Sunday, 29 September 2013

Wooden Meccano? - No, it's BILOfix!

BILOfix cat

Last week, when we collected the Meccano we have been talking about in recent posts, the seller offered us a collection of BILOfix. Having never heard of it before, I was a bit hesitant. There was a considerable amount of the stuff on offer so we decided to take it and struck a deal. Expecting to return home, do an internet search and discover that we were the only people in the known civilised world who had never heard of it. How wrong can you be. I am amazed how little there is out there regarding this superbly made construction toy. An eBay search revealed nothing - not one piece for sale. A wider internet search relieved a little more information but not a lot other than it was made by Lego. I am working on a separate page over the next week or so where I will detail all I know about the system and invite contributions to help fill in any gaps.

A crane truck - it can slew and hoist
I am not going to say too much here as this stuff is not Meccano but it is interesting and as the picture below illustrates it's huge!

Size comparison; BILOfix and standard Meccano 6-hole strips
I have started a dedicated page for BILOfix HERE so keep an eye on it over the next few weeks and on for the latest news and models.


Saturday, 28 September 2013

20V AC motors and me!

The E020 motor affectionately known at the Cricket-ball motor

We have a motley collection of motors, all sorts from sideplates to modern geared motors and just about everything else between. I would not profess to have all the minor variations but we are not collecting them, we build with them, or at least that is the idea. 

I have always thought of the Meccano motor as being either under powered, noisy or both. For these reasons all our recent, powered models, have utilised modern motors that are much more efficient and advantageously tend to be much smaller.  This week we bought a modest collection of Meccano and amongst it were a couple of 20V motors. One is a  spherical 'cricket-ball' motor and the other is a 20V long sideplate motor. Having never owned a cricket-ball motor before I thought I would give it a test and see if ran. After a bit of maintenance, and some oil in the correct places, it ran very well. This combined with the fact that I found the original pulley, in the box of Meccano that came with it, has made me reconsider using it in a model. looking for ideas I scanned through our collection of manuals and could find nothing, but the robot in the 1947, No.7-8 manual, model number 8.14. The only other reference can find to it (at the time of writing) is in the Gears manuals - both A and B.  The relevant extract is reproduced below. 

That is one way of making it useful...
I am thinking we will have to just build it into a contemporary model of the time or just build one of our own. It seems that Meccano were not overly keen to promote its sale or did the Second World War curtail its promotion.

Rather tatty but a good runner
Along with the cricket-ball motor there was a rather tatty, red, long sideplate motor. This thing has seen a bit of life, but as with the cricket-ball motor it seemed to be a good runner, after a spot of maintenance. As you can see, I need to locate some spares for it. The reversing plate has the top lug snapped off and the terminal nuts and oilers are missing. It looks like another candidate for building into a model. This time I had no trouble finding ideas there are lots of interesting examples in the manuals covering a long period of time - I feel another crane coming on...


Elektrikit Asynchronous Motor

Ekektrikit model E12
Like most of us, my association with Meccano goes back to my youth. Although we never went short of anything, we were not rolling in money and at times I am sure my parents sacrificed a lot to keep food on the table and pay the bills. Money for meccano was practically non-existent so I had to rely on Christmas and birthday presents to increase my stock. There was one thing that I remember always wanting, and I can remember my Father telling me he would love to be able to buy it for me but it was just not possible this year. I know he was genuine as he was obviously keen on the idea himself. The day it was possible for my Father to buy it never came. That illusive set was the Elektrikit.

Years later my father had a stroke and he and my Mother came to stay with us for a while after he had gone through a long hospitalised recovery. He was very keen to do something with his hands as a sort of therapy, so I got out the Elektrikit I had eventually acquired from the late Bert Love some years earlier. We sat in our front room, with bits all over the place, and proceeded to build some of the models we had seen in the advertising decades earlier. Although my Father's dexterity was not too good, between us we built some models. We both had a thoroughly good day and one that I will never forget.

Apart from that day I don't think I have built many (if any) models from that manual until yesterday. A post on Rust Bucket, the Meccano forum, set me off again and it was out with the manual and time to select some parts. The model being discussed on the forum was model number E12, a self starting synchronous motor.

The instructions for the original UK Elektrikit manual
The model itself is straightforward. I built it to the instructions using some parts from the modern sets combined with nice clean, specially selected, Elektrikit parts. The only problem was I didn't have a 15V AC supply to hand, as the instructions recommend. and certainly not a vintage one. The nerest I have is an old Meccano 20V transformer (T20M), so that was pressed into use.

