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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Model Building Technology

Screenshot of this new program

Screenshot of this new program

From the very early days of “The International Meccanoman”, the journal of the International Society of Meccanomen, “Model Building Technology” has been a must-read feature for any keen Meccano builder. Sharing the latest hints and tips on Meccano model building from beginner to advanced level, or providing information about the theory behind prototypes, Model Building Technology allows any builder to improve their modelling.

This invaluable collection is now available for your Windows PC in a specially commissioned database program. Instead of having to search through back issues of IM, tips are now collected together in a searchable index for easy browsing, finding and printing for easier model room reference.

What’s Included

  • Over 900 tips dating back to the beginning of The International Meccanoman
  • All diagrams and pictures now in high resolution for easy viewing
  • Full searchable, categorised index to allow you to quickly find tips, subjects, parts or authors
  • All tips published in the next year as a free upgrade
  • Each article or picture printable for ease of use in your model room

Available now from http://www.modelbuildingtech.com

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We have wings….

So the next project grows – one wing is now four and the model is much more recognisable. xwingsWith a model fuselage PhotoShopped in to sit between the four wings the X-wing is now instantly recognisable.

so now to the mechanisms and the main body ….

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In a shipyard, long, long ago ….

Sometimes it takes a while for a model to move from seed to bud to flower –

this is something I have considered for many a long year and it is finally beginning to develop into something. This began as a design study working from original drawings – a sort of proof of concept – and I am pleased enough with it that I am now building three more.

I don’t have to tell you what it is going to be, do I?

First stage

First stage

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Dinner, dinnner, dinner, dinner ……

I’ve always been a Batman fan, preferring the original art-deco gothic world of the Dark Knight to the technicolour American dream of some of the other superheroes. I’ve had my favourite artists, too – much preferring the art of people like Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino and Dick Giordano to the primitive style of Moldoff or Kane. I could list favourite actors, too, and in all fairness probably wouldn’t include Adam West among them, but there was something about the car that West drove in the TV series and subsequent film that really appealed to me as a teenager. This was the first Bat-special in my eyes, something more than an American Limo with a Bat-mask on the front of it, and I knew I had to build a model of it one day.

Batman and Batmobile

Batman and Batmobile

This project began a year or so back, but with the 50th Anniversary of the show coming this year, I really had to finish it. So here it is – designed from scratch to replicate (as far as possible) the features of the Lincoln Futura on which the original car was based.

The website www.1966batmobile.com tells us:

In 1955, the Lincoln division of Ford Motor Company designed and built a futuristic concept car called the Lincoln Futura. It was built entirely by hand in Turin, Italy at a cost of $250,000, and like many concept cars, was never put in to production. In the mid 1960’s, George Barris of Barris Kustom City acquired the car for $1 directly from Ford.

Fast forward to August 1965, the Batman TV show producers approached George to have him build a new Batmobile for their upcoming show. The only catch was the car had to be ready for action in a mere three weeks. Seeing the bat-like qualities his Futura already had, George knew it was the perfect answer to the quandary 20th Century Fox had created.

In October of 1965, the Batmobile was completed and delivered to Fox where it made its television debut on January 12, 1966.

The car was such a huge success that George Barris and the producers of Batman decided to build copies of the Batmobile in late 1966. Barris and his crew pulled a mold from the #1 Batmobile and created 3 fiberglass copies. These replicas were displayed at car shows and dragstrips and also made appearances where countless fans could see them.

The 1966 TV Batmobile is still one of the most iconic and popular cars in the world.

My model was built from scratch with reference to as much orginal material as I could find. It started as a solid ladder frame chassis which carries a 12v motor which powers a drive train through a pedal-operated clutch and a 3-speed and reverse gearbox. Custom wheels (same size as Meccano tyres and hubs but better in appearance) are carried on MacPherson Strut suspension at the front and leaf-springs at the rear. A wealth of black parts, mostly original stock, make up the flared body-work, while the front canopies were sections cut from the packing of a pair of Easter Eggs!

The bare chassis before adding bodywork

The bare chassis before adding bodywork

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Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson

Like Simon and Garfunkel, Morcambe and Wise, Laurel and Hardy, some names just go together and in their pairing evoke all sorts of memories. Mention Harley and Davidson in the same breath – and how could you not? – and you think of America, cruising down endless roads on a piece of American history that has become in the years since the War part of the great American Dream. Beards, studs, leather and denim have all added their seasoning to the legend, but the V-twin power unit and the tear-drop tank remain constant.
This particular model features “retro-styling” with springer front forks and a hard-tail rear end as well as many other details.
My own design as always, it comes two decades after my model of an Electraglide that featured in “Everything WLMS”.

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Stuart the Minion

Another Minion? We’ve looked at these little creatures here before, and when I took “Kevin” along to the recent show at the Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester he provoked many squeals of delight from the children who walked into the hall and caught sight of him – “It’s a MINION!”

By the time he came back to the workshop he needed some maintenance so I took the opportunity to make some changes, and the result is the guitar-obsessed teenager from the film “Minions”, aka “Stuart Van Halen”!

Stuart the Minion

Stuart the Minion




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We have lift-off!

