Monday 20 March 2017

The Last Post

Bye bye!
After more than fifty-five years of Meccano building (in my case), Sue and I are hanging up our spanners. We have been reducing our commitment to clubs and societies over the past year as we are moving house for the first time in nearly forty years. We have found of late that our interest has waned and, for no reason I can put my finger on, the enthusiasm has left both of us.

I will leave this blog live but this will be the last post I will be adding to it.

Our vast collection of parts will be sold off through our internet shop over the coming months -  If you would like to keep up with what we are listing, please subscribe to our mailing list. You can opt in or out as often as you wish so you are not committing to anything and you do not have to register with the site until you actually want to buy anything. The shop is a secure site and you can pay by whatever means you prefer. We do not charge any extra for PayPal of credit card payments and if your goods are shipped to a UK address you will only pay a maximum of £3.00 shipping however much you buy!

Subscribe to the mailing list HERE to be the first to see new items as they are listed.

Once the stock has gone, that will be it. We are not setting ourselves up as dealers and we are no longer in the market to buy any more Meccano. We will still be around and happy to answer any Meccano related questions you might have.


Wednesday 25 January 2017

Toy fair 2017

Meet M.A.X. He is asleep at the moment...
For the past few years, Meccano products have been moving away from the hobby buyers and moving towards the toy market. I have made no secret of the fact that I believe this is the only way forward in today’s market. Meccano are not making Meccano for us aging enthusiasts, they are making toys for today’s kids and are competing in an ever more competitive and diverse market that is built around box-shifting.

Today’s retailers are a far cry from the independent toy shops of the past. They are global brands, such that have outlets in countries all around the world. They are not geared up for selling parts; neither do they stock a full range of sets. Buyers will often cherry-pick the range and that results in differing selections of sets from one seller to another. You will also find that most of these sellers show much larger selection of sets on their websites.

The other, perhaps more important, shift has been in the way parents and kids buy toys today. In the past, we would buy brand. When asked what we wanted for Christmas or birthday, we would ask for ‘Meccano’, that is not the case today. Most kids are not as brand-aware as we were. Even Lego becomes a suffix as in “Can I have some Star-wars Lego?”  Today’s youngster is more likely to ask for a ‘thing’, a motorbike, a car etc.

Walking onto Spin Master’s stand yesterday was a bit of a surprise, even for us. We had not heard of any new exciting products in the way of sets, as is usually the case. Nothing had leaked out prior to press day and we had not been working on any new products ourselves. We were confronted with many of the models we had already seen. A fair number of which were on display last year and still on the inventory. This is due to a deliberate slowdown in what the trade refer to as ‘refreshing’. For the first few years of Spin Mater’s ownership, Meccano were releasing product twice a year, once in the spring and again in the autumn, to coincide with the release of the Argos catalogue, as most of the mass-market UK toy trade manufacturers and importers tend to do.

Last year saw some of the products refreshed twice with some sets being sold through in half the time we would have expected. Sets like the Safari Animals and Dinosaur sets were replaced by new sets before the year was out.

New style packaging for the robots

What’s New?

Well, as this is a blog about Meccano as a hobby, for the enthusiast the honest answer is probably not a lot this year. The Meccano branding has changed yet again as the marketing guys tailor it to more reflect the direction in which they see themselves going. The ‘Maker System’ branding has been replaced with ‘Engineering & Robotics’. The ‘engineering’ part seems a bit strange. It was explained to us some time ago, that Meccano would be exploring the materials and engineering used today. This seems to have manifested itself in the form of automotive engineering and the greater use of modern materials such as plastics, if this year’s offerings are anything to go by. 

MeccaSpider is coming
The robotics side of it has gone down the toy route offering ‘Closed system’ toys, with the introduction of M.A.X. and MeccaSpider, a totally new toy that has nothing to do with the combination creature built using a Helicopter set and a Meccanoid 2.0. - See HERE.

The Meccanoids were nowhere to be seen on the stand and when we asked about them it appears that they are to be used more on the educational side of things. I get the impression that the ‘Tech’ series will become central to the future of educational development between Meccano and the schools. I have not pushed for details on this as the guys, responsible for Meccanoid and its technical development, were not here in London this week. I will contact them after the madness of Toy Fair season is over in a month or so, and see what I can discover.

