Thursday, 12 September 2019

End of the Road?

As I've previously mentioned on these pages, I have LEGO Star Wars to thank for rescuing me from my LEGO Dark Ages. Specifically, it was the arrival of 10188 Death Star in 2008 which started my slide down the slippery slope. My wife bought me the set as a Christmas present, and I bet she's regretted that decision ever since....

Following the arrival of 10188 and its construction over the Christmas holidays I was basically hooked. With my passion for both LEGO and Star Wars rekindled I became gripped by a mania of sorts and decided to try and get hold of complete, boxed examples of all of the LEGO Star Wars sets going back to the first appearance of the theme in 1999.

Most of the sets were reasonably easy to find on eBay back then if you were patient, and the majority weren't particularly expensive either. A few, such as 10123 Cloud City with its exclusive Boba Fett minifigure (above) turned out to be harder to track down than most and/or painfully expensive, but they were thankfully in the minority. As chronicled in this old post I also had to make some tricky decisions about exactly what to collect, for instance whether to restrict my growing collection to retail sets alone or whether to also pursue rare promotional items such as the 2012 New York Comic Con model of Luke's Landspeeder below. I eventually opted to focus on collecting the retail sets. Promo sets would be welcomed with open arms when the opportunity arose, but they'd be considered "nice to have" additions rather than a part of the core collection.

As it turned out, however, securing a copy of every retail set to date was only the start of the story. Because while I was picking up old retired Star Wars sets, LEGO was hard at work releasing an ever-increasing number of new sets every year, and after you've invested the time, effort and expense of tracking down the full back catalogue, you feel almost obliged to pick up all the new sets too in order to stay up to date. LEGO released 13 Star Wars sets back in 1999 when the theme first appeared, and 19 sets were released the year I started my collection, so staying up to date wasn't as financially prohibitive back then. The problem is that since then the number of releases has continued to increase to a point where there were 69 LEGO Star Wars releases in 2018. Not all of those were retail sets, granted, but if I'd known how the release schedule would explode over time I might have thought twice about starting to collect the theme back in 2008....

Looking back, even prior to the announcement of the LEGO Star Wars licence extension in February 2012 my enthusiasm was starting to wane, as I confessed in this posting in 2011. Central to my disaffection was the sheer number of remakes of previously-released sets. Many of these remakes, such as 7877 Naboo Starfighter above, were arguably not even a meaningful improvement on previous versions, unless of course you consider an increase in price to be an upgrade. A growing focus on minifigures in Star Wars sets was also becoming a frustration; my love of LEGO is principally founded on the building experience rather than which minifigures a set contains, and it was starting to feel like the build was being included as an afterthought in some sets (for example 7879 Hoth Echo Base below) with the minifigures being the main driver for the release.

And yet despite my misgivings I've continued to dutifully pick up all of the LEGO Star Wars retail offerings year after year up to and including 2018, and I've also made a start on the 2019 sets. The thing is, however, it's felt like a particular slog this year, with relatively few sets really getting me excited. And so it is that with no end in sight to the annual tidal wave of Star Wars sets I've finally made the decision to stop collecting them. It stops right now, so no 75235 X-wing Starfighter Trench Run (below) for me....

Obviously this decision has been a long time coming. While there hasn't been anything in particular that has finally forced my hand, my previous complaints about the number of remakes and preponderance of minifigure-focused sets are as relevant as ever this year. To that you can add my lack of enthusiasm for the increased number of sets aimed at younger children, particularly the 4+ and Microfighters offerings, and the prevalence of sets such as 75235 above and 75237 TIE Fighter Attack below which feature crude, basic builds. All things considered, there seem to be fewer and fewer Star Wars sets of interest to me this year, so it's time to see sense and call a halt to this expensive and space-occupying obsession.

