Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Rocket Tube Diaries PART 1

Wow...I thought I had most of this done...I still spent over 4 hours doing this article today...PHEW....Finally...I introduce to you...

The Rocket Tube Diaries.

  A "NEVER BEFORE SEEN" Micronauts Homeworld Blog Exclusive featuring the infamous HMS Rocket Tube Blueprints with supporting article written by Ray Miller.

The year 2000 saw some new changes in the world.  Computers were storming the world.  Everyone was trying to cash in on it.  Ebay being no exception.  But Ebay kind of took everyone by surprise.  Before it evolved into the evil monster it has become, it was a new found way to finally get those items that one needed for their collections.  Finally one place to go to to be able to see if what you needed was available.  If not, computers at least allowed one to 'hunt' for whatever they needed with greater ease than ever before offered.  No more expensive trips to trade shows.  Ebay was born.

I always say, 'Don't throw it away, throw it on Ebay'.  Because someone always thinks your junk is better than theirs.  And back around 2000 and up till about 2004 or 2005, people began going through their attics realizing that their own treasure trove of junk might actually be valuable to the right person.  And then everything hit the market.  People for whatever the reasons had their little 'thing'.  Everyone of us has something.  Fishing/cooking/action figures, whatever.  We could now find the things related to what interested us.  And the lists were endless.

In the case of Micronauts, Bubbletrons were seen every few months.  A market was born.  People began assigning values to various things.  Price guides were now useless as the availability of alot of items that were before considered hard to get became available regularly. Slowly people filled their collections.  And as they did, Ebay evolved and more people began to get interested in various things that made up their hobbies.  And items once thought neat and nifty and commonplace...disappeared.  More and more people became interested and as the internet grew so did demand on a dwindling supply. 

Some were fortunate enough to occasionally be in the right place at the right time.  While Ebay has become a place where most sellers believe every item they have is rare and swear at you if you tell them different, you can still get good deals from practical people.  Other times however,  you have to factor in just how important is it to you.  While yes Ebay has organized a place where for the most part we can find almost anything we want, it can come with a price.  Like anything...How BADLY do you want it?  Lets face it...if after 10 years of searching you finally find that 1 item in the condition you wanted on Ebay, but its $20, $30...even $50 more than you know its worth...are you willing to wait another 10 years to see another one?  Maybe longer?

I cant exactly remember when.  I believe it was back around 2004 or 2005.  I used to spend hours a day searching Ebay.  Checking misspelled versions of things I was looking for.  Believe it or not, for some people that IS their job.  And I came across an Ebay seller who had some of the original HMS Micronaut Rocket Tube Blueprints.  Sometimes you have to be greedy.  I saw them and realized their intrinsic value.  While to some they might think it ok to sell off page by page.  I didnt.  I set out to get as many as were available to be able to keep them together as a set.  At the time I really didnt even desire them in my collection.  But I saw the loss of alot of information if they weren't kept as a set.  So I set out to obtain as many as I could.  I at first missed one of the prints that was auctioned off to another collector.  But seeing my desire and understanding what I was trying to do, this collector made arrangements to have the blueprint he had obtained donated to the set I had assembled.

Special thanks go to Phil Stevens of the UK.

Seeing my obvious interest and with the fees Ebay was now slowly ever increasing, The original seller offered me all the drawings he had and promised to inform me if he came across any more.  While I dont believe for a moment that I have every blueprint or drawing related to the Micronauts Rocket Tubes and various other items, I believe I have managed to put together a very rare set of documents that shows just what MEGO had in mind and how they looked at things.

These NEVER seen before drawings and blueprints were lent to Micronaut Historian Ray Miller, who graciously gave up alot of his time to study, analyze and offer his opinions on what he found.  The following is a short compilation of drawings with accompanying  article by Ray Miller.  Shortly after this article was done, another subsequent batch of blueprints and drawings emerged that as of yet have yet to be seen by anyone in the Micronaut Community. 

I have been meaning to get all the drawings and blueprints put to disk for easier viewing, but its not something that is always at the front of my mind. So the pictures following this article are exactly that.  Pictures taken of the actual documents.

"The Secret Ambition Of Rocket Tubes"   As written by Ray Miller

Thanks to Gold_Dober we've been given a rare look into several lost pieces of the Interchangeable World of the Micronauts: A set of ambitious plans to expand on Mego's daring and unfortunately unsuccessful-Rocket Tubes System.

 While it has been alternately implied and speculated that Rocket Tubes was a concept abandoned by Takara, the toy was actually conceived and patented almost exactly as we know them now by toy and product designer Gordon Barlow, and engineered by the now-legendary toy and hobby design firm "H>M>S> Associates" of Pennsylvania.  The molds for the toy system-which were confirmed to exist in their entirety as of 2005 and went unsold at an industry auction-were created by PAC (later to become PAC Toys) in New Jersey.

Patent Drawing

Patent Drawing

Patent Drawing
Patent Drawing

File Envelope
File Index of Drawings
Complex, sprawling and created with a tremendous amount of ambition, Rocket Tubes proved to be far too expensive for retail buyers, required too much shelf space for most retailers, and contained so many bugs and problems that it rarely worked with anywhere near the exciting results seen in the television commercials promoting it. The product was a flop, and it now costs more to mail than it will generally fetch at Ebay.