I suppose you could say this is a modern day car constructor set...
...A long way from what we think of as Meccano
Apart from M.A.X. and MeccaSpider, the only new items we had not seen before are a couple of new static model cars and another remote control model. The two new cars are yet another step away from traditional Meccano with lots of formed body parts and fewer holes. The remote control car appears to have the new proportional control, as first seen on the Lamborghini Huracan that appeared in late 2016.

Simplistic remote control car
So, not a lot to excite the enthusiast, but I was half expecting that. Meccano have moved on. The product has changed more in the past few years than it did in the previous few decades. For the company that is a good thing. Meccano sales are very strong are outstripping predictions. Building a global brand (or rebuilding in this case) is not an easy thing to do but Meccano, under Spin Master’s direction, have moved on to be an exciting and innovative TOY company. Selling product that today’s kids want. For Sue and I, that is exactly where it should be. As far as we are concerned, we have plenty of dealers selling the more traditional parts we need, and if there are parts in the new sets that will expand our options, that is a bonus.


Sunday 1 January 2017

Automatic Slag Dumper

Want to see it in more detail?
Click on any of the photographs to enlarge!

The truck starts to tip as it reaches the top of the slope
In 1948 when this model first appeared as model 4.20, it was a far more innocent time. The title of this model would not have raised an eyebrow, as it may do today. To confirm what we are referring to here the Cambridge Dictionary gives the meaning of 'slag' as: "Waste material produced when coal is dug from the ground or a substance produced by mixing chemicals with metal that has been heated until it is liquid in order to remove unwanted substances from it." If you are not familiar with the contemporary slang use of the word, I am not going into it here - look it up!

Now we have cleared that up, the reason I am mentioning it here is that I have just built a version of the model for the 2016 Christmas Challenge that has just finished on the Spanner II list. The challenge is run each year with a different set of rules. This year the requirement was to produce an improved version of a manual model without detracting to far from the look of the original. The full rules can be found HERE, and all the entries are collected together in one gallery HERE on the NZ Meccano website.

Model as illustrated in the 1948 set no.4 manual
This simple model's main feature is the action of the tipper wagon that automatically tips its load as it reaches the top of the ramp. Most of the 'improvements' to the model have been made by redesigning the truck. The chassis and tipping mechanism are all new. and the four 1 inch pulleys have been replaced with small flanged wheels. The shape and dimensions of the tipping body have been retained.

The modified tipper truck
The automatic tipping is achieved by the tightening of a short length of cord (arrowed in the picture below) that is attached to the front edge of the tipper at one end and to the cross-tie of the track at the other. The cord used is Ralph's String, fine. It is available in cut lengths HERE.

The body starts to tip as the truck approaches the top of the slope

At the top of the slope, the cord that propels the truck up and down the slope, runs around a ½ inch Pulley that is held in place using rod connectors slid onto a 3 inch rod. These also retain the rod within the rails negating the need to use spring clips or collars to prevent the rod from sliding out of position, as arrowed on the right-hand side of the picture above.

The tipper body is fully raised as the truck reaches the top of the slope
 Although keeping its original dimensions the winding house is modified by using angle girders at the corners and some bracing is added under the redesigned roof which is attached to the tops of the girders using hinges. the shallow pitch of the roof is achieved by using the relatively new narrow obtuse bracket that is set at only 22½º as opposed to the usual 45º of its standard width cousin. Two flanged base plates, joined with 5½ inch Perforated Strips were used to make the floor, onto which the winding gear, built pretty much as the original model, is attached.

The modified winding house
The original instructions made good use of cord to make driving bands. I was never a fan of this as a kid, but in recent years I have made good use of it. In this model the crank has a 1 inch pulley attached to the far end that is used to drive the 3 inch Pulley via a loop of cord. it works very well, even negotiating the knot with ease. The cord that propels the truck up and down the track is wound around the other 3 inch Pulley a full turn before being attached to a spring under the modified truck.

The truck returns to the bottom of the ramp to collect another load
The modifications made to this model have been mainly cosmetic, apart from redesigning the tipper mechanism to be more prototypical. The finished model is rather pleasing and it has only taken me about fifty-five years to get around to building it. If it was not for the Christmas Challenge, it would probably still be waiting to get built.


