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Noel

The importance of toy train sets

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Was chatting with a few friends last week and we had been musing the important role train sets once had. It was said in times past nearly every boy in the population got at least one train set for a birthday or Christmas present before the age of 16.

These had many varied developmental and social benefits, not to mention the first wrung of the ladder in the hobby. Track work construction now often forgotten was a huge part of it as youngsters experienced geometry, tactile playability and feel, construction and design skills, resource management, logical stock movements, basic electrics, train operations and let imaginations run loose as they built, disassembled and reassembled imaginary worlds in many variations. There was the additional dimension of set track packs and extending train set layouts over the years, interacting with fathers and friends, swapping and exchanging items of stock and track, learning to fix things, remove carpet from gear trains, lub frozen locos, connect wires, later build and paint layout scenery items, and above all else "play".

Youngsters subliminally learned so many varied engineering and electrical skills in addition to the social interaction. In the current era of virtual play in front of dancing LCD screens one wonders where the hobby might be in 20 years time demographically?

5c5184dc8dcb17f4af5028bedbbc08de--toy-tr

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I think we already know, Noel. While there are still train sets available at reasonable prices & in a variety of themes, railway modelling is mostly the preserve of the older generation. Add in the fact that a 4mm scale locomotive can cost well over £150 and one can see why a disposable income certainly helps too. 

 The rise of electronic games, computers etc means that a model railway has not been top of the list to Santa for quite a few years. Another issue is the 'throw away/ephemeral nature of many toys and games. For example, one of these days, I am going to weaken and buy a small radio controlled helicopter for 20 quid or so, but I also know that after a couple of hours I will be bored with it - assuming it doesn't break beforehand.

 In my primary headteacher days [late 90s -early 00s] I used to like asking the kids what they had got for Christmas. One assembly, I had to actually ask if any of them had got any toys, because all the answers involved computers, Xboxes, clothes & music players. Paints, crayons & cuddly toys were in similar short supply. Like the rest of my teaching career, the school was in a tough area and though rarely short of material goods, the kids did not all get the adult attention they needed at home. The ones that did, really stood out, because they were SO much easier to work with.

 However, the benefits of model railways don't stop in childhood. There is a growing amount of anecdotal evidence that railway modeller are significantly less likely to develop dementia, because the hobby keeps the brain active. High blood pressure, resorting to drink, excessive bad language etc another matter of course!

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I think there is a lack of imagination in the marketing and product development too. The trusty British trainset from the established names lack any additional play value and attention grabbing features compared to say, the Triang days. Marklin are doing it properly with their "My World" series, offering durable models of glamourous prototypes like the ICE and TGV, fun freight trains with tipping logs, working cranes etc, and then the wireless remote. It's one of the most popular toys in Germany and with good reason. 

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Some of the big retailers this Christmas didn't even appear to have a single OO train set available in their 200 page catalogue.

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With space and budget undoubtable considerations for either young people, or the increasing number of single parents, I suspect that layout may become "online" more. This, while regrettable to the likes of us, may be the way it'll go. "Virtual" locos could be bought / downloaded, with "virtual" layouts on computer screens, like the popular game of "Sims" of such complexity that the same thing in real life would cover a few acres.

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From meeting many of our customers over the past 18 months or so, I've been pleasantly surprised at the age range. Many are in the 30-50 bracket, which is at odds with the perception that the hobby is mainly the preserve of the older generation. 

As Fran said, Marklin's kids' sets are among the most popular toys in Germany. They're also compatible with the regular Marklin sets, which helps promotes quality parent/child time, too, as well as nurturing interest in the hobby. There's a distinct lack of an equivalent product in the OO market...

On a related note, there's very little promotion of the hobby towards people who don't already have an interest in railways, certainly here and in the UK...

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Posted (edited)

Due to almost annual house moves, often to different countries, I never had a train set at all. I did come across them in the houses of the "settled populations" and it was always 'on the list', but circumstances made it a little awkward to have anything with any permanence. I did, though, get as far as one of the Lone Star die-cast ones that was around N Gauge in size.

Edited by Broithe

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Glad to see Marklin My World mentioned here, it's a fantastic range. I think a big problem is price. The perception of the hobby is one of cost.

If hornby could gather up all there old tooling (lima included) and launch a proper budget line aimed at young punters it might help the situation.

The railroad range is a bit of a joke. £100 for a Lima deltic, seriously???

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A young fella (11 years old) came to the house to see my layout, he's into model trains and has a few hornby starter sets. Starter sets range between €80-150, which means he has to wait for birthdays/christmas before he can add to his own layout. I could tell he was frustrated, he can't fish for bargains on ebay the way we can. If basic wagons in blister packs were widely and cheaply available (€5-10), basic 0-4-0's €20, A bo-bo €30 - they could be bought with pocket money by young fellas on a weekly/monthly basis - which keeps the interest in the hobby going.

Hornby recently sold a continental lima shunter for £25 and a bo-bo for £30 and they sold out, which means there is a demand for cheap entry level products. The high fidelity stuff is amazing but without entry level stuff there will be no hobby in the future.

