Suzuki GSX 1300R

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Some models take a long time to come to fruition. This one began from my ambition to build another bike with 4.25″ tyres Years ago I tackled the rear suspension and came up with a version of the modern swinging … Continue reading

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Autumn Days

The late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (of Chatsworth House, Derbyshire) used to say that in her later years when she and her contemporaries met up for a social gathering, these events always began with what she called “our organ recital”. That meant half an hour sharing news of their respective states of health and the condition of various personal organs.

Chatsworth House by Rob Mitchell

To be honest, yesterday’s Henley Gathering felt much like that! As old friends creaked in by twos and threes the opening gambit was so often about the latest loss or the most recent diagnosis. Appreciation of the model that accompanied the exhibitor was generally some way down the line. And yes, I did the same.

George Illingworth’s Fire Station

The Henley show has so often been the last hurrah of summer: always on the Saturday following the August Bank Holiday it has often been a glorious day for weather. True, this year the sun shone as usual but the temperature was dropping noticeably after recent record temperatures and forecasters were talking about cooler conditions and autumn storms in the offing.

Perhaps we echoed this. Less modellers again (some will after all now, sadly, never return) and many of those who were there belong to an ageing generation. No blame to them for being old now – they have been exhibiting for over forty years in many cases so they began as young men – but there is a dearth of younger modellers coming after them. A few, but not many. Most models, too, followed well-worn themes this year with several recreations of models by the late Eric Taylor this year, as well as the familiar block-setting cranes of another era. “Steam power” remains popular, too.

Another version of the classic Eric Taylor tractor

The ISM AGM spoke bravely about new digital initiatives to link societies and individuals around the world but this remains a work in progress. (Check out “International Meccanoman” on Facebook for their latest news) But despite this I came away feeling this time that this particular event was in its autumn days.

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Cable Stayed Bridge

Cable Stayed Bridge  Edit

Those of us of a certain age will always remember our local cycle/toy/hardware shop and its tempting displays. In the run-up to Christmas there would often be a marvellous Meccano model in the window, often lit up and moving, which would advertise the fact that you could get sets and spare parts here. We could never imagine having enough parts to build such models, but this is what dreams were made of – Meccano was nothing if not aspirational!

Many of these models were listed by Meccano for dealers to chose from, and they would be made up to order and supplied to dealers at cost to promote the trade. This is my version of a classic Binns Road shop window display model, described as “Model No. 1 Girder Suspension Bridge.” It is actually a Cable Stayed Suspension Bridge where the load is carried by the towers, not from a chain slung between them.

I have re-engineered it to produce a more substantial model and this has a road-deck rather than railway tracks as in the original, allowing me to add in a couple of mini-trucks, made in Meccano, of course.


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If a trip to the Henley show is the last day of Summer, then the run up to the quaintly-named village of Laughton-en-le-Morthern is surely the first day of autumn for Meccano modellers. The stylish residents of Henley-upon-Thames are usually to be found enjoying the delights of their elegant riverside residence if one has time away from “the Gathering” that draws Meccanomen (and women) from near and far.

Laughton-en-le-Morthen is a different experience. Now a small dormitory village lying to the south of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, it was once a stone-built mining hamlet, but now it is a thriving village with modern housing spreading out from the original medieval centre. Its roots are Norman, for this settlement was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086, when it boasted a church, castle and a hall. For some of us though it is most importantly the venue for the two meetings a year of the Sheffield Meccano Guild. You won’t see stylish pedestrians strutting the latest fashions here – in fact the pavements usually look pretty deserted when I arrive around 9.15 on a Saturday morning, but even at that hour the village hall car park will be filling up, with Meccano modellers and dealers coming from all over the Midlands and North, and even down from Scotland.

What draws them year after year? A great combination of a good-sized hall with easy parking, great refreshments, excellent models and the promise of a bargain or two from the dealers and a regular club auction. (Few of us actually need any more parts, but you know – a good bargain is hard to resist!) Then there is the challenge of some fiendish construction competitions set by the fervid imagination of Club Secretary and Editor Rob Mitchell. His entiring efforts, coupled with those of the rest of the committee make this something special. Don’t take my word for it – ask the others who pack the hall each time, who order the magazine even when they can never come, or who continue to increase the club’s membership. Yes, even a drive up the M1 can be a thing of beauty when the the road is lined with with autumn gold and Laughton beckons.