Thursday 22 December 2016

A VirtualMEC reality

Click on any of the photographs to enlarge!

It is the last few days before Christmas and the last of the preparations are being hurriedly thought about, by me, and carried out by Sue. Cakes are being cooked and the Christmas tree is making the place feel like Christmas. At this time of the year Meccano thoughts are on the Christmas Challenge that has become a regular feature in the Spanner II list.  It usually causes a lot of debate and can take weeks for the rules to be clarified. It seems to be a bit of a tradition. This year, I took the bull by the horns and jumped in to proposed a Christmas Challenge much earlier than is the norm, expecting nothing more than for it to take an age to get under way.

Sue's Christmas fireplace
To my surprise it all fell into place and we were off. The simple rules of the competition can be found HERE, if you would like to take a look. Models are exported into the NZ Meccano Gallery where Bob T. does a splendid job of sorting out all the pictures and displaying them next to the manual model they are based on. There is also a voting system to establish viewer's favourite model. No prizes are given but the top place is where everyone aspires to be, come the 31st December. I usually end up in the middle of the list, if I actually get around to entering. We will not talk about the year Sue came third with her Santa's Fireplace complete with Christmas stockings hanging up. My Derrick came fifty-third.

One of the first people to enter the competition this year was Douglas Laing from Johannesburg. Douglas had submitted a VirtualMEC drawing of a Hammer Head crane. Unfortunately I found myself in the unenviable position of having to disqualify it for not complying with the rules. Christmas challenge aside, the model was very appealing and I decided to have a go at building it. Luckily my disqualification of his entry was taken with good grace and we started corresponding regarding the build. Douglas sent me his VirtualMEC model file and it was then that the wheels started to come off of this plan. The original 'still' from the drawing is shown on the right. VirtualMEC has its limitations and one of them is that nobody taught it how part no. 40 works. For those without an encyclopaedic knowledge of meccano parts numbers, that is a Hank of Cord - String to you and me!

It is very easy to draw parts in impossible positions without realising it. The trading of e-mails between London and Johannesburg began and progress was made slowly. The other thing to come out of this was the realisation that the VirtualMEC program had no 'gravity' and what would stand up in the virtual world would not necessarily do so in reality.

The Build     

I started with the tower as that looked simple enough. And it is if you have all the parts. Closer inspection reveals the bracing is actually 5½ inch narrow strips. Who has twenty-four of those laying about? Even we don't have that sort of quantity to hand. These parts were not included in the sets and were only available as spare parts, which were hard to come by even when Meccano were selling spares. In fact they are so thin on the ground around here I know exactly how many we have and exactly where they all are. There are thirty-four of them built up in Sue's replica Ferris wheel dealer display model and just two more sitting in the drawer.

The top of the tower showing the
overlapping 3 inch narrow strips
joined behind the washer
Can you believe it, we are overrun with most parts in this house (so much so we are selling off our surplus at and the first thing I look at is one of the very few parts we are short of. Luckily there is an easy work-around. The point at which the bracing crosses is detailed with a large washer. This means the 5½ inch strips can be replaced with two 3 inch strips overlapped by one hole and secured with the bolt that is used to fit the large washer. It was at this stage when it dawned on me that the top and bottom of the tower is finished off with 4½ inch girders. Another part that is not that common and Sue had just used at least eight of them in her latest model.  A rummage around in our 'back-stock' turned up a further eight to allow me to complete the tower. So far, so good but next it was time to build the boom. Looked like a piece of cake - yeah right!

Building the outer framework was fiddly, with all those double girders, but once it was sorted out that was the easy bit. Now the fun began. Try as I might I could not get several of the narrow strips used to brace the side frames to fit anywhere near where the drawing indicated they should be. It was at this point that Douglas sent me the drawing file. Inspection of this revealed that several of the strips were indeed not aligned with the holes at all and just hidden behind the frame. In all cases the ends of the strips can be trapped between the sections of the frame. Surprisingly, this worked well and the resultant construction is perfectly rigid enough.

