What's On Joe's Mind?

Very Affordable "Magic"
(see video below)

     I searched sporadically for several years to find a set of Peanuts figures that were approximately the same scale as the Lionel Snoopy and Woodstock handcar figures. I had given up hope of finding a nice set. As I was browsing online a few days into the new year, I stumbled upon a set of Charlie Brown Christmas figures that were practically just right!

A 3 dimensional rendering of Charlie Brown, to my liking, is very hard to find regardless of scale. The basic problem is in taking a 2 dimensional carton character and making it in 3 dimensions. It helps if Charlie Brown wears a hat because modeling his round head can be problematic. Well, the sculptor who did these figures was excellent!!! But now comes the part that can get a little tricky. How do I fit the handcar in with the Christmas t.v. special figures set? Well the solution was very simple and right before my eyes. Fortunately I had already modified the handcar by adding a gondola car.
All I needed to do was change the fake coal load to a load of Christmas ornaments, like those Snoopy used on his contest-winning dog house display that later decorated the little evergreen tree. Well, this doesn't really reenact the storyline of the original t.v. special, but it gives the handcar a purpose in a small themed vignette, on or off of the layout. Here a small amount of track can circle the figures as if they are awaiting a delivery of ornaments for the little tree.

     So, you don't need a theme, but it is better to tell a story rather than just set up a group of figures without a purpose. My point is that simple! The theme of these new figures has been created by the storyline and sculptor, so my job was easy. (Perhaps the figures could be converted to a railroading theme by placing shovels and barrels in their hands, with the coal load left in the gondola.) And the lesson to be learned here is that eventually you will find (or make) the things you need for your display or layout. The online auctions are great for finding things that are no longer manufactured, but just keeping an eye out for new toy "action" figures will at least inspire you to develop the themes you need. Take advantage of the after Christmas time period to work on new Christmas ideas for the upcoming Christmas holiday of 2007, like in this example. You often have more time and can find discounted merchandise after the typical Christmas shopping season. Don't like the after-Christmas let-down? Work on new Christmas projects!!!! The time is right!

     Although the point can be argued, the new figures do work, in terms of scale, with the figures on the handcar. If you have followed the comic strip over the years, this combination of Charlie Brown with Snoopy is visually acceptable.

The load in the gondola car is just some homemade polymer clay ornaments. A few polymer clay snowballs (not pictured here) were made for Linus.

     Here is the set of Charlie Brown Christmas figures (minus the 2 Snoopy figures that came with the set), with the handcar in the background. They were manufactured as tree ornaments, with moveable arms and heads, that are also free-standing if you remove the little chains, hooks, and eye loops. The holes where the loops were removed were patched with latex caulk and painted to match the surrounding area of their heads. Ornaments designed for a Christmas tree can often be used with train displays. I have even found die-cast O scale automobiles, designed to be used as tree ornaments, that are just perfect on the layout. How will this new vignette be used? With a 27" diameter circle of O27 track on a small end table, an idea to keep in the back of your mind for use when space is limited and the desire to set up a little display, with some action, is great! A circle of GarGraves flexible track might be cheated down to a 22-24 inch diameter circle of track for the handcar. It would be nice if Lionel could offer such a set of figures with a reissuing of the Snoopy and Woodstock handcar, and a small circle of track with a simple wall transformer. Might be very popular and bring new people into the O27 Lionel toy train hobby.

     Can a single item, like a cartoon character on a handcar, bring new people into the hobby? Probably, but business decisions are not make on just gut feelings, but rather on sound research. (There is the story where the Lionel company was saved by the sales of a wind-up Mickey Mouse handcar during the Depression, so handcar sales can be very profitable.) I imagine that Lionel has done the research and testing, and know their market very well. Are licensing fees for cartoon characters too great to make the venture profitable? Could be. I'd like to think that I have looked past my own narrow focus and seen the potential for great success for Lionel in reissuing the Snoopy and Woodstock handcar. In my own limited, unscientific observations, people, adults and children, very much like the handcar when they see it in operation, and I have had a few people ask me where they can get one and how much it costs. They were unaware that the handcar hasn't been produced since approximately 1990-1991. (This handcar always does very well on eBay.) Would these people lay out about $60 (and the cost of track and transformer if they don't already have trains) for a handcar? Hard to say. Lionel must have the answers and good reasons for their decisions. One thing I can say with certainty is that the handcars must be seen in operation to be fully appreciated, so just looking at a handcar in the box or on display isn't enough to capture the potential buyer's interest.

     The Charlie Brown Christmas special defined and fleshed out the Charles Schulz characters beyond what had been created in the comic strip. Whoever cast the child actors' voices was brilliant! And the animators also gave more depth to the characters. It was a very important moment for the cartoon characters and sadly the other Schulz animated specials just don't measure up. But don't forget that wonderful music by Vince Guaraldi, which also helped to define the characters and spirit of the special. A collaborative effort at its very best!!!!! I play the sound track from the special while I run the handcar. One nice thing about just running the handcar around is that it is very quiet compared to even a small train, and quite soothing with the music in the background. The Guaraldi piece called "Linus and Lucy" works so well with Snoopy pumping the handle of the handcar! Get the speed of the pumping to match the tempo of the music, and you'll have a real treat!

     Why my intense interest in the subject? My purchase of the Snoopy and Woodstock handcar (back in about 1991) was a turning point for me in my renewed interest in the hobby. Not the sole reason, but it helped and it sustained me as I was awaiting the circumstances that provided for a large basement layout. If I were to sell hobby and toy items as a retailer, either in a store or online, I would have to show this item in action on the rails. I have a few simple yet clever ideas for an interactive display for a store window. Again from my own unscientific observations, I see that Snoopy is very popular. And this handcar exhibits the special camaraderie between Snoopy and Woodstock. I think any beloved cartoon character has a good chance on a handcar. There was the popularity of the troll doll many years ago, not to mention the pet rock, but we don't want just a fad, but rather a sustained interest. I feel that the Snoopy handcar has a better chance to attract new attention and new interest in the hobby if it were seen as a substitute for an under-the-tree train and as an alternative to the Christmas village. It would need to be displayed with interesting elements, like the other Charles Schulz characters. Considering that the above figures cost about $3 each (retail) on average with shipping, I gather that some affordable set could be assembled. One simple change I would like to see Lionel do if they reissue the handcar is that they paint that little rubbery block (box that Snoopy stands on) a brown box-like color. I have had some very enjoyable operating sessions recently just playing with the old handcar and the new Schulz figures in a simple figure eight track arrangement on my kitchen table, and I have run the handcar on the dining room table while serving dessert. I will do it again whenever I get the chance! It evokes a wonderful feeling!!!

     Add up the price of the handcar, figures, and sound track CD, and you have some very affordable magic!

My Videos on YouTube

Click here to view a video clip of the handcar done with a gold mining theme on the big layout.

The figures modified for non-Christmas use.

[for the best photos of this project]

Here is a great source for various figures: Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Peanuts figures from Time & Space Toys

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