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11 minutes ago, roxyguy said:

A young fella (11 years old) came to the house to see my layout, he's into model trains and has a few hornby starter sets. Starter sets range between €80-150, which means he has to wait for birthdays/christmas before he can add to his own layout. I could tell he was frustrated, he can't fish for bargains on ebay the way we can. If basic wagons in blister packs were widely and cheaply available (€5-10), basic 0-4-0's €20, A bo-bo €30 - they could be bought with pocket money by young fellas on a weekly/monthly basis - which keeps the interest in the hobby going.

Hornby recently sold a continental lima shunter for £25 and a bo-bo for £30 and they sold out, which means there is a demand for cheap entry level products. The high fidelity stuff is amazing but without entry level stuff there will be no hobby in the future.

This is ABSOLUTELY true. Very well said indeed.

When I started out, Hornby did a cheap little 0.4.0T, which depending on whether you wanted a red, green or blue one was called "Polly", "Nellie" or "Connie".

It was actually a very nice little thing, very comparable with the better standards of the day and not as toy-like as some of its imitators ten and twenty years later.

In my late teens, Irish-themed layouts were impossible without scratch building every single solitary thing, so mine was BR. I decided to add a few details to it and paint in In lined BR black as a shunter. It looked very well indeed in that guise - so entry level doesn't even need to mean "toy".

Things like that are badly needed. Cheap to buy, but reasonable looking. And - sufficiently reasonable looking that if the child becomes a serious modelller they can still make something out of it later on if they want.

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I don't think that it's just the older generation that will be left in the hobby. Yes there has been a decline but I see quite a lot of newcomers coming into the hobby. About 60% of my customers are new to the hobby and a large portion are recently retired that have always wanted to get into the hobby. I also see quite a lot of young people, I sell a lot of 6 x 4 baseboards particularly coming up to Christmas. Ten 6 x 4 baseboards went out this Christmas.

The hobby has changed direction on the way people shop and communicate. Facebook has changed this and I get a lot of my business through Facebook. Facebook groups are getting very popular too.

Pat made a very good point about promoting the hobby, the club's in Ireland don't do enough to promote the hobby to the younger generation. North Down club are very proactive in promoting their show in Bangor in April, they use a Facebook promotional campaign and invite all the local schools to take part in a colouring competition. Prizes are donated by Bachmann and BT. 

They also bring a layout to a shopping centre on the weeks leading up to a show and collect money for charity while promoting the hobby.

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It's not just a "young v old" thing - there is also a "male v female" aspect.

I've always felt that promotion of layouts as "smaller dolls' houses in a landscape setting" may have some mileage..

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2 hours ago, jhb171achill said:

When I started out, Hornby did a cheap little 0.4.0T, which depending on whether you wanted a red, green or blue one was called "Polly", "Nellie" or "Connie".

I remember this three 0-4-0s well.

It was Rovex plastics later taken over by Tri-ang who halved the price of train sets at their launch. Mind you even Tri-ang prices were such that they tended to be limited to Birthday and Christmas presents from parents. Pocket money savings (months and weeks) were limited to buying small track extensions, and modest bits of scenic buildings or the odd wagon.  

An wonderful aspect of train sets was the construction and design aspect associated with erecting and disassembling them, and the playability and tactile feel of construction.  Meccano and Lego like in terms of learning basic engineering skills!

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When I was a lad it was an expensive pastime also. Ebay really has democratised the hobby, you can decide on a budget and stick to it. That doesn't really solve the problem I've mentioned. There is old Triang and Lima tooling which has more than paid for itself. If you look at the cost of a train set vs the sum of its parts sold separately its obvious they could sell locos and wagons much cheaper. I'm just ranting now, but perhaps there is a lack of interest or marketing know-how at hornby. The recent battery powered junior train set seems a bit daft, why not just retail a basic electric set at that price??

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Part of the problem with prices is the supply chain middlemen (i.e. the big cut the distributors and then the retailers get). 

Edited by Noel

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2 hours ago, Noel said:

Part of the problem with prices is the supply chain middlemen (i.e. the big cut the distributors and then the retailers get). 

In part, but the main issue is that the larger brands are run by accountants, and so crap like below, whose tooling costs have been well and truly paid for by now, costs £17 to purchase from a box shifter.  I've a fair idea of how much this would actually cost to make, and it's just profit gouging, as Bosko said earlier. 

R8259_16817_Qty1_1.jpg

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Posted (edited)

That's the very point I'm making. That's a lima accessory from the 1970's, the tooling might be 40 years old. That's before you look at some of the triang tooling they are using which is 60 years old. €10 would be enough for that yoke. My strategy would be to gather all of the old tooling up and create a new budget brand.

The fact that they re-released this as 'super detail' says a lot about the company in general. Im not slating hornby, I just wish they'd get smart.

 

R2614_1015425_Qty1_box.jpg

Edited by roxyguy

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20 hours ago, Glenderg said:

In part, but the main issue is that the larger brands are run by accountants, and so crap like below, whose tooling costs have been well and truly paid for by now, costs £17 to purchase from a box shifter.  I've a fair idea of how much this would actually cost to make, and it's just profit gouging, as Bosko said earlier. 

R8259_16817_Qty1_1.jpg

That is violently horrific. 

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