Before anybody points out the obvious, namely that I'm no longer the target audience for LEGO Star Wars, let me be clear that I'm not criticising LEGO for their continuation of the theme. While I have concerns about the way that the company does things sometimes, for instance lining the pockets of scalpers by releasing hard-to-find promo items as discussed here and here, Star Wars continues to be an extremely popular and successful product line for the company, so you can hardly blame them for continuing to pump out sets year after year. After all, youngsters are discovering the Star Wars universe for the first time every day, and the remakes of classic vehicles are serving their needs. Furthermore, LEGO can hardly be faulted for the disappointing and uninspired vehicle designs which populate the newer Star Wars movies and series'.

While my unhealthy need to collect all the Star Wars sets is now hopefully over, I do still anticipate picking up some of the Star Wars offerings. There's a good chance that I'll continue to acquire the UCS sets, for instance - the soon-to-be-released Imperial Star Destroyer above will surely be impossible to resist - and any sets featuring genuinely interesting new vehicles from the Star Wars universe (assuming we actually get some) will also be fair game. I might even be tempted by the occasional remake, providing that it genuinely offers something over and above previous iterations other than just a higher purchase price. What I won't be doing, however, is just buying Star Wars sets to keep my collection 100% up to date, and that thought fills me with relief. I really should have made this decision years ago.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Letting Off STEAM

It feels like a lifetime since I last posted (here). On that occasion I was preparing to finish up my railway station MOC in preparation for its appearance as part of a display of modular buildings at the Great Western Brick Show a.k.a. STEAM in Swindon. I'm pleased to report that all the elements that I ordered from Bricklink to complete the build duly arrived as promised, and the MOC (below) was completed in good time for its public unveiling.

In addition to completing the sides and rear of the station, a couple of modifications were necessary in order to accommodate the transition from my LEGO city layout to the STEAM display. Firstly, I needed to mount the build on baseplates and tile around the edges. Then I needed to figure out what to do about the area under the two arches at the front of the building. In my city layout each of these arches encloses a stairway which descends to a subway platform on the lower level, but this wasn't an option for the STEAM display which is on a single level. In the end I blocked off each arch with a door, using reddish-brown tiles to mimic a wood effect as you can see in the picture below.

The rear of the building (below) follows the LDD design that I shared in my previous post. It's something of a temporary solution - while in place in my city layout the station has track running behind it, and the plan is ultimately to build a station platform at the rear of the building together with a canopy over the platform. Also, if I hadn't been in such a rush to complete the build for STEAM then I'd have embedded a few more skylights into the roof; unfortunately this'll have to wait until I have more time.

The left and right sides of the building take their design cues from the front, with almost identical designs employed for the various windows, sills and decorative lintels (below).

With the build complete it was time to pack up the station in preparation for the drive down to Swindon. I was planning to separate the building's four floors and pack them into a pair of large rectangular crates, but it turned out that the crates were too small to accommodate the ground floor so I ended up wrapping that section in an old bed sheet and carefully wedging it in the boot of my car. Thankfully all sections survived the journey and arrived at the venue relatively unscathed on the Saturday morning. Many of the exhibitors had already arrived and set up the day before, so I had the simple task of locating the station-sized plot in the almost-complete modular display and re-assembling my build in the allotted space.

You can see the station in position above (thanks to Jamie Douglas for the picture). As well as mobilising Brickish members such as myself to contribute a variety of modular buildings, display organiser Simon Kennedy did an impressive job of recruiting members to construct sections of brick-built road and pavement, vehicles, trees and various roadside structures which really brought the display to life. The lime green Porsche 911 that you can see in front of the station in the picture above was taken from set 75888 Porsche 911 RSR and 911 Turbo 3.0 and is the very car that I built for my Brickset review of the set. More pictures of the completed modular display, together with images of other LEGO creations that were shown at STEAM, can be found here on Jamie's Flickr stream.

