Monday, 9 May 2016

Strange Cargo

Having built and reviewed the Burlington Northern Santa Fe locomotive (below) in my previous post I was keen to see it in action on my work-in-progress city layout, but there were a couple of things I had to attend to first.

Firstly, the set isn't motorised out of the box, so I needed to incorporate a motor in order to get it running. Thankfully, LEGO has helpfully devoted a few pages of the BNSF instruction booklet to the incorporation of a 9V motor into the locomotive, and since I'd recently laid 9V track on my layout this was exactly what I was looking to do. As an added bonus, I discovered that the instruction booklet also includes instructions (sample page below) for incorporating a working light at the front of the locomotive; LEGO even previously produced a service pack, 3748 Light Unit for Train, which includes all the required elements to do this. Unfortunately, at the time of writing there were only 5 Bricklink sellers anywhere in the world with copies of this service pack for sale; given that the lowest asking price was around £13 + shipping for a service pack containing just 4 elements I figured I could probably pick up the elements I needed individually on Bricklink for a lot less, and that was indeed the case.

Fitting a 9V motor to the BNSF locomotive turned out to be very straightforward, basically just a case of detaching the rear wheel assembly and clicking the 5mm pin at the top of the motor into the now-vacant hole in the underside of the train base. Anticipating the desire of purchasers to motorise the locomotive, LEGO included a pair of decorative sides in the BNSF set which attach to the sides of motor and give it the appearance of a standard brick-built wheel assembly. Installing a light at the front of the locomotive required a little more effort, however, necessitating the removal of the driver's cab and part of the bodywork. One end of a 36 stud-long wire is attached to the 9V motor, while the other end is threaded through the train base into the body of the locomotive (below) and attached to a 1 x 2 light brick which is installed immediately behind the orange 1 x 2 Technic brick at the front of the loco. The cab is then replaced and the body reconstructed.

With the locomotive now motorised and a light brick installed, the other question I had to address was what rolling stock it should haul. My assumption has always been that the BNSF locomotive is supposed to be paired with Set 10170 TTX Intermodal Double-Stack Car (below) on the basis of the similar set branding plus the fact that both sets were released at around the same time; further evidence is provided by the BNSF Railway Company itself which claims on its website to transport more intermodal units each year than any other railroad in the U.S.. The problem is that I only have a single copy of Set 10170, and a train consisting of the BNSF locomotive plus just a single intermodal double-stack car would look a bit rubbish I reckon. Of course there's always eBay or Bricklink, but with complete examples of Set 10170 regularly changing hands for anything up to £100 or more plus shipping I wasn't overjoyed at the prospect of paying out £300+ to lay my hands on a few more of them....

An alternative was therefore needed, and I immediate thought of Set 10016 Tanker Truck which was released in 2001. I've long had a soft spot for this set, perhaps as a result of its nostalgia-inducing Octan branding, and in fact you may already have seen one of these trucks in some of the more recent pictures of my layout such as this one. Anyway, as well as having a couple of 'official' copies of the set I also bought up the necessary elements from Bricklink and elsewhere a few years back to build a few more of them, so I certainly have enough to provide my BNSF locomotive with a worthwhile cargo to haul.

The front of the 10016 box (above) features an image of the assembled tanker truck and carries the My Own Train branding which graced more than forty 9V train-related sets between 2001 and 2004. A number of other 2001 My Own Train releases such as 10013 Open Freight Wagon and 10017 Hopper Wagon are showcased on the back of the box (below).

The set's 128 elements are supplied in three sealed bags, and the set box also contains a 16-page instruction booklet, the cover of which you can see below. Similar to the instruction booklet for the BNSF locomotive (reviewed by me here), there's no advertising or other filler included in the booklet at all - every page apart from the front cover is occupied by building instructions.

The set doesn't include any minifigures, and the build is quick and straightforward. The foundation of the tanker truck is a black 6 x 24 train base. Modified 1 x 6 plates with train wagon end are installed at either end of the train base, and brackets are placed along the sides to which a variety of printed tiles are attached (picture below). The 1 x 6 tile printed with 'distressed' Octan branding is rare, having only ever appeared in two sets including this one, while the white 1 x 4 tile with black stripes has featured in just 8 sets in total. The central structure which supports the tank is then constructed and a number of black 1 x 2 modified plates with ladder are attached on either side of it.

