Category:Hornby Dublo

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Hornby Dublo

1938 - 1964

Meccano Ltd.'s 00-gauge model railway range, Hornby-Dublo (for "Double-Oh") was launched in 1938 as a fully-fledged system, with locomotives, rolling-stock, track, scenery and stations.

After WW2, the system essentially took over from gauge 0 as Meccano Ltd's main model railway format. "Dublo" lasted until ~1964, when Meccano Ltd were taken over by Lines Brothers, who already had their own 00-gauge model railway range.

Launch, 1938

By 1938, Meccano Ltd decided that they couldn't hold off on producing a miniature table railway system any longer, and launched Hornby-Dublo.

The need for a format that was smaller than Gauge 0 had been apparent for some time. Bing had tried a half-size table railway system in the 1920s before going bust, but it had been pushing the boundaries of what was then technically achievable. Some of the ex-Bing team had then joined forces again with Bassett-Lowke's Henry Greenly to produce the Trix Express and Trix Twin Railway (TTR) systems in the mid-thirties.

The new Trix model railways were a noticeable improvement on their Bing ancestors, but inherited a few archaic features like AC power and clunky wheels. Beaten to the market by Trix, and unwilling to involve themselves in a price war, Hornby seem to have decided that their system would make better use of the latest technical advances, and set out to build the "Rolls Royce" of table railway systems.

The new Hornby system adopted the slightly oversized 4mm/foot "00" 1:76 scale that Greenly had used, so that the third-party trackside accessories, buildings and scenery designed to work with Trix model railways could be used with both systems, avoiding a format war.

The first Hornby implementation of "Double-Oh" (Hornby-Dublo) had drawn brass rails on raised metal bases, making the track practically indestructable. the electric version of Hornby Dublo was launched as a familiar three-rail system, with "points" sections so extravagantly over-engineered that that when their boxes were opened they almost looked like pieces of jewellery. The 1938 Dublo rolling-stock had lithographed printed tinplate sidewalls like their larger Gauge 0 stablemates, but the locomotives had heavy diecast bodyshells whose weight helped the locos grip the track, and whose accurate shapes and gorgeous paintwork leveraged Meccano Ltd.'s specialist experience gained from manufacturing Dinky Toys.

Dublo had finer-scale wheels than Trix, and Dublo used DC rather than AC current. Using AC meant that a power supply didn't have to be much more than a step-down transformer, but meant that to make a locomotive run backwards required a complicated and unreliable sensor system that would switch the direction of the loco's motor in response to a deliberate "glitch" introduced on the power rails. By contrast, Dublo's DC power system required more expensive power supplies, but a DC-motored loco could be reversed simply by reversing the polarity of the voltage on the rails, which worked, as the company pointed out, "every time!".

The Dublo range launched with just two locomotives: A tank loco, and a blue streamlined "Sir Nigel Gresley" LNER A4 passenger express locomotive, each in clockwork and electric versions.

An unstreamlined passenger loco was scheduled for 1939 (the "Duchess of Atholl" set), but the outbreak of World War Two meant that it couldn't go into production until after hostilities had ceased.

1939: Duchess of Atholl in the Hornby Book of Trains

After WW2 it became clear that that age of gauge 0 as a popular format was now over, and Hornby's Dublo range expanded to replace it. The gauge 0 range which had reached such a high-point in the late 1930s contracted back to clockwork-only 0-4-0 locomotive models and a limited range of simplified rolling stock and accessories, and 00-gauge (and H0 gauge outside Britain) now ruled the roost.