It is always worth checking the resistance of the coils to check they are not faulty. Most of mine are 16Ω (I assume this is what they were meant to be) giving a total  resistance of 32Ω, as the two coils are wired in series. My T20M Transformer gives out about 24V so the current draw in round figures should be about 750 mA (V/R = I ). In fact it will probably be less as I bet there will be some resistance on all those joints!

The finished model with the card removed to show the workings
I have used genuine Elektrikit wire as I wanted to see if it worked built faithfully to the instructions. Although the build is simple, the setting up takes a bit of care. Fine adjustment to the pin-point bearings and to the ends of the strips mounted on the threaded rods really improves the running.

This lower angle shot shows how close the pulley is to the strips

The closer the pulley is to the strips the better only a minimum air gap is required. This obviously necessitates finding 3 inch pulley that runs true. I ended up using one of the dark red pulleys from the vintages set in the end. They are also a bit heaver than the blue ones.

The video shows that the finished motor that self starts and runs like a dream. Towards the end of the video, the sound cuts. This is were I have disconnected the power to the motor and it is continuing  to spin, almost silently, freely in the bearings - great fun. I might just go and have a go at something else from the Elektrikit manual...


Sunday, 22 September 2013

Lighting our Meccano world

Meccano building has not changed an awful lot in the hundred years plus that it has been with us. The size of the parts, thread and hole specifications have remained unchanged. Yes there have been deviations (Series-X) over the years but the basic concept has remained unchanged. It is the world around Meccano that has changed and no more so than in that associated with electricity.

Today in the developed world we accept our utility services without a second thought. Electric is just there, available as a stable (well, relatively!) supply whenever we want it. It was a very different matter a hundred years ago. Here in the UK domestic use was originally very limited until local authorities used an assisted wiring scheme to encouraged people to connect their houses.  To quote a line from the History of public supply in the UK:

"The scheme began in 1930, and by 1936 over 12,000 premises had been connected"

Meccano Accumulator
(Photo: John Thorpe)
Even by the late 1930s domestic supply was very limited. Meccano attempted to keep pace with the technology by producing motors that ran on all sorts of voltages and lethal looking contraptions to convert the 'supply' to something that would run their motors. There were no batteries as we know them today.  Accumulators were the only source of portable power and you took it to the local garage or cycle shop to have it charged! Meccano sold an accumulator under their brand (now an expensive collectors item) in an effort to standardise the supply. In the early days, supply varied from area to area, not only the actual voltage but whether it was supplied as alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC).

All this played havoc with Meccano's plans to introduce the new technology to their system. While all this was going on Meccano introduced a lighting kit to add lighting to their models. The bulbs supplied were small grain-of-wheat (GOW) style filament bulbs. Today any of these bulbs that still exist are precious and although will probably still work today, they have a relatively short life expectancy and using them in our models for every-day use is not something most of us would want to do. In order that Sue could use her table lamp from her lighting kit (that I would not dare hint we use!), I suggested we used a modern alternative, instead of a modern replacement GOW bulb.

Sue's lighting kit
This is its normal state - closed!

Light Emitting Diodes are not new and have been with us for decades. it is only in recent years that the technology has moved on to produce useful colours and at a price that is affordable. They have several other advantages including developing hardly any heat and just sip power so they will run on very little supply current, usually 20mA. I won't bore you with the maths but it is very easy to match a led to any low voltage supply just by adding a current limiting resister in series with the LED - they also have to be connected up the correct way to a DC supply. If you want more detailed information on using LEDs, and the formula to work out what value of resister to use for a given supply voltage, go to THIS post on my workshop blog - you will have to scroll down a bit, past the frog - you'll see! For now, if you want to run a standard brightness LED from a 12V supply you will need a 470 Ohm ¼W resister.

Sue's Lamp

Sue wanted to used her table lamp from the lighting kit but did not want to use the original lamps for fear of damaging them so we came up with a modern solution to the problem!

Old meets new

The cast lamp base that Sue wanted to use in her model  has a hole just the right size to accept a 3mm led clip. Into this a 5mm LED will sit with its leads just making a good grip and insulating them from the casting.

Parts required - you only need one resistor!
The leads of the components are shortened and the resistor is soldiered in place.  The wires are soldered to the ends and heat-shrink tubing is used to insulate the wiring from each other and the casting.

Resistor soldered in place
Heat-shrink tube insulation - great stuff!
The wires are pulled through the small hole in the side of the base and twisted together to simulate the twisted, cotton-covered electrical 'flex' of the day. After the flex has been twisted together, heat is applied to 'set' it. works fine and the lampshade from the kit sits happily on top without any risk of it getting hot.

