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Product Lab - August 2008

Published: July 14, 2008
Comet the wonder coaster
Product: It must be the engineering gene, but I love roller coasters - especially when it comes to figuring out how they're constructed. As a kid, I tried on numerous occasions to build working models of roller coasters, and though I never had much success making them operate, I had a great time figuring out the design all the same. Perhaps those days long ago of tinkering with model coasters is why I jumped at the chance to build and review Coaster Dynamix's Comet, a fully operational, HO-scale roller coaster. Other than a simple power supply, a few basic modeling tools and some plastic cement, pretty much everything you need to build a working, model roller coaster comes in the box.

Performance: I've built a lot of kits over the years, but the Coaster Dynamix product is by far one of the best organized and documented kits I've ever put together. The entire coaster, with the exception of the material for the stringers and handrails (these are in bulk strips), comes neatly precut in clearly marked plastic bags. Each bag is one step in the 32-page instruction booklet. I built the kit in approximately six hours, taking periodic breaks to let the cement dry before moving on.

The finished model looks good, and it runs reasonably well - in fact it's better than any other HO-scale, working, model roller coaster I've seen. However, the Comet still requires some tweaking to get things rolling smoothly.

First, the model needs to be set on a nearly perfectly level surface. Otherwise the cars tend to stall out in the hills. Also, the joins between the track rails need to be perfectly smooth. The slightest bump on the rails will cause the cars to come off. Sanding and double checking the rail joins took far longer than any other part of construction, however, you'll know when you've got it right, because the coaster will glide effortlessly. Also, though the instructions call for weight only in the front car of the train, I found adding about half that much weight again to the middle car improved operation. Finally, the cars themselves are made from a slippery plastic, one that won't glue with liquid plastic cement or typical cyanoacrylate adhesive (CA). I used Loctite All Plastics Super Glue, a two-part CA to keep the parts together, and it worked very well.

The running action of the coaster is probably as close as you're going to get in miniature. After all, while you can scale down model structures, you can't scale down gravity. The coaster glides realistically through the corners, but it moves much too fast through the hills. However, the HO-scale Preiser figures I added to our sample model don't seem to mind all that much, and despite the excessive speed, the coaster is still a blast to watch.

Marketing: The Comet kit comes in an attractive box that features pictures of the finished model in an amusement park setting. Add on sales options from Coaster Dynamix include a 12-volt power supply, a set of 37 painted people and a flashing Comet neon sign. Faller, IHC and other model companies also offer various amusement park attractions, so you may want to stock up on a few of those for people wishing to build their own theme parks.

Review by David Popp

Vital Stats
Product: Comet, HO-scale roller coaster
Maker: Coaster Dynamix
Product No.: WC002
Price: $169.00
Availability: Call 540-298-7745 or visit

Bottom Line
  • Plastic and metal model kit

  • Requires 12V power supply, tools and plastic cement

  • Motor included

  • Great instructions

  • Intermediate skill level preferred

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    Go 3D with ElectriFly's Reactor Bipe
    Product: R/C planes are a great category for repeat business. You start your customer on a trainer. After they master it, they'll want to progress to something more challenging and then even more aerobatic. One of the hottest segments for advanced flyers is 3D, and the Reactor Bipe 3D is a great fit for that crowd.

    This kit is more than the flat foam park flyers that dominate 3D. It's made of wood (unusual for a plane this size) and traces its lineage back to the highly successful Reactor. The fact that it goes together in about six hours and has an outstanding trim scheme make this plane a good value.

    Performance: Nothing is difficult about assembling the Reactor biplane, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind before you begin. Have a softer area to work on than a typical bench or counter top because you'll have to turn the plane over several times during assembly. A soft work area helps protect the fantastic heat-shrink covering. I also found I had to sand the included clevises to make them fit into the link horns.

    Attaching the wings to the fuselage takes a bit of time, but wing jigs supplied in the kit help to make sure everything is straight. Unfortunately, the wings are permanently attached, which makes the plane a bit of a pain to transport for pilots who drive small vehicles.