Embarrassingly, it's taken me so long to write and publish this post that the 2018 event has long passed and the 2019 Great Western Brick Show is now fast approaching.... I'm pleased to report that thanks to the positive reaction to the 2018 modular display there will be an improved and expanded modular display on show at the 2019 event. This will feature a number of new modulars together with modified versions of some of the existing buildings, and there are also plans to add a canal, a railway and working street lighting. As a result of the inclusion of a railway I've been asked to modify my station to include a platform at the rear. As it passes behind the station the track will be elevated, so my next challenge is to figure out how best to attach a platform halfway up the rear of the building and somehow integrate it into the overall structure. STEAM 2019 will take place on the 5th and 6th of October so I'd better get on with it....

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Modular Row

Remarkably, in November of this year it'll be fully eight years since I booted up LDD and started to design my own LEGO City. To say that progress has been slow would be an understatement of epic proportions - you could probably have built a real city in the time that it's taken me to build mine so far.... My last update, which described the partial construction and installation of a 10224 Town Hall-inspired railway station MOC (below), was posted a year and a half ago, and since then the project has ground to a halt for the umpteenth time as my LEGO room has once again had to serve as a storage room during a protracted period of real-life building work.

Even though my LEGO room has yet to return to normality, an opportunity to work on the project, albeit in a roundabout way, has nevertheless presented itself. As previously described on these pages (for instance here and here), there's an annual event hosted by the Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon which showcases LEGO creations built by members of UK LEGO User Group The Brickish Association. As a Brickish member I'm eligible to exhibit my builds at the show, affectionately known as STEAM. This year one of the displays will be a collaborative display of more than thirty modular buildings designed and built by Brickish members. Anyway, I figured that if I signed up my railway station for the collaborative build then I'd have extra incentive to get off my backside and finish it off. It seemed like an excellent idea at the time, so I went ahead and signed up as a participant, figuring that it shouldn't take too much work to make my build display-ready. In hindsight, however, perhaps I should have taken a closer look at the back of my work-in-progress MOC (below) before being quite so dismissive about the amount of work involved....

With no clear idea of how to complete the build I powered up LDD, dug out the LDD file for the build thus far, and had a play with it. Ultimately I'm planning to replace the back of the building with a full length station platform complete with a canopy which will overhang the platform and railway track. With STEAM fast approaching, however, and with elements to source and little time to play with I decided to keep things simple for the upcoming display and follow the design used for the back of 10224 Town Hall, extending it for the full width of the expanded building. The side walls, meanwhile, would take inspiration from the front of the station which I'd already completed. Having settled on a plan of action I went ahead and completed two-thirds of the building in LDD, both to reassure myself that I'd be happy with the overall look, and also to help me estimate what additional elements I'd need; you can see an LDD screen grab of part of the back of the building below.

With the design now sketched out in LDD I was ready to crack on with the actual build. In order to integrate the railway station into my City layout I'd had to mount it on an idiosyncratic arrangement of small baseplates, so my first job was to strip these away and replace them with standard 32 x 32 baseplates. When it came to the rest of the building I thankfully already had most of the basic bricks and plates required to construct the outer shell, but I was predictably lacking when it came to the huge number of windows that I'd need, not to mention the larger white plates for the individual floors and various other bits and pieces. I therefore built as much as I could before diving into Bricklink to order the elements that I didn't have. All told I ended up having to order almost 450 elements to complete the build, but at least I was able to find a single EU-based seller who had everything I needed (thanks, Kepes!)

My Bricklink order duly arrived a few days ago which leaves me with the best part of 2 weeks to finish my railway station. I'll post pictures of the build on Gimme LEGO after the event, so stay tuned. Or better still why not come to STEAM a.k.a. the Great Western Brick Show and see it for yourself?!

