How Bill Inglis came to make Meccano replica channel segments, P/N 119.


by Bill Inglis (Bill sadly passed away on 21-05-2009)

June,2001

   Sometime about 1970 I decided that there was a definite market for Meccano Channel Segments which were very scarce on the ground and which, despite my avid collecting of all things Meccano had so far eluded me. Also, I was aware from my reading in the current publications on the Meccano hobby how some enthusiasts were attempting to make P/N 119’s from three pieces of suitably shaped metal soldered together along the joints which I felt would have been one hell of a job and the end result may not have been very satisfactory any way. I was of the opinion that the only practical way to make them was by the use of a properly designed press tool to form them in one piece although I knew that such a tool would be very expensive.

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   By now I had managed to pick up a complete Circa 1926  No 6 ( or was it 7, my memory is not clear) Meccano Set in original cabinet which contained a set of 8 original pattern Channel Segments which made, to my mind, a very flimsy ring so I decided that any replica’s would need to be of the new improved pattern with side lugs which Meccano Ltd. introduced about 1929, but I did not then have access to one for use as a pattern. About this time a friend bought a box of old Meccano bits which contained 3 P/N 119’s of the new improved pattern with the side lug as announced in the MM of the time.  As I was able to borrow one from him I now had an actual Channel Segment as a sample of what I wished to duplicate.

   As part of my job as Production Manager of a metal window company I had had fairly close dealings with a very competent Toolmaker who ran his own Press Shop as part of his Toolmaking business and I discussed the feasibility and cost of making a tool to manufacture P/N 119’s on my behalf in his Press Shop. Needless to say the cost of making and developing the tooling was horrendous (to me at least). We had established that the tooling would need to be a 3 stage follow on die at a hell of a lot of Dollars and due to the complex nature of the shape of the Channel segment it was impossible to assess in advance the cost of developing the precise shape of the blank. This meant that once the project was started the end cost was going to be very significant and could easily blow out considerably if determining the precise shape of the blank gave problems. Having got this far I decided that it was necessary to try to gauge the actual demand for the part and have a good think before I actually decided to commit cold hard cash to the project and proceed.

   As I was one of G. Maurice Morris’s Meccanomen and in regular correspondence with him I decided to run my desire to make Replica P/N 119’s past him for his opinion. Consequently I wrote to him explaining that I was considering having a press tool made to produce replica Channel Segments even though the initial expenditure was high and, if they did not sell, my fingers would be well and truly burnt. Because of this I asked if he agreed with my assessment that there would be a ready market for good quality replica’s and also, if I decided to proceed, would he accept my advertisement for them in his Meccanoman’s Journal? His reply gave me much food for thought as, although he agreed that there was a potential market for such replicas he urged me to be cautious. This advice was based on his knowledge that although people had advised of their intentions to make P/N 119’s in the past the actual parts had never eventuated, one person even accepting deposits for the goods and then dropping out of sight, and to remember  the old adage “once bitten twice shy”. 

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   I discussed this disquieting news with both Meccano friends in Oz and Overseas and, as I still received encouragement ( and tentative orders for parts ) to proceed with the project, I took my courage in both hands and gave Ken ( my toolmaker friend ) the Order to proceed to make the necessary tooling. As was expected the first “off tool” sample was not good enough due to metal flow during forming distorting the edges of the segments and the blanking die had to be modified. The second attempt was better but still not good enough so Ken further modified the blank which resulted in the “not quite perfect” edges of the segments of which all owners of my replicas are familiar. After talking to Ken, who felt that to achieve a measurably better result would be very costly, I decided to stick with the shape we had already achieved, especially as the original Meccano Channel Segments I had seen were not really perfect either. I now had to make a second decision on the “roundness” of the bolt holes in the side flange which ended up elliptical in shape, again due to metal flow during forming.

June, 2001

   This could only have been fixed by (a) using oval piercing punches in the blank or (b) drilling or punching the holes in the side flange. Both these alternatives would have been very costly so again, I decided that perfection would have to be sacrificed in the interests of economics. The acceptance of these shortcomings in my Replica P/N 119’s  by my fellow enthusiasts showed that my decisions were correct. The third decision I made was to have them finished in nickel plate which was durable and in keeping with metal finishing in the late 1920’s.

   I now placed an Order with Ken for 2000 pieces and whilst waiting for them to be made I talked with my Company’s Carton Supplier Representative and obtained a quantity of surplus small corrugated board cartons at the right price for use in shipping the parts. These cartons were ideal insofar as they nicely held 4 sets (32 off) of P/N 119’s and the packet weighed just under 500 grams, the limit for small packet postage, and thus I was able to post them overseas at a reasonable cost. I was also grateful for Meccano SML 33 (if I remember correctly), Twin Cylinder Steam Engine, which required 4 sets of segments in its construction and this number became the standard for most of the orders I received.

   Once I received the parts from Ken I proceeded to supply them to those local enthusiasts who had confirmed their orders once I advised I was proceeding with the project to manufacture Replica Channel Segments and they were well received. I also immediately sent 2 sets off to Maurice Morris by Airmail for his opinion as well as my advertisement regarding the availability of Replica Meccano Channel Segments, P/N 119, for inclusion in both the Meccanoman’s Journal and the MM of the time. Maurice Morris was kind enough to comment on the quality of my Replica Parts in the copy of the Journal which carried my advertisement and the Orders for them started to arrive shortly after, followed by letters from satisfied customers and still more orders for the parts which was most gratifying and I knew that my gamble had paid off.

   Unfortunately I no longer have my Meccano Library, it all went to Clyde Suttle when I sold him my entire collection in 1980, and all my old Replica Parts activity records were destroyed in 1995 so I cannot remember now when I actually started to supply my Replicas or how soon I sold out of the first batch of 119’s but 2 months comes to mind, it certainly was not long before I had to place a second order with Ken for a new  batch. For this second batch I had had Ken make a little insert for the die to brand my replicas “ W.R.I.” and all future replica parts marketed by me were so branded. The reason for my decision to brand my replicas was made because I had a suspicion that unscrupulous people may be going to try to pass off my parts as the genuine Meccano item at high prices. I was particularly suspicious of a “character” from UK (as I recall) who sent me an order for 20 Sets which I did not supply until I received the second batch of branded items. This person had already “conned” me by selling me 2 Meccano Electric Motors which certainly were painted red and bore apparently genuine round Meccano Motor Decals but I am certain that they were actually 24 Volt aircraft motors dating from WW11 but of course one can never prove this sort of thing and “caveat emptor” applies. Anyway my sale to him was on a payment with order basis and when he received the parts I received a very unhappy letter from him bemoaning the fact that I had not told him I was branding my Replicas. All I did was inquire how my identifying my work affected the quality or fitness for purpose of my Replica’s in my reply which was never answered!

   This second batch did not last very long either and I was soon ordering a third batch from Ken. It was now obvious that I was going to easily recover my outlay on the project so I resolved to invest any profits in the manufacture of replicas of other scarce Meccano parts but a report the details on these activities, as far as I can remember,  must wait for another time.

   In conclusion I would advise that whilst I did not always wait until I had received the money to pay for Orders for my Parts before I sent them I never had a bad debt because of this. The nearest I came to a bad debt was an English chap who wrote me a most apologetic letter to tell me he had lost his job and offering to return the goods. My answer was for him to keep them and pay me when he could afford it and that is what he did.


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