    There are a couple of things customers should look for. On our review sample, the tape used to hold the control surfaces in place during shipment left a sticky residue. I used rubbing alcohol to remove it. The canopy, which is taped on after the wings are attached, is a tight fit and requires some finessing. Lastly, I used a piece of clear plastic, attached with four small screws, to cover the area on the bottom of the fuselage cut away during assembly to install the radio gear, motor and ESC. I felt safer knowing my receiver couldn't fall out. I did cut slots in it for cooling.

    Flying is where the fun begins. On my first flight, I had a hand launcher who really just let the Reactor go after I throttled up. After a couple of clicks of down elevator, it was trimmed out. On low rates, I was doing nice rolls, loops and knife edges.

    On the second flight, using high rates, I was on my own and decided to try a ground takeoff. I advanced the throttle, and the Reactor lifted off in about two feet and went vertical. Rolls are much faster, loops are tighter, and it will do knife-edge loops, snap rolls and spins all day long.

    Marketing: It can be tough to effectively market an R/C plane since the boxes are often tucked on shelves, and not every store has room to display built products.

    Kim Campbell of Great Planes suggests retailers order "some of the sell sheets (GPMZ1761, free from Great Planes) and use them as bag stuffers . . . slap a price sticker on the sell sheet so the consumer has all of the information needed to make a buying decision."

    She also recommends that you have a store employee visit the local flying field or park with the plane and a bunch of business cards. You may even want to write on the back "Redeemable for 15% off your next purchase."

    "This might be a good incentive for people who are unfamiliar with the hobby to come in and check out the store. They are sure to be impressed with the performance of the Reactor Bipe, so it's a great way to attract some attention this summer."

    Reviewed by Paul Daniel

    Product: Reactor 3D Bipe EP ARF
    Maker: ElectriFly
    Stock No.: GPMA1580
    MSRP: $149.99
    Other products used: RimFire 35-36-1200 outrunner, 35A Silver Series ESC, FlightPower 11.1V 2100mAh LiPo
    Availability: Great Planes Model Distributors

  • Flies well in moderate wind

  • Snappy controls

  • Striking appearance

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    All aboard Days of Wonder's Ticket to Ride: The Card Game
    Product: Ticket to Ride: The Card Game is meant for two to four players, ages 8 and older. Inside are 96 train cards, six Big Cities Bonus cards, 46 Destination Tickets and a full-color rules book. The game is available in 10 languages, including Spanish, French, German and English.

    Performance: Ticket to Ride: The Card Game is very easy to play, but not so easy to master. To win the game, players collect sets of illustrated train cards that are used to complete Destination Tickets and score bonus points by winning Big Cities Bonus cards. However, points for uncompleted Destination Tickets are deducted from a player's point total at the end of the game.

    To start, each player is dealt one wild card, seven cards out of the shuffled train deck and six Destination Tickets. Players secretly choose which tickets they want to keep and return the others to the deck. The top five cards are then drawn from the train deck and placed face up in a row, creating the draw area.

    Each player's turn consists of two phases. First, he moves train cards out of his railyard into his on-the-track-stack. Next, he can perform one of three actions: draw new train cards, place train cards in his railyard or draw Destination Tickets.

    Destination Tickets are color coded, telling players what sort of cards they need in their on-the-track-stack to fulfill that particular ticket and score points. Players put train cards in their railyard by playing three different colored cards or a suit of two or more cards of a single color. Once cards are on the track, they are flipped over and cannot be looked at until scoring.

    A particularly nasty and sometimes devastating tactic players can use is "train robbing." If a player can place more of a particular suit of cards than another player, that player's cards are removed from play. Drawing new Destination Tickets can be a double-edged sword, possibly putting more tickets in your hand than you have train cards to complete. However, you can keep all, some or none of the cards you draw. Still, once you choose to keep the tickets, you have to live with your decision.

    Two- and three-player games last until the draw deck is depleted. There is some ambiguity as to what this means. Does play end when the deck runs out or when the last of the cards from the draw area is taken? In our games, we've played with the latter interpretation. At that time, each player, including the player who took the last card, gets one more turn.

