When I was three years old, my parents gave me a train set for Christmas. I was probably a little too young at the time; on seeing it I’m an told I exclaimed “Oh, rails”, and promptly trod on it.
It was a Lone Star Treble-0-Lectric set, in what is now called N gauge, but then labelled as 000 gauge, half the size of the more popular 00 gauge. I had what must have been the deluxe version, with vacuum-formed scenery and buildings. The track was a looped eight which made two circuits of the board crossing over itself.
As the very first manufacturer to make ready-to-run electric models Lone Star were ahead of their time. The range descended from an earlier die-cast push-along system which used an 8mm track gauge. The locomotives used an ingenious but ultimately troublesome design with a large central motor powering both bogies via a transmission that used rubber bands. This precluded any British-outline steam locomotives, which meant the only steam locomotive in the range was an American-outline Baldwin 0-8-0 switcher with the mechanism in the large bogie tender.
The range ultimately included four different locomotives. There were two British diesels, an English Electric “Baby Deltic” and a Derby-Sulzer class 24. The other two were American-outline models, the Baldwin 0-8-0, and an EMD F7 diesel which ultimately appeared in eight different North American liveries. There was a limited range of rolling stock, again split between British and American prototypes.
Lone Star never developed the system beyond that small initial range. They didn’t have the resources to invest in a more flexible and smaller mechanism that would enable them to make anything other than four-axle diesels. The range was discontinued after only a couple of years, with some models perpetuated in a newer push-along range that used to be sold in Woolworths for another few years. Not until the late 60s did German company Arnold introduce a new range in the same scale, and what we now know as N-Gauge became established.
Most of that original train set is long gone now. A few items have somehow survived; a battered American “Mobilgas” tanker, one piece of curved track, and of all things, the controller, which survived to power a later TT gauge layout, but that’s another story. There may be more survivors hidden away in the back of cupboards. But when on holiday last summer in the Isle of Man I visited the tramway shop in Laxey, and saw a few items of rolling stock, three coaches and three wagons, and nostalgia got the better of me.
It got worse after that; I started scanning eBay for Lone Star items and bid for another pair of coaches, which I ended up winning. And then a couple more wagons from a secondhand dealer at the Maidenhead & Marlow exhibition. All I need now is the two British-outline locomotives…