Meccano Magazine, November 1938

" The Hornby-Dublo System, Gauge 00, marks a wonderful advance towards the ideal home railway. By means of it a complete and realistic layout can be developed in very limited space. It is the perfect table railway.
Hornby-Dublo Trains are unique in their scale accuracy and beauty of finish. They have been designed with the co-operation of the Railway Companies, who supplied special photographs and scale drawings. The Trains in motion are fascinating to watch. The Locomotives are fitted with motors, either clockwork or electric, of a power and reliability never before achieved in this gauge. The Remote Control of the Electric Locomotives is perfect - starting, stopping, reversing and speed regulation are all carried out by the movement of one lever. The control is positive. Move the lever to "Forward" and the train goes forward; move it to "Backward" and the train goes backward - every time!
The track consists of solid drawn brass rails, giving the greatest electrical conductivity, mounted on a realistic metal base. All vehicles are fitted with pressure die-cast wheels that ensure perfectly smooth running. Automatic couplings, which link at any point on the track, are to all Coaches, Vans and Wagons. The Signals are realistic working models of the latest upper-quadrant type. The Buffer Stops have working heads.
The Main Line Station, which is constructed in wood, is a splendid model in the modern style. It will accommodate a 3-Coach Train, and by means of printed slips provided can be named "Berwick" (L.N.E.R.). "Penrith" (L.M.S.). "Truro" (G.W.R.) or "Ashford" (S.R.). as desired. An Island Platform of similar style can be used either separately or in conjunction with the Main Line Station. There is also a Goods Depot for goods traffic.
Hornby-Dublo Electric Trains operate on Direct Current at 12 volts. This current may be obtained either from Alternating Current Mains Supply through a Dublo Transformer, or from a 12-volt accumulator. The Dublo Transformers are specially designed for these Trains, and no others should be used.
Hornby-Dublo Trains are one seventy-sixth of the size of real trains. They enable you to lay out a complete railway on your dining table! "

Development and two-rail problems

After WW2, Hornby dropped the Dublo clockwork locomotives and kept with the three-rail electric system. However, the "bombproof" three-rail track was expensive, and while children often aspired to own a Hornby train set, their parents often bought the cheaper Trix. Hornby launched their cheaper two-rail system using plastic sleepers in 1959 with both track systems appearing in the the 1959 Hornby Dublo Book of Trains.

While the Dublo rolling-stock had been updated in advance of the appearance of two-rail to have insulated axles so that it could run on either system without shorting out the track, Hornby were back to having two versions of each locomotive – a two-rail and a three-rail version – and the effort of having two systems was a strain on the company's resources.

Hornby's original points system was designed for electrical reliability, but required special insulating sections to prevent "shorts", leaving some customers annoyed that the new "cheaper and simpler" two-rail system was actually creating more complexity, especially since there were some sorts of layout, such as a closed loop at the end of a spur, which would cause a polarity-reversal in the tracks and create short-circuits unless more of the special extra "insulating track" sections were used.

This didn't please existing three-rail Dublo owners, some of whom were already annoyed that the two-rail system often wasn't as conducive to a good electrical contact between locomotive and track - with two-rail, the wheels tended to roll a layer of dust and grease onto the track, whereas with three-rail, the centre "electrical" rail was constantly scraped by the loco's electrical pickup, cleaning it, while the return path went through two sets of rolled contacts, so there was only one "troublesome" rail connection, which was shared over two sets of wheels and rails, reducing the risk of a problem serious enough to stop a train.

Hornby responded to the problem of points complexity by releasing new "Simplec" points (~1963) which didn't need isolator sections, but these appeared quite late in Dublo's life.

The end of Dublo

The difficulties in the switch to two-rail is blamed by some for Meccano Ltd.'s financial problems, but the "indestructible" Dublo designs, with their high-quality metal bases and solid cast-metal locomotive chassis were inherently expensive to produce, especially when other manufacturers were embracing plastic and cheaper construction methods. While cheaper train-set designs could be continuously improved in quality, Dublo could not easily be manufactured more cheaply without a switch in manufacturing methods, at which point the company would be at a disadvantage compared to competitors who had been using those methods for years.

While enthusiasts might be happy to pay a premium for quality and longevity, parents who just wanted to put a train set of some sort under the Christmas tree often chose cheaper alternatives to Hornby. Hornby started producing more and more plastic-bodied pieces, but its use of newer manufacturing technologies came too late to save the company.

Lines Brothers ("Tri-ang") bought Meccano Ltd. and announced a merger of the Triang and Hornby ranges, now named Tri-ang Hornby. However, in effect, the main result of the acquisition was that Dublo was finished. "Triang Hornby" "used Triang-format track and Triang-format couplings – the company released an adaptor wagon and adaptor section of track to allow Dublo two-rail users to migrate to the new system, but once the unsold stockpiles of Dublo that had built up before the takeover were gone, the new Triang Hornby range was, almost without exception, descended from Triang's model railway range made by Rovex Plastics rather than Hornby Dublo.

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