in North America I cannot find wheels with proper flanges of that diameter.

    This is in general but to know exactly the best replacement in your case I have to see trains you are looking to replace wheels on.

    Hope this helps.

  • Newman Atkinsonsays:

    James, Replacement wheels Metal is always the best but that is something that can cost a little more but even if you replace with plastic wheels with metal axles you are gaining on performance. Metal wheels with metal axles are the best as far as getting less drag on your train. Plastic with metal axles will help immensely if you can do that Plastic wheels with plastic axles are a drag all the way and especially as they get older the plastic will get rough and increase the drag.
    Take a similar car about the same weight on the same grade hill and you will find the performance down the hill increase with the metal axles and metal wheels. The diameter of the wheels also can be problems with your car height especially if they have been replaced before with the wrong size wheels. The hill test will make a believer out of you. Some clubs require only metal wheels with metal axles. Resistors can be installed across the wheel set that helps detect if cars are on a section of track .
    It is not required to change them but as you upgrade your equipment take the time to upgrade toward the metal wheels. Your performance will greatly improve. I just do this as I pull the cars in for maintenance. It would be expensive to do your whole fleet at once. from Newman

  • If you’re modeling the transition era, most freight cars used 33″ wheels. Many prewar cars had ribbed back wheels. Passenger cars had 36″ wheels. I was told by a manufacturer of HO wheels that performance can be improved by using metal axles with plastic sideframes and plastic axles (delrin) with metal sideframes. Seems correct. Metal wheels don’t accumulate the gunk that plastic wheels do. Hope this helps.

  • Tony van Geijlswijksays:

    Any good shops where I can buy metal wheels in big quantities?
    anywhere in the world, I am in the Netherlands but do US N scale trains and have 55 type rail.


    • Newman Atkinsonsays:

      Tony, Hobby Town USA has 33 inch ,and 36 inch metal sets usually 12 in a pack ribbed and straight. Sometimes rusted but usually Black. in HO I know they have N scale and I will be stopping at one of their stores Sunday evening after the Noblesville Train Show Sunday and I can look for you. Kadee has wheel sets in HO, Wheel axles in HO I will have to look up on their webb site KADEE.com to check for N scale WHere quantity is then I would be looking at KADEE Webb site but not sure if they have big quantities there
      from Newman Atkinson

      • Newman Atkinsonsays:

        Tony, I just got back from the Noblesville Train Show near Indianapolis Indiana USA today But after the show we stopped in a Hobby Shop near there and I asked about your wheels you are looking for.
        Yes they have a couple different wheels in metal that are suppose to be 33 inch wheels. Not sure if they have 36 inch wheels for passenger cars but probably do. They are from the Manufacturer of Fox Valley Models and are handled by Hobby Town USA.
        There are 2 different axles lengths so you may need to do some measuring before you order any. They come in packs of 12 and you might want also want to do the bulk of 40 The MFG Fox Valey have them in a Bulk of 40 and could be better for you with shipping I would think. Here is Hobby Town USA contact info: Bulk would have to be ordered.
        This is the store about an hour and a half from me but it is a chain of stores all over the USA.

        Dan Terhune Manager
        8326 Castleton Corner Drive
        Indianapolis, Indiana 46250

        Phone is: area code 317-845-4106 (not sure of the country code you would need)
        Fax is 317-845-4209
        Web site: hobbytown.com

        The wheel sets are from FOX Valley Model Railroad Supply But look up Fox Valley N scale or something like that. You should be able to get them in Bulk of 40 if you want.
        Hobby Town said they ship all over the world. Well you know what I know now Good Luck from Newman Atkinson

  • donj1044says:

    Use 33 inch wheels.for freight cars!!!
    A good hobby shop manager should have told you this when you purchased them.
    36 inch wheels are for passenger cars etc
    good luck to you

  • Mike Tarrantsays:

    This is great info for putting prototypically correct wheels on cars, based on what they would run on the real rails. Be careful changing size on models, as it may affect coupler height.

    If you’re only just switching to metal and not concerned with prototyoical accuracy, measure your car’s wheels with a caliper and buy the same diameter for that car. Then most likely the couplers will not be an issue.

    FWIW, I buy bulk orders of 100 Intermountain wheelsets online when I need a lot.

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