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Hen's Teeth

Lapsed LEGO fans can emerge from their Dark Ages and re-enter the hobby via any number of different routes, but one of the most common motivations seems to be a desire to rediscover the beloved sets of their youth. That was certainly a major factor for me; while the initial trigger was the arrival of 10188 Death Star as a Christmas present, the next stage was a protracted trawl through my childhood LEGO collection and the painstaking restoration of my childhood sets. The desire to replace missing parts lead to the discovery of Bricklink, while building instructions were secured from the likes of Brickset and Peeron; the realisation that boxed examples of my childhood favourites could be secured, at a price, from the likes of eBay and Bricklink lead to ever more expensive competition with fellow AFOLs, and thus was my descent into obsessive LEGO fandom confirmed....

I think the first set that I scraped together from my childhood collection and then subsequently purchased a boxed example of was probably 928 Galaxy Explorer (above). Over time I gradually tracked down boxed examples of other childhood Classic Space favourites via eBay and Bricklink, after which I started to home in on sets that I'd never owned as a child in order to try and expand my collection. A number of Classic Space sets have remained stubbornly elusive over the years, however, with reasonably priced boxed examples being hard to come by, but I did recently manage to track down one of them, 924 Space Cruiser, so I thought I'd share it with you here.

According to Brickset the name of the set is Space Transporter, while Bricklink calls it Space Cruiser. I'd normally side with Brickset, out of loyalty to my favourite LEGO site if nothing else, but in this case I consulted the excellent LEGO Collector's Guide, Second Edition which calls it Space Cruiser so I went with that. The front of the box (above) consists of a flap which lifts up to reveal the set contents. The flap is printed with a slightly over-exposed image of the LL 924 Space Cruiser spacecraft in flight over the surface of a barren planetoid. A blurry forklift, the set's small ancilliary build, is pictured in the background along with one of the set's two minifigures. Unfortunately, my copy of the set features the unwelcome 'bonus' of an unsightly mark caused by ancient adhesive tape running across the front of the box; normally such an addition would discourage me from parting with my cash, but when boxed examples of a set are in such short supply you sometimes just have to bite the bullet. The back of the box (below) showcases a number of alternative builds which can be assembled from the set contents.

The A4-sized instruction booklet arrived folded in half in order to fit into the box but has been unfolded here so I could photograph it. The front cover (below) features an upper panel which reproduces the artwork from the front of the box, while the lower panel contains assembly instructions for the set's two minifigures together with a small cargo container.

The back of the instruction booklet (below) showcases a number of Classic Space sets from 1978 and 1979, a sight sure to bring joy to the hearts of nostalgic AFOLs worldwide!

The box also contains a folded promotional leaflet which advertises offerings from a myriad of different LEGO themes from Duplo to Castle, Technic and beyond. You can see the panels promoting a selection of Classic Space sets below, and I've also scanned a few of the other panels which you can see on the Gimme LEGO Flickr stream here.

As mentioned above the set contains two minifigures. I've waxed lyrical about these guys in previous reviews, for instance here and here, but I make no apology for reiterating how much affection I still have for them almost 40 years after my first encounter. The iconic Classic Space torso print, which has launched a thousand t-shirts, has predictably faded somewhat on the red figure but looks surprisingly fresh and sharp on the white figure even if the torso has yellowed a little over the years.

Most notable from the rear are the air tanks, the design of which is the same now as it was back in 1979. There's no backprinting on the torsos or the classic smiley heads.

With the minifigures assembled it's time to start on the build proper. First to be constructed is a small cargo container. This consists of white left and right 1 x 3 x 1 doors and little else, although at least the doors can be opened to provide access to the cargo, a trans-green 1 x 1 round brick. A simple forklift is provided to move the cargo around; while only consisting of seven elements, the vehicle features an impressive light grey spring-loaded fork assembly at the front which only ever appeared in this set, its U.S. doppelganger (487) and a rare Service Pack which I wasn't even aware existed until I wrote this article.

