Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Straco Express - A Better Story

Last post I shared an Antiques Roadshow version of my purchase of a small, tin toy train. But there's an even odder story (and I think a more interesting one) associated with the Straco Express.

The train was offered for sale "as is." (There's a picture of the Straco Express I purchased at right). It was in a small cardboard box with the locomotive, two cars, and a caboose. Included was the battery-powered transformer, and some track. Not enough track to make a complete circle, but what survived from the original set.

One of the reasons I decided to purchase the set was because I recognized the sectional track in the box. It seemed to be a match to the ones that came with a small toy train set I had as a child (pictured at right).

When we got back to Dad's house, we pulled out the old set, and the sectional track matched! We had tested the Straco locomotive, and it worked, so I was excited to put all the track together and start running trains.

But when I combined the tracks from the Straco set and my old set, I was exactly one piece short. I couldn't complete the circle. The set was HO scale (sort of), so I invested in a circle of modern HO sectional track. No luck. The flanges on the wheels are wider than those of most HO-scale locomotives, which causes the engine to bounce up and down on the ties of the track, breaking the electrical connection.

So I'm stuck until I can find a curved piece of track.

But that's not the whole story. The train I bought was the Straco Express, a Japanese-made toy for the American-based Strauss Company (not the same ones who make the jeans). But the one I already owned, though also Japanese in origin, was not. And with the exception of the track, the trains have almost nothing in common.

In the photo below, the boxcar from the Straco Express (left) is next to one from my childhood Santa Fe set. The two boxcars have different frames, different body styles, different trucks (wheel assemblies) and different roofs (angled vs. rounded).  Click on images to enlarge.

Did two different companies sub-contract to the same source for the track? Did one Japanese company actually make both sets for different American firms based on client designs? I don't know -- but I'd sure like to find out. Internet searches have yielded almost no additional information about the train of my childhood.


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