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Who makes domestic locos ...and are they any good?

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Who makes domestic locos ...and are they any good?
Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Friday, January 10, 2020 8:56 PM

From what I've gathered after returning to the hobby after 25+ years away, hardly anything for motive power is made in the US anymore.  I hear a lot about locos being made in China, and the opinions I've heard about their quality is split about 50/50. 

Back when I first got into the hobby as a young kid, there was Bachmann and Athern.  My very first HO loco was a Bachmann and I wasn't real happy with it.  I graduated to Athern for everything after that.  No idea if Athern is still domestic.    

Seems like there are MANY more producers now.  But I'm not familiar with where they are made or what kind of quality I should expect.  I've kept an eye on various threads about locos over the months since I joined the forum, just trying to guess what brands are the most reliable.  So I figured I would just ask.  I haven't bought a new loco since about 1988.

I prefer to "buy local" (US) if possible.  But perhaps the domestic stuff isn't very good? 

Question 1: does anyone still make locos domestically?

Question 2: if so, are they any good?

Question 3: if they aren't any good, then who/what is?

I have limited funds with which to buy motive power and I know steam is very expensive.  I know that BLI makes more than one Milwaukee Road steam loco but I don't know enough about them (or Kato) to make any kind of decision.  I've heard all of the Walthers locos are Chinese...

I model HO, and I have no interest in buying brass.  I'm looking for ready-to-run.

Thoughts/advice appreciated!

Andy

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Posted by rrinker on Friday, January 10, 2020 9:31 PM

 Don't think ANY are made in the US any more. 

You've even missed some that have come and gone - Life Like made very good locos (not at ALL like their train set junk) and called them Proto 2000. Walthers owns them now, still sells some of the locos. Stewart was bought by Bowser, they offer some very nice models, some of them still the same Stewart models but now fully dressed with all the grads, lift rings, etc. 

Newcomers with top quality include Rapido Trains and Scaletrains. Scaletrains has two line, Operator and Rivet COunter. Biggest difference is level of detail, Operator models are less detailed but stand up better to handling. Rivet Counter models are insane - MAYBE the very latest brass can do better, but it would be a close race. These are amazing models. And they seem to run very well. Rapido is up there with the details, too. 

 Athearn Blue Box is gone, repalced by their Ready to Roll line, which have upgraded drives and depending ont he model, much better shells. Then they have their Genesis line, which are the super detailed models, with the upgraded drive AND upgraded motors. 

Pretty much all of this is made in China. Apart from Stewart, now Bowser, and Athearn, most of it always was. 

 Bachmann is still around. Their Spectrum stuff is decent, they still also make the low end stuff too.

                              --Randy

 


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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, January 10, 2020 9:52 PM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior
From what I've gathered after returning to the hobby after 25+ years away, hardly anything for motive power is made in the US anymore. I hear a lot about locos being made in China.

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Nearly everything that is made for consumers is imported. Not just our toy trains. Food, water, electricity, building supplies, automobiles, and industrial goods are still available made in the USA.

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Kadee is the last USA brand.

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The Milwaukee Road Warrior
Question 1: does anyone still make locos domestically?

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I do not think so

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The Milwaukee Road Warrior
Question 2: if so, are they any good?

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Not so.

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The Milwaukee Road Warrior
Question 3: if they aren't any good, then who/what is?

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My most recent purchases of a Chinese made locomotive is a Bachmann 2-8-8-4 EM-1, and it is magnificent. Truly a rolling masterpiece. I could not be happier with it.

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My Chinese made Walthers FM switchers run perfectly.

.

-Kevin

.

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Friday, January 10, 2020 10:10 PM

And just to clarify, while I would *prefer* domestic it seems that aint gonna happen.  If the best stuff is made in say Burkina Faso, then so be it.  I've also heard some discouraging stories about locos made in China tho.  Not surprising for anyone that has any experience with small appliances or electronics with Chinese guts.  But I suppose that's the case with anything these days.

Wow, I was really hoping Athern was local.  