The ship itself is built on a light grey 16 x 6 plate, upon which various other light grey plates are progressively stacked in order to form the distinctive Classic Space silhouette. As in the likes of 918 and 928 light grey left and right 8 x 4 wedge plates play a key role in defining the outline of the ship, while even early on in the build further nods to other Classic Space offerings are provided by way of the yellow and black detailing on the wings and the trans-green and trans-red 1 x 1 plates. The ship is supported underneath by four 2 x 2 x 2 stands, and a couple of 2 x 2 round bricks are also attached to the underside, presumably representing vertical thrusters.

I'm not sure there's such a thing as a 'beloved LEGO element' but if there was then the blue 33 degree 3 x 6 slope printed with the Classic Space Logo at the front of the ship would surely qualify. Both sides of the fuselage incorporate a blue 1 x 4 brick printed with the ship's 'LL 924' identifier; these printed elements are predictably unique to this set and its U.S. equivalent. The cockpit contains a couple of light grey 45 degree printed 2 x 2 slopes (this one and this one) which make up an instrument panel, and there's more than enough room for both minifigures despite the presence of a steering wheel. The cockpit is enclosed by a number of delicious trans-yellow elements including a pair of uncommon 33 degree 3 x 6 slopes which form the windscreen, 1 x 2 and 1 x 4 bricks, and a rare 4 x 10 plate. The fuselage walls also incorporate a pair of blue 1 x 2 bricks printed with the Classic Space logo.

From behind the view is dominated by a pair of light grey 4 x 4 x 2 cones which serve as the main engines. These have only ever appeared in a total of seven sets in this colour. They're mounted on the back of the brick-built cargo bay doors which swing open on swivel hinge bricks to reveal a compact cargo bay. The cargo bay doors incorporate a pair of blue 1 x 2 bricks printed with a down arrow. The blue 1 x 2 tile on top of the tail prevents the cargo doors from swinging open unintentionally.

The completed LL 924 build together with the forklift, cargo and minifigures can be seen in the picture below. The cockpit roof is attached via a pair of hinges which enable it to be tilted, thus providing cockpit access. The cargo bay can just about accommodate the cargo, but is nowhere near big enough for the forklift to fit into.

Having now built LL 924 and had the opportunity to compare it with its baby brother (918) and big brother (928) I reckon that in terms of its overall proportions it arguably looks the best of the bunch. For all its obvious splendour and deserved iconic status, LL 928 is maybe just a fraction too big and bulky to be considered sleek, while LL 918 is a bit of an ugly duckling. I think LL 924 hits the sweet spot in terms of size, however, and aside from the awkward transition from the light grey wedge plates to the modified 1 x 2 plate with handles at the front of the ship, and the row of exposed, open studs on top of the 4 x 2 x 2 tails on either side, I reckon it looks damn-near perfect.

Given the obvious merits of LL 924, it's interesting that boxed examples of the set seem to be so much harder to come by compared with 918 or 928, the implication being that the set didn't sell well. Maybe that's because it lacks the grandeur and playability of 928, with its landing pad, crater baseplate, moon base and moon buggy which fits inside the cargo hold, while simultaneously lacking the affordability of 918. Regardless of the reason, it's still well worth picking up if you can find it at a reasonable price.

Set 924 Space Cruiser was released in 1979 and contains 170 pieces. I purchased my copy from eBay for around £90, having waited a long time for an affordable boxed example to be listed there. If however you're not willing to wait, various sellers have the set listed for sale on Bricklink, with prices for a boxed example starting at £125 plus shipping. At time of writing there are only three complete boxed copies available, however, so be quick!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Great Balls of Fire

OK, so when I last wrote I was preparing to take my first, faltering steps into the world of Great Ball Contraptions, or GBCs. I'd found instructions online to a GBC which could be constructed using only the elements contained in a single Technic set, 42049 Mine Loader, and prior to cannabalising the parts I'd built and reviewed both the Mine Loader and the alternate build, a Rock Cutter.

