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Getting Old

(Author: Old Blue Gold)

A screwy story

 The other day I was trying to balance a nut on the end of my finger while bending it (my finger) in two directions at once to try to hook it (the nut) onto a bolt in an  awkward place. After several minutes and the help of a few magical words uttered under my breath the nut began to bite so I reached for my screwdriver to tighten it only to discover that ......  but perhaps I'd better start at the beginning.

   This is a cautionary tale for all those young lads under 75 who have not yet retired or only recently retired. When, like me, you have spent  three quarters of a century bolting little pieces of metal together and then taking them apart again, beware! You may find that you have been behaving oddly for years without even noticing. This is particularly the case if your collection of Meccano parts is not all that big, not including even one of the mythical number ten sets, unlike many of the contributers to this website who seem to have them by the dozen. Even more so if your collection is an old friend that remained almost unchanged  for fifty years or more.
   Most of my Meccano is pre-war, acquired between 1938 and 1945. At first it grew in the usual way by the addition of accessory outfits but when all the shops ran out of stock in the early 1940s things began to get difficult. A 5a set was bought direct from Binns Road but by then even they were scraping the barrel to make up sets. A long axle rod in the box had a remarkable double twist in it. Quite useless as an axle but sometimes it can be used as an ornament. Of course I looked for the guarantee slip – there wasn't one.  Note to box collectors – sets were sent out around 1942-3 without the little blue slip stuck in the lid.  Finding a 6a was more difficult but a shop in Worcester would make up sets from second hand parts, so I had a 6a in an assortment of colours. It also had an extra large number of 25 hole strips probably added by mistake. The only thing missing was a drift. I had no idea what a drift was and I couldn't find it in the parts list nor was it used in any of the models in the 7/8 manual. All very mysterious.
   When the time came to think of a 7a the shop had stopped making up sets, but one day when I was making my usual query, “Please, have you got any Meccano?”, the manager was passing by and spoke words of great import.“I've got thirty bob's worth in the cellar, take it or leave it, I'm not sorting it out". For readers who are not familiar with the familiar names of Olde Englishe Coinage, 30 bob was worth about seven American Dollars in 1944. I don't know how much that is in today's money but it was a lot of money for a 13 year old lad in those days.

   Nevertheless I raised  the cash and next week was back in the shop. The manager was fetched and down we went to the cellar which was a sort of Alladin's cave with bits of Meccano all over the place. I stuffed it into a shopping bag and the manager filled a cardboard box. I accidentally included in my bag a few head and tail lamps for  Hornby Trains which were lying about in a little box mixed in with the Meccano bits but you won't tell anyone will you?
    It took a while to sort it out at home. Some parts seemed to be brand new, some were covered in rust. They were from all ages and some of the bits would have been a collector's delight, if there had been collectors in those days. A 25 hole angle girder with sharp corners must have been pre-first World War. So were a couple of very thin, square and rusty angle brackets. There were no 25 hole strips – perhaps I had acquired the shop's entire stock a year earlier with my 6a set. There was only one 25x5 hole strip plate so my hopes of getting at least an approximation to a 7a set were dashed. There were, however, about 120 5x1 hole double angle strips of various sizes -  see the part description on this very site for a discussion on the different sizes. There were red plates and nickel plates and blue-gold plates of all sorts of different shades of blue. - don't bother with the parts description on this very site which makes no mention of the various different shades of blue used in the blue-gold era.  
   Most of the parts came from smaller outfits but there were a few more exotic items like two blue-gold 5x5 hole plates which looked like flexible plates but weren't flexible. For years I assumed they'd come off a demonstration model. Quite recently I discovered that they are strip plates that were made in that size for only a short time. Since one has  sharp corners and the other has round corners I'm quite sure that one or the other must be very valuable and I am willing to swap it at any time for a complete number ten set or two.
  I managed to identify another strange set of objects as triple throw eccentrics. Very eccentric things they were. Three bosses and a handle. I couldn't  imagine what they were for. I tried putting three axle rods through the holes but there didn't seem to be much point to that since all the axles were off centre and irregular. Of the six, three rotated, one was stiff and the other two were jammed solid. Curiously they are in exactly the same state now, 70 years later. The three that work have been used occasionally, now that I have found out what they are for, the other three are useful as counter weights when something needs balancing. 
  There were 13  digger buckets, the big ones that come in three parts. One had only two parts so if anyone has had an odd back end of a digger bucket in grey for the last 70 years now you know where the other two bits were. And there were some odd lengths of sprocket chain and a sprocket wheel. You can't do much with a sprocket chain if you only have one sprocket wheel. 

