This set comprises two vehicles which played a central part in two of the major episodes of the 19th century history of the USA. The first is the chuck wagon, well known through countless Hollywood films and yet, despite the popularity of cowboy figures, never previously produced in this scale plastic. The chuck wagon was the centre of a trail drive, with the men fanning out from it in the morning and returning in the afternoon with cattle for branding etc. The familiar design is attributed to a cattle baron in 1866, who first combined all the elements that were to define this vehicle.
There was no absolute correct design for such a vehicle, though many were produced by large wagon builders to a set pattern. This model certainly looks the part, and has many of the necessary features. The water barrel strapped to the side is one such, but the most important item is the chuck box, which was at the back. This had a hinged lid that swung down to form a work table, revealing a number of drawers and cubbyholes for various items that might be needed on the drive. This has been nicely moulded on this model, though here it has been positioned well in from the rear of the wagon bed, meaning the lid, which is lowered, does not protrude beyond the back. The fit of the parts is variable, with the undercarriage being well engineered and fitting well without recourse to glue. However the cover does not attach to the bed, but merely rests on it in an unsatisfactorily wobbly way. The horses, or more likely mules, are attached to the wagon via a peg going directly into their sides Airfix-style - there is no attempt at a harness etc.The pieces themselves are well done and require little or no trimming, though the fact that the set was done in a fairly soft plastic may contribute to the problems. The instructions are not particularly clear. Although each wagon has only about a dozen pieces, some of the drawing is at odds with the actual model. It shows the barrel on the other side, misrepresents the drivers seat and suggests the cover is the full length of the wagon, leaving the modeller to make more guesses than they should. The box artwork does not show a chuck wagon, making the task that much more difficult.
The prairie schooner is typical of the wagons used by the pioneers that wound their way westward in search of gold, prosperity, freedom or any one of a hundred dreams. As such this model is a vital part of any wagon train recreation.
Many of the chuck wagon comments apply equally to this model. The fit is good except for the cover, which rests uneasily on the wagon. We found we had to trim part of the restraining pegs on this as without doing so caused the cover to flex to fit and spring off very easily. The general design is authentic, though like the chuck wagon it is missing all the many smaller items that would normally have largely covered every available space. This wagon has a large tool chest on the side - an item which by rights should be on the other side of the chuck wagon - the schooner would be more likely to have a plough or other agricultural equipment strapped to its sides.
The schooner is pulled by oxen, which was common enough, but the two provided are pretty small specimens (standing about chest height against a human) and simply don't look capable of pulling such a vehicle, laden with large quantities of supplies, on the flat, never mind over the Rocky mountains. In fact there would normally be at least four oxen in a team, and often many more. These two animals are attached to the rest of the model by the yoke - a better solution than the mules suffer.
Two drivers are included in the set, and as both are in standard civilian working dress either could work either vehicle. Both are rather hunched, and do not look relaxed, but are otherwise reasonable.
With no separate bows (which supported the cover), both wagons must be covered. This is just as well, as there are no accessories which can be used as cargo for either. The toolbox on the schooner impedes the rear wheel, and neither have the jockey box that normally sat under the drivers seat. Certainly some detail is missing, though these are complex machines to model and what has been achieved is not bad at all. It is infuriating to note that the two schooners illustrated on the box artwork are more accurately depicted than the model within.
Until the advent of motor vehicles, all armies moved with vast numbers of wagons. Therefore the need for such a set as this, with many possibilities for conversions, was obvious, and IMEX should gain credit for producing it. However we felt that too many shortcuts have been taken with an attendant loss of accuracy. Certainly there is no excuse for poor instructions, yet these models can be very useful when placed in the hands of a dedicated modeller with access to various accessories from other sets, including ironically some from IMEX themselves.