HORNBYHornby Model Railways first struck a deal making Thomas the Tank Engine models in 1985, with the range beginning with, who else, Thomas and Percy. From the Thomas model, it was clearly evident that - when you look at the shape and styling of Thomas - they were tooling their models to the specifications of the engines' prototypes, rather than the TV Series styling which was, at the time, still finding its feet. That being said, Percy's model could still be a very convincing TV Series style model. Annie and Clarabel were also made to accompany Thomas. In my opinion, they really should've tried to make their own versions rather than base them on their generic 4 wheel coach design. It made them look very squashed, no matter if you compared them to their TV OR Railway Series counterparts. There was also some rolling stock introduced, including an open wagon, a closed van (sadly they have been discontinued. I bought 5 in a lot on eBay and they are fantastic. I would love it if Hornby bought them back), a TV Series style milk tanker (which looks a bit squashed in my opinion, but it has all the detail there) and a brown brake van. Sets including Thomas, Percy and the two engines together were released as well.
In 1986, Duck (more than likely introduced to coincide with his TV Series introduction, which is made more noticeable - to me - since the green livery is styled on the TV Series green rather than the GWR green used in the Railway Series) and Gordon were created. Some green and cream TV Series style express coaches were created for the Express engine as was a cattle truck, which was retired and bought back in the 2000's. To coincide with Duck and Gordon's introduction, they were released in sets as well. Gordon including his coaches and Duck's including a cattle wagon, open wagon, milk tanker, closed van and a brake van.
The next year, only two models were released: Devious Diesel and the Breakdown Crane. It was quite ironic that Hornby's first diesel to be modelled was the first to ever be seen in the Railway Series and Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends. More sets were released too, with Diesel being included in one, with a cattle wagon, open wagon, milk tanker, closed van and a brake van. Also, they released a clockwork set including Thomas and Bertie.
James was created in 1989. He used an LMS 3F tender engine with an added bogie at the front. To go with him, red and white TV Seres style express coaches were created. It's a bit strange that they were called JAMES' coaches when, in Series 2, Henry, Edward and Duck usually pulled them. Only in Series 3 was James seen with them (please say if that's not the case). A set including James was also released, including him and his coaches, which was re-released in 2005. Also released was a tar wagon, which had the same con as the milk tanker (it looked squashed). These three were the last major OO electric releases for 11 years. Sadly, during this time, Duck, Gordon, Diesel, the breakdown crane, the closed van, the cattle truck, the tar wagon and James' coaches were retired.
Happily, however, these were re-commissioned in 2000 (except for the closed van, catlle truck, the crane and Diesel), while Toby, Bill and Ben, 'Arry and Bert and The Diesel were all added to the range, as were two Troublesome Trucks and Scruffey. From this point on, in my opinion, the models went downhill. Toby was far too tall, the Troublesome Trucks were far too big and The Diesel was the wrong class - a Class 37 rather than a Class 40. 'Arry and Bert looked alright, but strangely their faces were based on Splatter and Dodge. It would've been nice to see a Hornby Splatter and Dodge, considering TATMR came out that year. And Bill and Ben were far too big and wide, and the back of the cab had no detail on it at all. The only good models were Scruffey and the Ironworks twins, despite their faces. Also introduced were Radio Controlled Thomas, Thomas and Percy and RC Toby sets. Thomas' set was unique in that it was given a lamp.
In 2001, Hornby released a fuel tanker, a Sodor Scrap Co. truck, a Country Station, a water tower and signal box pack and a radio control sound system. They also re-introduced Diesel and made, in my opinion, the best looking engine since they made Duck, that being Henry. He is one model that I've recently really wanted, but sadly he's been discontinued. Hopefully Hornby will reconsider, as he is one of their best, hands down. In fact, a lot of models released this year were great, a lot better than most of those released in 2000.
