Theme: Hobby Sets
Set name: Thatcher Perkins Locomotive
Set Number: 396
Price (new): 369-450 $, 258-314 Euro
Price (used): 100-355 $, 45-250 Euro
Year of release: 1976
Links: Peeron, Bricklink and Brickset
My Father assures me this is the very first LEGO set I ever got. In facts, he gave it to me as a present for my first half year. Of course, that is to say he bought it for himself and used me as the official excuse!
When I grew up, at first I found it to be quite boring: no minifigures, limited play features; in the end, it was just a locomotive! It soon went to forgotten-land.
Then, when I was about 10 years old, I one day found again the instructions’ ‘booklet’ and saw this bright coloured big steam engine, and I suddenly wanted to build it again. It would seem I finally got to the right age (at least for me) to appreciate the design of this great set.
But enough about memories; let’s start with the review!
The front of the box (here cut and folded to save space) shows the Thatcher Perkins Locomotive in all its glory upon a nice countryside landscape. I really appreciate how TLG box designers used a real life environment made of sand, gravel and pebbles to give this Hobby Set a better background. Moreover, the landscape does not distract the eye, since the focus is strongly set on the locomotive itself.
The box measures about 39.5 x 24.5 x 5.5 centimetres, or 15.56 x 9.65 x 2.17 inches. This is more or less the size of the 4840 - The Burrow, or the Advent Calendars.
Back (and sides)
The back of the box shows the model on a more neutral background and from another angle. We can see the stickers in place (take a good look at them here, because I did not apply them).
The right side we also see a pic of the set from the (3/4) back, and one with a child playing with it. In this latter shot, the model rests upon a nice black box with a Thatcher Perkins sign on it.
Unlike the Harley Davidson 1000cc set, the Thatcher Perkins does not have the sign ‘Designed for experienced LEGO builders’ for some reason.
This set includes a large number of parts, mainly Black, Blue and Red, with some nice Yellow to lighten it up more.
Parts of interest
The parts’ selection is not exceptional, but we’ll see this set includes some unique pieces which have not been in LEGO sets for long years since the 1980s, like the very nice Black Plate, Modified 1 x 2 with Steam Engine Cylinder, Flat Surfaces, Black Train Wheel Spoked for Motor and the Red Train Steam Drive Rod Holder - Train Steam Drive Rod group. The Wheel Spoked Large, as beautiful as they were, saw the light from the production line for the last time in 1976!
The only new mold used in this set is the Black and Blue Slope, Inverted 45 2 x 2 Old Type with Round Bottom Tube.
As you can see in the above picture, this locomotive was designed to work (well, be played with) on all kind of surfaces, so the wheels sport tyres. In this picture you can see how they look without the tyres. Of course, builders can use the Thatcher Perkins on their brick-built tracks.
Another group of interesting parts are shown in this pic: Red Wheel Spoked 2 x 2 with Stud (and tyre), Black Brick, Modified 2 x 4 with Wheels Holder Old, Clear Bottom and Yellow Minifig, Head (Plain) - Stud Solid.
Many newer fans will not be familiar with the last two parts: they were standard fare in a number of sets between the 1960s and early 1990s, but then (unfortunately) they were taken out of production.
To be fair, the replacement of the Black Brick, Modified 2 x 4 with Wheels Holder Old, Clear Bottom with the standard technic parts was probably due to the fact that the metal pin used to connect the wheels to these bricks had a shameful tendency at getting off the wheel. Too bad it could not be fixed and these parts kept in production.
For those interested, here is a picture of the DSS, courtesy of Peeron.
Cover – As usual, the instructions are not organised in the form of a booklet, but they consist of a folded double printed sheet. The ‘cover’ shows again the same shot as the front of the box.
‘Back cover’ – Here we see the name of the set and some additional information, like the year when the first Thatcher Perkins started working (1863) and the type (4-6-0) of this locomotive, which, as shown in the image, is related to the number and position of the wheels.
On a side note, the pencil signs on the sides of the sheet were made by my Father while counting the parts in the set.
‘Random page’ – As expected, no call-outs here, but the build is pretty straight forward and does not need them. The colours are easy to tell apart.
