Tuesday, January 24, 2006


LONE STAR - Post-1970, an abridged history of the Group

The following account has been supplied by a former Managing Director. It is reproduced, here, on an 'E. & O.E.' basis. Pertinent 'comments', contributed by the Compiler of this Web-log, intended to be helpful to the reader, have been inserted between brackets, thus [. . . . . . ] .

"In the years following the war D.C.M.T. expanded vigorously mainly due to its involvement in the Toy Industry. By 1970, it had three factories (Palmers Green, Welham Green and Hatfield) all involved in the production of toys, (Lone Star Products); Die-casting machines and Commercial castings (D.C.M.T.). Subsidiary companies of the D.C.M.T. Group were A.G.M. Industries (Injection moulders - mainly toys); Californian Screen Blocks (Cement Decorative Building blocks - factories at Wareham [Dorset] and Cheadle) and Eaglet Industries (factory at Hatfield engaged in Rotational moulding of toys and Vacuum Forming packaging). Total employees numbered roughly 1,000.

This expansion cost money and the Company was heavily in debt. In fact, all Directors had to pledge their houses against the bank's overdraft. With the death of 'Bob' Mills [Aubrey Robert Mills] in 1973, control passed to 'Ernie' E. A. Burks (Chairman) and myself (Managing Director). In 1976, Henry Aizecorbe (a Cuban/American owning a small Jigsaw company in London Colney [near St. Albans, Herts.], acquired 51% of the Capital of D.C.M.T. (thus releasing the Directors from their pledges with the Bank). Aizecorbe was [ostensibly] backed by the Bank of Ohio in the States but it proved that he borrowed the money [under questionable circumstances] from that Bank and [consequently] the shares passed to the Bank. Things ran fairly smoothly under the Bank [presumably the Bank of Ohio] for 4/5 years but, under American law, they were unable to operate a manufacturing business for more than 5 years and so a buyer was [needed to be] found - [This turned out to be] a company based in Macclesfield - one of our main Zinc suppliers. Their Managing Director, Anthony Whitworth, became our Chief Executive Officer and he virtually ran the Company.

In 1981, The Crescent Toy Company (our main rivals in the toy gun business) went into liquidation so they were purchased by our parent Company, Leigh & Sillavan. Unfortunately this was the era when the country ran into trouble and the Labour government, under [James] Callaghan, went to the I.M.F. [International Monetary Fund] for a loan. Interest rates rose, so did inflation and Margaret Thatcher took over when the Conservatives won the Election. Interest Rates, Inflation continued to rise (15-20% at one time!) and the £ lost value. Export markets rapidly disappeared. At that time 75% of our toy output was sold overseas. 'Matchbox' was over 80%. This saw the collapse of the Toy Industry in the U.K. Matchbox, Corgi, Lines Brothers, Dunbee-Combex-Marx and many other manufacturers went. At that time we were borrowing £1.4m from the Bank. They instructed us to reduce this to under £500,000 at peak time. This we did by selling off [the factories at] Palmers Green (£250,000); Welham Green (£500,000); and Californian Screen Blocks (£160,000). Our overdraft came down to £400,000 scheduled to drop to £200,000 after the toy season, but the Bank foreclosed.

I [the source of this information] had a contact in Germany who I persuaded to buy the Company from the Receivers and they, Wicke GmbH & Co., carried on manufacturing, quite successfully at Hatfield, for several years but the urge to transfer manufacturing to China (like most other British toy manufacturers) was their downfall. Their local contacts were [according to the source] poor and, after a few years, they sold out to one of their main customers in Germany, Soni-Esco, (who have a Distribution depot at Wetherby, Yorkshire) and I believe they are still operating in a small way. I [still] see a few guns and holster sets in shops, bearing the Lone Star brand."

Saturday, January 07, 2006


LONE STAR: Its diversity and achievements

Lone Star's ranges of die-cast metal (Mazak) and plastic models and toys included cap-firing pistols, rifles and other Western Cowboy accessories. They also produced robust metal cars, trucks, cranes, passenger aircraft, farm tractors and associated farming machinery. 'OOO'-Gauge model Trains ("Treble-O-Lectric" and non-motorised, so-called 'Push along'). 'Harvey' Series polythene figures in 'OO' scale, i.e. Soldiers both modern and historical, Cowboys, Red Indians [Native Americans], a variety of Tribesmen, i.e. Afghans, Zulus, etc., Medieval Knights both mounted and pedestrian, Medieval foot soldiers and Siege weapons....to name but a few.

"The Bumper Book of 'Lone Star' Diecast Models and Toys 1948-88" also contains anecdotes and reported accounts by a number of former employees and management personalities describing their time while employed by Lone Star which, until the early 1980s, boasted three factories in the region immediately north of central London and also southern Hertfordshire, U.K.

These written accounts include the fascinating story of Roy Green, a formerly unemployed actor (ex-Army) who was engaged by the firm, following Roy's initial approach to them, for the purpose of portraying the role of a fictional, heroic, Cowboy character named "Steve Larrabee", described in the company's monthly comic as "The Lone Star Rider". Roy, suitably costumed in Western 'rig', was assigned to visit the major department stores throughout the U.K. where he promoted sales of the company's Western-themed toy ranges. During the summer months between 1952-57, "Steve" (or Roy) also ran, and participated in, a Wild West/Circus Show which travelled to various venues, both in theatres, arenas and under the 'Big Top' in outdoor locations, throughout Britain. He became an accomplished horse rider after undergoing several sessions of training at a riding school near Enfield, arranged and funded by Lone Star, as a condition of his employment. Roy also did broadcasts via 'Radio Luxembourg', during that period, portraying the adventures of "Steve Larrabee" in the style of the Western stories featured on the pages of Lone Star comic books and Annuals. There is a segment devoted to Roy Green, with photos, on the Lone Star website -
www.lone-star-diecast-bk.com/book.html (...and scroll down).

