It’s a Meccano takes over
For more than 100 years, young — and sometimes not so young — people the world over have been playing with Meccano.
Napier man John Turnbull has now joined those ranks.
What started as a favour for a mate, has now turned into a bit of an obsession for John.
“A friend in Havelock gave me a whole lot of Meccano and asked if I could sort it into boxed sets for his grandson.”
And so he did. With help from his wife, the pair spent countless hours going through the jumble of original nickelplated parts — including screws, bolts, pulleys, wheels and strips.
“We sat down and made up all of the lists and built up as much as we could. We learnt a whole lot about Meccano.”
Meccano — thought to have derived its name from ‘Make and Know’ — is a model construction system created in 1898 by Frank Hornby in Liverpool — the same Hornby behind Model Railways and Dinky Toys. John says he was never much into Meccano as a boy — mainly into Hornby trains — he’s making up for lost time. After fiddling about with a combination of parts from different sets, John thought he’d put something together “for the fun of it”.
His first model, Mother and Child —a nod to mothers and children waiting for their husbands to come back from the war — gave John the Meccano bug. It wasn’t long before he’d taken over the dining room table and he’s been in full swing since his first tinkerings six months ago. John is building up a collection of brand new, 100-year-old pieces. A miniature lathe with a spindle that turns, complete with a tool post which moves backwards and forwards, sits on his window sill.
“It does everything a real lathe is supposed to do,” John says.
A World War I armoured car (circa 1914-18) with a revolving turret proved a little trickier.
“I struggled to get the artillery wheels — it’s actually quite expensive.”
John doesn’t always have instruction booklets to guide him, so building an armoured trike, with a machine gun mount on the side car and chain driven clockwork, and an open two-seater touring car was no mean feat. One instruction caption John came across said, “Any boy can build it”.
“Like hell they could. In fact, some never got built as they ran out of materials during the war.”
One machine John made sure did make it out of the war is a World War I tank — as used in the Battle of the Somme — reproduced using an old diagram and a visit to Peter Jackson’s exhibition in Wellington.
“I had no idea how the auxiliary steering wheels were to be mounted but worked it out after going to Wellington. I also counted the holes on the diagram to work out the size.”
He cut out bits of rust from original Meccano strips to make up the cleats for the wheel tracks and if it’s not an original Meccano part, he won’t use it.
“Basically, this tank is 100 years old. Meccano must have been really onto it as these were a secret weapon,” John says.
He has added a Bugatti — with no instructions to go by — a submarine and a British bi-plane to his collection. John concedes it is much easier if you have a plan.
“You have to work out all the parts you need — you won’t make anything in a day.”
His latest project is a World War I airship. He is putting a motor in the back with a switch to run the propeller. It has a chain-driven rudder and will have a light inside so it lights up when he eventually hangs it from his ceiling. This machine has taken him at least two months, working on it every day.
“I’m hooked to a point — I’ll only pack it in if it becomes too hard.”
John Turnbull of Napier with his World War I creations made from 100-year-old pieces of Meccano.