|Thomas Wooden Railway|
Current Thomas Wooden Railway Logo
Learning Curve (formerly)
Thomas Wooden Railway is a popular toy range of wooden railway sets and vehicles based off Thomas and Friends. Learning Curve acquired the license to produce the line and commenced production in 1992 and continued work for nearly two decades. Learning Curve's parent company, RC2, was purchased by Tomy in 2011; production continued under the latter until 2013. The license to the range was subsequently sold to Mattel, and their subsidiary Fisher-Price has been producing the line since then.
In 1992, following the success of the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series in the United States, Learning Curve was founded by John W. Lee, and the company gained the license to produce a wooden railway system based off the Thomas franchise. Prototypes of the toys were produced during the year, and a mass release occured in 1993. The original vehicles were constructed mainly from painted Maple Wood with flat metal coupling magnets, axles and plastic for the wheels and faces, and stapled together underneath. These models, which were primarily based off illustrations used in material such as the official magazines, were relatively simple, with simple wooden stubs for the funnel and dome, painted coal in tenders, and details such as windows, whistles, and bufferbeams omitted. Buildings, destinations, bridges, tunnels, and accessories were crafted with printed illustrations, and the wooden track was designed to be a standard plain track. Production took place in the United States.
In 1994, production of the range moved to China and the quality of the products improved with staples removed from the bottom of vehicles, and dates were printed on the wheels. The track was redesigned to a patented "Clickity-Clack" Track, which were grooved in order to make a sound when vehicles were pushed along. The sets didn't use the "Clickity-Clack" Track until 1995. In 1995, vehicles recieved rounded magnets, but due to a surplus at the factory, many could be still found with flat magnets. The first volume of the Yearbook was released this year, and has continued to be published annually with the exception of 2012. In 1997 the vehicles were updated again with thicker wheels. Track Packs were also introduced this year featuring a Builder's Guide containing diagrams of layout ideas to expand with sets, which are still being produced. During the first few years of production, the line was gradually released internationally, and the amount of products expanded with more vehicles featuring characters that had recently debuted in the television series, as well as characters who were only seen in The Railway Series, and larger destinations and sets such as the Roundhouse. Products also began retiring in order to keep production levels consistant.
In 1999, the vehicles recieved more realistic plastic funnels and a lump of moulded plastic coal was used for the tender engines. Character Cards were also included included with vehicles featuring a picture of the item with a description on the other side. The Character Cards continued to be included with vehicles in the US until 2010, although they continued in Europe until 2013. In 2000, the line recieved a new logo, and vehicles now had their names printed underneath. Products recieved toy awards during these years, and a range of home accessories incorporating the Wooden Railway were produced. Battery-Powered engines were also released during this year which were made with metal bodies, and have been the longest of engine variations produced.
In 2002, the line recieved one of its biggest changes to date. The main characters were updated with bodies made primarily of plastic, new designs with added details such as strips on boilers, and new faces based off the illustrations used on Thomas material at the time. Minor changes were added over the next few years such as particular details added on a vehicle, and ledges on the backs of vehicles removed. The track was also redesigned with realistic details printed and the rails added traction specifically for the Battery-Powered engines. A road system was also made, with the road being printed on the other side of the track and a range of destinations were made for the road vehicles. The road system was quietly scrapped a few years later due to its limitations of layout possiblities, as well as struggles with how to fit it in track layout plans. The road is still printed however on straight track pieces. Vehicles consisting of two interactive cars of rolling stock not seen in any Thomas material were gradually released during these years in order to hold childrens' interests. Most of these cars would be in production for a short time.
In 2004, the Sights and Sounds range was made, which featured several new buildings with added sounds and lights, although a portion of these products had been released in the previous two years. Deluxe versions of existing buildings such as Cranky and the Roundhouse were made in the range, and more were released up until 2008. In 2006, Lights and Sounds engines of Thomas, James, and the following year, Percy, were produced to tie-in with the Sights and Sounds line. From 2006, a yearly trend occured with two to three previously discontinued vehicles were re-released for a limited time, usually for a DVD tie-in. Re-released vehicles had a new design, although some vehicles which were discontinued later kept the same design. The use of plastic in products increased over the years for cost effective reasons, however the track remained to be wooden.
In 2007, the line recieved an updated logo, although newer products would not recieve a packaging redesign until the following year. Over 20 items currently in production using red and yellow paint were recalled this year due to containing lead. Another recall with a smaller number of items using grey and black paint occured later in the year which also contained lead. Common products which had previously been affected were put back on the market the following year. From this year and onwards, new products with occasional images were revealed several months before their release and various online shops, usually of characters and destinations that were yet to appear in the television series.