    Then everyone tries to fulfill their tickets with the cards in their on-the-track-stacks by matching the appropriate colors. Once all the fulfilled tickets are verified, points are tallied for completed tickets, deducted for uncompleted tickets and bonus cards handed out.

    A four-player game goes through the deck twice, with an initial round of scoring after it runs out the first time. The final tally, including deductions, comes once the deck
    is depleted a second time.

    Marketing: If you already carry games, Ticket to Ride: The Card Game introduces the Ticket to Ride family to new players at an entry-level price point.

    Model railroad shops may find that stocking this game with your range of products will attract some attention, if for no other reason than it's different.

    For shops with a wider selection, you can place Ticket to Ride: The Card Game near the railroad titles in your book section. Retailers who sell magazines can cross promote by stocking the card game near travel and leisure titles.

    Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

    Product: Ticket to Ride: The Card Game
    Maker: Days of Wonder
    Stock No.: DOW7219
    MSRP: $25
    Availability: Visit or call 866-966-3378

  • Educational component

  • Easy to learn, challenge to play

  • Cross-promotional opportunities

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    Moebius Models releases another Aurora classic
    Product: Moebius continues its Aurora repops with one of the most sought-after kits in the line: the Voyager from the animated series Fantastic Voyage. Everything about the release is old school, including the box art.

    Performance: This is a simple kit with just a few white plastic parts in the box. The interior includes consoles and seats, four figures and clear parts for the windshield and bubble. The instructions are vintage Aurora also, with a large exploded-view diagram complemented by written construction steps. Painting instructions are included for the interior. The only decal is a label for the Aurora-style stand.

    The interior went together smoothly, including the engine room (which isn't visible on the finished model), consoles and seats. I followed the crew painting directions, but departed from the interior callouts to give more variation and realism (if that's possible on a cartoon ship).

    The wall and floor are light gray and the console is dark gray, with individual instruments picked out in white, black, silver, red, yellow and green.

    With the interior complete, I sandwiched it and the jet exhausts between the upper and lower body parts. Dry-fitting helped, but I needed a lot of filling and sanding to get a clean join.

    The wings were next. I glued them together and attached them to the body. They fit OK, but there were gaps under each attachment point that required a lot of filler to disappear. An application of Mr. Surfacer 500 smoothed the joins all the way around.

    The tail support consisted of a wedge-shaped front piece and a rear insert. The latter doesn't fit well, and I used a lot of putty and super glue to take care of the gaps. The one-piece horizontal tail fit well.

    After masking off the cabin, I primed with light gray acrylics. After smoothing out a couple rough spots, I started painting. This simple model has a simple paint scheme: overall gloss white. Working slowly and carefully, I achieved a satisfactory finish on the featureless body of the Voyager. I sealed the paint with Pledge Future floor polish and painted the exhausts black and gunmetal, the fans steel and copper washed with black artist's oils, and the intake blanking plates black.

    Next came the windows; they're thick but clear. The dorsal dome attached cleanly with Testors clear part cement, but the windshield was too tall. I had to sand about 1/32" off the top to get it flush.

    After applying the badge to the stand, I attached the model. Voilà! The Voyager is ready for its next microscopic mission. It was a fun build despite the 40-year-old fit issues, and I love the model's ultra-clean pre-Star Wars look.

    Marketing: Beyond its nostalgia value, Moebius' Voyager is a fun teaching kit. Simple enough for a novice to tackle, the kit offers modeling challenges to interest anyone. And it could prove inviting for imaginative super-detailers and diorama builders.

    This is one of those models in which the build challenges are part of the fun. Nothing is so overwhelming that basic modeling techniques can't overcome them.

