Meanwhile, Triang were producing some amazing items to improve the play value of impatient and easily bored children like myself, by adding action features to the train sets. These initially included a zoo wagon with a giraffes head which would dutifully duck as it passed an overhead barrier and a cool mail train that collected tiny mailbags from a hook next to the track and deposit them elsewhere in a special hopper, all completely automatically. Soon the company added more exciting features such as the rocket launcher truck and the rescue helicopter and searchlight truck which used an electric searchlight and launching copter. As the Space Race infused toy lines with a need to include rockets and missiles, Triang introduced the Battle Space theme. Although no distinct 'enemy' was ever identified and the space element was never truly apparent, the trains all took on a distinctly military flavour. Some of the rolling stock was simple retooling of existing models such as the early exploding wagon and rocket launcher, but other models had special modifications such as the zoo car having the giraffe replaced by a sniper and a coat of olive drab instead of yellow. Drawing on its Minic experience, Battlespace included some cool tanks and gun emplacements, all fitted with streamlined missiles which could be launched by hand.
The Strike Force Ten set initially included a catapult launched card airplane to take the battle into the garden for the more daring and the bomb truck carried a large red cap fired bomb which could be thrown about to detonate on hard ground.
For some reason my dad was never keen on the military trains or the military cars from the first matchbox ranges, so I never got any of the Battlespace series at the time. I have picked up a couple of loose models since then. The helicopter wagon shown below and the figures are from my current collection, but the copter and figures are from a Blue Box army set available at the same time, which copied the Triang copter almost identically. It does not, however include the mechanism to enable the wagon to launch the copter.
Again because most of the models have firing missiles, finding complete versions today is very difficult although there are reproduction parts available.
As the Battlespace series peaked, the first real space themed model arrived in the form of the satellite launcher. A variation on the copter car, the satellite launcher included a small 'propellor' shaped satellite that shoots off after running over a trackside switch. The tender behind the truck had a revolving radar and a small light. Following on from this came the superb Turbo Car. Initially it appeared in Issue 11 of the Triang catalogue as a different beast, a low slung yellow affair, but the production version was a garish red vehicle complete with ramming spike and a large yellow propellor that spun madly as it charged around the track, very distant from the slow shunting locos of earlier years!
STOP PRESS - just this morning found evidence in a Tri-ang catalogue of marketing of Lionel models. US companies train sets had almost identical army and space themed toys. More to follow in the future.