The tank is constructed in two identical halves which predominantly consist of white 4 x 4 x 6 quarter cylinders. These elements are quite rare in white, having only ever appeared in a total of 8 sets. The quarter cylinders are held together by red and green 4 x 4 round corner plates together with a central core of stacked 2 x 2 bricks. White 8 x 8 inverted dishes are attached at either end; similar to the cylinders these are surprisingly uncommon in this colour, having only ever appeared in five sets including this one. The two halves of the tank are then attached to the rest of the truck by way of a number of 1 x 4 modified bricks with 4 studs on one side which are incorporated into the central supporting structure. With the tank installed it's then just a case of constructing a couple of identical wheel assembies topped off with train bogie plates and clicking the wheel assemblies into the underside of the train base, at which point we're done.

I ended up with a total of six tanker trucks including the one I'd previously assembled. With my BNSF locomotive motorised and packing a working headlight, and some rolling stock now built, it was finally time to power up the upper loop of my work-in-progress city layout and do a test run (video clip embedded below, or here if the embedded clip won't play on your device). I did wonder whether the 9V motor might struggle when faced with the weight of the locomotive plus six tanker trucks, but as you can see from the video I needn't have worried - the motor shifts the trucks with surprisingly little difficulty, and indeed I suspect it could have managed to pull a few more as well.

Testing 10133 Burlington Northern Santa Fe

The train is travelling at half speed in the video, and at this speed the illumination of the headlight is barely perceptible unless the ambient lighting is low. Unlike modern LEGO lighting which is powered by a Power Functions battery box and remote, the brightness of the light can't to my knowledge be controlled independent of the speed of the motor. There's nothing stopping you from combining both 9V and Power Functions systems in one model, however, which is exactly what I've done in the train that runs on the subterranean loop of my layout and which includes a 9V motor and also a Power Functions battery box, lights and a remote receiver (more information here).

I've really enjoyed playing with trains over the past few weeks, but it's turned out to be a really bad move financially. While I already owned the BNSF locomotive and tanker trucks featured in the last couple of Gimme LEGO posts, I got so engrossed in it all that I made the mistake of checking out the train-related LEGO offerings on eBay. This was of course very dangerous as I predictably ended up splashing out on a whole bunch of additional 9V trains and rolling stock. Beware - LEGO trains are addictive, and expensive....

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Other Santa Fe

One of the cool things about my ongoing MOC City Layout project is that it features two loops of old-style LEGO 9V track, thus providing me with the perfect excuse to dig out and revisit some of my favourite LEGO 9V trains. After all, I've been accumulating LEGO trains for years - one of the first sets that I ever owned was Set 171 Train Set without Motor - and my love of LEGO trains was one of the main reasons that I embarked upon on my LEGO City project in the first place.

Anyway, having recently finished installing the upper track loop of my city, I decided that I'd mark the milestone by building a classic LEGO 9V train and use it to test the newly-laid 9V track. But which train to choose? Well, if we're talking classic 9V trains then many fans probably wouldn't look beyond the coveted and much-loved Set 10020 Santa Fe Super Chief, which I previously posted about here and here and also wrote about in the first ever issue of Bricks Magazine. Being a master contrarian, however, I thought that the Super Chief would be too obvious, so I've therefore decided instead to tackle the Super Chief's less glamorous sibling, Set 10133 Burlington Northern Santa Fe Locomotive, or BNSF for short.

Set 10133 was released back in 2005, three years on from the Super Chief, but the two set boxes nevertheless carry the same branding and background artwork featuring a map of part of the Santa Fe railroad which runs from New Mexico to Colorado and into Kansas. The front of the box (above) also features a cutaway showing a photograph of barren desert terrain superimposed with an image of the completed BNSF model plus minifigures, while the back of the box (below) is dominated by a number of boxouts which provide some alternate views of the set contents.

