It’s a Mec­cano takes over

Hastings Leader - - News - BY BRENDA VOWDEN [email protected]

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.

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