Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Technical Genius, not me.....

As you will have noticed today we celebrate 150 years of Frank Hornby, the man who gave the world 'Meccano,' 'Dinky Toys,' and model railways!  This great man offered the world, especially boys in the days when we knew what boys were, education re engineering, fun and enjoyment through dinky cars, and huge pleasure which many still enjoy through model railways.  What a man.  He deserves a knighthood in my humble, and correct, opinion.  

Being technically deficient I found Meccano a bit of a trial.  The idea was simple enough, strips of metal with holes in, held together by screws and nuts, formed  into a useful machine by following a simple diagram.  The simple idea failed whenever I touched it.  No two sides ever matched, bits were missing, anything that looked like it may work always had one item missing.  Once built it was often impossible to undo the screws someone had inserted with a power drill!  My dad enjoyed it, he made a model DC3 that was excellent for a kid like me.  My brother who was technically minded managed to make everything he touched perfectly.  The Steam engine he made many years later ran around the house quite happily.  My little cranes and slot machines were like Spanish building projects, never completed!

However many went on to great things through this 'toy.'  The budding Kingdom Brunel's of this world learnt much about engineering and making Forth Road Bridges that blocked their mothers house for months on end.  Frank Hornby himself made a fortune, and deservedly so.  After many years of trial and effort he eventually sold 'Meccano' worldwide.

During the 1920s Hornby introduced his 'O' gauge clockwork railway.  Twice the size of the trains that were to come later this sold reasonably well, well enough to encourage the introduction of trackside accompaniment, cars, houses, people.  These items became known as 'Dinky Toys' and as such became a favourite in every child's home ever since!  Basic cast metal toys stayed popular until the early sixties when perspex windows, seats and steering wheels, were added.  Kids of the sixties did not know the hardships we endured!  Today old men enthusiasts collect aged Dinkies, sometimes paying over £30 for a dingy Dinky!  Rare models still in their boxes can raise huge sums, but not from me.  Since 1933 the cars dominated a boy child's play.  Today I do not see them so obvious in shops.  Why have tastes changed?  Political Correctness perhaps?  Recently one company offered 'Boys Toys' and'Girls Toys,' and received a flood of complaints, from mothers, as if they had done something wrong!  No longer can we claim a toy to be for one sex or another, even though boys still prefer boys toys, and girls prefer girls toys.  Social engineering does not amend human nature, stupid mothers!

The greatest thing Hornby ever achieved however came after his death! The great 'Hornby Dublo' 00 Scale electric railways!  The electric train set became every boys dream!  Nothing could compare to having a train set, especially when the surroundings could be changed at will (easy, being made of shoe boxes and other objects) and the mind could develop layouts according to your own desire, until at least someone wanted the table back!  Bah!  My greatest mistake as a spoiled brat was to get rid of the train set and fall for the Scalextric racing cars rubbish!  Did I think I was growing up perhaps?  What appeared as great fun was, like all racing cars, boring!  The train set enlarged the mind, the cars just fell off the track at high speed.  There is of course many such railway layouts run today by men of certain age who ought to know better.  The lure of the railway gets a grip and much money and many web forums are dedicated to (cough) mature men playing with railways.  Not my thing today, but how I wish I had kept my set all those years ago.

Frank Hornby was born in Liverpool of middle class leaning parents in 1863.  He left school at 16 to work in his dad's provision business.  After his father died the business closed and when working for a meat importer he developed the 'Meccano' theme in his own time.  His boss encouraged and supported this financially at first but it was not until 1907 that the name was established as his own business.  By the beginning of the Great War offices were established in Paris, Mexico and Berlin!   By the thirties he was a millionaire and the business well established.  He died in 1936 of a combination of heart disease and diabetes.  He left many happy little boys of all ages behind him.    



soubriquet said...

I was a Hornby-inspired kid. My dad and my uncle had a model railway in the loft of our house, and my sister and I were allowed, carefully supervised, to climb the steep steps, and enter a miniature wonderland. My two uncles, Gordon and Jimmy, were both engineers, Gordon made elaborate girder bridges, gasometers, docks....
Everything around the railway, stations, buildings, scenery, was made by hand, I remember watching my dad gluing brick-patterned paper to cardboard, and building a house, making window frames out of carefully glued matchsticks. Later in life, I had my own train-set, and when I was about eleven, we moved house, and the old occupiers gave me a huge cabinet full of meccano, I had everything, gears, clockwork and electric motors, turntables, pulley systems, chain-drives.

Maybe that's why I spend my life making things and mending things.

Mo said...

I've been a couple of times to the meccano fair. An event where men spend a day or two being boys again. Most of them brilliant engineers that build the most incredible things out of meccano.

alan1704 said...

Oh dear, i am the opposite, i hated meccano and as for toy trains going round on a track, i found them boring. I was not a "building" things person, give me a good book, a progressive rock record or Casdon Soccer (anything to do with football, or Hot Wheels and i was happy.

Lee said...

My older brother received Meccano parts, building up his set, every Christmas and birthday when he was a kid...his set grew and grew over the years of his childhood. He spent hours and hours playing with his Meccano set.

It was out of bounds to girls!!

Thanks for the memories, Adullamite.

Adullamite said...

Soub, My dad and brother would get on well with them.

Mo, Never been to one but I can imagine what it's like.
Full of folk like Soub!

Alan, Books and football are good, but railways also!

Lee, Your brother had the right idea! But did he become an engineer?

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Oh my, I wonder what my 1962 Lionel train set would be worth today. It even had a locomotive that puffed smoke-like vapor!

I also had an Erector set, which was an American version of your Meccano. I cannot remember building anything of any significance with it, but since I grew up to consider a cutting torch and a sledge hammer as being the best tools to work on most things made out of metal, I am thinking that buying that Erector setfor me might have been waste of money.

Adullamite said...

Jerry, Yes, smoke from the engine, I had that! Brilliant!
Your view of Erector is like mine.

Lee said...

No, my brother never became an engineer, but he did work for the railways for a while after he left school; and he was handy with his hands in that he could build things.