“ Brand: Fisher Price / Type: Tracks & Connectors „
~x~x~x~ An Awkward Request ~x~x~x~
My two year old son is obsessed with Thomas & Friends, I've got loads of episodes and films saved to Sky+ for him to watch but sometimes he sits at You Tube with one of his bigger sisters and views videos of other children playing with a range of Thomas toys and tracks - I think it's weird, but it makes him happy, and also gives him (and me!) inspiration for toys to buy him for birthdays and occasional treats. It works well, the things he generally finds amusing on the screen I know he'll love 'in the flesh' and if he jumps up and down in excitement while pointing at the screen I'm pretty positive it's something he REALLY, REALLY wants.
We hit a problem earlier this year however, when David started asking for a Shake, Shake Bridge. He'd only recently gotten into the whole motorised TrackMaster thing and I wasn't quite sure which sets to buy him, after making quite an expensive mistake when I purchased him a large TrackMaster track which was (and still in really) beyond his capabilities to get the most from the toy. The Shake, Shake Bridge looked like a fantastic basic round track and the videos on You Tube made it look a lot of fun - it looked to be slightly interactive but not so much as to tax a small person too much, the 'mistake' TrackMaster I had previously bought him was far too many levers and switches for him to cope with and this set looked far better suited to his young age.
The problem was this particular set isn't available in the UK, you'll find sets on Ebay at vastly inflated prices (the catalogue price for the Shake, Shake Bridge was £30 but it's selling for upwards of £50 in used condition on Ebay) but I didn't really want to buy second hand as I wanted the option of putting it away for Christmas if it seemed too large a present to give him just for the sake of it. In the end I purchased it from amazon.com and had a friend of my mums bring it over in her suitcase when she came to visit over the summer, I didn't get the box after all as TrackMaster notoriously comes in absolutely massive boxes but when unboxed the components are actually quite compact so I gave permission for the friend to take it all out of the box and save herself some room to pack her clothes!
~x~x~x~ What's In The Box? ~x~x~x~
This set comprises seven pieces of curved track, the bridge itself, four supports and a motorised Thomas engine. The track is a deep brown as opposed to the grey of David's other sets, I suppose this would be effective if you have lots of TrackMaster sets and the space to connect them into one large track and in all honesty I find it a little bit more interesting to have a track that's a different colour to the rest of our collection.
The front piece of track has been decorated with splashes of green to make you think of a countryside setting; in the Thomas & Friends show the Shake, Shake Bridge is located on Misty Island, a place where the engines go to collect wood for the buildings on Sodor - Misty Island is uninhabited (apart from three, frankly mentalist, engines who look after the wood) and I think this is shown really nicely in a very basic way just from the colour scheme of the track.
This is a raised track so won't easily connect to other TrackMaster sets, we don't have the room to connect them all together anyway so this isn't an issue for us but I'd say this is one of the least versatile of all the sets I've seen. I think David actually likes the fact that it's raised off the floor, the first few times he played with it he kept leaning on it and breaking the track but he soon learned how to handle it and since then we've had no problems - I've noticed him peering at the space between the track and the floor so know he recognises the fact that it's 'different' from his other tracks.
~x~x~x~ Off To A Shaky Start ~x~x~x~
Assembling the track was extremely easy, it comes with a simple instruction sheet which is self explanatory just through looking at the illustrations without even reading the words. Each section of track is marked with a letter so you can work out which piece goes where, despite the fact they're all curved you do have to get them in the correct order otherwise the final piece just won't fit regardless of how easily the others went together! The track is embossed to look slightly distressed and there are obvious logs on the line as well as the edges of the track being thick and 'messy' looking to make the set look more unkempt and natural, I love how the front piece of track (the one with the green on) is thicker than the rest and the way it has been shaped to look like it's going to give Thomas a bumpier ride than usual - the space where the wheels go is as straight as ever and it's really surprising how a little clever moulding can give a completely different impression.
I found the supports to be a bit of a nightmare as it wasn't clear on the instructions where they were supposed to be placed, and if you try to assemble the track with all four supporting pieces as far back as on ANY generic photos (including Dooyoos) it just doesn't work as the front of the track sags down too much. Eventually we opted for an asymmetrical placement with the two taller supports at the very back near the bridge component and the two smaller ones placed further forward but not level with one another - this was the only way I could get the track to balance and stay in one piece while David was playing with it, although obviously if you decide to buy this set it's completely up to you how you set it up.
