A little bit of history:

Do you regard the current Hornby railway models as being Hornby? I do not, I regard them as Tri-ang under a different name. (Tri-ang had been formed by the three Lines brothers, hence the name)

When I was growing up in the 1960's Hornby models were produced at the Meccano group's Binns Road factory in Liverpool that had been run by Sir Frank Hornby (up to 1931 and continued by his family). Hornby Dublo (first produced in 1938) was available both in the traditional 3-rail and more recently introduced 2-rail. Hornby O gauge had started in 1920 and the last of Hornby's tinplate O gauge was still being sold (though the range was a shadow of the inter-war years). Dinky Toys were going strong and were starting to match the better detailing and features of Corgi (part of Mettoy) and indeed the Spot-On (part of Rovex and hence Lines) diecast vehicles. Meccano was readily available and still introducing new parts and sets (though sadly declining in popularity). Hornby Dublo rolling stock had for many years kept to lithographed tinplate and in some instances paper covered wooden blocks from the earliest O gauge toy production methods whereas Tri-ang had settled on the use of injection moulding for almost all their products giving them far better detailing at lower cost since 1951. Hornby Dublo finally reacted in 1959 with 2-rail products and some nicely detailed injection moulding but it was too little too late against Tri-ang's broader range and price advantage and in 1964 the Meccano group failed. Tri-ang had been vastly outselling Hornby and Tri-ang was invited to take them over. There were reasonable stocks of certain Hornby 2-rail models and the Tri-ang catalogue became Tri-ang/Hornby featuring the Hornby products in the Tri-ang's red boxes (Hornby used to have a blue-white stripe packaging style, as had Dinky). In due course what had been the Hornby products were transferred to the Wrenn arm of the Lines group and were featured in the Tri-ang/Wrenn catalogue of that era (so if you want spares for the Hornby Dublo mechanisms Wrenn items might help out).

Eventually the Lines group succumbed to the change in childrens tastes and household economics and filed for bankruptcy in 1971. Dunbee-Combex-Marx took over and decided to drop the Tri-ang labelling (I was never sure why as Tri-ang had acheived a far better value and innovation reputation at that stage) and resurrect Hornby name. If you would like to see the comparisons of the competing Tri-ang and Hornby models of that era there are a number of books that cover this as well as the possibility of finding the old original catalogues. I would also recommend a series of 3 dvds produced by Axiom Video Productions: "The Rise and Fall of Hornby Dublo", "The Charm of Tri-ang Railways", "The Survival of Tri-ang/Hornby". The commentaries are in english but the quality of production and the range of models presented should be enjoyed by all those who are interested in these model railway brands. As a minor matter Hornby Hobbies has now moved back to the Tri-ang home town of Margate, though production will no doubt remain in China.

Coincidentally Mettoy had the Playcraft range of model trains which, during the 1970s, sold the Jouef Ho range and, for a few years, the OO9 (Hoe) 9mm gauge Decauville 0-4-0 with open sided tourist coaches and side tipping wagons. The range also included building kits in french (or european) style that may have originated from Kibri or Pola. The Playcraft range also included some british models, it would be interesting to know who made the moulds for these. In my town the basic sets and freight wagons were sold in the Woolworths store though the local model shop stocked the two Jouef narrow gauge sets alongside Egger-bahn.

Airfix covered a wide range of models and toys making use of their injection moulding expertise. On the plastic kit front these were mainly aircraft to 1:72 scale but they had also taken over the moulds of Rosebud's Kitmaster range of model railway kits, reintroducing several of the models and later extended the range with station and lineside structures and buildings to OO gauge and scale. Although it was possible to motorise the models using 3rd party components the Airfix railway kit range were mainly assembled as static display items. Later on Airfix introduced a small range of "running" locomotives and rolling stock along with a couple of starter sets including track. When introduced it could be said that the Airfix models had better detailing than the Hornby models of that era and even had some mechanical features that were not common, the prairie tank for instance having suspension on two of the three driving axles. The Airfix products went to Palitoy under their "Mainline" model railway range with the plastic railway kit moulds eventually going to Dapol. As an aside I found it interesting that the Airfix kits used the american NMRA hook coupler (similar in concept but more compact than the Hornby Dublo and Peco couplers) whereas the "running" models intoduced a narrower version of the Tension-lock type which is close, if not identical to the couplers used in the recent Hornby items that have NEM coupler sockets.

All told the 1970s were terrible times for the established toymakers, the high inflation and unemployment of the era followed by the tempting competition of console and microcomputer gaming struck heavy blows. Matchbox, despite creating a perfectly valid track system to compete with Mattel's Hotwheels never really got the idea of low friction wheels and later was tempted in to the cheap but destructive concept of "stamp collecting" (that is producing the same model in any number of colours, such that any sane collectors lost interest in obtaining the full set). Corgi went much the same way, producing some extensive niche ranges, such as circus vehicles, that could only have appealed to a few collectors. Dinky resurrected some of their classic models without offering those, such as the british and french produced military ranges, that collectors bid highest for. Despite changes of ownership many of the toy brands of yesteryear live on, some continuing with products that have changed little with others making use of more modern electronics and a mix of modern and very traditional fabrication tecniques to give far more accurate and detailed miniatures of the full size items.

Many traditional toys are now living on the back of adult collectors, if you consider what children spend their money on (assuming it is legal) then mobile phones, computer games and clothes are probably at the top of the list. I think this is a shame, Meccano did teach a full set of mechanical principles in a way that that technical Lego can only attempt. If you flew a model aircraft you had built there was a real understanding of the strength-to-weight and the potential risk to hours of construction time from a bad landing, plus the internal components of internal combustion engines if you had ventured beyond gliders and rubber power. Character building? Maybe but certainly very different from recent out-of-the-box electric powered "park flyers" and fully assembled (and remarkably well behaved) helicopters and drones. I think that model railways has a place to play in education and recreation. A starter set can be assembled and then readily extended without any great technical knowledge yet provide sufficient play value for anyone with a dose of imagination, "toy trains" if you like. Yet even the simplest set gives the option of introducing something that you have designed and built yourself, even if it is only the particular layout of the track on carpet or tabletop (and the same comment applies for slot-cars) all the way up to the finest level of detailing on a hand built model made from raw materials. Times may have changed, values should not.

For those interested in stretching the idea of a layout I might suggest that you have a look at some of the BBC series "James May's toy stories".
In particular the model railway episode (why did May not select the R752 Battle-Space Turbo Car?)
also the Scalextric episode
and just for the fun of it my favorite from those series being Action Man (and of course it's rocket powered Top Gear predecessor the Reliant shuttle (would that the explosive bolts had fired, I do wonder whether they considered a deliberate failure to be more spectacular?)

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