The leads emerge from the base and are twisted together.
The photograph above shows the bottom of the base, although it feels sound it is covered in cracks. I wonder if this is age - it must be over 80 years old now - or if it is a maufacturing fault and it has always been like that.  I think the final model is a demonstration of old and new working together in complete harmony!


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Night fell and, as I opend the door...

...there standing alone in the middle of the room stood a solitary table with a dimly lit table lamp producing an eerie glow... eerie glow...

Where's he gone now!

Sorry, couldn't resist that.

Old meets new...

Ralph is always going on about being a builder and not a collector. To prove it I have decided to use part of my lighting kit. It all started a week or so ago when a parcel of Meccano arrived to add to our building stock. The parcel was mainly medium red/green stock in nice condition. As usual, the first things Ralph looked at, in the pile of instruction manuals that were included with the lot, were the cranes. No surprise there then.

I'll remove the shade...
I was intrigued by the small amount of blue/gold stock included so I took a look at a very tatty manual which had a simple table made from a few pieces and standing on it was my lamp. The lamp has the cast base (of which I have one additional to my kit that has a wooden base). All I needed to do was to remove the shade from my set. I had sent Ralph off to the workshop to sort out an LED lamp to save me using my original bulbs from the kit - I am sure he will show you how he did that later. For now here is my little table and working lamp.

I think the simple table looks good with the table lamp

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Just a few small thoughts...

High Five! Click to enlarge!

Yes I know those two blokes are not Meccano but they are small and they make me smile...  We seem to have a fascination with recreating the world around us in miniature. Meccano micro-models are not new,  but they have been around for a while. Some of the early manuals have small models but how do we define a micro model? to me, is the use of few parts to achieve something that is instantly recognisable.

The original old bird?
At the back end of the 1970s The Transvaal Meccano Guild held a 'Simplicity' model building competition that attracted 25 entries
 I know that a bulldozer won the competition but the short piece in Meccano Magazine, April 1979 (Page 69) only described the driver being made from handrail knobs and rod and strip connectors. however there is a plan of the little bird (that we call a chicken). We have built the little fellow several times and now hide one inside our bigger models for a bit of fun.

In recent years Meccano themselves have even produced  a series of micro-models that called 'Nano' kits. The helicopter, that I have mentioned before on the blog, is just one of six little models that was added to, at the end of their year of release, by a small Nano robot sold exclusively through Marks & Spencer.

Modern Micros
I found the little cat on the VirtualMec website where unfortunately, due to the odd missing part in the VirtulMec parts inventory, the poor little fellow has no head!

Recently I built a micro-model of the USS enterprise ( See HERE ). To my surprise a couple of other people built models too. My friend and fellow South East London Club member, Chris Fry, arrived here last Sunday clutching his version, complete with a few enhancements.

Chris Fry's 'improved' version
Pauli's version
It was not long before the craze became global and fellow Rusty, Pauli, posted his version on the Rust Bucket forum. With his permission I reproduce it here and as he did not feel the need to enhance it I guess the original design wins out - Only kidding, Chris!

So what next? There is an existing micro-models website that has been dormant for years. The owner has rebuilt many of the models from Meccano Magazine articles,  including the bird, and photographed them. I did contact the owner at one point and he said that his interest has waned which is why it has just sat there. It is worth a look. You will find the site HERE. How about a few more modern models?

My version is cordless!
At the moment there is a Meccano enthusiast following the original Frank Hornby concept of building what he sees around him from the limited selection modern parts available to him. His name is Subrata Ghoshal he lives a remote Himalayan corner of India, and he produces superb contemporary models usually with very limited parts. One of his recent micro-models was of an electric power drill. I decided to copy his design and build my own version, mine being cordless! Those of you who are followers of Rust bucket and/or the Spanner II list will be familiar with Subrata's work. if you are not then check out his gallery on the NZ meccano website HERE You will be amazed at his incredible creativity.  You will never be able to complain that you have not got enough Meccano again.

To finish off this post here are a couple of models from our old files that were build for a purpose but at the time were not tough of (by us) as micro-models, the first is a small train we built to make a huge 16ft long model of the Forth Bridge look a bit more inserting, the train stole the show as everybody looked straight through the bridge at the train inside.
Heading South over the Forth Bridge
 And to celebrate Sue's interest in flowers and to keep up with here exhibits at the Chelsea flower show I built her a flower arrangement of my own, using a minimum parts.

First prize at Chelsea next year?

Miniature and micro models are a great distraction for building huge models but don't be surprised if other do not understand you efforts. On showing my elderly mother our micro-model 'Chicken' all she said was "All that stuff and all you built was that?"