I painted the very rusty bits – being only 13 or so I painted over the rust, so the result was awful - but the paint did preserve the rust very effectively. When I decided sixty-five years later to remove the paint with  paint stripper and try to rehabilitate the parts the rust was still there but I managed to make them fairly presentable, although I doubt if the purists would think much of them.

 After the war I added a few carefully selected new parts. All the bits added since 1945 I  think of as my "new" parts and every time I use them I congratulate myself on the foresight I had in buying them. After 1960 I was too busy with various other things to do much with Meccano, although I never actually gave up. Then a year or so ago the addiction hit me again and now I can't stop bolting and unbolting bits of metal. I've also acquired quite a few more "new"  mainly second hand bits. At Christmas my descendants have been encouraged to add to the mixture with carefully selected expensive bits. I've even acquired three of those new French outfits which make very peculiar models but nevertheless have some very useful parts in them. 

Now what was it I set out to write about? Oh yes, the screwdriver problem.  I have a toffee tin which has long since given up its original contents and when the latest model has been dismantled it's pretty well full of standard Meccano nuts and bolts. I think I have weeded out the half dozen Trix nuts and bolts that got into the mix 70 years ago. There are brass ones, with cheese heads of all ages and brass with bullet heads from the pre 1930s era. There are zinc plated ones with cheese heads and round heads and square and hexangonal nuts and every sort of part 37a-z standard Meccano nut and bolt you can think of. All mixed up together. All except the shiny slippery French ones with Allen key heads which are kept apart. They are only used for the outside of models not only because they are more presentable then the dull brass ones but because they are slippery and the moment you take your eyes off them they will undo themselves. Hidden in the middle of this mixture is a bolt which I acquired in a 4a set in 1942. It is quite different from all the others. It eagerly presents itself to my groping fingers whenever a bolt is needed in an awkward place. Only when I try to screwdriver it do I realise that it is the bolt-with-no-slot-in-the-head. "Why haven't I thrown it away?", you ask. Why don't I keep it away from the rest?  I don't think it's valuable - not like one or other of those two strip plates mentioned above. When I first acquired it I couldn't afford to waste a bolt, but now I have a whole box full. I don't really need to keep it. But, you see, of all the nuts bolts in the tin it's the only one I recognise. Any other - is it one of my original bolts from 1938 or have I acquired it since? Is it one of my "new" bolts?  Who can tell?  But I do know about the bolt-with-no-slot-in -the-head. Ever since I was young it's been with me. It's never occurred to me to throw it away. It's appeared at the wrong moment in every model that I have ever made. It's part of my life. I couldn't possibly desert it now. That's what I mean when I say that as you get older you behave very strangely.   

  I call it Charlie.    


kbisset      (at 5:36pm, Mon 20th Feb, 12)


I thoroughly enjoy your story, even though I do not have a "Charlie". I have not quite yet retired, but I do cherish my Dad's collection of Meccano, all pre-war, and no Blue and Gold (sorry, OBG!). I do (horrors!) have a 'new' French #10 in a five drawer cabinet - with an original Erector (not Meccano) label in engraved wood. I have a collection of 'building' Meccano, too - kept separate from Dad's stuff.

Anyway, thoroughly enjoyable tale.


Barry Gerdes      (at 7:54pm, Sun 19th Feb, 12)

That 30 bob set of parts must have been great. Gee 30 bob was about half a weeks pay in England in those days.

I also suffer from finger trouble like you nuts just don't seem to stick reliably to a crooked finger caught in a hole to small. I cheat these days. I find out by trial and error where these inaccessible places are then dissassemble far enough to make it accessible then make little plates from aluminiun, brass or steel drilled and tapped for 5/32". It i then stuck in place with a bit of double sidded tape.

The dissassembly time is always less than the frustration problems and easier on the ears of those within range.


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