The box is designed to be opened via a couple of thumb tabs. My copy of the set was pre-owned so I don't know how many bags of elements it contained when new; I can't provide you with a scan of the set's single sticker sheet either as the stickers had already been applied to the bricks in my copy of the set, but thanks to the wonders of Bricklink you can see an image of the unused sticker sheet here. The set contains a single instruction booklet, the front cover of which (below) carries the same imagery as the front of the box. The booklet is 56 pages long, and unusually there's not a single advertisement or other distraction - the building guide occupies every single page apart from the front cover.

The set contains two minifigures - Conductor Charlie and Engineer Max. Conductor Charlie (below, left) can be found in a total of six sets including this one. His torso print, featuring a dark blue waistcoat complete with a fob watch, is exclusive to this minifigure but his unprinted dark blue legs, head print and dark red hat can be found as a constituent part of many other minifigures. Engineer Max (below, right) appears in just four sets. The combination of his white arms, old dark grey hands and a torso print featuring blue striped overalls is exclusive to the minifigure, although his blue hat, red bandana and head print can all be readily found elsewhere.

You can see a rear view of the two minifigures minus their hats below. Neither Charlie nor Max has a backprinted head or a backprinted torso so there's not much of interest to see here

The BNSF locomotive is constructed on a yellow 6 x 28 train base which is exclusive to the set. The build starts with the placement of a black 1 x 6 train wagon end at both ends of the train base, while railings consisting of 19L rigid hoses are attached on either side. The body of the locomotive is then constructed, initially from a variety of dark green elements including 1 x 3 and 1 x 6 bricks, 1 x 8 plates, modified 1 x 2 bricks with grille, and left and right 1 x 3 x 1 doors, all of which are unique to the set in this colour. Yellow plates and orange bricks and plates are layered on top, after which we're back on to dark green for the roof of the locomotive which features yet more rare dark green elements including modified 2 x 2 bricks with a curved top and 2 top studs, left and right 3 x 2 wedges, and a 4 x 6 plate, none of which had been seen before in dark green prior to the release of this set.

The tapered front and rear of the locomotive are fashioned in dark green, yellow and orange using SNOT techniques; once again we see the appearance of elements such as dark green 45 degree 2 x 4 slopes which were unique to the set at the time of its release. An orange Technic 1 x 2 brick with a hole, which had previously only appeared in two sets, is placed at the front of the locomotive, and a trans-clear 1 x 1 round plate is inserted into the hole as a headlight. A dark bluish grey printed 1 x 4 tile is used to represent the control panel in the driver's cab. Large stickers provide the 'BNSF' lettering which runs along both sides of the body. These stickers are STAMPs, i.e. they traverse multiple elements; this practice leads to difficulties in terms of dissassembling models when you're done with them and also compromises the longevity of the stickers themselves, so we should definitely be thankful that LEGO have largely stopped using stickers in this way over recent years.

With the superstructure now largely complete it's time to get to work on the structures underneath the train base (below) including the wheel assemblies, or bogies if you prefer. These feature the use of unprinted light bluish grey minifigure heads which had only previously appeared in a total of 4 sets. Each completed wheel assembly clicks into a hole on the underside of the train base by way of a 5mm pin on the top of a train bogie plate; this attachment allows limited horizontal rotation sufficient to enable the locomotive to successfully negotiate curved track sections. I believe that the structure sandwiched between the wheel assemblies is supposed to represent a fuel tank; the tiles on either side of it are stickered rather than printed. Both wheel assemblies feature a standard magnetic coupling for attachment to rolling stock, another locomotive or a B unit.

With the bogies and fuel tank assembled and attached, all that's left to do is complete the driver's cab and add a couple of final details. STAMPs once again feature, specifically the unit number on either side of the cab. The orange 30 degree 1 x 1 x 2/3 slopes, a.k.a. cheese slopes, which protrude from the front of the cab are also stickered with the unit number. The cab incorporates a number of rare orange elements; the six 1 x 2 x 2 plane windows remain unique to the set to this day, while other elements including 1 x 3 plates, modified 1 x 1 bricks with headlight, modified 1 x 2 plates with door rail and 45 degree 2 x 4 slopes have to date appeared in just 8 sets or less in this colour.