View from above better sows the construction
It was at this point the 'Gravity' issue became obvious. This thing was very front heavy and was going to require a good deal of weight in the back end to keep it standing upright. Not wanting to add a huge block to the back of the boom I adopted a 'thick-floor' policy and added the best part of half a kilogram of 4½ inch strips to form a floor. In case you are wondering, that is 65 strips in 5 stacks of 13!  Even that was not enough and a few 3½ inch strips were added to the inside of the back of the winding house.

Inside the winding house with the roof removed
It is nice to keep a model simple, in this case the simplicity was maintained by keeping the hand operation and not getting carried away with a bucket load of gears and brassware.  However, a few improvements can make the operation easier. Guide pulleys will stop the cord chafing and aid smooth operation.  The most obvious addition is the winding drum for the hoist. This is made by forcing a couple of Chimney Adaptors into either end of a Sleeve Piece and trapping it between a couple if the small diameter bush wheels. The cord used is Ralph's String, fine. It is available in cut lengths HERE. It is anchored by passing it through one of the holes and out via the expansion slot in the sleeve piece. A double knot tied in the end of the cord will stop it passing through the slot. making a neat means of securing it. A spring forces a ½ conch diameter Bossed Pulley fitted wit an 'Aircraft Tyre'  against the inside of the Flat Plate to form a brake for the hoisting cable. Pushing the winding wheel in, against the spring, allows the drum to be wound easily and releasing the wheel will brake the drum, holding the load in place.

The tyre is acting as a brake, held against the plate by the spring seen in the picture above
Getting the tension right in the crab travel lines is crucial and is helped with the addition of a tension spring incorporated in the crab. The cord is tied to one end of the spring and then it is fed through the front bracket, around a pulley at the front of the boom and back through the crab to the winding house and under the guide pulley. There it is wound around a rod before being passed over the pulley guide this time and tied to the other end spring, under tension. 
The crab incorporated a tension spring
The hoisting cord passes under the lower guide pulley an out of the winding house to the crab. it then passed over the first 1 inch free-running pulley down to the block and back up again before being secured to the front of the boom ensuring the load will stay level no matter what the position of the crab along the boom.

The hook block in the original plan uses flat trunnions in the usual configuration to make the block. However in this scale I felt it looked a little too bib so I made a slightly lighter one using a pair of brass  ½ inch Pulleys without boss held between a pair of 1 inch corner brackets. A vintage red part no. 57c Hook is held between a pair of red 1 inch narrow strips. Short pivot bolts and thin brass M4 washers were used to hold the corner brackets together and space the pulleys away from the bracket to prevent them binding. Hexagonal nuts were locked together to hold everything in place, but still leaving the pulleys free to rotate. The small size of these nuts is not a great deal different from the size of the socket head bolts an therefore look better than any other solution available, such as Meccano locking nuts. A shorter 3/8 inch Long Bolt is used to suspend the hook.After assembly it was obvious that the paint in the holes of the painted parts were causing it all to bind in use. A bit on manual working in by working the pivot points by hand soon loosened it up and a few drops of oil on the pivot bolts and hook suspension gear worked wonders. 
The finished winding hose with roof
Collars were added to the ends of the guide pulley rods and a couple of 4½ x 2½ inch Flexible Plates were pre-formed on the bending machine before being secured in place to complete the winding house.

I am please with the way it turned out and it just goes to show how Meccano manual models can  models can be inspirational and lead to something completely different as the idea is passed on and evolved. Douglas said he made his drawing in an attempt to improve an old manual. Model 4.1 HAMMERHEAD CRANE from the 1951 no. 4 set.

Although Model 4.13 firm the 1962 Manual looks to be more like an ancestor of the model in his original drawing. 

Either way, as he says in his original post on the Spanner II list, it can't have wheels and be called a Hammerhead crane.

Okay, that has got the crane building bug satisfied for another little while I am off to look at making an entry of my own to the Christmas Challenge over on the  Spanner II list. If you are not familiar with Spanner II and want to know more, click HERE or follow the link in the light-blue Spanner II information box in the left hand column of this page.


Friday 16 December 2016

Clockwork Truck

Click on any of the photographs to enlarge!

