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My particular interest is in combining slot cars with model trains for exhibitions. I started doing this many years ago with Tri-ang Railways and Minic Motorways, but then I found out about Playcraft Highways.

Over the years I learned more about Playcraft Highways and its inventor Derek Brand. I also discovered how Highways lacked initial success but then crossed the Atlantic and became very successful as Aurora Model Motoring.

From research conducted by myself and a chum, it appears that Derek Brand had originally envisaged Highways as being an add-on to Model Railroads and had probably intended it to be taken up by the US manufacturer Revell. Brand had worked a lot developing products for Revell and at the time Highways was being developed, they were selling an 'HO' scale model railroad system, which made use of Atlas 'Snap Track'. Snap Track features 18" radius curves and 9" long straights, I guess the latter length is rather familiar to us all?

Sadly Revell had ditched their model railroad system before Highways was ready, so Brand had to look elsewhere, before settling on Playcraft in the UK as his customer. Playcraft too would have a model railway system, but not until 1961 and this was around the time that Highways was being abandoned in the UK. A couple of catalogue illustrations exist, showing how Playcraft Railways and Highways could be used together, but the link between the two was never developed as it was with Tri-ang Railways and Minic Motorways.

Later of course Aurora Model Motoring produced a Level or Grade Crossing (as it is called in the US), which is entirely compatible with Highways and is a key ingredient to the display you will see below

An article about Highways in the Journal of the Train Collectors Society produced a response from Richard Lines, formerly of Rovex Ltd (who produced Tri-ang Railways). He related the story of how Tri-ang initially became aware that their competitor: Mettoy Playcraft, were developing an electric roadway system through a chance remark by a travelling rep! This led to the eventual development Minic Motorways, but of course Highways is the true ancestor of all HO slots cars!

As it is 60 years since Playcraft Highways reached the shops, we took this layout to the Train Collectors Society Spring Gathering and AGM at Leicester in March. The same layout is going to the 'National Festival of Toy Trains' in Alresford, Hampshire on Saturday 15th June 2019

The layout uses original Highways track and supports for 95% of the upper section, where we mainly ran original Highways vehicles, although these have all been re-engineered with Aurora T Jet chassis, (which was also designed by Brand), to make them operate like silk, rather than sounding like an angry buzzer. We have had to boost the height of the track supports, as although intended as an add-on for trains, the bridges Playcraft supplied were not high enough to clear a train!

The roadway track on the lower level is all Model Motoring, including the crossings, although here we are running many different makes, Aurora, Faller, Bauer,Auto-World and a few kit built models too, although the T Jet chassis predominates.


The trains, track and the buildings were all sold as part of the Playcraft Highways system. The train system all came from Jouef in France, with some models specially made for the UK. The non-railway buildings were from kits, mainly from Pola in what was then West Germany which are generally very European looking, although a couple of British houses were modelled too. Other buildings include a working windmill and watermill and two American looking buildings. An earlier and less colourful series of kits had been licensed from Aurora and were very American!

The control gear and automation is all our own, and the roadway has been modified to allow train activated switchable isolation on the approach sides of each level crossing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Apologies - Just noticed an error in my post: The penultimate paragraph opens with - "The trains, track and the buildings were all sold as part of the Playcraft Highways system."

That should of course read "The trains, track and the buildings were all sold as part of the Playcraft Railways system." Oops! Just four incorrect letters can make so much difference!

Sorry!

James
 

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Rich Dumas
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Thanks for that article on Playcraft Highways and Derek Brand, I have it saved (with the correction) for future reference. There is also some information on that in Bob Beers book on Aurora cars.
 

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Thank you Rich!

Yes I love Bob Beer's book! Great reference work!

I am really indebted to my chum Tony Stanford, who has a particular interest in the geometry of model train track which was a great help to me

One day we were having a chat and I remarked about how well my Life-Like and Tyco slot car tracks, (which follow the Brand-Playcraft Geometry) went together with my Life-Like trains!

Tony explained that Life-Like Power Loc track followed the Atlas Snap Track geometry, which became the US standard in the 1950s. He then put that together with the work Brand had done for Revell in relation to plastic kits etc, and with other research we suddenly we relaised that we were onto something!

Not sure what was Brand's greatest acheivement - The invention of HO slot cars themselves. The clever way his geometry fitted in with Atlas Snap Track, or was it his work for Tyco on Tyco US-1 Trucking?

