Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Seeking Sakai - Part 1

I'm always on the lookout for vintage Japanese tin H0-gauge trains for my Straco display layout. There's not a lot of collected information about any of the manufacturers involved in early postwar production, so I've been slowly discovering what was available and from whom one piece at a time.

They looked like a good fit for the Straco display layout. However...

A set of rolling stock came up for auction on eBay. Having only the photos to go by, I determined they would be a good fit. I won the auction for a price I was comfortable with, and everything was fine -- until the pieces arrived.

It was then I discovered that these cars were of a much higher quality than the ones I had been collecting. Not only was the quality higher, but they weighed far more than the Nomura, Bandai, or Straco pieces I had.

Below are side-by-side comparisons:

Top to bottom: Straco, Nomura, Haji (Nomura), Sakai

Top to bottom: Straco, Nomura, Bandai, Sakai

Top to bottom: Straco, Bandai, Sakai

Top to bottom: Bandai, Sakai

Top to bottom: Straco, Bandai, Nomura, Sakai

In time, I discovered that the pieces were made by Sakai, a post-war Japanese company that specialized in H0-gauge track and accessories (such as switches). They also manufactured O-gauge trains that competed with high-end Marx and low-end Lionel in the American market..

And eventually, I found a locomotive for my set. And it's a monster, as it needs to be to haul those cars. On average, the rolling stock for all the examples I owned -- Nomura, Bandai, Straco, and Haji -- weighed about 2.5 oz. The Sakai rolling stock was closer to 5 oz. per car. The Nomura and Bandai diesels each weighed 7 oz.; the Straco diesel weighed 5 oz. By contrast, the Sakai locomotive weight 20 oz. -- 1.4 lbs.

The Sakai locomotive shell is diecast metal. And it's heavy.
The shell of the Sakai diesel is diecast metal, which accounts for most of the weight. But that weight was necessary. As you can see from the chart below, it had more weight to pull. The Nomura diesel can only pull its two cars weighing a total of 6 oz. I've tried adding a third 3 oz. boxcar -- the engine's wheels just spin. By contrast, the Sakai diesel is designed to pull 4 cars weighing a total of 17 oz..

The Sakai chassis. Those wheel frames are diecast metal, and the
motor is also pretty substantial. Both give the locomotive a lot of traction.
The lithographed metal construction makes the set seem more toy-like. But this train was designed for true H0-scale track, rather than the taller tinplate track of the toy train sets. Note the scale-proportioned flanges of the wheels of the Sakai rolling stock as compared to those of the Nomura set.

Note the difference between the wheels of the Sakai boxcar (l) and the
Nomura car (r). The Sakai train was designed for standard
H0-gauge track, as opposed to the bigger tinplate track of the
Nomura/Bandai sets.
The diesel I found was in rough shape, but the price was right. And it works as a display piece placeholder until I can upgrade.

The train is complete, for now.

My next project is to see if I can get the engine to work again.

And this past week I discovered a bit more about this unique set which I'll share in Part 2.

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