Our Meccano storage...

Now, where did you move those gears to Sue?
How do you store your Meccano? This is really a question for the builders, as the collectors will be storing it in its original boxes where available and or in a manner similar to any other collector of three-dimensional objects.

The builder has a different problem to consider. First of all, do you keep everything in its original boxes and use it from there? Impractical I would have thought unless you have a small, considered  collection. Geoff Wright, told me that after disposing of the stock from his famous Meccano shop, MW Models he now only has a red/green No.9 set and builds solely from that - he also says he builds more models now, than he did when he had a vast collection of parts... Food for thought there, I think.

When I first started with my late 1950s light red green set. I would build a model and then when I took it apart I would build another so the box was very rarely full. As I acquired more parts and the box became tatty, the parts moved home to the ubiquitous shoe box. This served me will as most parts would fit in to it, including my part No.162, (Boiler, complete) that my Dad insisted I needed. The contents of a gears set also shared that pre-owned storage facility.

Plastic bricks - I can't remember who made them...
At this point in my life, the Danes had a part to play in the evolution of our storage system. The burgeoning Meccano system was put on hold while the plastic brick took over.  It was at this time that my Dad offered me a chest of drawers that my Mum had bought him to put his tools in. This was to be one of the most useful pieces of furniture I have ever owned. Dads tools? Don't worry about them, they lived in a cardboard box that was far easier to hide away... It was my Mum that wanted him to own and use tools - he had other ideas that usually involved round black things with holes in the centre...

My Dad's 'tool' Cabinet has been with me all my life
 The chest has three rows of drawers, two deep ones on one side, six shallow ones down the centre and three medium ones to the other side. This was (and still is) perfect. The plastic bricks went in the centre drawers, Meccano old and new went in the two large drawers and the medium drawers held my die-cast car collection, subsequently passed down to my younger brother to boil in the washing machine - Don't ask! And my modest Bayko collection... Hmmm... I wonder whatever happened to that? The chest went through many transformations over my teenage years and beyond. It was home to all my modelling tools, plastic kits and model railway at different times.

My 14th birthday produced a Power Drive set
The box did not last very long - this set is not my original!
We will pass over those dark years of the plastic brick and move on to my early teens when I was given a Power Drive set for my 14th birthday. This was stored in its box, initially and although this was essentially the same contents as my earlier set No.4 it had the new six-speed motor! It also had the new instruction manuals and it took me a while to realise that I had no more Meccano than I had before -  now the Meccano was a different colour.  It moved home into the chest once I had built it up to a set No.6. There it lived for the best part of the next decade while I was of discovering girls, buying a house and getting married.

Then, out of the blue, I was offered a 1950's No.10 in a four drawer cabinet for a very reasonable price. Now I had two cabinets. As more parts were acquired, a few plastic component boxes were added to the collection. I also remember a tartan shortbread tin that was full of nuts and bolts. At this stage the growth of the collection stalled as life got in the way and we spent the next twenty years working and living.

The collection grew at a pace

On a day in the early naughties, I was perusing eBay and fell upon a Meccano listing. I had been messing about with a Meccano clock winding mechanism, between other things, that had reignited my interest in building. It was the first time any Meccano building had happened for years. The listing that caught my eye was for a suitcase full of Meccano. I won it and that was it. This was the heyday of Meccano buying on eBay, lots of stuff was coming out of the loft and finding its way onto the market via the rapid growth of the internet and the auction sites here in the UK. For the first time in our Meccano journey, Meccano was readily available in quantity and at reasonable prices.

This abundance of Meccano meant the existing storage for parts was soon swamped. It was now time to commandeer the old chest of my teenage years. The non Meccano contents were boxed and stored elsewhere. The three medium depth drawers were allocated for the storage of flat/flexible plates and motors. The narrow drawers were ideal for the storage of strips and other zinc parts and the two larger drawers were assigned to flanged plates and wheels. Brassware was stored in selection of component storage boxes.

The collection grew...
As the collection of Binns Road parts grew, the boxes were upgraded to larger boxes and the parts in the smaller boxes were promoted up the tree to larger boxes and so it went on for a while. Red and green plates and flexible plates were stored with yellow, blue and black stock.  The zinc/silver was separated from the green as this made more sense at the time. larger circular parts were stored in the No.10 cabinet.