The problem occurred when we decided to test out the track while David was at nursery - the bridge wouldn't work properly at all and I thought I'd made another 'disaster buy' but Mark managed to fix it without too much messing around. The main appeal of the Shake, Shake Bridge is that you stand up the three pale sections of the bridge and they fall down when Thomas (or any other TrackMaster engine) goes past - the problem is these sections don't lock into place and are very loosely fitted in order that they will fall down each time, ours didn't stand up. And if they did they'd flop back down as soon as the vibration of the running train touched the track even if Thomas was on the other side of the track! Ultra annoying and something that needed to be fixed before David played with the set as it would have frustrated him too much - Mark simply stressed them into place by fixing an elastic band around the upright bridge sections and leaving it for an hour, it worked well but he does have to do this quite regularly so it's not an ideal long-term fix. I've noticed if David is particularly taken with this set one day the bridge will gradually get looser and looser, at his age he's not too fussed about this and will happily play with the track with the bridge in its 'down' position but I feel this is quite a big design flaw and something that TrackMaster should have done better.
~x~x~x~ Does It Live Up To David's Expectations? ~x~x~x~
Oh yes, it's safe to say he's obsessed with this toy. He plays with it every single day for at least a few minutes and I've noticed it's the set he'll go to when he's getting visibly bored of his wooden and other TrackMaster tracks. He laughs like crazy at the bumpy motion of Thomas as he makes his way around the track and makes 'wheeee' noises when the track itself wobbles on its supports, which it's supposed to do to give the impression of being a wild ride as shown in the Misty Island Rescue movie. It's good really, the track pieces fit together incredibly closely so they bond well but the fact that the track is raised up off the floor means it will obviously move slightly as the weight of the train goes along - you can see the track swaying slightly and this effect becomes more intense if you add one of the connecting trucks to the engine and thereby add more weight.
The track section that spans the bridge is made up of small 2" pieces which are loosely connected together (this comes as a complete unit so you don't have to connect them yourself), these wobble slightly as Thomas passes over them and again David finds this extremely exciting to watch - the beauty of the Shake, Shake Bridge set is that Thomas falls off sometimes when he's wobbled too much and loses his grip on the track, this is uproariously funny to a little boy who is approaching his third birthday and part of this is because we teach him to be careful with his toys so he's in awe of a playset that actually promotes accidents! I love listening to him giggle as he watches Thomas go round and round, as I've already mentioned he's equally happy when he's just using it as a track as when the bridge is being utilised as it should be - and that makes me happy as mum because it shows he's using his imagination as well as grasping the basic concept of the set.
David is a little bemused about having ANOTHER motorised Thomas as this (admittedly main) character is included in every TrackMaster set we own, he now has three Thomas engines and three different characters and I think it would be nice for them to ring the changes and offer more of a variety of engines in these sets. I do love the fact that Thomas has a different facial expression to the otherwise identical engines in David's collection and we can easily tell him apart from them as his eyebrows are raised, seemingly in anticipation of his upcoming trip across the scary Shake, Shake Bridge. David recognises this particular engine as belonging to this set because of the face and I think it's kind of cool that TrackMaster have shown attention to detail like this.
~x~x~x~ Worth A 3500 Mile Journey ~x~x~x~
Absolutely! I paid $49.95 plus shipping for this Shake, Shake Bridge set and waited patiently for mums friend to come over and deliver it to me, and I am thrilled with my decision to buy it. David loves it every bit as much as I thought he would and it's proved to be an excellent purchase, not least because the lack of availability here in the UK means it's almost one of a kind (it's not, but you get my meaning!) so David is likely to be the only child in his circle who has this specific TrackMaster set.
The recommended age for the set is 3 years and above, but I suspect this is more to do with ability than it being a safety issue. David has been playing with his since he was two and a half and I've never had any qualms about the safety of it - I suppose the wheels or wheel rods on the train could pose a choking hazard, but they're so well connected to the body of the train that I can't envisage any time these would break off and end up in David's mouth. I'm more than happy for him to play with the Shake, Shake Bridge despite him being younger than recommended, it's teaching him a little about patience and I've also noticed he's a little more careful than usual when playing with this TrackMaster set as he doesn't want the bridge to fall over until Thomas is ready to knock it down.