My next job was to disassemble the Rock Cutter, after which it was time to get to work on my first GBC. I had initially planned to reverse engineer the GBC, which was designed by Great Ball Pit, from a video clip but I ended up paying to download a set of instructions instead which, as it turned out, made my life a whole lot easier. The download, which is in .pdf format, consists of a total of 62 pages and you can see a full listing of the content in the screengrab below. As well as a 54-page building guide the document also incorporates other content including hints for fine-tuning the GBC mechanisms and instructions for upgrading the module with Power Functions. The building guide is fairly easy to follow; at each stage the parts you need to add are highlighted in pink, and the build is logically sequenced.

I was about a third of the way through the build when I took the photograph below. The GBC module has been designed to be mounted onto a trailer, and the trailer chassis is pretty much done by this point. A pair of wheels will later be attached to the axle that you can see in the foreground, while the various gears embedded into the chassis are part of the mechanism that makes a single cylinder move up and down in the chassis-mounted engine block when the GBC module is activated. The stickers that you can see here and in subsequent pictures are a reminder that we're using recycled elements from a donor 42049 Mine Loader set, and they don't have any significance with respect to the GBC module.

With the chassis complete it's time to get to work on the section of the GBC which is responsible for moving the balls (below). The mechanism consists of a series of sweeper arms which pass the balls along the line as they rotate. The arms obviously need to work together in perfect harmony to make this happen, and in order for the arms move in unison they're connected underneath via a system of gears. Timing is critical - one sweeper arm can't pass the ball to the next unless the rotation of the arms is carefully coordinated - and for this reason specific instructions are provided to ensure that the sweeper arms are correctly positioned relative to each other.

Another important part of the module can be seen on the left side of the picture above. A black 1 x 6 Technic link connects the spindle of the first sweeper arm to a pivoting structure; as the spindle turns it rocks the structure backwards and forwards, which has the effect of feeding balls from the "in-basket" to the first sweeper arm in the finished module.

You can see how everything fits together in the pictures above and below which show the completed GBC module from the front and the back. The GBC mechanism is activated by turning a crank which is located to the left of the wheel in the picture above. Once the balls are swept to the top of the slope by the arms they're 'recycled' along a rear return channel and roll back down into the in-basket, thus creating a perpetual loop. The light bluish grey exhaust pipe element at the top of the slope diverts the balls down the return channel, but if you want the balls to be transferred to an adjacent GBC module instead then the exhaust pipe can be removed and the balls will then drop off the end of the conveyor and into the in-basket of the next module.

You can motorise the module quickly and easily by replacing the hand crank with a LEGO Power Functions motor. I used a standard XL Motor powered by a Battery Box containing six rechargeable eneloop AA batteries and you can see the result in the video clip below; if you're having difficulty viewing the embedded video clip then you can watch it here instead.

Occasionally the ball at the front of the queue needs a nudge from one of the returning balls in order to launch it onto the conveyer, but otherwise the mechanism runs smoothly and the balls are quickly and efficiently whisked up the slope. Watching the module operate is actually quite hypnotic, and it's certainly given me a taste for more. There's still the issue that I don't have many loose Technic elements, but having now built a GBC with the aid of instructions I at least have a better idea of what I'll need in order to build one of my own design and I've also picked up a few techniques that I can potentially make use of so overall it was a valuable learning experience.

If you'd like to build this GBC then you can purchase instructions from here for €9.95. I don't have any financial interest in the sale of these instructions, incidentally, and I paid for my own copy.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Mined Out

One of the great things about the LEGO hobby is the sheer number and variety of niches to be found within it. Although I entered the fray as a big LEGO Star Wars fan, my areas of interest have expanded since then to encompass Modular Buildings, constructing my own MOCs, collecting various other LEGO themes and even dabbling with the odd bit of Technic.