A couple of uncommon chrome silver car air horns are mounted on the roof of the cab, while further back three stickered black Technic 3 x 3 discs are mounted on top of the body towards the rear; I believe that these are supposed to represent cooling fans. In addition to their appearance in this set, these stickered Technic discs have also been utilised in Set 10020 Santa Fe Super Chief plus the more recent Set 10219 Maersk Train, both of which are, like the BNSF locomotive, also diesels.

You can see the finished build complete with minifigures in the picture below. While not as sleek or elegant as the Super Chief, I can't help but love the eye-catching colour scheme of the BNSF locomotive. It's also worth noting that the model is a pretty respectable representation of the real train - you can see a picture of the actual BNSF unit 2256 here.

In addition to its aesthetic merits, this set is also notable from the perspective of the elements that it includes. Not only was it one of the first sets to include dark green elements in any real quantity, but it was also one of the very first sets to include the now-ubiquitous cheese slope. Furthermore, as previously described, the BNSF locomotive incorporates loads of rare elements, some of which continue to be unique to the set more than ten years after its release.

The BNSF locomotive might not be as celebrated as the Super Chief, but it's still pretty collectable. Retailing for just £24.99 / US$40.00 at the time of its release, you'll now need to stump up well over £200 / US$300 for a sealed copy on Bricklink; I was lucky enough to pick up my used, boxed example back in early 2010 for a little over £50 plus shipping, but it would set me back around three times as much to buy it in the same condition now.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Playing Catch-up

I consider myself very fortunate that the first of LEGO's Modular Buildings, Set 10182 Cafe Corner (below), was still on the shelves when I emerged bleary-eyed from my LEGO Dark Ages in the late 2000s. I've written previously (here) about my love for the Modular Buildings, and have coincidentally just submitted what amounts to a eulogy on the subject of Cafe Corner to Bricks Culture magazine which will appear in Issue 5. Cafe Corner provided me with my first ever experience of building an adult-oriented LEGO set and it was a game-changer for me, opening my eyes to the potential of LEGO like no set before it or since. For the next few years I eagerly snapped up every new Modular Building that LEGO released within days of release, and everything else LEGO-related would immediately grind to a halt while I built it. Set 10185 Green Grocer was next to be acquired, and to this day remains possibly my favourite of all the Modulars. That was followed by Set 10190 Market Street, with Set 10197 Fire Brigade and then Set 10211 Grand Emporium next in line. While I definitely have my favourites, all of those sets share to a greater or lesser extent the same characteristics which drew me to Cafe Corner in the first place, fundamentally a sense that I was building something special, and with a level of polish far beyond any LEGO set I'd encountered previously.

It couldn't last, though. With the growth of my LEGO hobby in various different directions, not to mention work and family commitments, I haven't been able to keep it going. While I've continued to buy the Modulars as they've been released, life no longer grinds to a halt when they arrive, and to my shame I've still not built some of them. To some extent, the availability of quality online reviews and photographs, in tandem with seeing the completed sets on display in my local LEGO brand store, makes it feel like I've already built them all, but it's obviously not the same as building them myself. I'm therefore going to do something about it - basically, the plan is to crack open some of the Modulars that I haven't built yet, with a view to displaying them on my City Layout. First up is Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant, released in January 2014.

The front of the box (above) shows the completed set in all its glory. The Parisian Restaurant was only the second Modular to carry the Creator Expert branding, with the discrete Creator Expert logo visible top right. The set's 2,469 elements make this the second largest Modular to date in terms of the parts count, while the 16+ age recommendation whets the appetite for the advanced building techniques to come. The back of the box (below) highlights various views and features of the completed model, and there's also advertising for the three Modulars that were available at retail at the time of the set's release.

The box is opened by cutting a couple of tape seals, revealing a total of 18 sealed bags of elements, a light bluish grey 32 x 32 baseplate and dark bluish grey 8 x 16 plate loose in the box, and a sealed packet containing some instruction booklets plus a sheet of cardboard to keep them flat. There's thankfully no sticker sheet.

The set includes three instruction booklets and you can see the front cover of the first booklet in the picture above. Between them, the instruction booklets contain 177 pages not including their front covers; apart from three pages of advertisements (sample page below) and a three-page inventory of elements at the back of the third booklet it's building instructions all the way.

