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... 


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