Yellow boxes - we even use the lids sometimes!
Meccano parts had remained mostly unchanged for decades. A few new parts would appear from time to time and some bespoke parts were added to the range (e.g. the digger bucket of the 1930s and the multikit lorry cabs of the 1970s) right up until the end of 1970s when, under Airfix ownership, the legendary factory at Binns Road, Liverpool was unceremoniously dispensed with. At this point Airfix had already started to destroy the origins of the Meccano construction system and produced a selection of the most awful space sets in an attempt to win back the disappearing market. They had missed the point completely and the sets and parts actually available was poor and uninteresting to both the existing customer base and the new costumers it was trying to attract.  The only good thing about these sets were the storage boxes those large light yellow flanged plates as lids. We still use those yellow boxes for all sorts of bits and pieces. and it saved finding somewhere to store the lids - that is until Meccano used the lid as a part in the fairground set. We overcame that problem of storage by making an interlocking pile of them in one of our kitchen-style wall cabinets.

At this point we stopped looking at the new stuff and did not buy anything that was not made prior to the closure of Binns Road. This meant that our storage was not too much of a problem as were were just adding quantity to existing parts. by this time our collection had grown to encompass most of the parts available up until closure. We looked at the new sets as modern marketing rubbish that did not have any worth. To this end we wrongly dismissed all the modern Meccano as being worthless.

Our blinkered approach to buying during our dormant (non building) period simply enforced our views and when we became active again in the early naughties we (at lest me) were still only interested in what we thought of as being real Meccano. It was not until the latter part of the last decade that all that changed. By this time we had joined a few new clubs, as well as being a member of SELMEC since the early 1980s. One of the new places we joined was Telford and Ironbridge Meccano Society (TIMS). A serious threat to the stability of our now refined and workable storage regime was about to unfold.  We had been working on our entry to the annual challenge, keeping out head deeply buried in the sand by only using our stock of traditional Meccano. That year the challenge was to construct a ‘square wheeled racer’ and compete against each other in the arena.

First attempts were dismissed as unworkable due to the flex in the design. Rigidity meant weight. As the ‘racer’ had to carry it’s own power supply It became apparent that this was going to be a tortoise and hare type of event and we were building a tortoise! The final version was in the super heavy-Weight class. Powered by a couple of 6volt lead-acid batteries our lumbering machine was more of a plodder than a racer. To our surprise we won our group and came runner-up in the final!

Our racer
Our racer
One thing that became evident at the show was our lack of knowledge regarding all the new stuff that had appeared over the past few years. The square wheeled racer challenge was won by a ‘hare’ taking advantage of the new lightweight parts and more efficient motors.

That was it, a new spending spree was called for here. Our first venture into the ‘new’ stuff was made by Sue when she purchased a couple of the design starter sets. The helicopter and the motorcycle combination. These looked interesting but were devoid of things like tri-axels, new wheels and so on. The only way to find out what was what, necessitated the purchase of one of the sets. We opted for the Motion System 30 model set that later became the 30 model set of the Multimodels range.

Modern meccano had changed - look at this lot!
On arriving home after that, in Meccano terms, life changing event, the storage system was about to get a revamp. Never in a thousand years could we have known where this was going to lead. The next week or so was spent researching just what we had missed. My old parts bible, John Westwood’s Meccano Parts Illustrated was now twenty years out of date. A search for information revealed Oscar Felgueiras  superb modem parts lists, that can be found HERE. Now we had the information we knew what we were looking for. New sets were sourced from eBay and at boot fairs for a fraction of the new cost. over the next few years we also bought a few very large collections that were either totally or heavily made up of new parts.

Now we had a huge problem; where to put all those new parts. Not only parts but all those new fixings. We had just started to realise that the new sets were full of not only new parts, but some of the parts that were thin on the ground in the original sets, were now present in abundance. The new sets tend to have smaller parts with a much greater proportion of fixing to parts ratio than before. The solution was obvious. Meccano now consisted of lots and lots of small components and what better to keep them in than 'Component drawers'.

The drawers are perfect for keeping most parts in. The Racco drawer cabinets we use today are readily available from several sources and can often be found on the second hand market. They will take parts up to 4½ inches long. The larger drawers at the bottom will take bulky items and longer components. All our longer strips and plates are stored either in the original 'tool' cabinet, referred to earlier, or in the other perfect storage units, Meccano dealer cabinets.  The latter can be expensive, especially if in pristine condition.

