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New Meccano Canal Footbridge
Little Lever, Bolton
New 'Meccano' Canal Footbridge
in Little Lever, Bolton
Michael J. Walker
A remarkable new footbridge has just been built at Little Lever, Bolton, using Meccano style parts scaled up ten times.
Situated on the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal at the junction of the three waterways, the site occupies a significant location in the history of canal building, dating back to the 1790s. The new Meccano style structure replaces a former wooden span, called a “horse bridge” which was demolished years ago.
John Nuttall accompanied me on the day of my visit to the site, Tuesday 11th December 2012. On our arrival artist Liam Curtin, who had the inspired idea of building the new bridge from upscaled Meccano-style parts, greeted us warmly and made us feel very welcome. To illustrate his concept for the bridge he reached into the van parked nearby and produced a Meccano framework, on which part of the design had been worked out. With angle girders formed into u-section channel girders, diagonal bracings aplenty, hefty flat plates and a no-compromise standard of construction throughout, there was no doubt that this bridge was being built to last!
The parts, being ten times original size in each dimension, were one thousand times the weight – so even the “small” parts were quite a handful.
Ten times actual size Nut and Bolt
A single nut weighed 430g and a nut/bolt combination weighed over 1kg, with corresponding weight differentials applying to the rest of the parts. As one would expect, these comprised mainly of angle girders and strips in various lengths, plus ten 11 x 10 hole flat plates and three types of bracket, all 8mm in thickness. A small complement of washers and a wheelbarrow full of chunky nuts and bolts completed the scaled-up Meccano stock.
At the beginning of the construction phase on the freezing morning of December 8th, the working party organiser and site manager, Steve Dent, gave his small band of warmly clad and hardy volunteers the necessary safety briefing and on-site directions. Then, with no more ado, work began by bringing out the first of the huge Meccano parts; two 20 hole long angle girders and two of what Liam referred to as “top hat pieces” (double-bent strips – which appear, side-on, to have the shape of top hats!)
The fixing together of these first few parts was a significant moment in the bridge’s story. Luckily, professional photographer and Canal Society member Tom Jeffs was on hand to record the event.
Click here to see various videos.
The nuts and bolts were (expensively) made to a high standard of fit and finish, from mild steel which was zinc plated. The nuts were 2½" square and ¾" thick; the bolts were 2-3/16th" across the cheese head which was 7/8th" deep, and the (metric) thread was 38mm x 3mm pitch.
They were secured by means of specially designed spanners and screwdrivers, the latter equipped with a steel ring which circled the bolt head to eliminate slippage. However, the final tightening was done using a crowbar in order to exert the necessary leverage. As with standard Meccano, the nut on the other side had to be held still by a spanner, to stop it rotating and scraping off the paint, plus, care had to be taken to align the nuts squarely with the bolt shanks, so as to reduce the risk of cross-threading.
One tool the team did not have was a drift, but again the crowbar sufficed for levering those occasional wayward bolt holes into line.
The flat trunnions were finished in yellow, from a colour scheme which postdates the light red and green scheme of the other constructional parts. The nuts and bolts, being zinc plated, again postdated the main colour scheme. However, Liam used this combination of colours to create a visually appealing work of art, to attract and hold the attention of the public, most of whom will have little knowledge of such matters as Meccano’s previous colour schemes.
The double brackets were finished in green and were referred to by the team as “U Brackets”. Reversed angle brackets were referred to as “Z Brackets”. The proportions of these parts, indeed all the parts, were very carefully replicated in their enlarged versions, and the reversed angle brackets had an elongated hole in one lug as per the originals. Even the rounded corners of the angle girders were accurately reproduced.
Work proceeded at a satisfactory rate, despite the short hours of winter daylight, and by the end of the first day the deck frame had been completed. The following day saw the outer leaves of the parapets being constructed, with flat trunnions being fixed at the top of the 8 hole strips already in place, and angle girders positioned and butt-joined to form the top edges.
The washers previously mentioned were used for spacing purposes, not for putting under bolt heads on elongated holes. One reason for this could be that during parapet construction, a change of plan had to be implemented, reversing the girders’ alignment so that their elongated holes were at the top edge, instead of their round holes.
By day four the five ton bridge no longer needed its temporary supporting trestles, and these were knocked away leaving each end supported on concrete blocks on the abutments. At this point Liam Curtin commented that the moment reminded him of a ship’s launch, when the last chocks are knocked away allowing the ship to slide down the slipway. Maybe a bottle of champagne was in order, but that may be reserved for later!
View from South West
It is expected that the official opening will take place in March 2013, when it is hoped a prominent celebrity will perform the honours. Plans include entertainment by a local dance group and brass band, and a tent to be set up by Meccano enthusiasts, in which normal size Meccano models will be on view. A local brewery has been invited to brew (& sell) a special Meccano-bridge beer for the occasion.
Also, at the time of writing, it is intended to furnish the immediate vicinity with large scale Meccano picnic tables to match the bridge, (imagine a 5½” x 2½” flanged plate on splayed angle girder ‘legs’); allowing visitors to relax and have a picnic whilst admiring the bridge and the wider view of the landscape around them.
BrettBon (at 12:25am, Thu 8th Jun, 17)
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Gaynor Cox (at 3:29pm, Sat 8th Jun, 13)
Various short films showing the construction and opening of the Meccano Bridge in Little Lever >
Ian Corlett (at 11:39am, Tue 30th Apr, 13)
GREAT TO BE ABLE TO LOOK AT THE WEBSITE
Sir James (at 6:38pm, Tue 16th Apr, 13)
Oh how I wish I could have attended this event.
But I am a long way from it, now living in the
Pacific Northwest of the USA. This project must
surely have called for a TV documentary account
as it proceeded from concept to completion. As
I recall, this is the sort of thing that fell
under the charter of "Horizon" - which is "Nova"
on American TV (PBS). Please tell me there was
such a taping - or even a Blu-Ray DVD!
Reshma (at 7:27pm, Thu 21st Mar, 13)
SPS (Steel Plate and Sections) is a seperate steel skoitholdcng company not connected to Corus. The site in Bellshill only occupies a small part of the site attached to the one Corus used to occupy, hence the reason SPS are still operating out of the Bellshill works. I only know this as I used to do work for SPS and on my first visit to their site I took the wrong turning and ended up in the Corus end of the huge complex. It took ages trying to find anybody in the Corus end who even knew SPS existed, even though they are only at the other end of the site. On entering the site turn left and this brings you right round the back along a dirt track to SPS's offices which are very much still in use. The photos you have taken are of the Corus Plate & Profiles site. Sorry if it sounds like I'm correcting you but thought it might help with some of the details.
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