Sunday, June 28, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, June 29, 2009

In a way the Alien franchise is one of the great tragedies in Hollywood.  Long before the concept was reduced to the gratuitously bloody sophomoric splatter fest that was seen in Alien Vs. Predator Requiem, there were two great movies.  Many critics disagree about whether Alien (1979) or Aliens (1986) is the better film, but almost all rate these first two movies significantly higher than the subsequent sequels.

I tend to favor Aliens which expertly blends a military themed action movie with science fiction.  It is arguable that one of the qualities that makes both of the first two movies so believable-- and in turn so scary, is the art direction.  The design of the space craft and hardware is intricate and realistic.  I dare say that Aliens remains one of the best designed SciFi movies in history.  The machines, weapons and vehicles in the movie are not revolutionary, but instead, evolutionary of what weapons and vehicles look like today.   SciFi fans around the world recognize this and there have been many fantastic toys and models of Aliens vehicles, creatures and weapons throughout the years.  Some of the most spectacular examples have come out of Japan. You will have to see those in a later installment of The Toy of the Week because today I present an example of a toy that only saw extremely limited release here in the United States.

In the late 1990's Galoob toys launched a line of Alien Action Fleet vehicles.  Action Fleet were small vehicles that had opening hatches, cockpits, and detailed interiors.  Galoob previously had a successful Star Wars and Star Trek Action Fleet series.  Curiously the Alien line never saw a major release in toy stores.  You could only get them by ordering them directly from Galoob or in a few select comic shops.  The vehicles now fetch close to $100.00 on EBay.  There were three Alien vehicles in the line; the space craft Narcissus from the first movie, the Drop Ship and the Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) from the second movie.

The APC is the most scale vehicle in the line.  It gives a relatively accurate idea of how big the vehicle wold be in proportion to a person.  It came with two small figures  and a detailed interior with opening hatches and other movable parts.  But don't take my word for it.  Head on over to the vehicles gallery of the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities and tour the Action Fleet Aliens APC for yourself.

Keep your steam up.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, June 22, 2009

Have you ever wished you could split your own legs in half exposing wheels that you could then use to drive yourself around like a car? Or have you ever made best friends with a phone booth, a mailbox and an oven? If you have done any of these things then you either need help getting over your chemical dependency, or you are Robot Hacchan from Japan. I am not sure how the idea for Robot Hacchan emerged but like many popular children's shows from around the world, I suspect that controlled substances were involved.

This vintage, early eighties, robot toy from Japan was based on a live action children's program which chronicled the adventures of the large red and white, egg shaped robot who could drive himself around like a car. We also learned about his friends, who all happened to be anthropomorphized inanimate objects.

Like many Japanese toys, the concept is bizarre and wonderful, and the execution of the toy is spectacular. This toy is made of heavy die cast metal and high quality plastic. The wheels that pop out of his legs are machined aluminum with small rubber tires At the very least this toy redeems itself by quality alone.

If you are left wondering, in your chemically induced stupor, how you would steer yourself after you transformed into a car then why not use the steering wheel that pops out of a door in your belly-- that's how Robot Hacchan does it. I mean seriously? Duh.

Visit the Robot Hacchan Gallery in the Robot Gallery of the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities.

Full steam ahead.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Toy of the week, Monday, June 15, 2009

Close your eyes and travel back in time to 1985. Picture this scene at the corporate headquarters of a toy company: there are ten or fifteen kids in a room as a focus group. A couple people from the toy company's research department have been asked by the executives to build WHATEVER the kids ask for. When the kids are asked what kind of toy they want to see made, they all begin screaming, and when the dust settles one idea has taken shape. The children have spoken and they want a toy tank that is motorized to go over any terrain, and can actually float in water, and travel like a boat-- oh and it can also travel underwater like a submarine. The toy company researchers are thinking "this is crazy!" "What are we going to tell the executives?" "That's what happens when you have kids help you design toys." "We can't build a toy that does all these things!"

Well, if you are the Schaper Manufacturing Co. from Minneapolis Minnesota You actually CAN build this toy. And they did.

Shaper is best known for creating the game Cootie in 1949. Then, in 1980 they launched a line of small, battery operated 4x4 trucks known as Stomper 4x4's. The Stomper line was later supplemented with military vehicles, semi trucks and a futuristic line that targeted fans of Star Wars and Battlestar Gallactica. Stompers have been re-released throughout the years and have a thriving collector market.

In 1986 a line of Stomper vehicles called Aqua Fighters was launched and they may have been one of the first submersible, amphibious, battery operated toys ever made. Tyco acquired the Stomper line in 1987 and rehashed Aqua Fighters into a line known as Diving Devils If you are even slightly curious to see these rare, vintage machines, then strut on over and take a look at the Stomper Amphibious Crawlers, in the vehicles gallery of the Cabinet of Curious Frivolities.

I have additional vintage Stomper vehicles to add to the museum at a later time so stay tuned.

For a real trip back in time take a peek at this compilation of vintage toy commercials on YouTube in which a Stomper Diving Devil commercial appears at the 1:18 mark.

Full Steam Ahead.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

IT'S ALIVE!! First run of the new Locomotive

How does it sound to have an afternoon of noxious fumes from burning fuel, sitting in the hot sun, nearly setting fire to a friends yard, handling lots of greasy mechanical parts and burning your fingers several times?  I know-- like paradise right?  Well at least for a live steamer it is.  Yesterday I got together with my friends David and Henner and we got to test out our new 1:8 scale locomotive.  Our Friend Mark also came over to help "supervise".  As you can see from the picture above Mark had a hand at running too.