The set contains a total of 5 minifigures. All of them are exclusive to the set, although many of their constituent parts are commonly available elsewhere, notably their generic minifigure heads, unprinted legs, hair and chef's hat. That's not the case for some of the torsos, though - the female artist (below, far left) has a torso print which has only ever graced 3 minifigures, while the blonde-haired business man (second left) has a torso which has appeared as a part of just eight minifigures in total. The prints which decorate the torsos of the chef (below centre), the waiter (second right) and the female with ponytail (far right) are less rare, with all of them having appeared in more than ten other minifigures.

You can see a rear view of the minifigures minus their hair and hats below. Only three of the five minifigures have backprinted torsos. The female artist features a torso backprint of a dragon; there are no prizes for guessing that the only other two minifigures which share this torso backprint are both versions of Sensei Wu from the Ninjago theme.

And so to the build, which the instruction booklets break down into four stages. Stage 1 kicks off with the assembly of three of the set's minifigures plus a red scooter. The scooter (below) appears to have been modelled on a classic Vespa and features a one-piece body which was new and exclusive when the set was initially released but which has since appeared in a further five sets.

The build proper starts with a light bluish grey 32 x 32 baseplate; this is the only time that a 32 x 32 baseplate in this colour has ever appeared in a set. Tiles are dropped into place on the baseplate to represent the pavement outside the building, a strip of red carpet at the restaurant entrance, and the patterned floor inside the building. I had a real sense of deja vu as I gradually mapped out the ground floor of the building and filled various areas with tiles as every Modular Building I've ever assembled started out this way. Tan 1 x 1 and 1 x 2 plates are used to spell out the first part of the restaurant's name - "CHEZ" - on what will become the floor of the front outdoor dining area; once this area has been completed, and tables and chairs have been installed, the lettering is all but obscured, but it's a nice little detail all the same.

However much I might enjoy building Modulars, I can't say I was overjoyed to discover that the kitchen floor consists of almost 50 white and dark blue 1 x 1 tiles - I've always hated tiling with 1 x 1 tiles, mainly as it's so fiddly to line them up neatly. With the tiling done it's time to furnish the kitchen. A number of kitchen units are constructed which incorporate a sink, hob, oven, drawers and assorted work surfaces upon which plates, wine glasses and various foodstuffs are placed. There's even a large turkey complete with a couple of detachable drumsticks. Indoor and outdoor seating is then installed, and the boundary between the outdoor seating area and the pavement is decorated with flowers and fenced off with black chain-link fencing. The outdoor floral displays are planted in pots each consisting of a dark red 2 x 2 round brick with dome bottom; these were brand new elements at the time of the Parisian Restaurant's release. Stage 1 concludes with the construction of a number of indoor and outdoor tables for the restaurant's diners; the indoor tables are decorated with lamps which feature the same dark red 2 x 2 round bricks with dome bottom that were previously employed as plant pots, albeit used upside down in this instance.

Stage 2 of the build starts with assembly of the final two minifigures, after which work recommences on the ground floor of the restaurant. Lots of lovely olive green bricks are used to build the walls of the restaurant's ground floor - 1 x 1, 1 x 2, 1 x 3, 1 x 4, 1 x 6 and 1 x 8 bricks all feature, together with olive green 1 x 1 and 1 x 2 plates, so there's a decent selection for those builders looking to build their own olive green MOCs with the contents of the set. None of the olive green bricks used in the set have made an appearance in more than a small handful of other sets, and the olive green 1 x 3 and 1 x 8 bricks are unique to this set as things currently stand. As the walls start to increase in height, a nice brick-built rolling pin plus a selection of kitchen knives are mounted on clips on the kitchen wall, while an attractive sideboard is placed against the back wall of the main dining area and a painting in the form of a dark tan 2 x 2 tile printed with sailing ship and moon pattern is mounted on another of the interior walls. Eight reddish brown 1 x 2 x 3 windows plus transparent window panes are incorporated into the walls at the back of the restaurant; at the time of the set's release these elements had never previously been included in a set in this colour, although they've appeared in a few more sets since. Floor to ceiling windows are then installed along the front of the building together with a large glass door, and decorative lintels are placed over the top of each of them. The spaces between the windows and doors are occupied by ornate white columns featuring some clever detailing, for instance repurposed mechanical arms previously seen in the likes of the Exo-Force theme.

