Notes on the manufacture of other WRI Replica Meccano parts

by Bill Inglis. August, 2001 (Bill sadly passed away on 21-05-2009)

Once it became obvious that I was going to recoup my outlay on the manufacture of my Replica Channel Segments, P/N 119, I decided that I would plough any profits from the sale of same into making Replica's of other obsolete Meccano parts. As I can no longer remember the order in which I actually manufactured or had them manufactured, I will write these notes in part Number Order.

25 and 50 gram Lead Weights.

Whilst I was aware, or at least suspected, that the genuine Meccano Weights were pressure cast from a lead alloy I decided to try to hand cast them from ordinary melted down lead sheet and, to that end, had my toolmaker friend Ken make me a simple mild steel mould to cast the weights plus a jig to drill the "hanging" hole after casting and a simple punch to emboss the weight on the side, the end result was not very satisfactory. Whilst we got the weight right and I spent hours over the stove in our kitchen melting lead and casting weights my hand casting technique was not good enough to produce good clean sides on the weights without unsightly "cooling lines" on the finished article. Whilst I supplied a few of these weights the quality was not good, the demand was not there and I soon dropped them from my list of Replicas. (You cannot win them all.)

P/N 57A, Scientific Hook.

At the same time as I was setting about making the Weights I procured a quantity of a suitable gauge of piano wire to make P/N 57A and had Ken make me a suitable forming tool to form the wire into hooks. These were quite easy to form with the proper tooling and the end result was completely satisfactory but the demand was not there. I think because it was so easy to make one's own from a paper clip. I still possess a pair of heavy Electricians pliers with ruined cutting jaws from cutting the piano wire to length for these parts.

P/N 101, Loom Heald.

For this part I procured a quantity of a suitable gauge of tinned steel wire and had much fun in making a forming machine mainly out of Meccano. After quite a bit of fiddling around I ended up with a machine which formed the Healds quite nicely ready for dunking in a solder bath to preserve their shape. It was fiddly to use though as I had to cut the wire and load each Heald onto the locating pins by hand before machine twisting into shape and the overall operation of making the Healds was very time consuming. Whilst I felt that the completed Replica compared quite well with the Meccano original they were not a big seller, perhaps because there was not much interest in building Meccano Looms in the 70's.

P/N 106A, Sand Roller.
When I decided to replicate this part I went off to the local sheet metal suppliers to try to source a supply of thin "pricked metal" but could not find a supplier anywhere so decided I would make my own as I had a small Heine over-centre "brain basher" Hand Press which I already used for riveting the bosses to my Replica Pointers. I obtained a quantity of Baby Food Can tinplate offcuts from the Heinze factory in Dandenong which was not far from where I worked and had the offcuts guillotined into strips of a suitable width for the pricked metal covering for the sand roller.
I determined the length required for each roller and pattern drilled 2 pieces of kiln dried Ash flooring to the correct dimensions to "prick" the covering for the Sand Roller. I filled the holes in one piece with 1 inch flat head nails and screwed it to a metal plate and attached it to the ram of my Hand Press. I lined up and secured the other piece of drilled wood to the bed of my Press so that the holes mated with the nails in the piece mounted to the ram, placed a piece of tinplate between them and swung the handle. Those of you who are familiar with metal pressing and the forces involved will have guessed it. The handle would not go overcentre but just bounced on the bit of tin without even marking it.  Anyway off to my friend Ken and his Press Shop with my tooling(?) and strips of tinplate to request him to bung it in one of his Power Presses.  Would you believe that he had to use a 70 Ton Press to do the job - and I had intended to do it on a Hand Press, we all live and learn. Surprisingly, my simple wood and nails tooling "pricked" about 400 patterns in my strips of tinplate without any real signs of wear and would have done a lot more had demand required. No wonder the English used a lot of wooden forming tools in short run Aircraft manufacture during WW2.

Whilst the drama of obtaining the pricked metal skin was going on I had a wood turner make me a quantity of wooden rollers ready for assembly into Sand Rollers so once I received the metal covering pieces back from Ken I was able to finish the parts. The end result was quite satisfactory and, especially considering the lack of demand for Loom Healds, they sold quite well. I well remember that the metal pieces were so sharp it was essential to use heavy gardening gloves in the assembly phase and that I ruined the fingers of 3 pairs in the process. My Sand Rollers were branded WRI on one end.