As Julie Andrews once said - These are a few of my favourite things!

James
 

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Thanks for posting, Derek Brand sounds like an amazing guy - and the fact that T-jets are still around almost 60 years later is pretty amazing - a Model Motoring set was my second, but I consider it the first because before that I had an Eldon set, which was a real POS...

In the article, I do beg to differ with his description of Circuit 24 as "frankly disastrous" - they were extremely successful in France, even tho around for only about 10 years, and Circuit 24 is still the generic name for home slot racing in France, like Scalextric in Britain...

Have you read Tom Graham's book on the history of Aurora? Excellent reference, and there's a lot about Highways and Brand in there.

Don
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks Don,

Yes Tom Graham's book is another well thumbed volume on my shelf!.

I have owned and used Circuit 24, but to me it suffered a serious issue - the agitator motor consumed rear axles and gear assemblies rapidly, which made it much harder to use and run than, for example Scalextric or indeed most other conventional DC based systems.What other racing sets came with a pair or spare rear axles? Or even needed to?

I have read elsewhere that it production was from various sources rather than in a conventional way in a single place, which seems to have further undermined it. For example I have seen (and owned) UK made Meccano labelled transformers with hand throttles hard wired in, rather that the usual French made ones.

It is interesting to hear how well it received in France though, and checking I am amazed to see it lasted as long as it did. 1971? DId it keep the same mechanisms all that time? Presumbaly it had to go it alone after 1964, as Tri-ang/Meccano now had Scalextric to sell.

In the UK it was simply the wrong product for the market bought in by a desperate Meccano Ltd, as they entered death throes, along with other no hopers, like Bayko that had once been excellent, but was already eclipsed by Lego. Later they even bought in a truly awful faux Lego called Clicki, that just didn't work that well either.

When coupled with the way that thier recently introduced high quality but over complex and expensive 2 rail train system had been hit by Tri-ang and then Playcraft, and how Dinky was being under cut by Matchbox and Corgi, Circuit 24 was just another nail in the coffin of a once great giant, helping to bring the company down and into the arms of Lines Brothers on Valentines day 1964!

James
 

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Hi James,

Yes, I gathered that C-24 didn't do well in England, and I always wondered why they even bothered.

It is a very quirky set, but rather dear to the heart of a certain generation of Frenchmen... I think what you're referring to is that Usine à Idée (the actual manufacturer) had a cottage industry setup, with folks at home assembling parts of the cars and tracks, as opposed to a single factory. But they also had a main plant, I believe in Eastern France. The son of the inventor, Dominique Jouet (yes, "jouet" as in "toy") wrote a book on the history of C-24 about ten years ago, but in French of course. Like Minimodels, it was a small family owned enterprise, so made a number of arrangements to survive and handle the high demand.

Not sure what the deal was with Meccano, but think it was just for British distribution; there were some tries in the States, but don't think it was ever officially distributed there.

The last few years they abandoned the vibrator motor and became much closer to the German firm GGN, which actually provided the 1/24 F1 cars sold under the Circuit 24 brand in France. Their later S series of cars used regular DC motors from Buehler, and they also had a diode based lane changing system. They may be a short C-24 history thread on here, from at least 10 years ago...

Don
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Wow,

Thanks Don!

Now that is intereting indeed, and the Diode + DC motors sounds a great idea indeed: Half Wave! Shades of Faller AMS or even the later race and chase sets from Ideal. That would have been fun. I am guessing they also ditched the spoon collectors, in favour of braids? I like shoes in HO but found they were horrid on circuit 24!

James
 

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Here is that book for those interested:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Circuit-Vrai-1961-1973-Dominique-Jou%C3%ABt/dp/284102086X/ref=sr_1_5?keywords=circuit+24&qid=1553876558&s=books&sr=1-5

However at £30.40 I think that I will pass! I love the Le Mans start on the cover I guess the name was a pun on the famous Le Mans race and on the 24v AC voltage!

Had a quick look on French e-bay - There is loads to be had and the price indicates that you are righ about the love held for it. Not seen any cars with braids as yet though...

James
 

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Don't think there were any cars with braids James.

Prices really shouldn't be too high: most of the Circuit 24 cars fall in the "dime a dozen" category, except a few rare colors (mostly a yellow testa rossa), and a few of the later models. However, a lot are incomplete because they've lost windshields, exhausts, etc.

Some sellers here try to sell them at unrealistic prices of course.

Don
 
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