Sunday, 15 September 2013

More Sky Riding!

Following discussions on the Spanner II list and my post HERE on the Meccano dealer display model of the Skyrider (also referred to as the Double Ferris wheel - which I think is incorrect as that describes the model featured in the Super Model leaflet 33a) Edmundo Veiga from Rio, Brazil, has drawn the model using VirtualMec. It is with his kind permission that I feature it here and supply a link to the VirtualMec file.

Indestructible Lamp!
Edmundo notes:

"VirtualMec does not offer images of the lamp holder, lamps, chains, belts or the commutator.
To include them in my drawing I improvised some cluster of parts which functions as a mock-up to indicate the location of their presence there.

I think he has made a good job of the drawing and improvisations. At least there is no danger of smashing the lamps!

The virtualMec .mdl file can be downloaded from HERE


Saturday, 14 September 2013

To virtually go...

At the beginning of last week, I built a little micro model of USS Enterprise, the famous fictional space ship that featured in, and became the iconic symbol - at least for me - of Star Trek. Today I decided to make a VirtualMec drawing of it.

A virtual USS Enterprise
For those of you with a copy of VirtualMec, the .mdl file can be downloaded from HERE. If you have not got the software you can download the free version from the VirtualMec website at This will allow you to download the drawing and manipulate it but you will not be able to save it unless you buy one of the software packages. The basic one is good enough to get started and indeed is what I am using at the moment. I will move up a level soon!

If you do try it out be very careful - it can be very addictive!


Friday, 13 September 2013

Postman came for me today!

As you know by now we are builders, not collectors, at least, that's the way Ralph tells it!  On the other hand, I do like to collect the odd item. A few days ago I was looking on eBay and something caught my eye, a bid was placed. Days passed by only to discover I had won the item and Ralph had generously bought it for me, It arrived today!

My new Lledo Meccano van

It is one of a limited edition issue of a 1000 run and will sit nicely on the shelf next to my other limited edition Runnymede van already in my small collection Meccano related items. 

The Matchbox RMG van

I had better go and do some work or The Boss will be giving me a hard time.


Monday, 9 September 2013

Display model - Skyrider

Last week, there was some talk on the Spanner II list regarding the Skyrider (double Ferris wheel) display model. Sue and I have owned one of these for a few years now with the intention of refurbishing it. As there seemed to be a fair bit of interest in the model, I said I would get it out and take some pictures of it for anyone thinking of building a version of their own. It has not been touched since we bought it so it is in a rather poor state, but it is fairly close to how it was built. There have been a few modifications to the wiring and I am not sure about the strips holding the transformer (for the lighting) in place. There is a strange chain guide/tensioner arrangements that was obviously added after it left Binns Road. But it is what it is and I have taken half a dozen photographs that should provide enough information to build a replica from. If you would like any other photographs, leave a comment at the bottom of this post and I will try and oblige.

Click on the photographs to enlarge the image...

An overall view of the model and wooden base...

... from a higher angle

The wheels are similar at each end of the rotating arm

Chain arrangement at hub - note the wiring for the lighting laced through the plate

The central hub is an open cage made from axles

Rear view of model - I think there is a plate missing here to cover the motor

It is going back into storage now but if you would like some more photographs please don't hesitate to  ask!


Electro-mechanical reversing switch...

Combining modern electronics and old motors (that are capable of drawing high current and creating all sorts of electrical 'noise') is not impossible, but sometimes it is far easier to revert back to a simpler solution. The display in the cabinet it the Eltham Centre (see previous post) has an electronic controller that employs a touch pad to to start a display cycle of 30 seconds. This miracle of modern electronics was designed and built by myself with the assistance of Tim Sertell. That of course is a bit of journalistic licence, as Tim built it and I just stuck my two-penneth in here and there - but is is my blog so I have to be a little bias...

...anyway the microprocessor controller did the job last year with no trouble at all. However that was before we were presented with the problem of reversing a couple of kilos of narrow gauge loco on a short piece of track. Initial experiments by DT and his team, carried out at the Henley Gathering, proved that you can make very pungent smells and destroy the electronics  with one  push of the button. Further experimentation at DT's electronics research facility (the living room floor) culminated in the discovery of a new way to weld relay contacts together. After this appalling display of ineptitude by the whiz-kids, I thought I should step in and help them out before they got too upset and needed medication.

The finished switch. Click on the picture to enlarge the image

I can't take all the credit for this idea as it is based on a reversing mechanism build but my good friend, Chris Shute. He worked out the MO motor switch could be mechanically operated by adding a control arm to it and capturing the lever in a rod and strip connector. By linking this to a motor the lever of the switch can be repeatedly moved from one position to another. The rate of movement can be varied by changing the gearing or altering the speed of the motor.

A narrow strip and rod connector fixed to the switch lever

The automatic reverser consists of an MO switch with the centring spring removed mounted on a flanged plate. A channel bearing, with a double arm crank attached to the upper row of holes, is bolted to the top of the switch. A bush wheel fixed to a short axle is journalled through it. a cranked arm made from a pair of 1 x ½ inch brackets attached  the bush wheel to the  additional operating leaver that has been added to the switch as described above. The rest of the gearing can be altered to suit the application. On my version, the double bent strip is there to stabilise the meshing of the plastic gearwheel to the worm.

Rubber feet!

Small rubber wheels/tyres are bolted to the underside of the flanged plate to reduce vibration and to give it some grip on a shiny surface. There is a vast range of Meccano tyres available now and many of the smaller rubber ones have lots of 'non-wheel' applications.

Next job is to get it wired up...

The rebuilt switch before fitting (Photo: DT)
So I sent DT off to fit the device, and guess what, he had trouble with the Meccano switch. They can be a bit temperamental so after a bit of messing about he gave up and built his own switch with the contacts much wider apart - worked fine (even if it is ugly!) Now all we have to do is see how reliable it is, hopefully it will do the job for the next few weeks! I must give him a lesson on how to make Meccano look pretty!

The photograph shows the the rebuilt switch and a pair of diodes, that have been fitted to angle brackets, in the foreground. The angle brackets slip nicely into the gap under the rails, where the tinplate rail is formed, making good electrical connection. The loco will run towards the end of the track until it reaches the a gap in the power rail. This gap is bridged by one of the diodes (Diodes will only allow the current to flow in one direction). The loco will stop at the gap and will not move until the motorised switch reverses the current being supplied to the track. The diode will then allow the current to pass and the loco will set off in the opposite direction. A similar diode arrangement exists at the other end of the track.

If you are in the area pop in a take a look - if it is not working - call DT!


Thursday, 5 September 2013

It's Show Time!

SELMEC display at the Eltham Centre

South East London Meccano Club is our local club and we hold an annual show to invite the local community and fellow enthusiasts to come along and see what we do. It is usually a busy affair with a lot of visitors drawn from the local area. We often stage displays and participation events that draw a good crowd. Last year in celebration of the London 2012 Olympics we staged our own MeccanOlympics that included various disciplines. Full details of last year's show can be found HERE.

SELMEC Display at The Eltham Centre
This year we have been able to use the display cabinet again, to promote our Meccano show, and have filled it with a small selection of models made by club members.  

This year's show will be held on:

Saturday 12th October 2013 
10:30am and 4:30pm

Eltham United Reform Church
Court Road
London SE9 5AD

More details and the latest news can be found on the SELMEC website HERE


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Silly question...

...Yes please!

When asked, a week ago or so, if we wanted some Meccano for free, there could only be one answer. The only problem being the Meccano in question was in Brighton. As we are always looking for a good excuse to give the car a run and visit some sort of eatery, we accepted the kind offer and headed South. A 05:30am start ensured we were in Brighton for 07:00am. After a quick trip along the coast, heading East, we descended upon a branch of that well know catering establishment, residing under a pair of 'Golden Arches', and get ourselves outside some grub!

No it is not all junk - it's not, honest!

By the time we got back home it was about 10.30am and it was time to inspect our haul. There is nothing like a swift road trip! After covering the kitchen table with newspaper we tipped out the bag of rusty 'Meccano' as you can see, this is not pristine building stock, but with a bit of work this lot will render a good bit of useful building parts. It looks awful when it is first tipped out but there is a good pile here I am hopping we will be able to recover a good percentage of it.

We will sort out all the other stuff that is always mixed up with a lot like this and show you whtt we end up with. It always looks worse like this. The loose rust has given everything an orange tinge. A wash and scrub up will make a big difference.

To be continued...


Monday, 2 September 2013

Who's going boldly?

Click on the pictures to enlarge!

It's a bit dark up here in space

Sue and I build all sorts of models. We are always willing to give something new a go so when our local club set a Secretary's challenge with a SI-Fi theme we ventured into the unknown, boldly. As I know a lot of you reading this get apoplectic if I spell something wrong or use a split infinitive I would not dare say To boldly go...

NCC-1701 USS enterprise
So here are a few pictures of our latest model; Star Trek's USS Enterprise on its way to another galaxy courtesy of a black tablecloth!

Turn left at Mars and then it's the third set of traffic lights after the Red Lion...