At the Hainault Hangout, the premier Meccano show in east London, my other half spends his entire day extracting money out of people for raffle tickets and competition entries. One of the competitions is to guess the weight and number of parts in a small model. It usually falls upon me to build the model and this year was no exception. I was looking through some old manuals for inspiration and found a rather awful looking van that looks as if it could be replicated and improved using strips instead of plates in our usual fashion. The Delivery Van was published as Plan 4.11 from a 1973, 2/3/4 manual. My initial intention was soon dismissed as I started to build the chassis. It has been said that the models contained in manuals of this period left a lot to be desired. They were not wrong. The chassis is the only part of the original model to be retained as I needed something to build on.
I set about building the rear body from 5½ inch strips and angle girders wrapped around 4½ inch squares built from 4½ inch angle girders. For some reason we seem to be very low on supply of these. We have angle girders in very respectable quantities of most other lengths. I must keep my eye open for any at the shows… Yes, I know his nibs is saying we have enough Meccano but there are exceptions. Besides I noticed the postman arrive with a box of Meccano that Ralph had won on eBay. What’s good for the gander… The rear of the body was fitted with a single opening door and a handle made from one end of a de-constructed shock absorber.  
As I was building the body I was aware the weight was starting to add up and it occurred to me that the little magic motor might struggle to cope. I was not too bothered as this was more about building a model for the competition, besides I have a very nice No.2 clockwork motor I bought a few years ago at SkegEx that I could shoehorn Under the ‘bonnet’ so to speak. Mind you that might be like dropping a big block V8 under the bonnet of my sedate Volvo estate – fun though!
I was looking at the cab details in the original instructions and decided that I would have a go at making my own. Then it came to me that we have a pile of those Multi-Set cabs. Ralph said I probably should not tell you I woke up in the middle of the night when the idea came to me. I can’t understand why. The cab is just about right and saved me messing about building one for myself. It fitted with a prototypical gap between it and the body that was an ideal location for the spare wheel. 
The model was finished off with a magnetic ‘Meccano’ badge on the front of the box-back and a hazard sticker on the back accompanied by a set of rear lights from modern Evolution Parts.


Monday 28 November 2016

Old Boiler!

No, not me, this...
Scruffy boilers are commonplace, especially the blue ones
We seem to have collected a good few boilers over the years and the blue ones seem to be the worst for wear of the lot. A few years ago, I bought a couple of clock kits from a chap that had been looked after very well indeed. All the parts were almost like new, even though they had been built, that is with the exception of the boilers. The paint is just not keyed on very well. I will get around to painting them at some point, but for now I have found a quick fix. While rooting around in the heaps of stuff we have been sorting out recently (see HERE), I found a motley selection of boiler sleeves in various colours that had been used as circular plates in rockets and submarine sets. However the ones that caught my eye were the ones used in the locomotive set of the early 2000s. These are black, a far more useful colour than lurid yellow of the submarine and far more practical than the white ones used in the rocket sets. The only problem with them is that they are not bent as tightly as they need to be to fit inside the boiler ends.
The locomotive parts need the rolled profile tightened
Just forming them with your hand will result in them bending out of shape as they will form a crease along the lines of holes. They need to be rolled but I was not sure if the process would damage the paint, which has been rather heavily applied and appears to be a powder coating.

Custom made rolling bars
A couple of years ago, I needed to form some plates lengthwise and built a new wider bending machine. You can see how it was built HERE. This machine is just the right width for this job. The rollers were wiped over with a spirit-dampened rag to remove any dust and grit from the rollers and the machine set up so the plate was just held in the rollers. the sleeve was rolled through under light pressure several times, each time increasing the roller pressure by a couple of turns of the adjusting wheel. It took several passes to get the sleeve to the required shape but, by going gradually, no paint was lost. I bent the sleeve so the ends were almost touching. This will mean the last half an inch of compression can be made by hand to fit the end into the boiler ends and hold them in place.

The finished boiler sleeve reassembled into the original boiler ends
I like the look of the black and zinc boiler. The original sleeve will be flattened out, using the rolling bars, and stripped of paint. Now all I have to decide is whether to paint it or, and here's an idea, zinc plate them. Ever since Meccano zinc plated the 5½ x 2½ inch base plates in the Tower Bridge set, I have been thinking about what other traditionally painted parts might look good plated, but that is yet another story.