In 2008, the Talking Railway Series was made, featuring engines with gold magnets and interactive destinations which enabled Sir Topham Hatt at those destinations to talk to the engines. In 2009, several products were released after the initial releases of the full year's range, however most of them were products intended to be new for 2010. The 2010 Yearbook acknowledges some of the vehicle releases as new for 2010, whilst the 2009 volume omits certain sets which were released that same year. A large amount of products were cancelled as well. Pamplets were not included with items anymore from this year, however they remained in European releases. The pamplets did return to vehicles in the US in 2013, however they focus only on engines. In 2010, the Early Engineers line was released. This was aimed at very young beginners with larger, chunkier engines, and simple playsets. The line also recieved a new logo and individual track pieces were discontinued in this year.
In 2011, engines had updated faces to match the design seen in the CGI television series. Various diesel characters were re-released to tie-in with the Day of the Diesels special. During this year, Tomy acquired RC2, and products were released the following year with the Tomy logo on the packaging. A deal with Mattel meant that the Wooden Railway was to be produced by Fisher-Price from 2013. In 2012, no new products were made by Tomy. New products which were released had already been produced by Learning Curve, however some products which were due to be released in late 2012 were cancelled since they were unfinished. Updated versions and re-releases of Narrow Gauge characters were released to tie-in with the special, Blue Mountain Mystery. Various other products were re-released to clear out remaining stock such as Pack vehicles, repainted destinations with engines, and smaller versions of sets.
In 2013, a new Wooden Railway was released by Fisher-Price. Products were redesigned to be safer for children. Vehicles also gained wheel dates corresponding to the year produced for the first time since 2003. Some destination and set designs originally made by Learning Curve kept the same basic design, and products cancelled the previous year were released this year. In 2014, a dedicated online store and product e-catalog launched in August.
The TWR line has had 5 logos since 1992/1993. It also has had 4 different cardbacks and 5 different labels not entirely on par with each other.
- 1992/1993-1996 "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" in smoke puff.
- 1996-2000 "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" in smoke puff with Thomas pulling Annie and Clarabel.
- 2000-2008 " Thomas and Friends" in smoke puff with Thomas in red circle and red "Wooden Railway" ribbon.
- 2008-2010 "Thomas and Friends" in smoke puff with Thomas in a wooden circle and red "Wooden Railway" ribbon.
- 2010-present "Thomas and Friends" in smoke puff with red "Wooden Railway" ribbon.
- 1992/1993-1994 Green hills and valleys.
- 1994-1996 Thomas with Annie and Clarabel in a valley.
- 1996-2008 Blue with blue offset stripes.
- 2008-present Blue with blue offset stripes and large wood stripe on the left.
- 1992/1993-1995 Smoke puff
- 1995-1996 White "badge"
- 1996- 2000 Brown label
- 2000-2008 Red label
- 2008-present Yellow label
Consumers have complained to Learning Curve for several reasons, but the major focus is about how they "classify" the track pieces. They officially refer to pieces with connections with the front as "male" and a recieving connector as "female". This is alleged to be a reference to the anatomical configurations of human sexual organs. Parents and fans have often complained, although their requests for a referral change are seemingly ignored, as Learning Curve's designation remains.
Models and design
An early complaint by buyers was toward the omissions the models had. This is no longer an ongoing complaint, due to the evolution of detail the models have gone through.
Currently, the controversy has inverted, as complains of "overly detailed" models "hurting the creative process of children--'the original purpose of the Wooden Railway'" are spoken by parents and older collectors.
In addition, more crises have sprung up around the faces of characters. Often the faces do not look like the character in the Television Series/Railway Series would have (ex.: D199, Thomas, Henry, Gordon, Sir Handel, Duncan).
Television/Railway Series characters
Fans complained that Learning Curve only produced TV Series characters, while several Railway Series characters' models have been discontinued. The fervor behind this grievance has simmered down with the 2013 reintroduction of Flying Scotsman and D199 under Fisher-Price.
Another widespread complaint is focused on "non-canon" cars. This is about how the cars Learning Curve designed, as well as Fisher-Price, not appearing in the Railway Series or Television Series. Many people refute that this is aim of products toward "babies to four year-olds", when collectors often assert this stuff is "practically worth nothing." The cars' popularity with collectors is limited.
On the first version of Bertie, a man smoking a pipe is visible. It is either Because of this or due to save money on paint, later versions don't have any passengers.