A cross section of a standard tube
 Had Rocket Tubes worked as intended for both children and retailer, we may have seen several more innovative additions to the system which added industrial and adventure oriented play situations to "The Transportation System of the Future" in the form of modules and stations that would be added the the Rocket Tubes system. Numerous sheets of these designs from the files of the HMS Company expand on the earlier design.   These designs from a period late in 1979 illustrate 5 NEW Structures dubbed the "Modular Space Pieces" which were drawn up as future play set additions to the Rocket Tubes.  These represent the whole Rocket Tubes system as a futuristic version of the traditional railroad play set - with stations, elevated tracks and even cargo loaders. 

Modular Space Frame
A generic item called a "Modular Space Frame" formed the foundation for the new elements.  This appears to be a base panel which could be situated on a solid surface or suspended by the systems tubing, which new structures could attach to.  This new element offered little play value in itself, and was simply a mounting panel with several 5 mm connection points and an upper rim designed specifically to support another structure.  In the case of these plans, that other structure could be the "Ore Loader with Vehicle", or the "Command Center". 

Ore Loader Cross Section and Elements
A complex module called the "Ore Loader" is the first of these possible new structures to add to The Rocket Tubes.  This featured a hopper loaded with tiny plastic ore nuggets, which would fall into a small wheeled vehicle and could be transported via a small conveyor belt inside the vehicle to fall into a Rocket Tubes car, presumably to be carried to another part of Micropolis via the Rocket Tubes.  A special tube end segment featuring a "Spring Loaded Canopy" is specified for use with both the Ore Loader and the Command Center, Allowing easy access to the tube car stopping at that location and to help secure the entire module to the length of the tube roadway.  The Modular Space Frame can be used to place the "Ore Loader" on a solid surface, or to suspend the Ore Loader in space in conjunction with "Web Connector" accessories (detailed later).  

Ore Loader Detailed

 The Command center illustrates another complicated mini-play set that could have become part of the Rocket Tubes System.  This is something of a station house if you use railroad anthology, and features a small, simplistic vehicle (reminiscent of the shuttle pod seen in Star Trek the Motion Picture) and a spot identified for a crane.  The module attaches to the Modular Space Frame and Web Connectors like the Ore Loader, and a tube segment can pass lengthwise through the module.  The Command Center features complex technological textures, and decals for control panels.  Also, an interesting element of this structure is that portals which allow a tube section to pass through the Command Center can actually allow the tube and module to orient themselves in directions other than simply a horizontal plane.  If supported by the tube, the module could be suspended on a slanted incline, 90 degree angle or even upside down for a zero gravity feel.  Or, the tube could pass through it at whatever angle was convenient to keep the Command Center flat.

Web Connector
The aforementioned "Web Connector' support accessory was also developed to interconnect the Modular Space Frame and tube segments as mentioned above.  This item is a single styrene plastic component that binds four tube segments together and features 5 mm connection points.  It appears that this combination of the tubes and Web Connector could be used to suspend the Modular Space Frame inside a network of tubes.  It may have been spectacular to see the Command Center or Ore Loader high off the ground amid a network of rushing rocket car tubes!  But given the fragile nature of the toy system, that vision would certainly be asking for a play room disaster.

Spring Loaded Canopy
A "Spring Loaded Canopy" was also developed for the top or end of tube segments.  This is essentially a hatch that will "spring" open when a tube car or Tube Traveller reaches it.  Given the access to a tube car required by some of the features of the Ore Loader and Command Center, this sort of accessory would be required as the Rocket Tubes Recycler Segment would not fit these toys as they are designed.

Spring Loaded Canopy Additional Details

 These designs may have been developed into physical prototypes.  Notations seem to indicate that a physical example ( "an engineering model" ) of the Ore Loader vehicle was ordered to be made at the very least.  But it is currently unknown if the toys developed beyond the paper and mock up stage before being cancelled.  None of these elements were listed in the manifest of Rocket Tubes molds auctioned off in 2005.  Astute Micronaut collectors will recall the glider launching station included in the Sears "Deluxe" Rocket Tubes Set, which serves as a possible example of the beginning of these sort of additional modules.  The television commercial for Deluxe Rocket Tubes also includes a parachute drop feature, which  doesn't appear in the final product.  The drawings are all 1:1 scale, so looking at them gives an immediate sense of the proper scale of the items.  They would have been comparable in size to the systems Blower Segment.

-Micronaut Historian Ray Miller.

The Ore Loader Detailed picture is taken from the original blueprint.  As these blueprints are very old,  it was altered for clarity and definition for easier viewing.  There are still some more drawings (at least another dozen or so) that have yet to be analyzed that go with this set.  Those will be posted as Part 2 in the VERY Near Future.  But I believe the bulk of information into the insight of MEGO comes from this set of blueprints.

A very huge thank you to Ray Miller for the time he invested analyzing these particular blueprints.  Ray was also nice enough to include the link to Mego's Rocket Tubes Commercial,  as well as all the ORIGINAL patent information. With out his invaluable contribution, this article/post would not have been possible.


  1. It would be useful, perhaps, to note that the first drawings are - of course - the patent for the toy by the individual that Mego licensed the design from. Following that are the HMS Company file drawing. The first couple are the file envelop and index of drawings. After that are (in order of appearance):

    * The "Command Module"

    * The "Modular Space Frame"

    * The "Spring Loaded Canopy"

    * Additional details of the "Spring Loaded Canopy"

    * A cross section of a standard tube, showing dimensions and angle measurements.

    * "Web Connector" details.

    * "Ore Loader" cross section and elements.

    * "Ore Loader" detailed plans.

  2. A journalist I am not. Thanks Ray for your INVALUABLE help with this. None of this could have been possible without your help.

  3. Happy to! You've done a amazing thing with this, Austin. :-)