This engine is a model of one of the most well known Shay type logging engines in the world.  It is also a model of what could possibly be the oldest surviving Shay in the world.  Rumor has it that at one point there was even talk of sending the prototype locomotive to the Smithsonian.  I am very familiar with this type of engine because eight years ago I bought a 1:20 scale model of the same engine.  The model I am speaking of is well known-- almost legendary, in the small scale live steam community.  It is the Accucraft 2 cylinder Shay.  If you have not seen this engine before and you have ever thought about owning a live steam train, I highly recommend you have a look at Accucraft's website,  find a dealer, and buy one.  I have thoroughly enjoyed mine, and at serial number 13, mine is one of the oldest ones out there.  It continues to run like a Swiss watch to this day.

Because this locomotive carved out a special place in my heart at a very early stage in my live-steam career, I jumped at the chance to own a larger, ride-on scale, version of the engine.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the 1:8 scale engine has a bit of history and had a series of articles in Live Steam magazine, and a book written about it.  I cover more of the history in this post on a live steam message board.
If you would like to read some more about our fist experience firing and running the engine please take a look at the topic I started at

There are additional pictures of the first run of the engine in the gallery here.

The engine preformed admirably and I am sure our experiences will only get better as we learn all of it's quirks.    My friend David thoroughly documented the steamup process and shot a bunch of video in HD.  I will update when he has posted the new images and video.

Thanks for reading, and full steam ahead.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Toy of the week Monday, June 8, 2009

If you show me one country in the world that embraces robots more than the Japanese, then I will show you a country that I need to visit-- right before I visit Japan again.  Robots have been a part of Japanese pop culture as long as there has been pop culture.  Many of the earlier examples were depicted in comics (manga) and animation (anime) as being gargantuan in scale and having almost magical powers.  In the early 80's a series known as Dougram began depicting robots as being more reasonable in scale and having weapons and abilities more in line with military machines.  The Dougram toys, in my opinion, are also some of the coolest toy robots ever made.  This week I bring you one of my all time favorites.  This toy has many cool mechanical features.
It is worth a close look, so get thee to the robot gallery in the  Cabinet of Curious Frivolities and thoroughly examine the coolness of Combat Armor Soltic.

Keep your steam up at 80 psi!

Mills, Cars and Trains...

Another very interesting and full weekend.  Jen and I were invited by some friends to attend a picnic on a vineyard in Napa held by a the Rolls Royce owners club that they are members of. Aside from an opportunity to take a ride out to Napa in a 1949 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith, I decided to go because the owner of the vineyard we were headed to had a working replica of a water powered mill complete with machines and tools all powered by flat belt pulleys.  He was also building a 7.5" gauge railroad around a small lake. 

There was a handful of vintage Rolls Royce and Bentley vehicles that attended the event. There are many pictures of the mill, cars and railroad in this gallery.  Enjoy.

The other exciting news from the weekend is that a new locomotive has been purchased with the help of my friends David and Henner.  We decided to each pay equal shares, making it the first official locomotive of our steam powered railroad; the East Devils Hill Lumber Co.  The locomotive is somewhat famous because it was the subject of a series of articles in Live Steam magazine and later, a book titled Logging with Steam. There are more pictures in this gallery.  There are also pictures and  a posting on describing the locomotive and some of it's history.

Full steam ahead.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In the Exhibit Shop

Six months after The Science of Nature, opened I am starting on final fabrication on the next exhibition. There will be many interesting gadgets in this one and I am working on one of the more complex pieces right now.  This Rube Goldberg contraption has many features that allow the visitor to guide a wooden ball through a series of mechanical obstacles.   The next component I am working on involves a disc that carries a wooden ball from one track to another-- sort of like a Ferris wheel.  The Ferris wheel is actually  built up from a stack of discs.  I cut the discs out of black foamed PVC sheets.  Making discs is pretty basic fabrication but I thought I would go over the process for non-shop folk who may be reading.

A trim router is attached to a strip of plywood.  I drilled the plywood to accept flat head screws into the factory holes in the router base.  The strip of plywood (circle jig) can be used over and over.  A hole is drilled in the jig at the point that marks the exact radius of the disc I would like to make.  In this case I wanted a 10" disk so the hole was drilled five inches from the router bit.  

The jig is screwed to the material with a single screw through the hole you drilled and the router bit touching one edge of the material.  A waste board (some piece of plywood you don't care about) is placed under the setup before cutting begins.   You have to brace the jig and router really well when turning it on because the bit is already in contact with the material.  But once you are powered up it is a simple matter of rotating the jig and router around the center screw.

Depending on the thickness or hardness of the material and the length of your bit, you may have to make at least two passes to cut the discs.

In minutes you will have some snazzy disks that are about as close to perfect as you can get with hand tools.  The screw hole marks the center of the discs. for me this was a benefit because I needed to drill a hole in the center of the Ferris wheel for a 1/2" shaft.

You can see I used an old router jig from a previous exhibit as my waste board.  In minutes I cut four perfect plastic discs-- pretty cool.

Thanks for checking in.  Full steam ahead.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Toy of the week Monday, June 1, 2009

Imagine a time when toys were made entirely of metal, and they replicated dangerous things like saws-- and they actually had spinning sharp metal blades.  Well that time, whenever it was, is where the toy of the week is from.  I actually don't know much about this nice little piece which I won in an EBay auction.  It has no manufacturer markings and I have never seen another one like it.  But you can now see it in detail in the machinery gallery of The Cabinet of Curious Frivolities.  So march on over and take a closer look at the tiny table saw.  Full steam ahead.