One niche that I haven't previously dipped my toe into, however, is Great Ball Contraptions, or GBCs. GBCs are machines built from LEGO and usually powered by LEGO motors which transport small balls from one place to another. Multiple GBCs are typically chained together, with balls being passed from one GBC module to another, sometimes over considerable distances. In order to facilitate collaboration between GBC builders so that their modules are compatible with each other, a GBC standard has been defined. This standard legislates for various factors such as the size and location of a module's 'in-basket' and the rate of ball flow into the machine, amongst others.

I'd been largely oblivious to the GBC scene until recently when a GBC discussion thread on the Brickset Forum caught my eye. Particularly interesting were postings which linked to a selection of spectacular GBC modules such as the Strain Wave Gearing GBC Module (above) built by akiyuky who was also responsible for the incredible collection of GBC modules that you can see here. I was so impressed that I decided I wanted to have a go at building a GBC myself, but where to start? I've built a few Technic sets, for instance this one, but have never built a Technic MOC. Also, pretty much all of my Technic elements are tied up in official sets, so I initially wasn't sure how best to proceed.

Thankfully the community came to my rescue in the form of a posting by Brickset Forum member greatballpit who linked to this video that he'd posted on YouTube. The video showcases a fully functional GBC module that can be constructed in its entirety using the elements contained in just one recent Technic set, 42049 Mine Loader. I initially assumed that I'd need to reverse-engineer the build by studying the video clip, but it later transpired that instructions are available to download for €9.95 so I decided to take the plunge, pay the money and make my life a whole lot easier. In addition to getting me started in the world of GBCs, the project would also give me the perfect excuse to review the mine loader set, an official LEGO offering that I hadn't previously paid much attention to.

The front of the box (above) showcases the finished mine loader model which is a decidedly odd-looking vehicle - I did a quick internet search and couldn't actually find its exact real-world equivalent, although Caterpillar do manufacture a variety of underground mine loaders which appear broadly similar apart from the attachment at the front. Technic sets characteristically feature an alternate build which can be constructed with the elements contained within the set. In the case of 42049 the 'B' model is a rock cutting vehicle and this is shown on the back of the box (below).

The box opens via a couple thumb tabs on the left side, although as usual I ignored these and instead carefully slid a knife under the seams and opened the left side, thus minimising damage to the box. The box contains four unnumbered bags of elements, three instruction booklets and a sticker sheet (below). There are also four huge rubber tyres loose in the box.

The mine loader is the larger of the two builds and has two instruction booklets as against one for the rock cutter. Both mine loader booklets have front covers which are identical apart from the booklet number in the bottom right corner.

I seldom build Technic. It's therefore not surprising that when I do I should encounter elements that I haven't seen before. This time it was red 6L and yellow 7L axles that caught my eye, although it turns out that these have been around for years and have appeared in multiple sets. Genuinely uncommon elements appearing in the set include a yellow Technic 3 x 3 T-shaped thick liftarm which is only appearing in a set for the tenth time in this colour, and a light bluish grey large Technic turntable base plus its black large Technic turntable top counterpart, both of which have only appeared in a total of 10 sets to date.

In terms of notable features, the build incorporates a 2-cylinder engine; it's actually not the first time that I've built a LEGO Technic engine but I still find it impressive the way that the LEGO crankshaft smoothly drives the pistons in the engine block. The crankshaft also attaches to a flat silver 8 blade propeller which represents a cooling fan and which has only previously appeared in seven sets in this colour. By the end of the first instruction booklet we're well beyond the halfway point in the build (below).

With the bulk of the internal structure and Technic mechanisms already completed, much of the remaining build consists of predominantly cosmetic details. The mudguards behind the front wheels consist of yellow Technic curved 3 x 6 x 3 panels which are only appearing in a set for the third time. These are decorated with black and yellow striped warning stickers and provide the attachment point for bilateral twin headlights. The driver's cab bolts on to the left side of the vehicle and includes a single seat which is made up of a couple of blue 2 x 4 L-shaped thick Technic liftarms. A single exhaust represented by a light bluish grey vehicle exhaust pipe with Technic pin emerges from the left side of the engine, and a couple more of the yellow Technic curved 3 x 6 x 3 panels are used to create the corners of the rear bumper which also incorporates a pair of trans-red tail lights.