Dealer cabinet awaiting some attention in the workshop
Great for extra storage of girders
We have managed to acquire some bargains over the years. The slope-back dealer cabinets can be picked up now and again in very poor condition. They suffered badly from woodworm and one of the cabinets we now own was so badly worm ridden that the drawer bottoms were almost transparent! In another life I am a woodworker so repairing these cabinets is not too much of a problem. even without a workshop it is not too difficult to repair these ex Binns Road masterpieces as they will knock apart reasonably easily and reassemble with modern glue and light pane pins. 

Sue's drawers!
The pre-war counter top drawer units fetch a small fortune, but if you can find some that are painted light red (PINK!), they usually sell for a lot less. These cabinets are, of course, referred to in our house as Sue's cabinets (no, not drawers...) as I don't do PINK!I could refinish the cabinet with a bit of effort but then I would be frightened to use them in case I damaged the finish - I think I will leave then as they are and settle for the shabby-chic look!

No mater what storage boxes, drawers or cabinets are used, there comes a point where any system becomes overrun. Our system has matured to a point that we are happy with and it can be expanded as required. Initially we would just allocate two component drawers to some parts, and that is still the case today with some smaller components like collars. We now run a building stock system in the vicinity of the work table and carry, what would be called in the retail business, a back-stock. Drawers are labelled with small stickers that denote where further stocks can be found by colour and or alphanumeric codes. These stocks are housed in the old component boxes (that used to house our building stock), in food containers, stacked on shelves or in kitchen-style wall cabinets and in the dealer cabinets.  Our system of storage is constantly expanded as the stock grows. New cabinets are purchased as we run out of drawers as the range of parts continues to grow. In recent times the new Evolution range has introduced dozens of new parts to the range. Smaller contributions have been made by the franchised sets such as Rabbids and Gears of War.

Kitchen style cabinets can hold a lot of stock,  loose and boxed out of sight.
In case you are wondering, the thread is for one of our looms!
We don't confine our collection to only Meccano branded parts. We are happy to use anything that is compatible. For this reason our collection, although is mostly genuine Meccano from all periods, contains other makes reproduction parts and extended range parts. Finding homes for these parts is mostly straight forward. I say 'mostly' after purchasing some long girders a couple of weeks ago; they are 47½ inches long, that's 97 hole!    

New parts mean new drawers...
...and additional cabinets - where's this one going Sue?
Nut and bolt storage is a huge problem for us. Some modellers keep to just one type of fixing. We tend to build most of our models using modern socket head Meccano bolts and square nuts. However we have plenty of older fixings that we use when building classic models.
Building stock of nuts, bolts and washers
Here again we have working boxes, used when building, and back-stock held is various clip-lock food containers.

This system has worked well for several years now. Standard nuts, bolts and washers of all types are stored in Raaco component boxs  that are used to build from. Over the years we have collected thousands of these fixings and it is amazing just how many can get used on a big model. especially when Sue gets to town with the detailing. Our favoured form of strip construction cane really eat through the stock too. The trays are stocked from a back-stock food containers full of sorted fixings. The back stock of longer bolts and pivot bolts had been stored in a large component box. This box eventually got so full it was overflowing and these too were moved into clip top food containers. 

Building and back-stock of fixings
As a collection of parts grow, there are many ways to sort and store the stock. In this article I described how we store and arrange the bulk of our building stock. Other parts sit in cupboards and plastic stackable storage boxes of all sizes.  Sue and I have been buying the stuff for the past 30+ years and I have been buying it for getting on for 50 years. Over that period we have accumulated vast quantities of tatty Meccano, as well as the decent stuff, that is awaiting refurbishment or just cleaning and sorting. We now only refurbish parts as and when we need them, but that is another story. It would be very easy to spend the rest of our life refurbishing Meccano and never get to use any of it.

Wheels - they just bread like rabbits!
One thing I have not mentioned is the fact that whatever period of Meccano you collect, you will be inundated with wheels and axle rods. I have given up trying to incorporate them into a 'system'. we keep a few to hand and the rest get thrown in a huge cardboard box that gets shoved away in the loft or in a corner of the shed! Sometimes there is no answer!


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