    Reviewed by Aaron Skinner

    Product: The Voyager
    Maker: Moebius Models
    Scale: Unstated, but approximately 1:87
    Stock No.: 831
    MSRP: $24.99
    Availability: See distributor list at

  • Some build challenges

  • Good teaching kit

  • Rare subject

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    Atlas O's MP-15DC powerful and packed with details
    Product: Atlas O's new model of EMD's 1,500-hp MP-15DC switching locomotive captures the prototype's sturdy look. It's right at home on layouts set in the mid-1970s to the present day. With its Blomberg trucks, EMD intended the locomotive to also serve as a road-switcher, hence its MP designation for multi-purpose.

    Railroads bought 351 units during the MP-15DC's 1974-1980 production run. Missouri Pacific Railroad owned the most with 62 units.

    Performance: We've come to expect Atlas O's locomotives to be powerful and smooth running, and this one doesn't disappoint. The MP-15's gearing gives it excellent low-speed performance, something you want in a switcher.

    Where this model really shines is in the details. The most obvious one is the long hood, which features railroad-specific configurations of the air-filter box (square, angled or standard); the Genessee & Wyoming model also features a filter at the exhaust stacks. The sand boxes on the rear of the cabs are also prototype-specific.

    The factory-installed QSI sound system adds another dimension to the model. Volume and other variables can be adjusted with a magnetic wand that activates a reed switch under the hood.

    Marketing: In addition to regional roadname appeal, the MP-15DC's size and versatility are good selling points. For someone reluctant to take the plunge into O scale because of its real-estate demands, this is the ideal switcher to service a small, modern-era shelf layout. Atlas O has announced another run of this model in numerous liveries, which include Burlington Northern, Missouri Pacific and Union Pacific. They're expected to be available in the fall.

    Reviewed by Hal Miller

    Product: MP-15DC
    Maker: Atlas O
    Scale: O
    Stock No.: 3807-1 (Reading Railroad 2771, 2-rail Gold)
    Roadnames: Undecorated; Burlington Northern Santa Fe; CSX; Reading; Southern; Southern Pacific; Alaska; Genessee & Wyoming
    MSRP: 2-rail Gold/3-rail TMCC, $479.95; unpowered, $249.95

  • Railroad-specific details

  • Good size and versatility

  • Smooth, powerful puller

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    Norscot's Cat 385C excavator replica looks like the real deal
    Product: Realism: that's what die-cast collectors clamor for and hobbyists creating first-class S-scale train layouts demand. Norscot continues to deliver that in 1:64 scale, with an expanding line of Caterpillar heavy metal.

    Case in point: the Cat 385C L hydraulic excavator. This is the newest of four 1:64 releases from the Milwaukee-area die-cast equipment maker.

    Performance: As it has done previously in 1:50 and 1:87 scales, Norscot brings a sophisticated level of detailing to its 1:64 excavator, starting with realistic metal tracks. While some die-cast makers continue with rubber tracks that give their vehicles a toy quality, Norscot's look and move in a more true-to-life manner.

    That's just the start. Probably most important to a collector or someone displaying this in a diorama or layout, the chassis rotates completely, all 360 degrees, so you can pose the excavator in any manner. Likewise, the boom, bucket and stick also have a full range of movement, so the machine looks like it's digging, dumping or doing something in between.

    Naturally, there's a full cab with clear windows and all the metal ladders and supports around the excavator's body that you'll find on the real machines. Cat decals and labeling are complete and accurate, and all the hydraulics are properly configured.

    Marketing: Got an S-scale train layout in the store? That would be the ideal place to show this off, but another option is to make a 1:64 construction scene diorama using all four of Norscot's finely detailed Cat construction vehicles.

    What's easier is to group these together in a display case near the door. But don't just set them in the case. Pose them and put small neon red labels marked "new" on the latest yellow Cats. Your regular customers and any newbies will pick up on it in a hurry.

    This would also be a good place to show off some of the other Norscot items, or you could put a small display featuring the great black and yellow Norscot display boxes.

    Reviewed by Mark Savage

    Product: Cat 385C L hydraulic excavator
    Maker: Norscot Scale Models
    Scale: 1:64
    Stock No.: 55203
    MSRP: $61.95

  • Fine detail, metal tracks

  • Full functionality

  • Unique in 1:64 market

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