Menards has two Bachmann-made starter sets that are exclusive to the home improvement store chain and new this holiday season. Founded in 1960, Menards is a major home improvement store chain. Based in Wisconsin, Menards operates 350 stores across 15 states (largely located in the Midwest U.S.). One great aspect of this store is its support of the hobby. You’ll find among Menards Collectibles releases, a variety of buildings, rolling stock, scenery items, vehicles, and complete train sets offered in O gauge and HO scale.The sets include decorations for locomotives and rolling stock not otherwise available in Bachmann’s regular catalog, but provide similar components found in Bachmann’s other starter set releases in HO.
ABOVE: Menards’ Iron Mountain train set features an F7A and caboose decorated for The Milwaukee Road
As they done across several of the previous holiday seasons, Menards offers an F-unit diesel with two freight cars and caboose for its base set retailing for less than $100. This year’s version “Iron Mountain” presents a well-executed version of Milwaukee Road’s late era paint scheme. Carrying road number 82A, this F7A diesel locomotive includes silver outline on side cab window, red and white highlights on the fuel filler spout and gauge on the unit’s skirting, separately applied air horns on the roof, clear window material in the cab, side portholes, and headlight.
The freight car selections present a Bethlehem Steel 40-foot gondola and Burlington Northern (BN) sliding-door boxcar. The green BN livery is not currently found in Bachmann’s regular line of rolling stock offerings. I found this model, which includes working doors, to be one of the best decorated examples of a freight car model to appear in a train set. This is no basic lettering job, but one that includes reporting marks and car number present on the upper ends of the boxcar and you’ll find complete data, black-box COTS labels, wheel-check yellow dot, and more. The caboose is Bachmann’s modernized version of its wide-vision offering. This is another eye-catching model in this set with its silver roof and excellent Milwaukee Road lettering. Both F7A and caboose present what looked to me to be a very good version of the road’s tan-like hue and heralds and lettering present an authentic Milwaukee Road appearance.
This set includes an all-wheel drive locomotive and all models in the set come equipped with E-Z Mate knuckle couplers. The set’s steel rail black roadbed E-Z Track sets build a 36-inch circle. You control the trains with an easy-to-operate handheld controller with knob for speed and slider switch to change direction of your train. A wall-mount power supply is included and all these items from the power to the track connect with a cable with plugs and ports… no tools necessary for setup.
ABOVE: Menards’ Thunderhawk HO-scale starter set features a locomotive, three freight cars, and caboose, as well as track, power pack, controller, and more.
Menards’ second new train set in HO scale for the 2020 holidays is a more elaborate release with larger track plan, three freight cars versus two in the Iron Mountain set, and nearly 50 detail accessories. Similar to its Iron Mountain set, Menards’ Thunderhawk is made by Bachmann and comes with fully assembled and ready for use locomotive and rolling stock. This set’s locomotive and caboose features the livery of an all-time favorite railroad: Santa Fe. While Santa Fe did inherit a single GP40 from its 1980s takeover of Toledo, Peoria & Western, that unit was given the road’s then-standard blue and yellow warbonnet dress. This set’s GP40 goes with Santa Fe’s flashier and more famous red and silver hues. The GP40 decoration, though not prototypical, does a good job presenting this well-known scheme on this all-wheel drive HO model. Separate parts include flexible handrails surrounding the locomotive’s walkways, air horn cluster on the cab roof, number board and headlight inserts, and clear material in the cab windows completed with etched wiper details.
The three freight cars in this set include a 40-foot Pennsylvania Railroad gondola, triple-dome Quaker State tank car, and 50-foot Union Pacific plug-door boxcar. A red Santa Fe caboose completes to equipment provided in this Thunderhawk set. Bachmann’s black roadbed E-Z Track with steel alloy rails is included and there’s enough sections to build an oval with 18-inch radius curves, and the same easy to set up power supply/throttle is provided. This set includes plastic figures, telephone poles, and railroad and street signs. This bigger set sells for a bit less than $150.
Both releases do the job of presenting a start in model railroading well. Bachmann’s locomotive, rolling stock, and the supplied E-Z Track, control throttle, and power source are easy and trouble-free. Setup requires no tools and no special skills. Anyone can have the track connected and throttle powered up in minutes. The models include good weight attributes and come with body-mounted knuckle couplers, which together make this a good performing set that won’t disappoint the beginning engineer.