P/N 127, Simple Bell Crank.
When I decided to replicate the Simple Bell Crank I elected to use the original pattern with the rounded piece in the middle on the supposition that those who wanted the later pattern could simply modify it with a file.  I had my friend Ken make the tooling and manufacture the Cranks for me, they were finished in Nickel Plate and branded WRI. They sold quite well and I think well justified my duplicating the original.

P/N 156, Pointer.
If my memory serves me correctly, Pointers were the first Parts I replicated after the Channel Segments as they had always fascinated me and it was a long time after I restarted to collect Meccano in the 60's before I came across an original.  As with the 119's I had Ken make the die and produce the actual arrowhead, finished in Nickel Plate.  He also had one of his contacts with an automatic lathe turn the bosses for me ready for riveting to the pointer arm.  He also made me the necessary jig for drilling and tapping the boss for a 6 BA setscrew as well as the punch needed to rivet the boss to the pointer arm and a jig to mount the assembly in my  hand Press for the riveting operation.  The overall result  was pleasing and sales of this Replica Part  well justified its manufacture.

P/N 174, Grease Cup.

I had often thought that the prewar Meccano Grease Cups would be very useful for use in models designed for continuous running and incorporating Cranks as reinforced bearings which was why I decided to include P/N 174 in my range of Replica parts. I had Ken ask his contact with the Automatic Lathe to make a quantity ( I think 2000 ) for me but they were no where near as good as the Meccano originals and I was somewhat disappointed with  the result. Anyone who has been able to compare my replicas with the originals will know what I mean. From questions I asked at the time I would have had to go to someone who specialised in Auto Lathe work and order a run of 50,000 to justify the set up cost to accurately duplicate the Meccano original and I could not have afforded to do so.  Nor did I think  that such an action would have been economically viable.  The duplicates I made sold slowly and most of the ones I had made found homes in various Meccanomen's collections so I think it was worth making them.

I had now finished making Replicas of all the obsolete Meccano Parts for which I thought a demand may exist. However my Channel Segments were still selling quite well so I looked around for something I could make to complement the system.  There had long been much comment on the need for some more realistic tyres, especially for the larger Meccano models, and a lot of correspondence on methods of constructing Meccano system hubs for use with Ash Tray Tyres, so the manufacture of larger tyres was an obvious choice as my next venture.

Having reached this decision I discussed the project with one or two Meccano friends and came to the conclusion that I would initially make  3" O.D. tyres using 1" pulleys as hubs and 4" O.D. tyres using 2" pulleys or Boiler Ends as hubs.  I felt Boiler End hubs would be particularly desirable as it enabled King Pins and/or brakes to be placed closer to the outside of the wheel as is modern practise.

3" & 4" W.R.I. PVC Tyres, P/N 142m & 142s.
Again making use of my work contacts in order to manufacture my WRI Parts I talked to the owner of a small Plastics Injection Moulding Company we used for supplying us with injection moulded window components.  Using Joe's expertise we determined that flexible PVC would be the best plastic to use for the project especially for its ability to recover to its "as moulded" shape on cooling after being heated in boiling water to facilitate fitting to Meccano hubs.  We also decided to make a two cavity Die, one cavity for each size of tyre, making provision to be able to block either cavity off during moulding should we not require equal numbers of both sizes of tyre.  I can no longer remember what size of injection moulding press was required to mould them.

Discussions between Joe, his Diemaker and I soon made it obvious that I could not afford to have any sort of normal tread pattern machined into the die cavities and the only pattern which could be economically cut into the dies were the annular grooves used for my tyres.  These were simply turned into the dies on a lathe whereas a normal tread pattern would have required costly complex milling operations.

Having determined the technical specifications the Die was ordered and Joe ran a few test tyres to establish the best grade (softness) of PVC to use in their manufacture and production of the last of my WRI Parts commenced.  I also built a simple modern Motor Chassis using my P/N 142's fitted to Boiler Ends which I photographed and used to illustrate my advertisements in the MM.

These items were well received by Meccanomen and sold well.  Their main drawback was being so heavy and thus incurring exorbitant postal charges from Australia to the rest of the World.  Non-the-less they were, with P/N 119's, the only Parts for which I had to order multiple production runs.

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