Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Review: Columbia Models NOFF Wagons

I'd never heard of Columbia Models until recently. Neither had I come across many articles on NSW NOFF open ore wagons. So when I saw a pack of 6 NSW SRA NOFF wagons go on sale at a price too good to refuse, I thought I'd buy a pack to add to my collection.

When first released, a 6 pack of HO scale Columbia Models NOFF wagons retailed for $154.95

It turns out that Columbia Models are released through Bob's Models and Hobbies in Sydney, the same mob who are responsible for the TrainOrama series of locomotives. It also turns out that the NSW NOFF open ore wagons had a very short lifespan. Built in 1989 for the State Rail Authority, they were taken out of revenue service altogether just five years later. The NOFF's were designed to haul zinc ore concentrate between Broken Hill in outback New South Wales, and the Sulphide Corporation at Cockle Creek near Newcastle. Zinc concentrate is a heavy graphite-coloured substance, so the NOFF wagons were only loaded to a shallow depth. The doors on the NOFF wagons were welded up so that none of the valuable concentrate would escape. Unloading at Sulphide Junction was done in a manner similar to a wet and dry vaccuum. With each prototype wagon only a shade over 10 metres long, (make that about 13 cm over the couplers in HO scale), they are a perfect candidate for a small bookshelf layout such as Philden.

The side details including the shunter's handrails and ladders look good.

Straight out of the box, each model rolled freely with very little wobble. The chemically blackened wheels looked great, and the Kadee-like metal couplers, (although they gave a little trouble at first), eventually coupled on when my locomotive bumped onto it. The lettering looked fine and there was even some nice handrail and ladder detailing at the ends of the model. So far, so good.

Underneath however, the model looks like it came out of your first train set.

Underneath the model, the plain black finish lost me a little. Although I've never climbed under a NOFF wagon, or seen an underside photo of one to be honest, the model looked a little thin on detail and reminded me of the underside of so many budget-priced N scale models I once owned. Oh well, at least from side-on the bogies, underframe and brake wheels looked right.

Two release mold marks inside the open wagon, and a see-through plastic shell let the model down, big time.

Then it came time to view the open wagon from above, and this is where the model really let itself down. Not only were there two visible release mold marks from manufacturing the model, but the plastic body shell allowed natural light to show through what was supposed to resemble heavy steel sides. Even adding a load of zinc concentrate which would sit no more than one quarter the depth of these wagons would not overcome this problem. If you paid full price for a set of these when they were released, then you would have every right to feel disappointed. A step up from a generic toy-train model yes, but maybe the significantly reduced price is better reflective of the model's value. It seems the NOFF open ore wagons are destined to be as short lived on Philden as they were in real life, and while I could have attempted to convert one into a spoil wagon or an ROZX shunter's float, I just couldn't be bothered.

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: A perfect candidate for a small layout, but the see-through plastic body ruined it for me.


  1. Budget priced but could have been so much better for the same price. The wheels on them are hit and miss and the axle points are not centred o4 suited to the bogies. The molded red should be painted, as you mentioned. The chassis should also be red. The steps and grab rails only line up on one side and some have been missed.

    1. I tend to agree with you Ben. Although these are a huge step up from the OzFreight BHP hoppers and Weet-Bix and Twisties boxcars, they fall well short of quality compared to other leading Australian manufacturers. I think you've got to know your market, whatever it is you are selling. All I can think of is that these were aimed somewhere in between. But an aim and a hit are two different things.


Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil