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.


Thursday, 20 October 2016

Steam power for the Big Wheel

The Big Wheel built from the 1927 instruction manual shown in the previous post, has been built following the printed instructions as closely as possible. Looking at it, bearing in mind its vintage, it was screaming out to be steam powered by a 1929 vertical boiler engine.

Tatty, yes, but it goes well and has that well used look about it
Rather than build the engine directly onto the model I decided to make it as a sub-assembly that can be easily fitted to the wheel using rods and collars. The also means the engine can be packed on its own, a much safer way to transport it. It may be tatty but it would be hard to replace, not to mention expensive, these days. We do have another engine in nicer condition but that is of the earlier type and still as the Meccano branding transfer on the boiler's outer jacket, something that would have been burnt off with constant use. This later, tatty version has the branding embossed and will survive for the life of the engine.
An overhead view shows the joining rods and gearing
A strip built base (you know how we like a bit of strip-construction!) was built using 9½ inch angle girders bolted to 5½ inch angle girders to make a frame. This was in-filled with 5½ inch perforated strips to form a base. The girders are configured to have the slotted hole sides making the outer walls of the base. A third 9½ inch angle girder is bolted through the centre to add support. Orientating this girder with the slotted holes making the fixing will ensure it will not protrude lower than the outer girders that form the frame of the base, thereby negating any risk of the finished base rocking on it.

Underside showing the third girder
A selection of gears were added, it is only a guess at this stage. I have also included a clutch that is held engaged by a spring. This can be held disengaged by holding the leaver back. The reason for this is with such a large wheel to get turning, a progressive take up of the power can be controlled by letting the clutch engage gently, like when pulling a way from a standing start in a vehicle with manual transmission. The wheel should start moving without the help of a push.  Well, that's the theory.  

The clutch assembly and final drive shaft
I did build a little 'Big Wheel' a few years ago and that could be started from a standing start without the use of a clutch. It was slightly smaller than this one. Below is a short video of it running on compressed air. There is a page about running steam engines on compressed air, for those times when it is not practical or permitted to fire them up, HERE.

I digress (again). The clutch is a simple affair. a gear wheel, as it stands now is a 50t gear,  is secured into one end of a socket coupling. A 1 inch pulley, fitted with a 'rubber' ring is secured in the other end of the coupling. This runs freely on the output shaft. A bush wheel is secured to the output shaft. A three-hole coupling is fitted with two, 1 inch rods and is tightened against a couple of nuts that have been locked together on a ½ inch bolt so it is free to rotate in the centre hole of a 3½ inch perforated strip. This strip pivots on a small  triangular plate, again via a bolt, lock nutted through the end hole of the 3½ inch perforated strip. The bush wheel is locked to the output shaft in such a position that the gear wheel is still in mesh with the pinion when the pulley and rubber ring are hard against it. The lever is biased against the bush wheel with the aid of a tension spring.

The clutch assembly and lever
The idea is the clutch is disengaged, when the engine has a full head of steam, and the flywheel is spun to set the engine running. once the engine is up to speed, the clutch can be gently let out and the wheel should slowly pick up speed - We will see tomorrow.

Another view of the clutch assembly
I have yet to design the final drive and chain tensioners, but it is almost there. I should have it finished tomorrow. In the meantime Sue has been building some extra gondolas to make it up to eight.

Sue is busy making and fitting more gondolas
Can you believe with all the blooming Meccano we have in this house we can't find another thirty two 2½ inch perforated strips in pre-war green? Well, we can't. So rather than use a lighter green, which would look horrible,  we have opted for zinc strips for now.  We should have it finished tomorrow and it will be ready for steaming. We will let you know how it goes.


Monday, 17 October 2016

Pre-war BIg Wheel

A while ago we acquired a 1930 pre-war No.6 set housed in an original 'enamelled' (painted) wooden box. I have already built the steam lorry, from parts in this set, that appeared in the 1929 steam engine instruction manual. That worked out fine and complimented the the vertical boiler steam engine of the same period perfectly.

The Big Wheel - finished as the instructions - As far as possible

Looking through the old contemporary manuals I found lots of models that I fancied having a go at there is a mass of interesting subjects to chose from. They all would have been things familiar to children of the period. I had often thought about building something from the manual even before we had acquired the set, now I had the perfect excuse.

