All posts by Matthew Hocker

Celebrate Halloween with a Scary Train Mod

In the LEGO hobby, people are sometimes divided over the issue of modifying parts. Whether you do or don’t, as long as you are having fun that is what it is all about.

However, for Halloween I decided to pick a scary LEGO train mod from LEGO’s past advertising. This ad dates from 1988. On the surface, it would appear to have nothing to do with trains. Can you spot the train mod?

“Rescue at the last minute!” (1989)

This week’s “blast from the past” comes to us from Germany in 1989. In this comic book/magazine advertisement, an SUV narrowly escapes what would have been a deadly collision with the High-Speed City Express (#7745). This train set debuted in 1985 but still would have been available for purchase in 1989. #7745 had appeared in various pieces of advertising up until this point, but this was perhaps the most unique scenario within which it was placed.

LEGO Trains are Put to the Test (1984)

Background Information on the Article: The following article originally appeared in the March 1984 issue of LEGO Review, the English title of the LEGO Group’s house organ (employee magazine). The article, titled “On the track,” provides an analysis of a review on LEGO trains that appeared in the November 1983 issue of the  Stiftung Warentest. Stiftung Warentest is dedicated to objective reporting on consumer goods and serves a similar function as Consumer Reports in the U.S.

On the Track… (By Preben Peterson):

TEST: In the November 1983 issue of their magazine ‘test,’ the German consumers council ‘Stiftung Warentest’ took a close look at toys, as a sort of preview to the on-coming Christmas shopping.

Among the products tested were various LEGO products: our train programme was evaluated against others, even bigger and well-known brands.

We have tested ‘test’…

INTRODUCTION: In Germany, and just about all central European countries, model trains are a subject which occupies a lot of children and adults in their leisure time.

For many of them the game is to acquire or construct precise models of existing or historic, characteristic or famous trains, stations, landscapes, etc.

WATCH THE FORMAT: This test did not concentrate on that side of model train sports, but on model trains as toys. Here one begins, soberly, by pointing out that although it is not an unimportant part of play to build and rebuild, some of the excitement is lost if one, owing to size is forced to build and dismantle the construction at the end of every day’s play. Or if the dimensions in relation to the available space are such that there is little room for variations, details and the finer points of the game. Here the LEGO train scored its first point, since, all in all, it was described as very handy.

For instance, the LEGO locomotive in the train in question measures only 153 mm and weighs 367 g. While a similar version of the otherwise so popular brand Märklin with its 335 mm and 1850 g is described as a somewhat ‘overgrown’ item, especially for smaller children.

IDENTICAL…?: Our track width – that is the distance between the rails – is a little outside the standard which a number of the other trains use. Three of the five trains tested, namely Lehman, Märklin and Playmobil use standard ‘G’ (45 mm) which corresponds to a 1:22.5 ratio. The fourth train, Faller, uses the standard ‘O’ (32 mm), which corresponds to a 1:45 ratio. As many of you already know, we use a track width of 38 mm. This adherence to the non-standard did not give rise to criticism. On the other hand one wonders, naturally, why the components from the three ‘standardised’ trains are not compatible…

PRICE: The magazine pointed out that price was not without importance when the decision of which brand of train was to be made.

Here again, our products were praised – perhaps to the surprise of some people. For instance, if one buys a LEGO train set comprising a steam engine, some carriages and goods wagons and a modest, little beginners’ set of rails, one is in business for 70 DM (about 25 US $). That is only a couple of dollars more than one would pay for a Faller engine – alone. And that is the cheapest of the four competing engines whose prices topped at nearly 80 dollars. Add to this carriages costing between 5 and nearly 25 dollars – each.

And, the magazine reminds us, who will remain satisfied with a mini railway with one engine and two carriages forever? Hinting to the cost of expanding the set…

 

PLUS AND MINUS: After this a ‘dive’ and then more praise to those of our colleagues who have worked with the trains and their ‘accessories.’ It is rather difficult to connect power to our rails, they complained. However, our constructors’ and users’ guides got through unscathed when very sharp, critical words were passed about nearly all the others.

MOST IMPORTANT: Finally, and absolutely of greatest importance the toys’ play potential are evaluated. A test-panel (I think that’s what they call it) of children between 6 and 14 years old was asked to play with the trains – under the appropriately watchful eyes of experienced analysts. Here too, the trains and their accessories were exposed to special trials and tests which we also know from our product tests here in the company (- but which, to judge by the results, could lead us to believe are not known, or perhaps not used in all the other companies).

Not surprisingly, it turned out that our train performed extremely well during the long-term tests. The speed matched amply that offered by the others, and on the matter of pulling power our train, as the only one of the five, was characterised ‘very large.’ Some of the others could not cope with load i the form of cargo on the wagons and gradients in the terrain/landscape which one was tempted to give them.

Our rails, points, signals, carriages and driving capacity received praise, while one could have hoped for a somewhat more popular passage about sidings (Is this noticed during play? we are tempted to ask. Ed.).

And the LEGO train was the easiest to work with – that is, to get on the tracks, shunt, etc.

ALL IN ALL: The conclusion is:

“The LEGO train is constructed upon the same principles as the other boxes and models from the same company and the elements can thus be combined freely. Construction of the engine and carriages feed children’s creativity. Once in a while things fall apart during play but that doesn’t disturb or annoy. This train is particularly good fun to play with, thanks to among other things, its powerful pulling capacity and speed.”

Upon this background, the LEGO train got the evaluation ‘very good,’ together with Playmobil’s train, while the others were placed lower.

“Upon the basis of their wide range toys in general, the two companies probably have greater experience to build upon,” concludes the report.

And that’s not untrue – neither is it at all bad…

*NOTE: First two illustrations come from the March 1984 issue of LEGO Review. All other illustrations come from various examples of LEGO train advertising for the year of 1983.

From Rails to Rocket Fuel (1971)

This week’s piece of LEGO train advertising history was published in France in 1971. This is probably my favorite example of LEGO train advertising. The stylized drawings and explosion of color make this a feast for the eyes.

There is also some creative storytelling going on here. If you look closely, you will notice a Darwinian depiction of trains. The 4.5V train moves into the world of 12V, is transformed into a monorail, a boat and a supersonic jetliner. All of these illustrations lead your eyes to the final focal point, which is a space-bound rocket. From trains to spaceships, “LEGO is a new toy every day.”

P.S.: Be sure to take a second look at that monorail. You might find that it bears greater resemblance to more recent fan designs than LEGO’s official monorail system of the 1980s & 1990s.

North America – At least we had 4.5 Volt (1982)

Back in the 1980s, 12 Volt trains reigned supreme in the UK, continental Europe and Australia. Meanwhile, across the pond we “Yankees” were less fortunate and missed out on the joys of 12V trains. Fortunately, we were able to get push trains and 4.5V battery-operated trains.

This hard-to-find brochure is from 1982 and advertises the 4.5V system for the North American market. The front cover features a charming illustration of set #7720, displayed with a mix of LEGO and traditional model railroad landscaping. We might not have had all the bells and whistles, but at least we had trains!

“Trains with unlimited possibilities” (1983)

If you walked into a toy store in 1983 and saw this, how could you not fall in love with LEGO trains? The following illustration comes from a set of photographs of dealer displays distributed to toy stores in Germany. This display designed to promote LEGO trains is absolutely gorgeous and features an operating signal light. Other themes covered in the packet include Town, Classic Space, Fabuland, etc. However, only the train-themed display featured functional lighting! Were any of our German readers fortunate enough to see this display in stores?

The Name’s Blond…Jim Blond

Introduction – The Golden Era of LEGO Advertising:
The period of the 1980s-1990s was  arguably the golden age of LEGO advertising. With handmade scenery and practical effects, advertising photographers were able to do wonders. Back then, flipping through the catalogs and brochures that accompanied each set was always a treat.

Outside of loose brochures, LEGO frequently placed colorful advertisements within the pages of popular comic books. In Europe, Donald Duck comics were quite popular. In fact, the ad featured in this article came straight out of a German Donald Duck comic book.

Enter Jim Blond:
Different regions often produced different types of advertisements, and this one was certainly unique. This 1995 ad was designed to promote LEGO’s 9-Volt trains by sponsoring a special contest in which kids could win a t-shirt, roller skates or a mountain bike (the grand prize).

LEGO gave special attention to this ad, going so far as to paste a special brochure which featured comic-book style illustrations. The artists blended together hand-drawn artwork with photographs of actual LEGO sets. The end results were often bright, colorful and fun to look at.

The story in this ad follows the exploits of action-adventure detective, Jim Blond. Who is Jim Blond, you might ask? Mix together James Bond’s name with TinTin’s hair, and add a splash of Johnny Quest…That’s the recipe for a perfect Jim Blond.

In the “comic,” Jim Blond is tasked with safely delivering a special microchip to Cape Canaveral. Those spaceships don’t fly themselves, you know! After being handed the chip, he boards the iconic Metroliner (set #4558). Little does he know, he is not alone…

Turns out, some dude named Karl Kralle has been following him the entire time. Having caught wind of his persuer, Blond attempts to escape by jumping on a passing Freight Rail Runner (set #4564). Kralle manages to catch up with him, but Blond is always one step ahead.

Sets 4555 (Cargo Station) and 4552 (Cargo Crane) also make brief appearances. In fact, Kralle’s cronies use the Cargo Crane to blow out a bridge. However, the missing section of track proves to be no match for the mighty Freight Rail Runner, which makes like E.T. by flying over the gap. The final panel consists of Blond watching a successful shuttle launch on TV. THE END

International Man of Mystery:
When I attempted to research this piece of advertising, I found surprisingly very little information on Jim Blond or if he appeared in any other LEGO advertising. It is possible this may have been his first and last appearance. If any of our German readers have any information on the elusive Mr. Blond, we’d love to hear from you!