Sunday 20 November 2016

Movin' it on...

So where do you want this lot!
For the past few months, we have been collecting Meccano together from all corners of our house and workshop, in readiness for a house move in the new year. We had no idea just how much Meccano we have collected over the past four decades. As of today we are in the process of selling-on the masses of stock we are never going to use, through our internet shop.

You will find the shop HERE!
The most interesting place to look will be the lots list that can be found HERE. We will be adding to the list, slowly to start with but over the following days and weeks we will be adding more and more. Just keep popping in to see what's new. If you really don't want to miss anything, you can sign up for notifications of product listings and/or our News pages simply by entering your e-mail address into box in the left hand column on any page of the website. You can opt in and out of the list at any time by checking or un-checking the options boxes that will appear when you click on the subscribe button. 

At the time of writing, we are working on a couple of new sections. One is Motor City where you will find all sorts of genuine motors and gearboxes from across the whole Meccano range going way back to some of the early clockwork and electric motors of the pre second world war era, through to the current offerings of the past decade or so.
We are also putting together a fixings section that will be called 'Fixing It'. This will initially feature a good selection of hex-socket head bolts and nuts. We have a good selection of bolts and lots of standard size black bolts.

In case you are wondering where it has all come from, fear not, you are not the only one to wonder. We sat down and thought about this and came to the conclusion that most of the 'modern' stuff (by 'modern' I mean parts from the 1980 to around 2013 when Meccano was bought by Spin Master) came from eBay. We have been eBayers for fourteen years. We joined in 2002 primarily to buy Meccano and buy we did.  For more than a decade it was possible to buy up lots of sets in unused condition. Most of these sets were bought and either never built and a lot were never opened. The ones that had been started were in the main, never finished. Stored away until they were ripe for disposing of.  In those early days, eBay provided a place where all that Meccano could be sold easily. It also gave us a source of modern parts which we pounced on. The trouble was we were buying whole sets to acquire a couple of parts and in order to build a good supply of those parts we also accumulated vast amounts of modern parts and huge quantities of nuts and bolts.

We do not only buy from eBay. We have bought several collections over the years, large and small. This is where a lot of our own collection has come from. This has amassed huge amounts of tatty old Meccano. Some of which we refurbish for our own use, the rest we sell  at meetings and shows in boxes for a few pounds, the rest we will be putting on eBay as lots that weight to a maximum of 2kg (including packing) to keep postage charges reasonable.

Talking of shipping charges, we have simplified that on  for UK buyers. No matter what you buy from the shop you will never pay more than £3.00 shipping for each order, so the more items you add to the shopping basket at each visit the better, as you know you will not be charged a fortune for delivery no matter how heavy the order is!

That's enough of that, back to the building!


Sunday 23 October 2016

Big Wheel in action at HTMC meeting

Yesterday we were at the Holy Trinity Meccano Club (HTMC) meeting at Hildenborough in Kent. While we were there, we had a go at videoing the Big Wheel running using Sue's compact camera. I am not versed in the art of video so this rather poor 56 seconds is the result. At least it does show the model running reasonably slowly, and the official fireman/cameraman in action.

There was a lot of interest in the smell! As soon as the engine was fired up it drew a small crowd of People, most of whom were revelling in nostalgia for a bygone age of meths fired steam toys, Sue said it reminded her of Tilly lamps (!? - She obviously didn't have a steam engine as a kid)  and shockingly there was a bloke in his forties who asked what the smell was! Blimey, I must be getting old!

The model was fired up several times during the meeting and once I had straightened out the chain, that had become twisted during transportation, it ran perfectly smoothly without incident.


Friday 21 October 2016

The finished Big Wheel

Following on from our last two posts, we made it! The big wheel is finished and has been fired up. The chains have been adjusted and the gearing modified so it runs at a more realistic speed.
Finished - The engine looks tiny against it!
Finished just in time for its first outing to the Holy Trinity Meccano club meeting, tomorrow. I am really please with this model. Sue's extra gondolas have improved the look even if we did have to revert to type and use our trademark red/zinc colour scheme I will have a go at getting hold of some more contemporary dark green strips to replace the zinc, but for now they will do the job.