Andy

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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Friday, January 10, 2020 10:13 PM

What about BLI?  Chinese too?

And Kato?

 

Andy

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Friday, January 10, 2020 10:29 PM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior

 

Question 1: does anyone still make locos domestically?

Question 2: if so, are they any good?

Question 3: if they aren't any good, then who/what is?

 

#1 - No, they are all made somewhere else, mostly China

BUT, the engineering and research that goes into them is generally done here.

#2 - Most of the locos made in China and elsewhere in the last 20 years are better in terms of detail and running quality than anything "ready to run" that was ever made here.

#3 - In the late 1980's a lot changed in the manufacture of these types of products and several companies lead the way in producing higher quality and better detailed locomotives.

Life Like Proto2000

Bachmann Spectrum

Atlas

Stewart

All were joint ventures between US companies and manufacturers located in Europe, Japan and China.

Without going thru a long history lesson, just trust us, nearly everything from the following brands are pretty good, listed in no special order:

Athearn/Athearn Genesis/Roundhouse

Bachmann/Bachmann Spectrum

Atlas

KATO

Broadway Limited

Bowser/Stewart

Intermountain

Walthers/Walthers Proto

All these companies havea had few duds, there have been growing pains over the last 25 or so years with all of them.

But overall, this is the golden age of Ready to Run model train locomotives.

You will get lots of opinions on which are "best" and which are "not as good", and that's fine......as long as the "best" companies make what you want.

But truth is, they are all coming from a limited number of factories in China for the most part, and are all similar in construction and quality.

Forget locos, very little in thos whole hobby is made in the US any more. Labor and environmental restrictions are too costly for these kinds of small manufacturing businesses here.

I don't know how much you know about business, but understand this is a very small industry in the scheme of the world economy. Not one US company in this business is publicly traded or owned by a publicly traded company.

Only one or two overseas are publicly traded in their countries. It is a cottage industry of privately held small companies.

BUT, the face of these products here are American owned small businesses, who front the money, do the research and engineering, support the product, and make it available to you. So for the most part you are supporting American business with every model train purchase you make.

In short, these products are not sold by big foreign companies who came over here to sell stuff, they are sold by little American companies who were forced to take their manufacturing off shore to make a superior product at a price the market could afford.

As for cost and where to buy stuff. Most products are sold below the MSRP price online from various suppliers, and other bargins can be found on Ebay. On Ebay you will find lots of new product, and well as older, but still new in the box products, often at good prices.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by rrinker on Friday, January 10, 2020 10:31 PM

 BLI is made in China. The locos are nice, but their electronics have a habit of failing on a fairly regular basis.

Kato has always been Japanese, not sure if they make ALL of their stuff in Japan or if some is made elsewhere.

Control systems are made here - Digitrax and NCE are both made in the USA. MRC has gone all CHina though. Soundtraxx decoders are made in the USA too.

 

                                             --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Friday, January 10, 2020 10:32 PM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior

What about BLI?  Chinese too?

And Kato?

 

 

Doesn't KATO sound Japanese? It is......

BLI stands for Broadway Limited IMPORTS.........

    

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, January 10, 2020 10:56 PM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior
Not surprising for anyone that has any experience with small appliances or electronics with Chinese guts. But I suppose that's the case with anything these days.

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I don't know... everything I have purchased lately, no matter where it was made, had been very high quality. All my Chinese made appliances and electronics have been flawless so far.

.

If you are bargain shopping for Chinese imports at a Dollar Tree, Flea Market, or Harbor Freight, your mileage may vary. If you are paying for better quality, no matter where it originates, you will usually get what you pay for.

.

-Kevin

.

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Saturday, January 11, 2020 8:40 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL

 

 
The Milwaukee Road Warrior

What about BLI?  Chinese too?

And Kato?

 

 

 

 

Doesn't KATO sound Japanese? It is......

BLI stands for Broadway Limited IMPORTS.........