The build is nearly complete now. An aerial, represented by a flat silver rapier, attaches just in front of the engine, after which the four wheels with their huge 62.4mm tyres are attached. Finally a red drum, made up of a pair of stickered interlocking red 3 x 5 x 8 cylinder halves which are exclusive to the set in this colour, is assembled and we're finished (below).

I asked my ten year old what he thought of the finished build and I have to report that he wasn't particularly impressed with the look of it; I'd have to agree that it's rather underwhelming from an aesthetic point of view. The build does however incorporate a number of functions, and all of the mechanisms work well.

The large Technic turntable I mentioned earlier connects the front and rear sections of the vehicle. Turning the small black gear next to the cab rotates the turntable; this pivots the entire front section and thus steers the vehicle as you can see in the picture below. Meanwhile, pushing the vehicle forwards or backwards causes the pistons in the engine block to smoothly rise and fall, and the cooling fan at the back to rotate. At the front of the vehicle the claw can be raised and lowered; it's in the fully raised position in the picture above, and the lowered position below. The claw can also be closed and opened so as to grab and subsequently drop the red drum; this is accomplished by rotating another small black gear which is located just in front of the engine. The gear connects to the claw via a long axle assembly running almost the whole length of the vehicle.

With the mine loader completed and photographed it was time to take it apart in preparation for building the 'B' model. One of the reasons that I've struggled to love Technic over the years is the misery of deconstructing the builds, which is both time consuming and a cause of physical discomfort. Thankfully the mine loader is modestly sized so taking it apart didn't take too long, although as ever it was not a comfortable experience for my fingers.

The 'B' model, a rock cutter, is another curious-looking vehicle and a quick online search didn't reveal any real-world examples of machines that looked remotely similar. Like the mine loader it incorporates a 2-cylinder engine, with the pair of red cylinder halves which were previously used to fashion the drum being repurposed as engine covers that wrap around either side of the engine block. The turntable assembly, previously utilised as a steering mechanism for the mine loader, is incorporated into the boom of the rock cutter.

Attaching the boom doubles the length of the vehicle and makes it predictably unwieldy. Despite this, the weight of the body ensures that the centre of gravity is far enough back for the vehicle to be nice and stable, although like the mine loader it's a decidedly strange-looking beast. Following completion of the rock cutter there are 57 elements left over, of which 11 are spares. The rock cutter therefore utilises more than 90% of the set's total of 476 elements.

Function-wise I found the rock cutter to be more interesting than the mine loader. The vehicle can be steered by rotating the prominent tan gear in front of the engine which turns the front wheels, and similar to the mine loader the pistons in the engine block smoothly rise and fall when the rear wheels rotate. The boom can be raised and lowered by turning a crank on the right side of the vehicle, and unlike the claw at the front of the mine loader it has a substantial range of vertical movement. As you can see in the picture below the orientation of the blade can be changed; a pair of red bushes are attached to an axle just above the turntable, and turning these bushes rotates the turntable which changes the angle of the front section of the boom and hence the blade. Finally, you can spin the blade itself by rotating the tan gear at the base of the boom.

So that's both the 'A' and 'B' models built, then. Overall, while neither of these strange-looking vehicles will ever win a beauty contest, they were both enjoyable to assemble. Furthermore, they both manage to cram in a fair number of functions, all of which operate smoothly and reliably.

42049 Mine Loader was released in 2016 at a price of £29.99 / US$49.99 / 39.99€. You may struggle to find this set at retail now, but at time of writing new sealed examples can still be acquired at or below the RRP over at Bricklink which is where I bought my copy from.

Right, now to disassemble the rock cutter in preparation for my first attempt at building a Great Ball Contraption. Check back in a couple of weeks to find out how I got on....