With the windows, doors and columns in place, an eye-catching facade was starting to materialise; this became even more impressive thanks to the addition of some sumptuous-looking brick-built dark blue curtains. The ground floor walls are then raised by another couple of bricks in height before being topped off by a layer of light bluish grey tiles in preparation for the placement of the second floor. Additional outdoor fixtures and fittings are then added at the front of the restaurant, notably some rather lethal-looking vegetation in the form of green flexible 3.5L spikes which have only ever appeared in five sets, a menu on a stand which makes use of a 2 x 2 printed tile that's unique to the set, and a dark red awning upon which a new 2 x 4 tile printed with the name of the restaurant, Chez Albert, is mounted. The awning features some rare dark red elements - a pair of 3 x 3 33 degree slopes and a pair of 3 x 3 33 degree double convex slopes - which have only ever appeared in a total of three and four sets respectively. A cast iron-effect awning is then attached above the outdoor dining area, and three lamps are hung from it; this awning will later be covered with vegetation, but not until the very end of the build for some reason. Hand rails are then installed on the outdoor staircase, after which we move to the rear of the building (below) and make some additions; vegetation in the form of large and small plant leaves decorated with 1 x 1 red flower heads and bright green carrot tops is hung from the rear wall, and a black vertical drainpipe is attached. We also get a small green dustbin and a brick-built blue dumpster complete with some hot dogs, bones and magenta cherries to put in it; we're even provided with a light bluish grey rat to sniff around the dustbin.... The final act of Stage 2 is to return to the front of the building and install a white lamp post on the pavement.

Stage 3 of the build consists of construction of the second floor of the restaurant, including the rear corner terrace (below) which is built first. The rear corner terrace is constructed on a patchwork of dark bluish grey plates and comprises seating and tables similar to those found in the outside dining area at the front of the restaurant, plus handrails and a pair of lamps complete with cute hanging baskets.

You can see how the rear corner terrace attaches to the completed ground floor section in the picture below. The terrace links up nicely with the staircase to the right of the building, and it also provides access to the second floor of the building which is next to be constructed.

The second floor comprises a small bedsit complete with a bed, a kitchen diner, a fireplace and a cosy tan armchair plus a glass-topped coffee table. The kitchen diner includes an oven and a hob complete with a frying pan; kitchen storage is provided by some drawers and a high-level wall-mounted cupboard. A dark tan and medium blue bed folds away neatly into the back wall to create more space in the cramped living quarters, and there's a floor-standing lamp in the corner which once again makes good use of the inverted dark red flower pot element described earlier. Out front there are window boxes and a glass door which leads out on to a small balcony framed with white columns (below); attractive detailing featuring decorative arches fashioned from white car mudguards is dropped into place above the windows, and the second floor is topped off with tiles in preparation for the placement of the roof.

Two doors lead out from the back of the second floor (below). One of these doors provides access to a tiny balcony while the other leads out to the previously constructed rear corner terrace and also to a flight of outdoor stairs which ascend to the as-yet unbuilt top floor of the building. Fences and hand-rails are installed to enclose the outdoor walkways including the stairs, and a section of vertical drainpipe is attached to the back wall.

Attention now shifts to the last of the three instruction booklets and Stage 4 of the build, which entails construction of the roof and the studio within. Some of the most eye-catching aspects of the completed model are constructed at this stage and can be seen at the front of this section (picture below). A highlight is the pair of large, white ornamental structures embedded in the roof. When I saw the first promotional pictures of the Parisian Restaurant it was these that immediately stood out, and they're fashioned at this stage of the build. The centrepiece of each of these structures is a white clam shell which, to my surprise, dates back to 1998 in this colour and has appeared in more than 20 sets to date. The clam shell is framed by a pair of vehicle mudguards which are mounted opposite each other to form an oval. Additional detail is provided by a pair of white croissants which were exclusive to the set at the time of its release, although have subsequently appeared in two more sets. There's also some lovely detailing consisting of repeating, closely-packed dark bluish grey feathers which are arranged in a row where the roof meets the floor below.