There was even an extra pleasure for your writer this year, for every autumn the members vote for what they judge to be the best model on show, and this time (for the third time in nine years) they kindly gave me the award, this time for my Australian Kenworth truck and trailer. Thank you everyone! That was a real bonus on what was another excellent day.


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An Australian Kenworth Truck and Trailer

Now here is a model which has been a long time coming. Some bits of it like the design for the sleeper cab and the seats have been around for a while, and so has much of the running gear. Once I have some good sub-assemblies I like to keep them! The truck is similar to one I built a few years back, but there are many differences and (I hope) improvements.

It is inspired by a review of a die-cast model I found at No chance of me affording one of those – though I suspect the Meccano model is worth a lot more! So I built my own.


Truck: semi-pneumatic front tyres, Ackerman steering, leaf-spring suspension. Movable roo-bars, insect guard, movable bonnet (hood) to reveal detailed engine. Hinged doors carry prototypical mirror assemblies and lead to a cab fitted with twin seats having adjustable head rests and adjustment for rake, height and forward positioning. Behind this is a twin-bunk sleeper cab with opening doors to cabin and and lower lockers.






The outside is decorated with assorted running lights, spot-lights, aerials and air-horns and four separate fuel tanks are fitted along with twin tool boxes. The rear suspenision has simulated air-bag suspension and the eight wheels are driven by inter-axle differentials on the two axles and via an interaxle differential and a sliding cardan shaft ahead of these.

A fifth-wheel coupling is the attachment point for the dolly-bogie which is carries spare wheels and a spare fuel tank and a further fifth-wheel coupling with sprung catch. A notable feature of this is that its twin rear bogies, boasting some sixteen wheels between them, slide on and out on a lateral telescopic bearing to give more stability when carrying abnormally wide loads.

The main trailer, a variety made by Drake Trailers of Australia, is “swing-wing” – its two sides are built up on heavy girders and are joined by arms to a central spine and swan neck and they may be swung out to match the track of wider loads. Rear ramps are also fitted along with mud-guards, lights, etc.

Certainly one of my longer models!

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Summer in Skegness!

The first weekend in July has been a fixture in many diaries for nearly forty years – that was when people from all over the UK and far beyond gathered in the Embassy Theatre, Skegness, for a vast display of Meccano models. Recently the date has changed to late June, but the show rolls on.

This year I made it there on the Saturday of the three-day event, my journey limited only by the usual thin-wheeled driver whom I encountered on the Lincolnshire border who clearly thought the speed limits signs were in kph rather than mph!

But the show was worth it – a chance to catch up with old friends and to see their latest models. The final vote by exhibitors on the Sunday ranked the best as

1) Terry Allen, Pickard Racing Car

2)Richard Smith, Duchess of Devonshire Locomotive

3) Becky Picking, Sitting pet dog

4) Ian Mordue, Fairbairn Crane

5) Chris Bates, Bristol Dockside Crane

All good models in their own way but I was particularly delighted by the last one, seen below in grey. I’d admired it and chatted to its builder, and introduced myself as the the designer of the original Mecano model and the author of the Model-plan based on it from which he had taken his inspiration. That was thirty years ago!

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A Special Week-end

This coming Saturday is a special day, so I thought I ought to get modelling something appropriate. No, not the Cup Final, it’s the Spring Meeting of the North Midlands Meccano Guild!

But what to make? Well, for once a simple little vignette rather than one of my supermodels. Any likeness to royalty living or dead is entirely coincidental…..

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I’m alarmed to see just how long it is since I last posted here! A sign of just how busy life has been with leadership in two churches, two growing grandchildren to help care for, and much more besides. But I am not exactly lost to the world of Meccano – the models keep on coming – but more of that another time. Today, a tribute to the clubs. there is a particular pleasure in being able to go along to a meeting for which one has no particular responsibility, show a model, chat with good friends, make some new ones, do whatever one can to help the day go well and then head home with another good set of photos and memories. (Check some out here – what a variety of subjects!)

World landmarks

Roman Galley

Meccano can be a solitary hobby but there is no reason for it to be if you have good clubs around, and here in the UK we really do.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of a trip to the Sheffield Guild, meeting in the village hall of Laughton-en-le-Morthen, not far from Rotherham. It is always an enjoyable day, but this meeting was vintage. The hall was packed with great models and their builders, a competition to find the best clockwork-powered hill climber was very entertaining, the food was excellent (as always) and so was the company. Topped off by the usual auction for some great bargains (personally I was selling rather than buying this time!) what more could one want?

