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  • Look what the cat dragged in

    I recently required a new-in-box Cargo Express Set #33105.

    Imagine my surprise when I opened it up and found this among its contents:

    That, dear readers, is a piece of A3 track.

    This is my 6th piece of A3 but the first one that I have encountered new in a box. It's part of a starter set and not in a #33323 Middle Straight pack, but close enough (my other five pieces were acquired loose from a seller in Germany in early 2014). Set #33105 doesn't appear in catalogs so I don't know for sure when it was sold, but given that it includes a green battery engine and it came to me with a pair of 1998 catalogs—a foldout and a photobook—I think it's a fair guess that it was produced around that time. This is also the year that A3 was introduced.

    I am now curious if there are other starter sets that come with this little gem. I know for a fact that A3 was included in the Network Track Pack #33294, but of course that has the BRIO Network paint theme on it making it a not entirely practical source. If I come across any others that do, I'll be sure to let you know.

    EDIT: For the curious, here is the track plan for this set. The A3 piece sits below the Railway Crossing #33388. The gap there is 64mm, and using the A3 piece creates a better fit as well as a slightly wider turn than an A2.

  • Why I don't generally mix brands of track

    You've probably noticed that I almost exclusively use genuine BRIO track. There are some exceptions to this of course: I point out that you should consider getting the Maxim 3" Mini Straight or the Jesse's Toy Box 3" Straight as a substitute for the discontinued and short-lived BRIO A3 track, and there are other pieces in the BRIO system that are simply very difficult to find but very handy such as as the F2 and G2 parallel switch tracks. But by and large, I stick with the BRIO brand.

    Why is that? I'll admit that part of it is that I am a BRIO purist. Virtually my entire collection is BRIO with only a handful of track pieces coming from other manufacturers. That's a snobbish reason, sure, but it's not the reason why I stick with BRIO track. So what is? Well, the mainly it is because I started with BRIO track, and the issue with mixing and matching track is that you create problems with symmetry.

    Each track manufacturer uses a slightly different standard for their track lengths. BRIO's track lengths are measured in metric and their primary lengths are the 216mm and 144mm straight. The track for Thomas and Friends is based on Imperial measurements and their straight lengths are measured in inches. Maxim's track measurements are stated in inches but the measurements are actually in metric and the imperial distance is a rounded measurement, e.g. their 3" straight track actually measures 82mm which is just shy of 3-1/4". When you arbitrarily mix track from different sources, you introduce uneven lengths or curve radii into your layout, making it more difficult to create a symmetrical design.

    Symmetry is your friend because it guarantees a perfect fit when your track is laid out. You can create more complex layouts from two or more simple, symmetrical designs simply by overlapping them or joining them at one end. Symmetry is really the basis for success in the wooden railway system which is plagued with 45-degree angles and other confounding geometry. Anything that breaks track symmetry serves only to introduce additional frustration into your planning.

    That doesn't mean you need to go out and buy only BRIO-branded track like I do, but it does mean that you should mostly stick to a brand that you like, be mindful of what happens when you introduce track from different sources into your toy chest, and most importantly store that track separately so that you know which track is which when building your layouts.

  • Mystery track: a 73mm F-F straight

    This mystery comes to me from BRIO and Thomas collector artheathen. This track piece is made from beechwood and measures 73mm long. The mystery is, where did it come from?

    Mystery C3 piece

    In the BRIO system this track would bear the ID "C3" since it is a 73mm straight with female connectors at both ends. Almost, anyway, since the A3 track is 72mm and not 73mm. BRIO has not, to my knowledge, ever produced such a piece and track A3 did not appear until 1998. By then BRIO was not only stamping it's track, but had also long been chamfering the grooves in the rails, as well as the throat of the female connector. There's no stamp, and close-ups of the end show very rounded rails, and a straight cut at the throat.

    Cross section

    Throat corner cut

    Even in the early days of BRIO track production there was not, to my knoweldge, this large rounding of the grooves. The rails were either cut straight, or had a very slight rounding or chamfer. The rounding in this mystery piece more closely resembles that used by Jesse's and Orbrium's track manufacturer, except that the quality of this track is much, much higher.

    In fact, this track piece is so well made that I really don't know what to make of it. I'm 90% sure it's not a BRIO piece, but BRIO did manufacture custom pieces in some of it's vintage sets—the Harbour #31405-40 comes to mind—so I'm not comfortable going that extra 10% and proclaiming it with absolute certainty. But I am skeptical.

    Have any ideas? Let me know.

  • Why curved switching track has oddly-shaped notches

    You've probably noticed that BRIO's curved switching track L and M, and the mechanical versions L1 and M1, have an oddly-shaped notch at the curved end:

    Product photo by BRIO AB

    Why this funny shape?

    It's designed to accommodate the straight switching tracks, F and G, like so:

    The straight switches F and G were actually the first switches in the BRIO track system, dating back to the very first sets in the 1950's, and were in fact the only switches for over 20 years. The curved switches and double curved switches, L, M, I and J, did not come along until the early 1980's.

    The first versions of these curved switches were actually slightly different from the ones we see today. The straight track path was actually longer than on the modern switch track, so that the edge on the curved side formed a straight edge as shown in this picture from the 1983 product sheet:

    The problem with this original switch design is that the straight track path measures 158mm, which does not correspond to any straight track length in the BRIO system. If you insert one of these older-style switches into a symmetric layout such as a loop, then you have to place a second one on the opposite side to keep the symmetry and ensure the track will still meet.

    When the straight path in the switch was shortened to 144mm in order to match the A track length, the edge on the curved side had to be notched in a way that would allow existing BRIO track to connect with it. Specifically, F and G with their angled ends had to fit, hence the funny shape to the notch.

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