I finally bought my boys a box of Suretrack, after thinking about it for a mere two years. Wait. Make that a long two years. A long two years of the most destructive forces known to humanity (two young boys) ravaging their wooden track.
Here’s the drill: I spend 45 minutes building an intricate layout to their ever-changing specifications, and of course since they think there’s no such thing as too many bridges, that layout comes tumbling down about 45 seconds after the first train hits the track.
The Suretrack clips slide onto the track intersections and hold the track together rather securely. A two-year-old leaning on an elevated line will still usually knock it down, but clips on the entire elevated line will contain the damage to a couple of sections.
My cousin did what I’ve seen a lot of people do: secure the track to the table with wood screws. That works, but makes the layout permanent, and once your child (or children) loses interest in the layout, there’s not much you can do. I find changing up the layout helps to keep them interested in it.
So now let’s talk compatibility. My sons have Thomas-branded track, Brio track, Maxim track (the house-brand trains sold at most stores like Target and Costco and Toys R Us are made by Maxim), Melissa and Doug track, and an oddball called Whistlin’ Dixie. The clips work exceptionally well with the Thomas, Brio, Maxim, and Melissa and Doug track. The hold is considerably looser on the Whistlin’ Dixie track, but I could make it work better by gluing a shim to the outside edge of the track on both sides, to make its width match the other brands more closely. Cereal-box cardboard looks like it would be about the right thickness.
If for some reason you have some track that’s slightly wider than the name brands, you could make the clips work by filing the edges near the end until the clips fit, but I imagine the opposite problem is more common. After all, making track narrower is what lowers costs, and cost is the whole point of off-brand track.
I do recommend buying cheaper track whenever the opportunity presents itself–the trains are expensive enough as it is–and even if it’s more work to use the cheaper track with the clips, I think it’s worth it. I have lots more tips on saving money on wooden trains if you want to know more.
I have about $10 left to spend on each son for Christmas; it’s highly tempting to get another box for each of them to finish that budget off. They don’t have the wow factor of a train or accessory, but they make the layout a lot less frustrating (and therefore more fun) to play on. Without resorting to screws.