Sunday, 16 September 2012


How do you like to twiddle yours?

The Piko starter set I was sent for review comes with it's own transformer and controller tailored to the voltage and current demands of what is a far bigger and heavier model than the 4mm scale stuff I'm used to. The controller is of the centre off variety, turning the knob one way or the other from twelve o'clock changes direction as well as speed. Though my first train set controller, dating back to the sixties, has this arrangement, it's 'feel' was a bit alien to me. For the last thirty or more years I've used a series of controllers that have a switch to change direction, the rotation of the knob solely governing speed.

It seemed till recently that the centre off pattern of controllers were synonymous with train sets; I began to wonder why this might be. I doubt that there's more than pennies to be saved over the separate reversing switch, but maybe with one controller used in a range of trainsets and remaining in production for many years those savings were well worth having. Perhaps it was thought easier for young minds to understand, turn it one way it goes that way, turn it the other and off it goes in reverse.

The direction switch model should give finer control, having double the distance to sweep from off the maximum speed. I'm sure that this is why the serious enthusiast has adopted this pattern so wholeheartedly. But as ever there are exceptions, Bachmann bundle a very nice direction switch controller in with their trainsets and conversely some of those who supply what's thought of as the enthusiast market do or did centre off models.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

An unexpected turn of events.

Early this week I had an unexpected e-mail asking if I would be interested in reviewing train sets. The communique was from Tommy George of Idealo UK (more about them later) who seemed to be pleasantly surprised at the level of interest and comment there is in the UK model railway scene; an area his company are expanding into. 

For a variety of reasons I chose the Piko G scale starter set to take a look at. It's a complete start from scratch set, comprising loco, a DB BR80 0-6-0 tank engine, a couple of bogie hopper wagons, circle of track, transformer, controller, and all the wires to hook the power supply up to the track. Here's what it all looks like.

As the set came from a German supplier the transformer was fitted with a two pin euro-plug. Not having a suitable adaptor I cut it off and replaced it with a UK standard three pin jobbie, all of five minutes work. Another five minutes clipping the track into a circle, and connecting transformer to controller to track and I was in business. Putting the loco on the track the first thing I noticed was how heavy it was, being more used to the mass of 4mm to the foot scale models. Come to that the track is pretty hefty too. The mass certainly tells once loco and wagons are on the move. The motor is pretty quiet which allows the clickerty-clack as the wheels pass over the rail joints to be appreciated to the full. I tested the set indoors, but I feel that its real setting should be in the garden where it could occupy the middle ground between model of a real railway and a small real railway in its own right. It has a chunky robust quality that should fit it for the harsher environment of the great outdoors.

Now what of Idealo? Well it's a price comparison site or service, they don't supply the products directly, but point you in the direction of retailers who will. As far as I can tell it works on the same or similar basis to those car insurance comparison sites but without amusing meerkats or annoying opera singers. Though it wasn't part of my brief to review Idealo I thought I should at least see if it gave credible results. I'm pleased to say on my test against Google's shopping results and a search on e-bay it came up with a keener price for the Piko starter set.

Now it won't replace the local model shop, with it's supplies of small items, materials, glues and paints, but I could see it being a worthwhile port of call, an alternative to Google shopping, e-bay or the big mail order houses as the range expands.