So, the latest model made it and was duly delivered to the organisers of the London Model Engineering Exhibition. There was that awkward moment when I wondered if I could actually get it out of the room where I’d assembled it! But with my son’s help and some running repairs we managed it.

Greg and I made it down to the show for the Saturday and found it on its own stand at the head of one of the aisles at the Alexandra Palace – lots of people were taking photos of it and reactions to it were good .

on display at Alexandra Palace

on display at Alexandra Palace

Boldly going -

Boldly going –

The Starship Enterprise

The Starship Enterprise

Getting closer

Getting closer

Tech details: It was a challenging build – lots of compound curves and very few parallel lines. The outer rim of the saucer tapers downwards, the main body tapers to the rear while the top and bottom lines taper down at different rates, and even the long “cylindrical” engines taper down from 3.5″ to 2.5″ over their length. Well worth the effort in the end, though, I thought. 99% Meccano, with a little 1980s Erector (Meccano’s American cousin) for detail and some aluminium section to reinforce the pylons internally and prevent twisting under the cantilevered load.

Photographs – taken with my trusty Canon 350D SLR and a 10-18mm zoom wide-angle lens which adds to the sense of scale through its induced perspective. Adjust the exposure and other details in PaintShop Pro and PhotoShop and add in the backgrounds, these being commercially available from Deviney (“Ron’s Brushes”).

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An elite hotel room – in a crane!

Harlingen is a municipality and a city in the northern Netherlands, in the province of Friesland on the Wadden Sea. An old town with a long history of fishing and shipping and a current population of 15,769, it received city rights in 1234.

Built on the coast of the Waddenzee opposite the West Frisian islands of Vlieland and Terschelling, it was founded in 1243 near the site of the town of Grayn, which was engulfed by the sea in 1134. The harbour of Harlingen, which was formerly a considerable trading town, still exports Frisian products and imports coal, timber and other industrial raw materials. In the harbour area are shipyards, fish- processing plants, woodworking factories and works producing building materials. There are ferries to the islands of Vlieland and Terschelling. The harbour is linked with Leeuwarden by the Van Harinxma Canal.It is a pleasant place to wander round on a summer’s evening and offers some good restaurants for the tourist. Today, though, it is probably most famous as the home of a one-bedroomed Bed-and-Breakfast housed in a dockside crane which has been converted into a luxury hideaway for two.

The website www.unusualhotelsoftheworld.com says of it, This is a genuine dockside crane which has been the recipient of intelligent engineering and dedicated devotion rarely seen in a private home – let alone in a hotel property. Replacing the external ladders with modern lifts to gain entry, the old machine room in the body of the crane has been transformed into a luxurious bedroom that would not be out of place in the most modern of design hotels.

Managers Willem and Carla have managed to keep the existing observation windows and industrial feel, but have added comfort, warmth and the latest flat screen and audio equipment to create a fantastic environment to enjoy a boyhood dream for many – your own personal, WORKING crane.”

Set at the end of a quiet stretch of dock the crane is now fixed firmly to the ground. A small lift takes the two guests up one leg to the first stage, and then a few steps along a gangway lead them to a cosy lift built into the central pylon. A foot-operated switch starts the platform rising through the narrow tube until they arrive in the very centre of the converted cabin. If you have large suitcases with you, leave them in the car!

There, in the heart of industrial chic you will find a tiny kitchen unit on one side of the entrance pod and a luxurious double bed on the other. Next to this is a control panel which operates ambient controls including a whole range of lighting options for the en-suite luxury double shower and controls for externally mounted floodlights. Next to that is a designer loo and between the two units is a short fixed ladder leading up to the driver’s cabin where you can sit with a splendid view of the whole town. Just one control has been left in place – a joystick which allows you to rotate the entire superstructure slowly to any orientation you like. Pick your view! If you can face climbing a few more rungs from here you can reach the roof of the cabin, suitably railed off, where there is a picnic table and benches for those who fancy the airiest of breakfasts!

Back down inside the cabin there is a large flat-screen TV and DVD player opposite the bed, and at the back there is a vast bay-window with a coffee table sitting between swivel chairs. A pair of binoculars has even been provided, along with a photo-history of the restoration project, so you can watch the ships coming in and out of the busy little port.

The evening is yours to spend as you will, but once on board your privacy is complete. When a fresh Continental breakfast arrives in the morning, it does so neatly arranged in a basket which rises by itself on the lift into the middle of your room.

It is an out-of-this-world property – staying here guarantees you stories to tell your friends!

This bit of sybaritic self-indulgence doesn’t come cheap – prices currently start at €319 per night, but the memory will live with you forever.

For the technically minded this crane was built to handle cargo by Figee; it was level-luffing with a single-fall hook and would have been rail-mounted. The jib was luffed by gear-and-quadrant. As presents go, I don’t think my wife has ever come up with a bigger surprise than this! It was a wonderful experience back in 2010, not least for someone who is mildly crane-obsessive like me. You may not be surprised to know that I am finally getting around to building my own Meccano tribute to this remarkable holiday destination.

(This article also appeared in the NMMG’s Newsmag in 2015)


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