Check out the unsolicited recommendations received via the Internet, in respect of the 'Lone Star' website (as mentioned above) and also "The Bumper Book of 'Lone Star' Diecast Models and Toys 1948-88" (ISBN: 0-9539058-0-2) Click on the link below:-


LONE STAR - "Review" contemporaneous newspaper articles on the company's closure


Compiler (G. S. Ambridge)


Friday, January 06, 2006



Lesney "Matchbox" Products, Lledo, and their former connection with Lone Star Products Ltd. (formerly Die Casting Machine Tools Ltd.) of Palmers Green, London and of Hatfield, Hertfordshire (U.K.)
Having now reached the age of retirement and in my teenage years worked for a time in the die-cast toy industry, I thought that I should set down some historical points which may interest the reader. It will explain what may be a hitherto unknown connection between the above mentioned companies. It's ironic that, were it not for the parent company of Lone Star, neither Lesney "Matchbox" Products, nor Lledo, would have come into being and the world would have been devoid of these now famous die-cast models.
When my parents married in 1933, they moved from Tottenham, north London, to a rented flat (apartment) on the top floor of number 1 Wetherill Road, Muswell Hill, north London. 5 years later, this address was to appear on my birth certificate. I gather that the house was owned by a bus driver, William Odell, my parents' landlord who, with his family, occupied the lower floors of the 3-storey building. The Odell family of four included two sons, Ken and John, the latter more often known as Jack. Living under the same roof, my parents regarded the Odell 'boys' as though they were their nephews. My parents and I were guests at Jack and Ken's double wedding ceremony to two sisters in 1944.
In 1945, at the end of World War II after Jack was "demobbed" (demobilised) from the army having served in both North Africa and Italy as a welder, he needed to earn a living. My late father, Sidney Ambridge, was a co-founder of the fledgling company DIE CASTING MACHINE TOOLS LTD., and who better to ask about a possible job vacancy than my father - being the upstairs tenant - who very promptly agreed to employ Jack, having created a vacancy especially for him. My father taught Jack the principles of die-casting, operating the machines, producing castings and later how to make the moulds themselves. After a while Jack Odell and his, then, D.C.M.T. colleague, Rodney Smith, both left my father's firm and started their new business LESNEY PRODUCTS with the knowledge and experience they had gained - the rest is history!!
When I left school in the summer of 1954, it was decided between my father and Jack Odell that my first employment would be with LESNEY PRODUCTS and I worked at their factory which, then, was situated in a yard off Shacklewell Lane, Dalston, east London. Perhaps this decision was as a result of some sense of obligation Jack Odell may have felt to reciprocate for the training that he, himself, had received from my father. However, I was to be a Toolroom trainee, doing odd jobs, i.e. horizontal grinder machining, milling machine operation, vertical drilling machine operating, 'turning' on a lathe plus work at the bench. While I was there, I witnessed the building of moulds for Matchbox (Moko) models numbered probably 10 - 11 - 12, but I stand to be corrected. My colleagues, in the Toolroom were, if I remember correctly, Jim Dawson, the brothers Fred and Donald Rix, Peter Kolthammer and two others, another 'Fred' and 'Dave', a cheerful young man who wore horn-rimmed spectacles, although I never ever knew the surnames of these two toolmakers. Don Rix was exclusively occupied, during my time in the Lesney toolroom, with the machining and building of a very large mould for a Euclid Tipper Truck, the model would have been around 30cms. long, but I left Lesney's before any test castings were taken from Don's 'masterpiece'.
Jack Odell was present in the toolroom on a daily basis - more or less in the role of Toolroom Manager rather than a co-Director - wearing a white overall coat like the other toolmakers. I recall that Fred Rix machined and built the mould for an E.R. Foden (ERF) Fuel Tanker and the other 'Fred' machined and built the mould for a Cement Mixer Lorry. The guy that I only knew as 'Dave' machined and built the mould for a Scammell "Scarab" Articulated Delivery Truck.
I cycled to work ten miles each way. O.K. in summer but awful in icy conditions. After seven months, I discovered that the return fares from my home at Totteridge, north London to Dalston by buses and underground 'tube' train, amounted to more for the day than my weekly 'take-home' pay! My wage rate equalled 7.5p per hour. I could only continue my career there if I was prepared to cycle to and from Lesney's factory for the indefinite future. On my last day at Lesney, there was compacted ice on the roads, even main roads. By 6:00 p.m. it was dark outside. I cycled home with one hand on the handlebars and with the other arm clutching my toolmaker's cabinet which was not a lightweight item. As it happened, Jack Odell overtook me in his black Vauxhall Velox on that final journey and he cheerily waved to me as he passed by. Unable to respond, I could only watch the rear lights of Jack's car until they disappeared into the distance.
Compiler (G.S. Ambridge)

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