When I was a young boy I was always looking for another model to build, having exhausted all the models in my Meccano instruction manual. The obvious place to look in those pre-Club and pre-MW Models days was of course the Meccano Magazine. I waited eagerly for this to arrive each month, and the first pages I turned to were always those with pictures and instructions of models and mechanisms. I tried my hand at many of these if my parts stock allowed, but I was sometimes frustrated to read that for this or that construction one had to use an “obsolete part”; this would often have been something like a 20-tooth Pinion or an Octagonal Coupling. In those far-off days, of course, one had a chance of buying spare parts (pocket-money allowing) from the entire current range at the local bike shop or toy store, but these obsolete parts were still tantalisingly out of reach, the province of old men who had been with Meccano for decades.
Now I find myself rapidly approaching that very same status! And I begin to worry that I may be causing younger modellers the same frustration that I once felt. The Meccano Magazine is long gone, but in Model Plans (and I have been involved in producing more than a few) we sometimes glibly talk about “obsolete parts” as if we all still had access to the same fixed catalogue that we did fifty years ago. In a sense many of us do, thanks to the healthy market in second hand, after-market and reproduction goods that flourishes around most clubs and on-line. But if we were to think about the parts that the average youngster will now have access to outside of the club scene, in other words the ones that occur in current sets, then how many more should be classed as obsolete? Even items as basic to an older generation as #52 the 11×5 Flanged Plate, the Brass Collar (#59) or Coupling (#63), the once-ubiquitous Flanged Sector Plate (#54) or Strips and Girders of any useful length are now long gone.
So, what are we asked at shows? “Can you still get it, mister?” “Of course,” we say, “just look online or go to any number of large chain stores”, and no doubt some do. But what will the new purchaser find? Nothing on the scale of models we old hands produce and for all the ingenuity of some modern kits, no chance of emulating our constructions, either, because the necessary parts aren’t there. We often bemoan the lack of youngsters in the hobby, but as long as we produce little more than supermodels using unattainable parts, how accessible will our hobby seem to the young newcomer?
Meccano always used to be aspirational – we always wanted to get the next set up. Well, there seems little chance of going back to the old days of Conversion Sets. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still inspire a new generation ourselves. Just before Christmas 2008 the Spanner Community set itself a challenge to build a range of models from the old 00+ set – an incredibly limited range of parts – but the results, and the range of subjects, was astonishing, so good in fact that a manual was produced detailing them all. Other Christmas challenges have come and gone since then, but none met that first success. But why not build on that idea for your next Club challenge? Why not select one of the currently available kits and with no other parts than those within it set out to produce something really original? A display of those at your next public exhibition might then genuinely persuade a new generation that this is still an accessible hobby which they can
really engage with.