Friday, December 17, 2010

Straco, Bandai, and Cragstan -- the hookup

No, it's not a band -- nor a law firm. As near as my limited research can tell, these are the four firms involved with the three disparate toy train sets I own. As I explained last post, these three sets have little in common, save the track supplied with them (click on the images to enlarge).

Left to right: Bandai set, Cragstan set (?), Straco set
So here's it goes: the set on the right, the Straco Express was made in Japan for the J. Strauss Company (Straco). The one on the left was made by Bandai, while the one in the middle was made by Bandai for Cragston (perhaps -- my info on this one is a little sketchy). I've also seen Distler and/or Karl Bub credited with similar trains. In all cases, the names attached were those of either the supplier or the distributor. And the supplier was simply putting their name on product manufactured for them in Japan.

So did Bandai make all three sets? Not sure. The track is identical, but the designs are completely different. Did each company commission a new design from scratch? It's possible, but it seems to me that Bandai would have reused some basic parts for all three -- such as couplers, trucks (wheels), or even car frames. But as you can see from the following comparisons, that's not the case.

The Cragstan(?) set uses directional coupling -- each car has a hook on one end, and an eye on the other, so the cars can only be connected in the same orientation.

Detail of the Cragston(?) box car's couplers.
 The Straco Express features a similar concept, but a different coupler design entirely!

Detail of the Straco gondola car's couplers.
 On the other hand, the Bandai set uses a universal coupler, with both the hook and eye incorporated into the same piece of metal. These cars can be connected facing either direction. It's much cheaper to use the same coupler on both ends, so if Bandai did make all three sets, why not use this design across the board?

If the same track wasn't included in all three sets, I wouldn't be asking these questions, but it seems odd that costs would be saved with track, and not with other measures. It's what led me to wonder if Bandai got the track from another Japanese company. Curious.

Next post we'll compare and contrast the rolling stock of the three sets.



  1. Is it possible that the difference in couplings is due to model upgrades (ie, one being standard, one being the "deluxe" version)?

  2. In this case, standard and deluxe would be relative terms. 8-)

    These sets would have been sold at dime stores and other low-price retailers. The Bandai coupler, which I believe is the oldest, is the worst of the three, so perhaps they improved the couplers for later models due to complaints.

    Although the track that's used for all three is pretty sketchy. It's so flimsy that it doesn't lay flat (look carefully at the photos of the trains and you'll see what I mean). The trains are so lightweight that they don't push the track into place, so it's a rare thing for the train to make it all the way around the circle without at least one car jumping the tracks. I'm thinking of fastening the track to a board and see what that does.