The front roof section clips in at an angle to create a sloping roof. It's fashioned from alternating dark blue 3 x 1 and 4 x 1 curved slopes, a technique which creates an interesting textured effect that you'll either think looks really neat, or else a bit messy (I definitely vote for "really neat"). At the rear (below) there's a pair of window boxes which utilise a number of bright green and red round 1 x 1 plates with flower edge. There's also a small yellow and white awning which brings to mind Cafe Corner. The angled rear roof section cleverly incorporates three Velux-type windows, and there's also a back door to the studio.

The rear roof section is hinged and drops open to reveal an art studio within the roof (below). The studio includes a couple of tiled canvasses, a brick-built easel and a paint palette which first appeared as an accessory supplied with the Artist Series 14 Collectible Minifigure. The studio also incorporates a fireplace which is covered by a hinged, iron-effect door.

With Stage 4 of the build done and dusted, all that's left to do is stack the various sections, attach some vegetation to the top of the cast iron awning on the ground floor, and the Parisian Restaurant is complete (below). The row of closely-packed dark bluish grey feathers at the base of the roof section that I mentioned earlier can be seen a little more clearly if you zoom in to the picture below.

From the back (below) you can see how the rear corner terrace, outdoor staircase and rear doorways connect. There's an impressive amount of detail on view at the back of the model given that many builders will likely display the completed model in such a way that the rear won't even be visible; it's just another reminder of the care and attention that's lavished on the Modulars by the set designers.

So what's the verdict? Well, I absolutely love this set. Moreover, I reckon that it's probably my favourite Modular Building since Set 10185 Green Grocer which is really saying something since Green Grocer is my pick of all the Modulars. It's a bit of a relief, actually - having already formed a very positive impression of the set from reading reviews, scrutinising photographs and seeing the completed build at my local LEGO brand store, there was always a risk that it might not live up to my expectations when I finally got around to building it; in fact, I now have a heightened appreciation of all the little details and clever building techniques, and I like the set all the more as a result. I think the olive green and dark blue colour scheme looks great, and the overall design and proportions work beautifully. There's also some truly impressive detailing, and critically I think that these details genuinely enhance the overall appearance rather than feeling gratuitous and out of place which can sometimes be the case.

In the interests of balance I guess I should highlight a couple of possible niggles. Firstly, while I personally think that the model is elegant and nicely proportioned, some might feel that it's a bit small and not great value for money; certainly there's a fair bit of empty space on the baseplate out front and round the back, and the presence of the external staircases and the rear corner terrace further reduces the size of the actual building.  Also, there are a few incongruous patches of tan and black showing through on the outside walls as a consequence of attaching various wall-mounted interior decorations. It would however have been hard to avoid this problem without the use of a double-walled building technique similar to that employed in the recent Ghostbusters Firehouse HQ set, and in all honesty it's not a sufficiently big deal to justify the cost of all the extra bricks that would be needed. It is slightly jarring, though.

In summary, therefore, I can wholeheartedly recommend this set, both to Modular veterans (who will admittedly almost certainly have already bought it long ago....) and also to those who are new to the world of Modular Buildings and may be looking to dip a toe into the water and see what all the fuss is about. As I write, the set is still available from LEGO brand stores and online from where it'll set you back £132.99 / US$159.99 / 149.99€. Best buy it before it's retired from sale, though, or you might find that it shoots up in price on the aftermarket, similar to what's happened with many of the other best-loved Modulars. Don't say you weren't warned....

Monday, 7 March 2016


Regular readers of Gimme LEGO might recall that I signed off last time with the picture below. For the uninitiated, the picture shows a pile of LEGO 9 volt (9V) track. LEGO no longer makes 9V track, and in fact it hasn't done so for the best part of ten years now. Unlike the currently available LEGO track, which incorporates plastic rather than metal rails, 9V track is electrified via the mains electricity supply. I've written previously about the merits of 9V versus plastic track, for instance here, but in summary one of the advantages of a 9V set-up is that the trains which run on it don't need to carry their own bulky batteries, battery box or remote sensor - all you need to do is incorporate a svelte 9V motor into your LEGO train and it'll run forever. Or at least until the motor burns out or you forget to pay your electricity bill....

