Sunday, March 04, 2007

Tomy's Thomas train sets well worth the price

"Poppaw, do you have a train?"
Our 3-year-old grandson lives for trains. He knew we had to throw away our old battery powered Christmas tree train after the plastic parts began to harden with age and break.
Linda and I had decided we would have to get a new train set before the grandchildren came to visit again.
I wanted an electric train. My old American Flyer is still in pretty good shape, considering its age. But the power pack no longer powers it and prices for AC power packs are rather steep.
I thought about getting a Lionel, but this poppaw would rather spend his "free" time reading or at the computer than playing with trains.
I also looked at the big "G" scale trains, and actaully found a set (aka a circle of track, engine and a car or two) for $300 at the toy train show in Indianapolis.
"I thought you would get it," my better half said.
But this poppaw tends to be rather cheap (except when it comes to family)and although Logan was with me, neither one of us got too excited about the big train.
But we both loved "Thomas". He loves the Thomas stories and I love him, so we spent most of the time watching a Lionel Thomas set chug around a miniature mountain and Logan spent some time playing with a battery-powered Thomas set in an area set up for such a purpose.
So, our selection came down to either the Fisher Price remote-controlled battery powered set or the Thomas battery powered set (no remote control) made by Tomy.
We found the Thomas set heavily discounted at Toys 'R' Us last week.
I had my doubts about the quality, but was pleasantly surprised.
This is not your old American Flyer! One of the first memories I have of my American Flyer from 1956 was poking one of the metal train tracks into my finger. It hurt and I bled.
The Tomy product is made for the 21st century!
The plastic train snaps together, held in place with triangular tabs.
All the track is reversible so you don't have to hunt for the right or left curve or even turnout (what we used to call swtiches).
The printing on the various industries and railroad stations is perfect. The plastic is colorful. There are even battery powered buses that run on gray roads that intersect the track at railroad stations.
One word of caution: Thomas and Percy have to be expertly squeezed and pulled apart to load and change the battery. I broke Percy and we never did get the battery out of Thomas.
But James has a coal tender and the load of coal easily tips out to get at his battery. I recommend you look for engines with a coal tender!
The industries and railroad station are animated, just like the Lionel trains.
There is a gate that swings open for the train to pass and against the roadway at the same time. Cars are stopped at the railroad crossing until you push the green button that allows them to go.
There is an ore crane that will stop the train and pretend to load it before letting the train go. There is another device that loads little plastic balls onto a special car. On the next trip around the track, the car tips and dumps the balls into the loading apparatus.
What about battery life? I made sure we had plenty of batteries in the house, but after a weekend of play, none of the batteries had to be replaced! That was a space age miracle in my book!
Tomy is a British company and Thomas is a British creation, so it is only fitting that Tomy should capitalize on Thomas's popularity in this country.
But I would hope that the company will bring out a line of American train equipment that runs on the same track and roadway.
No, the Tomy product won't be taken seriously by model train fans.
But this grandpa and grandma sure had fun playing on the floor with their grandkids. (By the way, we also bought a castle and assorted toys for Cailin, our granddaughter, to play with. Both kids spent part of the time with the trains and part of the time with the castle.)
The Tomy toy train products are excellent values.