 

Haha good point, yes it does sound Japanese.  Of course, so does Toyota.  But my Highlander is made in Indiana Wink

Andy

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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Saturday, January 11, 2020 8:59 AM

I was also surprised to learn that Atlas makes locos - and pretty good ones from what I've read.  Hopefully their supply chain is quicker for those than for their switches.  I've had several switches on order for months now at my local hobby shop.

Andy

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Saturday, January 11, 2020 9:28 AM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior

 

 
ATLANTIC CENTRAL

 

 
The Milwaukee Road Warrior

What about BLI?  Chinese too?

And Kato?

 

 

 

 

Doesn't KATO sound Japanese? It is......

BLI stands for Broadway Limited IMPORTS.........

 

 

 

Haha good point, yes it does sound Japanese.  Of course, so does Toyota.  But my Highlander is made in Indiana Wink

 

Come on now, made in Indiana or not, you will drive a Toyota and send the corporate profits overseas, but you don't want to buy model trains from American companies who out source manufacturing to China?

All my cars/trucks say FORD, and they have incredible service histories with virtually no problems. Guess which car company has the most recalls? Hint, It's not FORD or GM........

But back to trains. The last 15-20 years has truely been the golden age of model trains in everry sense. The detail, accuracy, selection, quality, design all combine to deliver the most bang for the buck this hobby has ever seen.

Largely a result of CNC tool and die work, and some really smart people who figured out how to apply that and gobal resources to this tiny little industry.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Saturday, January 11, 2020 9:44 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL

 

Come on now, made in Indiana or not, you will drive a Toyota and send the corporate profits overseas, but you don't want to buy model trains from American companies who out source manufacturing to China?

Sheldon

 

I hear what you're saying, with one minor notation: the Japanese have been a friendly govt since WWII.  The Chinese have not.  It's not an apples-to-apples comparison for me at least.  The Japanese make amazingly reliable vehicles.  The Chinese sell dehumidifiers that catch on fire.  But I digress.

But again, I said above that I'm not dogmatically opposed to buying stuff made in China, especially knowing the guts are designed here and domestic companies are being supported.  Quality trumps all other considerations for me, including production location.  Sounds like China is where its at.  So if I want to play the game that's where I have to go!

 

Appreciate the wealth of good info from others on this site re: locos. 

Andy

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Posted by joe323 on Saturday, January 11, 2020 10:28 AM

For what it's worth on this forum my wife bought a Happy Hanukkah car from Lionel in 0 scale and it says made in the USA on the box 

A little research and I found out that it was a limited run from 2017. Lionel does produce a number of limited runs in North Carolina.

Joe Staten Island West 

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Posted by rrinker on Saturday, January 11, 2020 1:13 PM

 Atlas has made quality locomotives for a long time now. Some originally made for them by Roco in Austria, then Kato in Japan, and now many of the same models, they make themselves in China. 

                                   --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by rrebell on Saturday, January 11, 2020 1:19 PM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior

 The Chineese have been freindly for many years now, but their goverment is not ours kind of a commitee head but capitalist body.

 
ATLANTIC CENTRAL

 

Come on now, made in Indiana or not, you will drive a Toyota and send the corporate profits overseas, but you don't want to buy model trains from American companies who out source manufacturing to China?

Sheldon

 

 

 

I hear what you're saying, with one minor notation: the Japanese have been a friendly govt since WWII.  The Chinese have not.  It's not an apples-to-apples comparison for me at least.  The Japanese make amazingly reliable vehicles.  The Chinese sell dehumidifiers that catch on fire.  But I digress.

But again, I said above that I'm not dogmatically opposed to buying stuff made in China, especially knowing the guts are designed here and domestic companies are being supported.  Quality trumps all other considerations for me, including production location.  Sounds like China is where its at.  So if I want to play the game that's where I have to go!

 

Appreciate the wealth of good info from others on this site re: locos. 

 

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Saturday, January 11, 2020 10:17 PM

The Milwaukee Road Warrior

I was also surprised to learn that Atlas makes locos - and pretty good ones from what I've read.

You've been out of the hobby for how long?  25+ years?  And didn't know Atlas made locos?