So that's all well and good then, but there's a catch. Because LEGO don't make 9V track any more, and because 9V is the system of choice for many LEGO enthusiasts who build and exhibit train layouts, the supply of 9V track and compatible electric motors is limited and ever diminishing. So it's hard to find in any real quantity and expensive, basically, particularly if you want your track to be dark bluish grey to match the rest of your layout rather than the more common older dark grey.

My plan had initially been to use currently available plastic track at ground level as there wouldn't be the same issue with line of sight leading to possible problems controlling the trains as there was for the enclosed lower track loop. In the end, however, I had a change of heart and decided to go with 9V track instead as it'll enable me to run a host of classic older LEGO trains such as the Santa Fe Super Chief and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Locomotive on the upper track loop in their original, unmodified form - delicious! Thankfully, as you can see from the picture above I just about managed to find what I'd need to fashion the upper track loop plus some track sidings on Bricklink, although the switch tracks (or points if you prefer) were pretty hard to find.

Laying the 9V track was very straightforward and I was quickly able to complete most of the upper track loop as you can see in the picture above. As I'd done previously when constructing the lower track loop I used dark bluish grey plates to raise the straight track sections off the base by one plate in height and rested the curved track sections on dark bluish grey tiles. I did briefly consider trying to anchor the curved sections to the base in a few places via judicious use of 2 x 2 turntables or 2 x 2 plates with one stud, but it became clear that it wasn't necessary as the curves were anchored securely at their ends and the tiles beneath offered sufficient support. I'd previously experimented with covering the exposed dark bluish grey studs on the track sections with reddish brown tiles to give the appearance of wooden sleepers, filling the gaps between sleepers and the area just outside the rails with ballast in the form of 1 x 1 dark tan plates, and adding a few plants for good measure; having been pleased with the overall effect I'm planning on decorating the rest of the upper track loop in the same way and I started with the curved track section below.

Prior to dropping the last few track sections into place I needed to spend a bit of time getting things prepped for the addition of some track sidings which would attach to the upper track loop on the right side of the layout  My first job was to extend the network of red scaffolding modules so that they ran along the entire length of the right side of the layout. With the scaffolds completed and in place I was then able to drop a number of dark bluish grey baseplates on top of them. Obviously baseplates don't have anti-studs on their lower surface, so at this stage the baseplates were just 'floating' on top of the scaffolds; the scaffolds are however specifically designed to be just the right height to support the baseplates at the same height as the neighbouring plates.

As was the case for both the lower and upper track loops, dark bluish grey plates are used to lift the track sidings up by a single plate in height, as well as securely attaching the track sections to the baseplates below. You can see the area beneath the track sidings in the pictures above and below, all ready to receive the track sections. Dark bluish grey tiles are used instead of plates where there isn't anywhere for studs to attach on the underside of the track sections but where some support is nevertheless still required, for instance beneath switch tracks.

With the area beneath the track sidings suitably prepared, all that was left to do was to attach the track sections which make up the sidings to the baseplates below and then complete the upper track loop. You can see the results in the picture below. The baseplates, which had previously just rested on top of the supporting scaffolds, are now held in position as a consequence of being attached to the tracks above, and everything seems to stay in place pretty well.

What's much more obvious in person than in the photographs is that the dark bluish grey baseplates which underpin the track sidings are significantly lighter in colour than the neighbouring dark bluish grey plates. This presumably reflects the fact that baseplates are thinner than standard plates. Given that most if not all of the baseplate area will eventually be covered with ballast or trackside structures this shouldn't be a problem, but I thought I'd mention it as the difference in colour is so marked.

Having completed the upper track loop and sidings I connected the newly-laid track to a 9V speed regulator and power adaptor and plugged the adaptor into the mains to run a quick test; I can confirm that everything is working fine, and when I've gotten around to putting together one of my classic 9V trains I'll shoot some video to prove it.

Previous City Layout update here.