Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Straco Express and the Mystery Train(s)

The problem with being interested in ephemera is that few others are (hence the designation) -- even the folks that created it. Take, for example, the cheap train set I picked up at a toy train meet. I'd written before about the Straco Express, and how -- remarkably -- it shared some characteristics with another train I'd owned for years. Specifically, they had exactly the same track (like the section at left).

Recently I found another toy train online, and successfully won it at auction. I wasn't necessarily interested in the train, just the track. Because between the track that came with the Straco Express and that still with my childhood train, I was exactly one curved piece short of a completed oval. Although the trains were approximately HO scale, they wouldn't work on modern track. The flanges of the wheels were too wide. Only the track that came with the trains had rails tall enough to accommodate the wheels.

The strange thing is that this train bears no resemblance to either of the other two that I have, as you can see from the photo, below (click on the image to enlarge). My suspicion is that the same Japanese company was contracted by three different firms to create an inexpensive HO scale train set. It would explain the use of the same track.

But that's where the resemblance ends. Even if the trains needed to look a little different for each client, I would expect some elements of manufacture to be recycled to further cut costs. If all three had the same couplers, for example, no one would really notice. Or the same trucks. But each of these trains using completely different tooling.

A recent discussion in the Train Collector's Quarterly publication had some additional information about these trains. The one I recently purchased was made by Bandai back in the early 1960's. Did Bandai make the other two as well, or did they further sub-contract and purchase the track for their sets from yet another Japanese firm?

Next post I'll go into more detail about what I've discovered so far about these mystery trains, and how they differ from one another.



  1. It might be that the manufacturer of the track and undercarriage are the same, while the manufacturer of the "pretty" parts is different.

  2. I wondered about that, but the undercarriages are different for each of the three sets. If it was coming from the same source, it seems to me they would all have identical undercarriages instead of creating new stampers for each set.

  3. Anonymous10:28 AM

    i have a straco train that i am so curious about and cant find it anywhere..can anyone help me ???

  4. Since I wrote this post, I have found a little more about the company. Joseph Strauss and Company (Straco) contracted a Japanese manufacturer to create the set for them for import. Straco brought in a lot of tin and plastic toys, including friction cars, that were sold primarily in five-and-dime and department stores.

    This particular set came transformer, track, the train, and some cardboard cutouts of people, railroad signs, and I think a building or two (not 100% sure about that).

    Was Bandai the supplier to Straco? I still don't know, but would love to find out.