Mr. Scientist

It’s funny how much our careers affect how Ms. J and I think, and it makes me wonder how this influences Mr. C. She’s a Scientist, and before I was a Stay At Home Dad, I worked in Advertising. So she’s always much more rational and methodical than I am, while she always says that I’m much more creative than she is.

A few months ago we went to a fundraiser ‘yard sale’ for a local non-profit. Ms J picked up a zip lock bag filled with toy parts for $1. It looked like an old Erector set to me, with its collection of nuts, bolts, metal plates and girders. I thought we would store it away somewhere for Mr. C to play with when he was older. At three years old, he was a bit too young to work with all of those tiny nuts and bolts. At least I thought so.

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I had thought I would store the bag somewhere and take it out when he was a few years older, maybe when he was six or seven.

Well the hiding spot I picked stayed secret for about four months.

“Look what I found in the secret closet, Dada!’ He said as I walked into his room as he expertly screwed together metal plates and girders.

So, now that the bag was opened I decided to try to figure out what it was. It turned out to be a set of Meccano pieces, not Erector.

I had only seen Meccano once before, on an episode of a BBC TV show, ‘James May’s Toy Stories’. It is a building toy, an English brand, though I think they are made in France now. (James May tried to make a bridge using Meccano parts large enough and strong enough for a person to walk over. A very funny series.)

As far as I can tell they are not sold in the US, so we were not familiar with the toy at all. The bag had no instructions, and no box was included, it was just a bag filled with the metal parts. We had no idea what the parts were supposed to be used to construct. It was a charity sale, so for $1 we thought, why not, we’ll figure it out.

So me being Mr Ad Man, my questions were things like:

Why don’t they sell Meccano in the US ?
Too much competition from Erector ?
Can I buy a set online ?
What did the box look like ?
Are they still making the toy out of metal ?
Is it cost effective to make it out of metal, or would plastic be better ?
Would they loose loyal customers if they switched to plastic ?

When she walked into the room and saw us making a jumble of connected pieces, with me being completely mystified as to what the parts were supposed to be used to make, Ms J the Scientist, asked;

What can we make with it ?
It has a small battery powered motor, maybe some kind of car or truck ?
No, there’s no wheels so its not a car.
What are the most unusual pieces here, those curved pieces look funny, what are those pieces for?
There’s 16 curved pieces, maybe they make a big circle?
One big circle doesn’t really work, maybe two ?
Two circles. What has two big metal circles of multicolored metal pieces, and needs a motor ?

So after about five minutes she figures it out. It’s a Ferris wheel. A quick search of the internet for ‘Meccano Ferris Wheel’ showed that she was right. I was surprised to find that there is a site devoted to Meccano history, ‘Meccanopedia’. And she figured this out with the set missing a few pieces too.

As Mr. C carefully began to construct a Ferris wheel with no instructions I decided that this time, he’s closer to being a Scientist.

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10 thoughts on “Mr. Scientist

  1. Mr C is not a scientist and he’s not an ad guy, he’s an engineer! And he’s a boy! My kids can build some amazing stuff out of Lego parts. 3D design skills are something to be proud of, so I hope your son continues to explore his talent.

    And yes, I remember the Meccano sets when I was a kid growing up in France. I too wonder why they don’t sell that stuff here. I guess plastic is a lot cheaper (and it breaks more often too).

    • I’m sure he gets any spatial skills from his Mom. I never was able to do any kind of spatial awareness test, and I do get lost easily!

      Another commenter let me know that Erector is now a subsidiary of Meccano, so that’s why they only sell Erector here. It does seems as though the Meccano product is tougher though. I remember being able to bend Erector pieces easily, I can’t bend these Meccano pieces at all.

    • It’s interesting seeing what he’s starting to get interested in. It’s a very high quality set. Makes me want to search out for more sets like this!

  2. It is especially fun to watch a child who thinks differently than you. My two girls are right-brained like me; my son is now a software engineer. One Christmas when he was 6 years old we gave him a space shuttle Lego set “for 12 year olds”. We bought it on sale to set aside. We were shocked when he walked into our room at midnight on Christmas night with the completed shuttle and a big smile. He used skills I do not have as an adult, especially 3-d spacial ability, to persist with that construction. It was the beginning of his journey towards his chosen profession. What he did that night showed skills needed in the engineering world. That space shuttle set is saved in the cellar for a grandchild. (My husband just told me it was a space shuttle on top of a 747…) I think I will write about it on the old blog I am resurrecting: “And Speaking of” over on Blogger.

    • He’s really much more interested in this kind of thing than I was. I think I was somewhat more interested in drawing than in using building toys. I’d be happy with a new set of pencils for Christmas. Could be the reason I went into a somewhat creative field.

      That’s funny that you still have the Lego set. My Mom didn’t keep any of our old toys, while my wife’s Mom has kept everything. We’re always debating what to keep and not keep ourselves.

  3. Erector is a subsidiary!

    As a fellow engineer, I fully approve! 🙂 I remember collecting Lego pieces as a child. Not sets, but pieces. I had a special case where I would store the different piece types in its own compartment. I don’t remember Legos coming with instructions on how to make a particular model or design.. I would just build sometime to my heart’s desire.

    So, for Mr. C, imagine the kind of things he can imagine with just those pieces he has handy.

    • Aha! That explains it!

      I read an interesting book on the history of the US candy industry, I’d like to find one on the history of US toys too.

      We try to only get the Legos that are just a random collection of pieces rather than the ones that are to be used to make something specific. Partly since it is more creative to use those type of building sets and partly since if any of the tiny pieces get lost from one of the other sets, then you’re out of luck. He had a Lego bulldozer set, but now some of the pieces have gone missing so there’s no way to make that bulldozer anymore.

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