Full page – As you may have noticed, all the building steps are drawn on one side of the ‘booklet’, making it more properly an instructions’ sheet.
What really makes this ‘instruction booklet’ stand out in my eyes is the fact that it is indeed a poster: the building steps are all on one side, while the other is a bigger image of the completed set with the name Thatcher Perkins in yellow enclosed in an old styled red tag.
The build starts with the base of the locomotive, putting the 10 wheels in place and strengthening the engine.
Notice the use of this ‘illegal’ technique to build the bumpers. LEGO, as we all know can be a tricky medium to build with, and some details need special solutions to be completed.
We then start building the boiler and cabin.
Going up fast and steady!
In the penultimate step, we build the chimney and cow catcher. I’d like to spend a few more words on the chimney and how it is attached to the main body.
As you can see in the left picture, the 3x3 base of the chimney is asymmetrical, with a 3x2 base on one side and a combination of a 1x2 and a 1x1 plates on the other. In the right picture, you see the top of the main body where the chimney will be attached; it is made of a 1x2 base and 1 1x2 tile. Using another ‘illegal’ technique (or at least one LEGO designers do not like much nowadays), the holes of the 3x2 plate of the chimney will connect with the studs of the 1x2 plate on the main body, giving a well centred and quite sturdy build.
The front of the model sports 3 big headlights, a nice cow catcher and the nicely detailed engine front. I can almost hear it whistle!
And here it is our good old Thatcher Perkins Locomotive! Indeed, it looks like a classic and powerful engine form one of those Spaghetti Western films, doesn’t it? What I found strange in the beginning is the choice of colours (I was convinced steam engines were all black, at the time). Then I checked some pictures of the original, and I must admit the resemblance is almost perfect!
The back side is less detailed than the front, with cabin almost devoid of details. I think LEGO could have done a better job on it.
3/4 Front and …
Just see how good it looks from this angle, with all the tubing, moving parts and the lovely 3 headlights!
… 3/4 Back
The back view is not as impressive, but grants us a good look at the big posterior wheels and the bumpers.
As I stated elsewhere, I never understood what scale these Hobby Sets are meant to be. They are clearly not minifig-scale, and they are not technic-fig-scale either. But they are not even Miniland scale!
Moreover, they use different scales between locomotives, cars and motorbikes amongst the Hobby Set line!
As I said before, the set comes with tyres on the wheels to allow a wider playing experience, not limiting this model to tracks. Nonetheless, builders can assemble their own track (maybe using the vintage blue 4.5V tracks) and make the Thatcher Perkins run its proper environment.
Overall, this is a great set for collectors of old models and steam engines fans, or both. It does not sport a huge variety of bricks, but was a good choice at the time, and even if the result is matter-of-fact a bit blocky when compared to the original, it implements some good solutions to minimise the LEGO brick appearance and maximise the similarity as much as possible.
Design & Colour scheme – 8/10 (The design is as accurate as possible, and the colours are completely in line for the Thatcher Perkins Locomotive. The solutions and details included in this set justify the ‘Expert builders’ label and add to the appearance, and, why not, playability of the model. Though, I still wish TLG had included more details in the cabin.)
Parts - 10/10 (Quite a big selection, but only one new mould. Nonetheless, a good source of Black, Blue and Red standard parts for MOCs and one of the few sources for the extra rare Black Plate, Modified 1 x 2 with Steam Engine Cylinder, Flat Surfaces, Black Train Wheel Spoked for Motor, Red Train Steam Drive Rod Holder - Train Steam Drive Rod group and Wheel Spoked Large.)
Playability - 9/10 (A sturdy model which can take some serious play and swoosh-ing without falling apart. The somewhat easily detachable chimney and the lack of an appropriate scale interaction with most other models make it lose one point, though.)
Build - 7/10 (Pretty straight forward, with few nice solutions.)
Price - 5/10 (Like most older models, especially the Hobby Set and Model Team ones, this set can only rarely be found at reasonable prices. Most of the times, people are asked shameful prices for such a smallish set.)
Overall: 8/10 Very good.
More pictures can be found in this Brickshelf gallery.
As always, questions, comments, and pic requests welcome!
Edited by Rufus, 10 July 2011 - 07:05 PM.