Taking the stage across the West was an experience most remembered all their lives. Days spent in uncomfortable, cramped conditions with often poor food and no bed to sleep in left passengers in a sorry state by journey's end. Then there were the many hazards, both natural and man-made, which might be encountered along the way, making the miserable journey more terrifying or even putting lives at risk.
Stagecoaches came in all sorts of shapes, but the model in this set is what some would consider the classic style. Everyone agreed that the finest stage was the Concord, and this IMEX model depicts a coach of that type. The cabin took nine extremely cramped passengers in three rows (including a bench down the middle), plus any surplus baggage, mail or cargo. The driver and express messenger would sit on the box at the front of the carriage, while precious cargo was kept in the strongbox under their seat. Cargo and any extra passengers took their chances on the roof. A team of four or six horses or mules would pull the coach - four horses have been chosen for this set.
The model is really nice, and comes in several parts which mostly fit together well without recourse to glue. A piece is included which is the floor and the two seats for inside the carriage, but we found this difficult to fix in place and required some trimming. The undercarriage has been properly and well done, as have many details such as the two leather braces which served as suspension and gave the vehicle its rocking motion, causing Mark Twain to refer to 'a cradle on wheels'. There are some details that this model lacks, principally the drivers brake lever and external lanterns, and apart from the seats the interior is not reproduced, though all these are minor observations on what is an excellent model.
The set includes a number of figures to complement the coach. First is the driver, who is fine but we would have liked to have seen him provided with a whip. Beside him is the express messenger, who rode shotgun guarding the coach and precious cargo. Clearly things have gone awry here as he has got rid of his shotgun and has his hands in the air. This set also has a seated lady, who has the great good fortune to be the only passenger, so the journey would have been much more comfortable. However her luck has not held as the rest of the figures are of outlaws holding up the stage. One kneels beside a box - perhaps the strongbox that could contain gold or other valuables. Three others are mounted and brandishing weapons, and a fifth stands menacing with his rifle.
The four-horse team has been nicely done, with many of the proper traces. However they actually attach via the familiar hole-in-the-side method, so while easy to assemble they are less convincing. Each pose is different, which is great, and seem to be in a walking stance. The other four horses are saddled and in use by the bandits. With three in riding positions, that leaves one horse for the remaining two men, which is odd. We would also have expected one of the horses, the one without a rider, to be in something approximating a standing position, but none are.
The build quality of the set is up to the best standards, which good sculpting and no flash. The standing man has his weapon as a separate piece which means his stance is more natural and there is no excess plastic. This piece fits well and we would like to see more of this technique to expand the range of available poses. The riders fit their horses but do not grip them at all, and since the plastic is very smooth it is very difficult to get the men to stay on their mounts and gluing is essential. The assembly instructions for the coach are on the inside of the box lid, but be careful before beginning as some parts need to be assembled in a particular order which is not indicated on the instructions. There is also an error in that the front axle is shown upside down. However if this is tried with the actual model the error is immediately apparent.
By the start of the Civil War the stagecoach was the principal means of travelling across the vast distances of the West, and was to make the name of such men as Ben Holladay and companies like Wells, Fargo. By including appropriate figures rather than trying to squeeze two vehicles into a box, IMEX have provided a much more interesting and useful product, although we would have liked to have seen an extra express messenger holding a gun for those dioramas where the stage is not under attack! Still, this is an excellent representation of what is undoubtedly one of the icons of the old West.