All credit to Rob Mitchell and team for another great event. He modestly says it is nothing to do with him, and true enough – without the members’ efforts it wouldn’t happen, but without our club leaders it certainly wouldn’t happen either – all thanks to them once again!

SDkfz 251 half-track

Clock tower

World landmarks

Roman Galley

Tank Loco under construction

No 9 set ferry boat

Pen y Darren loco

“I’ve got a brand-new combine harvester!”

Rob Mitchell’s Mill Engine

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Hands-on exhibitions

Did you ever go to London’s Science Museum as a child? One of the best bits was being able to turn handles, press buttons and make things happen! Sadly many Meccano shows are characterised by signs saying “Do Not Touch!”, but not at the Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester. This has been the first on my calendar for the last four years, and its organisers, Wendy and Rob Miller, always make sure that there are plenty of hands-on experiences with loads of child-friendly bits to play with.

This year we were housed not in the vast old shed of yore (dark, atmospheric, full of mysterious old machines, and generally Very Cold, but in a brand new wedding reception style marquee which was bright and warm. Thank you! Even on a very wet afternoon in January there were loads of visitors, and the majority of adults brought small children with them. Greg and I spent a happy afternoon curating one of the largest collections of models on show there and introducing them to (among lots of eye candy) cars they could play with,  pulley systems they could operate, and a Trebuchet that lobbed plastic balls across the hall. They loved it! We said to one dad about his enthusiastic 3-year old daughter

Fun Time in Leicester

Fun Time in Leicester

– “It looks as though she might become a mechanical engineer!” “I certainly hope so!” he replied.  “Why – what do you you do?”  “I’m a mechanical engineer!”

Who knows what any of them will become – but remember the testimony of so many of us for whom things mechanical became a life-long passion – it began when we were first allowed to push buttons, turn handles, and make things happen all by ourselves.

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Is this the end?

Being a Baptist minister I am no stranger to funerals, but like everyone I am occasionally given cause to pause and think when news comes through of the passing of another of our number. Are there more “Meccano” funerals now than there used to be? I suspect not – it is more likely that some of us are moving into a generation where it is people we think of as contemporaries who are dying. Some are a few years older than me – some are a good deal younger, and that inevitably challenges one to think about one’s own mortality and contribution to life. It is moving to read many warm tributes to those we have lost (I have written and delivered a few myself) and perhaps we stop to wonder how people might one day judge us in our turn. (In our less worthy moments we may also wonder what is going to happen to that particular collection….)

Obviously this is all part of the inevitable path we all follow, but what of the hobby itself? There are plenty of doom-merchants around crying “Woe, woe and thrice woe!” like the soothsayer in “Up Pompeii”. Are we looking at the end of our hobby?

I doubt it, for I still see younger men and woman appearing in our ranks just as I once chanced upon the adult hobby myself. But even if we are, does it matter? Stop to ask yourself – why did Frank Hornby develop Meccano in the first place? No doubt he was glad to find an invention from which he could make money, but his motives seem nobler than that to me. He wanted to teach children about engineering, to be practical and to develop a love of all things technical and mechanical for themselves. In that he clearly succeeded, with countless distinguished engineers, architects and scientists over the years giving credit to the Toy that first launched them on a path to their professional careers.

An old question asks, “What is the purpose of an apple tree?” The obvious answer is “to produce apples” but that is wrong. Apples are only a means to an end – the purpose of an apple tree is to produce more apple trees. We may well be shocked by the latest loss of another good friend, but I would suggest that the inevitable eventual loss of another Meccanoman or woman, even the last one in time to come, will not be the end of the story of Meccano. Our greatest calling is not to produce more model engines, but to produce more adult engineers. Our richest legacy will not be the preservation of a factory somewhere churning out more 24½” Angle Girders than we could ever use, but the inspiration of generations yet to come with the desire to find out how to “make the wheels go round” in their day and to do it better than we have done.

I respect the collectors with their desire to document and preserve our hobby’s history, but my greatest admiration is reserved for those who tirelessly devote their spare time to working with youngsters in schools and clubs, using their Meccano skills to raise up the next generation who will dream about building a new future for themselves.

I am so grateful to those who first inspired me: I hope that my legacy will be not just a hundredweight or so of perforated metal but young lives committed to taking their turn in building a new and hopefully better world that all can enjoy.

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