As I wrote earlier, my interest in the adult fan of LEGO hobby has sustained and grown sufficiently to start expanding the blog – and now, my projects as well. While the quest for Lion Knights’ castle is still incomplete, I have started to understand the time it takes to acquire old bricks (wait for shipping and so on) as well as find the sporadic spots for actual building, and thus feel it better to start multitasking a little to keep the momentum up. The worst thing is to find the time (and want) and then have nothing to do, but wait some more. I’m ready to start a second project alongside the first one. What’s next?
Subjectively, if I – and perhaps many others who grew up with LEGO during the 1970s and 1980s – had to choose the most legendary LEGO theme of the late 1970s, we’d say Classic Space or maybe Technic. Some might flippantly say the minifigure and have a point too. All those definitely have revisiting potential. For my main LEGO decade, the 1980s, I’d say the 1984 grey LEGO Castle. Indeed, that has been the focus of my now-finished quest for Lion Knights’ castle and what a ride it has been. Yes, definitely I would place the 1984 Castle revamp in the pole position…
But what’s the runner-up? What would be the second most legendary LEGO theme of the 1980s? One that has received wider appreciation than just my own? One with a distinct marquee set waiting to be revisited? I’ve been thinking about it as my AFOL initiation has progressed and I must say there is no contest. The answer has been clear for some time. It has to be the LEGO Trains system of 1980, with all its sophistication bordering Märklin and still unmatched by any subsequent LEGO train variant. (Note: While most AFOL sources call it LEGO Trains, some LEGO material uses the singular: LEGO Train.)
Launched in 1980, the second coming of LEGO Trains did to rails what the 1984 LEGO Castle revamp did to castles: made them grey. It replaced the blue LEGO rails from 1966 with more realistic rails, like the 1984 castles replaced the 1970/1978 colorful castle walls with a more realistic look. And just like the 1984 Castle, the 1980 Trains theme introduced an entire system of new pieces and functionalities. Indeed, so much so that no other LEGO Trains theme has been able to do the same since. The train sets of today, while cool and sleek, are just a shadow of what the 1980 system allowed.
The 1980 LEGO Trains launched with a small railway station (very similar to the current train station), around ten train/wagon sets and, most importantly, more than a dozen rail, point, signal and remote control sets – all new for 1980. The latter group were what sets this LEGO Trains theme apart from all the others. It was a full-fledged electric, remote controlled miniature railway system, not simply independently pushable or motorized trains on rails like the previous and later systems have been. For anyone growing up with the likes of Märklin (like I did), probably the best miniature railway, the 1980 LEGO Trains was instantly recognizable. It was a big deal.
LEGO Trains commercial “Mail Robbery” from 1983 puts it best:
And it just so happens, like I had (and still have) with the 1984 Castle, I have a little bit of an axe to grind with the 1980 Trains. Just like I missed the 6080 King’s Castle as a child and had to settle for the inferior 6073 Knight’s Castle, I missed the LEGO Trains marquee set too: the legendary yellow and red 7740 Inter-City Passenger Train. Worse, I lacked any of the 12V electric parts of the 1980 LEGO Trains, all I had was the non-electric 7710 Push-Along Passenger Steam Train and one or two smaller sets.
You see, the 1980 Trains system included three kinds of vehicles: non-electric pushables like the one I had, “dummy” 4.5V trains that got their power from a battery box in a wagon (much like the 1966 trains did) and finally the full 12V electric trains that received power from an extra electric rail placed between the regular rails. It was the 12V kind that could do the cool stuff – adjust their speed according to a remote transformer and stop at remote controlled signals. The Push-Along Passenger Steam Train was a nice set, and I loved building and playing with it, but it lacked the electric magic.
Now, before I make it sound like I had a terrible childhood deprived of all things nice, let me assure you I had plenty of toys. It just seems that like the 6080 King’s Castle, the 12V LEGO Trains always kind of passed me by – apparently I found something else even more alluring, yet I remember longing for the train system on multiple occasions and trying to conjure some simulations with my existing sets and battery bricks. I think I was able to add lights to the Push-Along Passenger Steam Train, but that was as far as I got.
So, the 1980 Trains would seem like a perfect second AFOL initiation rite after building the legendary 6080 King’s Castle. Not only is there the clearly distinguishable marquee set to do here – the 7740 Inter-City Passenger Train – there is a whole system to explore. And without further ado, that’s what’s next.
I am announcing my Quest for Inter-City train!
P.S. The second generation LEGO Trains sets were released between 1980 and 1986. The theme was replaced by simpler 9V LEGO Trains in 1991, a year after I had entered my dark ages. As always, Brickipedia has a historical summary to fill in the blanks.