The next time we'd see any new models from Hornby would be 2005, Thomas' 60th anniversary and Hornby's 20th anniversary making Thomas & Friends models. And they came back with a bang, releasing the most stock they had ever done. They released Stepney, Oliver, Circus wagons (including vans, cattle wagon and flatbeds), a grey brake van, Maithwaite, Water Tower, Signal Box, Engine Shed, Tunnel, Goods Crane, Cream Tanker, Raspberry Syrup Tanker, Ice Cream Van, Toad, Old Slow Coach and, more surprisingly, Bear and the Flying Scotsman. Considering these two were featured in the Railway Series (although Scotsman's tender was modelled for TV), it was a pleasant surprise that HIT commissioned them. I have both and they are fantastic. I also have Stepney, Oliver, Toad and the Brake Van, and I love them all, they are astonishingly detailed, with Bear and Oliver having traction tyres and Bear given sprung buffers. More sets were introduced too, with the old Thomas and James sets re-introduced, Percy and the Circus set (sadly, no brake van) and Thomas and Bill set. The Percy set was the first set I was given since I renewed my interest in model railways, and it's a great one. The breakdown crane and cattle truck were re-released this year as well
The next year, only one engine was released, and it was one that many people had wanted: Edward. Sadly, it didn't capture the blue engine in the way that many fans recognise him as, even compared to his Railway Series look. It was one of the worst looking models that Hornby had made. The rolling stock saved face for them, as the red and blue truck, the oil tanker and red and grey vans were fantastic; the oil tanker keeping the trend of Thomas tankers being quite squashed. The utility van looks great too, and I do want one, sadly they are hard to find now... The mail truck is very disappointing. It only has 4 wheels and looks too much like the utility van to me. It's a shame, as Hornby have made trucks that look like the TV Series mail van, so they could've used that as a basis.
There was only one release in 2007: Emily. And I wish they had picked a better basis for her. The general details that she possesses (steam valve, the wheel configuration, the livery) are there, but like Edward everything else is just wrong. Especially the face. The facial features are there, but it's too big. In the TV Series, its size is just big enough to fit on a smokebox door. It, like Edward, was the worst model Hornby have made.
Thankfully, in 2008, Hornby redeemed themselves - big style - when they made, quite possibly, their best model in Spencer. The ONLY slight problem is the wheel colour, but everything else looked absolutely beautiful. Also released this year was a special set to coincide with the release of the Great Discovery, featuring a weathered Thomas, Annie, Clarabel and two trucks with brick and timber loads. Thomas also featured a brand new tired expression and they also removed histraction tyres (at least on my model). Also released, by UK model retailler Modelzone, was a limited edition (500) Thomas model with the tired expression. They also made special buildings that were seen at Great Waterton, including the station itself. Sadly, all of 2008's models have been retired, including Spencer...
There were no new models in 2009, just a re-release of two old sets: the generic Thomas set and the Thomas Passenger and Goods set (which I have).
This year, Hornby have so far released Percy and the Night Mail Set, which includes a brand new version of the mail van. It looks fantastic, like a proper British Rail mail van. If Hornby decide to release that seperately then I would be very happy. They have also released Dart. This was a surprise to some, as no CGI characters had been considered for HO/OO scale markets, with Take-n-Play, Wooden and Trackmaster always being their first - and often, only - ports of call. While I like the idea, and admire the effort, it has the same issue as Edward and Emily: the basics are there, but the BASIS isn't. This is clearly evident as Dart's wheels and coupling rods are on show for the world to see. Considering they've made Class 08 characters (Diesel, 'Arry and Bert) already, I don't think there was any excuse for them to make Paxton, Sidney or even both.
Still to come are lots of buildings (sheds, water tower, station), a new breakdown crane, a works unit coach (in the style of the cream utility van) and a red and grey lime wagon (reminiscent to the red and grey vans). And they're also releasing Murdoch, a model that - since it was announced - I've really wanted. It looks great, and I'll go out on a limb and say that it'll be Hornby's best model, if not THE best model of the two ranges.
Despite the company not saying it, to fans Hornby create the models as close to their real life bases. This is evident when you look at Thomas, Henry, Duck, Oliver, Bear, Spencer and Murdoch. So if you like to imagine that the engines are real, most Hornby models can plant the idea in your head.
Even with the models that don't look like their prototypes (Edward and Emily) there is some excellent detailing in most of the models, especially the cabs of the tender engines.
They are the major model makers for Great Britain, so UK fans can buy them with no trouble, unless they're sold out.
The models are a lot stronger and faster compared to most of their Bachmann counterparts.
The models are a lot stronger and faster compared to most of their Bachmann counterparts.
As of this year, pretty much half of the range has been discontinued, uncluding Spencer, Duck, Stepney and Henry, as well as the old breakdown crane, old buildings and old sets. So a lot of the range is very hard to come by.
The engines cost an absolute fortune, if you go by the recommended retail price. This may explain why the exsquisite model of Spencer, or the model of main character Henry were discontinued. In this day and age, especially with the recession, most people just cannot afford them.
American fans can barely buy them at all, since their main supplier is Bachmann. It's a shame, really, and I think that HIT should allow the two brands to do what they do in Australia: sell Hornby OO and Bachmann HO worldwide, so fans - and their parents - can have more of a choice.
Some of the models (main ones: Emily and Edward) just don't capture the look of the character they're trying to represent. And if a child can't match the merchandise to the character, then it has pretty much failed in its purpose.
Well, that's the Hornby part over. Next time, Bachmann will be under the microscope, with my final verdict in Part 3