Atlas has been making locos in HO for 45 years, since 1975!  I'd say your plus has another 20 years.

And it's spelled Athearn.  Don't forget that second a.

As for Ford's, I bought a 1974 Ford Taurus new.  The head gasket went at 60k.  I knew others with transmission problems.  That was enough "quality is job 1" for me.  I've had much better experience with Toyotas since.  Recalls haven't cost me anything but that head gasket did.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Saturday, January 11, 2020 10:36 PM

riogrande5761

 

 
The Milwaukee Road Warrior

I was also surprised to learn that Atlas makes locos - and pretty good ones from what I've read.

 

You've been out of the hobby for how long?  25+ years?  And didn't know Atlas made locos?

Atlas has been making locos in HO for 45 years, since 1975!  I'd say your plus has another 20 years.

And it's spelled Athearn.  Don't forget that second a.

As for Ford's, I bought a 1974 Ford Taurus new.  The head gasket went at 60k.  I knew others with transmission problems.  That was enough "quality is job 1" for me.  I've had much better experience with Toyotas since.  Recalls haven't cost me anything but that head gasket did.

 

Really? The Taurus was not introduced until 1986. But in any case that was how long ago? Like the people who will not buy a perfectly good Bachmann Spectrum steam loco they actually want for their roster because they had a junky Bachmann train set in 1973?

Did the original Taurus have some issues, sure, FWD was a new thing for Detroit, at a time when they faced a lot of other challenges. Like non union competition that had no legacy retirement costs to pay and dramaticly stricter government regulation, in an era of double digit inflation.

Toyota makes great cars, but they have yet to build one that would serve my needs as well as my F250 or my FORD FLEX.

My last FORD truck was running fine at 15 years and 240,000 miles when I sold it.

I'm not knocking Toyota, again they make great cars, and these days so does FORD. I was simply making a point about the buy American thing......it's a global economy.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Sunday, January 12, 2020 12:39 AM

If anyone thought of repatriating all the stuff in his house that was made in China, the house would be near empty and at the verge of collapsing. The inhabitants of the house would probably end up being held in prison for indecent exposure.

Nearly all consumer goods and appliances we now buy are either made completely in China or have components in them from Chinese sources. We stood by and watched happily, when one local manufacturer after another folded up, as he could not compete with Chinese pricing. Not that the Chinese manufacturers invaded our domestic markets - we made it happen! We are the driving force behind globalization, which is backfiring at us now.

Sorry, but we are way past the point of return.

Happy times!

Ulrich (aka The Tin Man)

"You´re never too old for a happy childhood!"

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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Sunday, January 12, 2020 9:52 AM

riogrande5761

 

 
The Milwaukee Road Warrior

I was also surprised to learn that Atlas makes locos - and pretty good ones from what I've read.

 

You've been out of the hobby for how long?  25+ years?  And didn't know Atlas made locos?

 

Right.  I bought my last loco at about age 13.  An AtheArn.  Since then my life has been consumed with more important things like: getting a college degree, various work-related certifications, getting married, and having a family.

I may have known at some point when I was a kid that they made them, but the guy in my neighborhood had AtheArn exclusively so I probably never bothered to investigate.  If you are 10 years old and someone you trust says "these are best you can get for the money" and you have very little money, you go with his recommendation.

Andy

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 12, 2020 10:09 AM

So now to the more important question that will drive what brands of locos you are interested in.

What actual locomotives are you interested in having models of?

A specific railroad? - Milwaukee?

A specific era? 1940? 1950? 1960?

A specific type? Steam? Diesel? Electric?

These questions will drive your choices as much as the name on the box or the place of manufacture.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Sunday, January 12, 2020 10:28 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL

So now to the more important question that will drive what brands of locos you are interested in.

What actual locomotives are you interested in having models of?

A specific railroad? - Milwaukee?

A specific era? 1940? 1950? 1960?

A specific type? Steam? Diesel? Electric?

These questions will drive your choices as much as the name on the box or the place of manufacture.