As can be seen the illustration in the manual is not very clear in places
Recently  I have been building the Big Wheel from the 1927 instruction manual for sets No.4 -7, only to discover that the 1927 set has a lot more parts than the 1930 set. Comparing the contents two sets is interesting and somewhat baffling. I can see the point in reducing the number of strips and other parts that are included in good quantity in the earlier set, but why reduce the number of 3½ x 2½ flanged plates (Part No.53) from eight to seven? I am sure the Meccano accountants of the day made the decisions purely on cost. Even though our set is the later (smaller) set, I decided to build the big wheel from the earlier instructions as I could make up the extra parts from our building stock. I have been collecting odd bits of dark green/dark red, as they turned up in lots we have bought, for years. Where I have not been able to do this I have used some mid red and mid green parts. Amazingly they do not stick out like a sore thumb and in fact are hard to spot even when you know they are there. Interestingly they show up more in the photographs than they do in reality..

It looks very flimsy in this view - it is not!
I started to build the main frame. This is reasonably straight forward except where the gearings are for the wheel itself. The illustration is impossible to decipher and I abandoned the final stages until I had completed the wheel. This way I could use the wheel to determine at what height the bearing needed to be fitted and then finish off the top of the towers.

What a lot of struts
I have no idea how a kid in the thirties would have been able to build this model without some kind of strip rolling machine. Trying to bend the outer strips for the rim of the wheel to a smooth curve would have been nigh on impossible. No indication as to how this is achieved is even hinted at in the instructions. For me here, getting on for ninety years later, the gentle curve required in the 12½ inch perforated strips is easily formed by running them through a set of our rolling bars.

The chain drive works really well
 Once the model was fully assembled and all the nuts and bolts tightened it was an easy job to rig the chain. The wheel turns effortlessly as the gearing down is imminence. A small amount of lubricant made everything run smoothly. If you are wondering how the hub goes together here is a close up picture just to prove that sixteen struts will fit around a standard face plate.   

Close up of the hub arrangement.

That is the model built as close to the original instruction as possible. It is screaming out for a power source to drive it and I think the 1929 vertical boiler steam engine is just the ticket. Four extra gondolas would improve the look too. Watch this space...


Friday, 14 October 2016

Well, I did not think it would be this long...

I have no idea where the past nine months have gone. Sue and I have been preoccupied with a pending house move. After the best part of 40 years in the same house, it is a real challenge just clearing the clutter. Although I have seen a lot worse, we do seem to have collected a lot of 'stuff', Meccano making up a good percentage of the afore mentioned stuff!

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Meccano parts we not easy to get hold of and if they were available, they were not cheap. For years Sue and I would buy any odd box of meccano we found at boot fairs, auctions etc. When eBay came along we managed to increase our building stock considerably. Over the course of a decade or so, we amassed a huge collection of traditional and new parts. Those parts were diligently sorted and 'filed' away into our storage system providing a readily available building stock and a substantial back-stock.

Just a few of the boxes and boxes of traditional parts collected over several decades
I have said before that our early collecting of stock parts was all about traditional Meccano. By this I mean mainly the Binns Road production. By the early 1980s Meccano had all but disappeared as we know it. Under the ownership of Airfix, Frank Hornby's Binns Road factory had been reduced to rubble, manufacturing had been moved to France and the toy that we had turned into a hobby had all but disappeared. When Airfix went to the wall, in January 1981, a management buyout was rejected by the receiver and the company was eventually sold to General Mills to be operated here in the UK by its toy division based in Coalville, Leicestershire trading as part of the Palitoy Company.

Early 1980s sets contained these yellow boxes
This was the point at which I had decided that modern Meccano (of its day) was not for me. The horrible sets of that time were full of stickers and very little else. From that day on I barley gave the current Meccano a second glance, even though it was changing for the better. It is ironic now to think that the only things of use to come out of that period were the yellow storage boxes with their metal lids that are now so sought after. Indeed, we have several stacks of them, being used for storage, ourselves. Our personal life was going through a period where Meccano was not a priority. We had been a victim of the Airfix collapse as I was owed several thousands of pounds for freelance work I had done for the company that, as it turned out, I was not going to see one penny of. All our efforts were concentrated on keeping our heads above water.

As time went on we were able to drag ourselves out of the mire and in time became available to indulge in our hobbies once again. It was at this time I managed to fulfil that childhood dream of owning a No10 Meccano set. This was a rather used 1950's red/green set in the iconic wooden chest. For a few years, Meccano was back in the forefront of our thinking. In the mid 1980s Meccano was not so easy to come by and it took a lot of finding but I was still not interested in anything other than traditional Meccano. By the end of the decade we were involved in our business to the exclusion of most other things and again the Meccano was mothballed.

our return to Meccano - still using traditional parts but that was all to change
Over all this time, although we were not actively building, we still managed to buy Meccano whenever we had the opportunity. This was all traditional Meccano having decided the all new Meccano was rubbish. This period of buying greatly enlarged our stock, especially of the more common parts. We eventually got back to Meccano building nearly twenty years later after we had sold our business and again found we were able to indulge our interest. By this time Sue's casual interest had grown and she was a full on builder in her own right. It was not until Sue decided to buy some current Meccano that it started to dawn on me just how much we were missing. It was at that point that we looked at the new Meccano in a new light.

Modern parts from pre Spin Master ownership have many uses
Since then we have amassed a huge collection of the post Binns Road parts made during the 1990s through to the current day. Most of this has been sourced via on line auction sites, boot fairs and auctions as well as private sales where people have contacted us through our on line presence.  It has now become evident, due to our monumental clear out of our house that we will never be able to use the vast amounts of Meccano we have amassed. For this reason, over the coming weeks and months we will be reviving our on line lots list at and selling off our surplus Meccano.

Our absence from the building scene over the past couple of years has sparked a few rumours  that we have lost our interest in the hobby. Nothing could be further from the truth.  For the recent past we have been very closely involved with Spin Master, the current owners of Meccano. This has meant we have been building and designing models behind the scenes. Most of which we have not been able to talk about at the time, for obvious commercial reasons. As time has gone on, the design team based in Los Angeles that we have been working with, have developed the system into a toy for the current market. Unfortunately this has moved today's products a long was from where they were three years ago. We were involved in the traditional period, working on contemporary models using existing parts across the ranges. The move back towards the toy market has been a huge commercial success for the Meccano company. So much so that I am having to wait for supplies of the current models as demand is outstripping supply on the worldwide stage that the modern global companies of today have to perform on.
The current sets are full of new plastic parts, that although generic in design are more like sub-assemblies than components. This reflects modern engineering and manufacture of today as well as making use of contemporary materials. Our hobby is based on a world that does not exist today in the same way that it did when Frank Hornby conceived the system. He looked around and saw constructions made from steel parts with holes in and joined together with rivets or bolts. Today it is all high-tech materials and sub assemblies - just like Meccano is being presented today.
Meccano has once again moved out of our comfort zone. Some will embrace it, others will reject it with gusto. At the moment I am wavering on the centre ground. Because of our relationship with Meccano, over the past few years, we have had a lot longer with these parts than most of you reading this today. I can report that I am no more in love with them now than I was over a year ago when I first saw them. Sue is of a similar mind albeit a bit more open then me. Meccano are moving on, out of our world and into the cut-throat world of the global toy market. Our involvement with the new stuff is becoming less and less as we get left behind, stuck in our world of how we want Meccano to be. That is fine by us as it should be by most of our fellow enthusiasts. Our world is getting smaller as the days tick by. More and more Meccano is filtering back onto the second-hand market and the dealers and reproduction part makers can supply most if not all the parts we require making the need for Meccano to make stuff we like far less significant. I should think today the worldwide community of Meccano enthusiasts is down to hundreds and how many of them buy any amount of Meccano, very few I suspect.

12t bevel gear from the new helicopter set. This is 3D printed prototype,
the production version is black in colour
It is not all bad news, those of us who still enjoy the noble art of bolting bits of metal (and plastic!) together to build models and mechanisms that, at best, are caricatures of the reel thing, have a vast inventory of parts to choose from and a never ending supply. Even some of the current sets have something to offer such as the new ultra-small bevel gears found in the latest (Autumn 2016) 20-model helicopter set.

So now you know where we have been, you can all stop worrying about us and get on with some serious building now the nights are drawing in and the days are getting distinctly cooler. As I have said, we are awaiting a delivery of current models and as soon as we get them we will be building them, exploring the potential for other modes and the use of their new parts, where applicable.

We also have a few new projects under way. I still have to tell you about the pre-war Big wheel build and my intentions to steam power it. All this mixed in with some vintage builds from decades ago when Meccano was red and green...