Sunday, January 30, 2011

Straco Tracks -- the mystery continues

I've written before about the adventures surrounding a vintage Japanese tin train I bought on a whim. In my last post, I debated whether or not to build a simple layout for the Straco Express set. Well, I decided to go ahead, and soon discovered another little puzzle.

As you may recall, I actually have three different HO gauge Japanese toy trains, all apparently from different manufacturers, yet all using the same track. At least, that's what I thought.

As I was looking through the track pieces to find the best ones to use for the layout (which will be a simple loop). In the process, I discovered that the track was made two different ways. What appears to be the earlier version has ties stamped out of fiberboard. The later version has beveled ties made from injection-molded plastic.

Here are some shots of the two types of track (click on the images to expand them to full size). From the top, both pieces look the same (although if you're observant, you'll see the ties have slightly different widths).

Turn them over, and the differences are a little more obvious. The rail construction seems to be the same for both (note the tab placement), but the plastic version (bottom in the image  below) is thinner than the fiberboard kind (top in the image below).

The image below provides a little more detail. The plastic version is on the left, and the fiberboard version on the right.

And more detail, still. Here are the fiberboard ties closeup.

And here are the plastic ties. Note how they're beveled. I suspect the reason was to make them easier to pull out of the mold.

Now here's the thing. I have three different trains by (supposedly) three different manufacturers. Which track goes with which? Since I didn't notice the difference right away, I'm not sure.

When I bought the original Straco Express, it came with some track. We dug up an old set I had at home -- the train was completely different, but the track seemed to be the same. When I purchased the third Bandai set, it came with some track, too. But I couldn't say which pieces came with which set.

The only clue is on the back of the fiberboard-tie track. On the straight pieces of track (not the curved) is embossed with the Bandai trademark in the middle of the phrase "Sign of Quality." (no comment)

So the mystery continues. I had originally assumed that -- because these three sets had the same track -- that either they were made by the same Japanese company for different companies stateside, or perhaps there was a Japanese subcontractor who was supplying the track.

Now I'm not so sure. Was the plastic tie track just an improvement by Bandai over their older design, or was this a knockoff by somebody else?

If anyone has answers, please let me know. In the meantime, I'll be cleaning track and checking connections (those closeups show just how badly rusted this track is).


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