Sheldon

 

Thanks for refocusing the thread Sheldon.  To answer succinctly: I'm going to be building a roster of steam and diesel that would be representative of the Milw Rd in the 1950s.  Passenger and freight.  No electric as that would have been way out west on the network and well outside the area I'm modeling: the central city of Milwaukee and the shops/yards/port.  

I'm still researching the locos that were used but I know there were FP's and geeps for diesel, and the occasional FM "erie-built".  Some of the Morning Sun Books have been very helpful in the research.

For steam I will be looking to get some ALCO S3 like the famous #261, but not sure about other types of steam at this point other than maybe a streamlined Hudson or two for the Hiawatha passenger trains.  

I believe BLI makes an S3, I just thought I'd ask up front if anyone in this country still makes any locos before I pull the trigger on something.  Obviously, as a little kid I was clueless on what was made where - and still am, hence this thread.  I'm not surprised as most things are made in China these days.  I should have known it would trickle down into model railroading as well.

Andy

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Posted by York1 on Sunday, January 12, 2020 11:02 AM

I'm in N Scale, so I'm not able to give you definitive HO advice, but within the past two years I have bought locomotives from several different companies, and they all work just about the same.  I don't think you can go wrong if you buy a name brand loco today.

Good luck, and let us know what you find.

John  --  Saints Fan  

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Posted by deckroid on Sunday, January 12, 2020 11:03 AM

I stepped away from the hobby 10 years ago. I had BLI, Proto 1000/2000, AtheArn Genesis and a few others. All were great runners. Some better than others, some with finer details. I sold them all with the exception of my Northen Pacific Athearn Genesis F9 ABA Mainstreeter. 

Now I am in the same boat. I have time once again to build a layout, but am looking for what I had and maybe something new.

 

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Posted by BATMAN on Sunday, January 12, 2020 11:06 AM

Hands up, everyone that has responded to this thread that holds a passport.Tongue Tied

Brent

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Posted by Doughless on Sunday, January 12, 2020 11:27 AM

BATMAN

Hands up, everyone that has responded to this thread that holds a passport.Tongue Tied

 

Never had one.  Probably one of the few.  I'm trying to finish my career and then move on to retirement and then my life never having one.  Could never understand the attraction since there is so much of the USA I haven't seen. Again, probably one of the few.

As far as the topic: 

Another has mentioned Kadee couplers (not sure about their rolling stock) being made in the USA.

Since most manufacturers use other types of couplers, most modelers will replace the factory installed couplers with kadees on every loco or car they buy.

So if you want to keep your hobby dollars kept as locally as possible, replace every coupler with kadee.  It's also recommended practice by almost everyone simply for the quality and reliability alone. 

- Douglas

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Posted by mbinsewi on Sunday, January 12, 2020 11:30 AM

I have nothing to offer that already hasn't been stated.  Just reading along, catching up from yesterday.

The title caught my attention.  Laugh

Mike.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 12, 2020 11:51 AM

BATMAN

Hands up, everyone that has responded to this thread that holds a passport.Tongue Tied

 

I have one, but I have never used it............

Sheldon

    

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 12, 2020 11:53 AM

Doughless

 

 
BATMAN

Hands up, everyone that has responded to this thread that holds a passport.Tongue Tied

 

 

 

Never had one.  Probably one of the few.  I'm trying to finish my career and then move on to retirement and then my life never having one.  Could never understand the attraction since there is so much of the USA I haven't seen. Again, probably one of the few.

As far as the topic: 

Another has mentioned Kadee couplers (not sure about their rolling stock) being made in the USA.

Since most manufacturers use other types of couplers, most modelers will replace the factory installed couplers with kadees on every loco or car they buy.

So if you want to keep your hobby dollars kept as locally as possible, replace every coupler with kadee.  It's also recommended practice by almost everyone simply for the quality and reliability alone. 

 

Kadee rolling stock is made in the USA.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by York1 on Sunday, January 12, 2020 12:04 PM

BATMAN
Hands up, everyone that has responded to this thread that holds a passport.

 

My hand is up!

John  --  Saints Fan  

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