This story starts with a buy-it-now listing on eBay. Indeed you may well have seen it yourself. The price asked appeared to be a bit on the high side and the collection only restriction reduced the interest considerably. It was listed twice or even three times without a successful bid. Eventually I contacted the seller and struck a deal.
|After a rebuild the crane looks so much better, even though a lot of the features are purely cosmetic and have no real use other than to emulate the features of the retail model. The load on the small crane has been added to emulate the display model and is built from two 3½ inch diameter circular girders and three black flexible plates from one of the space sets. Click on the picture to see a larger image. An even larger image can be seen on the NZ photo gallery by following the link in the previous caption|
So what is it?
We believe this to be a model specially built by the Calais Factory for use at a toy fair or some other kind of trade promotion. It was purchased in a rather sorry state, from a guy who said that ‘they’ (he had another one) had been rescued from a skip that was having the contents of a warehouse emptied into it. The skip was located in the Midlands somewhere. We have no further information on this model other than a plaque on the base that reads “993 422 GRUE x 2 No 980910”. It is obvious that the model was built to promote the sale of the centenary limited edition crane set (now also being marketed as the Super construction set). The photograph of the display model next to the crane made from the set, underlines this assumption.
The display model contains lots of parts painted in the dark grey, crinkle finish as used in the crane kit. However lots of the parts in the model were never produced in the standard range. Additionally, all the pulleys gears and sprocket wheels have been painted orange to represent the plastic parts contained in the retail set. A non-Meccano Bull motor-gearbox, similar to the type currently sold by Mike Rhoades, is used to power the hoisting drum which is attached to a chain of gears that, in turn, operate a pair of micro-switches. These micro switches operate a relay that reverses the current being applied to the motor. When the crane is set in motion it will automatically lift and lower its load.
When we first acquired the model it had a plug-in transformer attached to the lead with a screw terminal block. I was sure this was retro-fitted as it just looked ugly. All the zinc was in a terrible state, suffering from severe zinc-rot. We had a tally up and discovered, as usual, that we needed some parts. We have a vast amount of zinc but we always seem to need more. An e-mail to our friendly neighbourhood Meccano dealer, Dave Taylor, resulted in the missing parts appearing and the wallet getting even thinner!
Getting the original crane working
The first job was to sort out exactly what was supposed to happen. Manhandling the model had put all the gears out of sync and if the polarity of the connection was reversed the micro-switches were out of sync preventing the model from reversing. At the time I could not see how the transformer/plug arrangement could work without looking very ugly and dismissed it as somebody’s attempt to get it working. However, months later when we got hold of the second model. It turned out that this was the original and the wiring had been run through the crane platform through the bearing and down one of the legs where it emerged and ran in full view to the power source. The cranes have a crude arrangement of tabs and a long bolt designed to prevent it slewing more than about 40º either side of dead centre. This was intended to prevent the cable becoming wrapped around the thrust bearing. Having known this, when refurbishing the first crane, would not have changed the decision to make the crane self sufficient for power by adding its own power source in the form of rechargeable lead-acid batteries.
It did not take too long to work out that the wiring was polarity sensitive and I soon had the crane performing its party trick with a spare battery and some odd lengths of wire. It was evident that a single battery was not going to fit inside the crane. Trial and error revealed that a pair of 6 volt, 1.2Ah lead acid batteries fitted perfectly into the available space. The batteries used are Yuasa NP1.2-6. I first purchased these from Maplin Electronics but subsequently found that they could be found, via the internet, at less than half the price. I am not knocking Maplin here, If you need something quickly they usually have it or something that will do. It was only when I needed to buy a further six batteries that I decided to have a look around for price.
I spent so much time thinking about the electrical side of the installation I did not give the mechanical side too much thought. While testing the crane on the day before we were going to show it at a TIMS meeting in Ironbridge, it jammed and before I could stop it the motor stripped some teeth in its built-in gearbox. “Oh dear, what a nuisance” I said (or something along those lines!) I made a few phone calls and manage to secure a couple of new motor/gearboxes of the correct ratio but they were not going to be here in time for the meeting. A bit of lateral thinking was called for if we were not going to have a display of unfinished models, I had to come up with an alternative.
Back at Meccanuity 08 I was impressed with some little motor-gearboxes that Michael Threlfall was demonstrating and selling. Sue thought they might be useful too so we parted with some hard-earned and went away with a neat little motor-gearbox complete with mounting plate. It just so happened that with the addition of a couple of brackets and plastic spacer/washers it made the perfect stand-in for the damaged original in the crane. With the motor fitted it was working, the clear plastic plates used to glaze the cab were replaced as they had yellowed and one of them was broken. At this stage we took the model to the February meeting of TIMS for its first appearance whilst in our ownership. I was surprised at just how much interest it provoked…
When we got back from TIMS the motor was replaced and the major job of refurbishment was undertaken. After studying the model with the meticulous eye of a great master painter (and a digital camera!) we decided that the best course of action would be to replace all the zinc with good new parts and put the original parts to one side ready for zinc plating. The jib and legs were totally dismantled and rebuilt using nice pristine parts. All the grey and orange parts were in pristine condition and just required a good clean. This was just as well as the only parts we had to match them were the orange flat trunnions and the odd bit of grey that happened to be in the crane set. There is a fair bit of zinc in this model.
The jib is made from doubled up angle girders, four 18½ and four 12½ inch. But it is the legs that are parts hungry each leg consists of six 5½ inch curved strips, four 5½ strips, two 2 inch strips and four 1 inch double angle strips and a 12½ inch flat girder. We managed to find most of the parts from stock but had to enlist the help of Dave Taylor to supply the shortfall.
The one thing that did grate was having to bore an additional hole in eight of the 5½ curved strips as this is how the original model had been built. The eight strips were bolted together with one of the original strips as a guide. This assembly was taken into the workshop and placed under the pillar drill fitted with a 5/32 inch twist bit. One pull on the quill handle and the deed was done… Assembly was carried out one leg at a time using one of the others as a pattern. The 12½ inch flat girders were bent to shape using our plate bender which made a really good smooth job of it.
The feature that seemed to raise more eyebrows than anything else is the construction of the feet. Each foot is made from five, 4 inch diameter circular plates stacked onto four short threaded rods, separated with plastic spacer/washers and secured with locking nuts. At current prices the plates alone would cost well over £100 just for the four feet - and that is in standard colours! These were removed from the base by removing the rather crude fixing - a 50mm (2 inch) wood screw. After a clean and a bit of a dust down they were ready for fitting to the main leg assembly.
The jib was assembled and re-built into the crane body. The sprocket wheels and pulleys have no practical use and are driven through a selection of driving bands from the winding drum. These were missing and therefore replaced with new ones.
The model was re-attached to the base using 8mm plastic wall plugs trimmed to length and fitted into the holes in the centre of the circular plates these receive screws driven through clearance holes bored through the base in the appropriate positions.
We do not like to modify our display models if we can help it but in this case it became necessary in order to keep the model running smoothly. The hoisting cord is not run in the conventional manner. It is looped around the winding drum and is terminated by passing it through a hole in each of the two angle girders and securing it with a knot.
The problem with this is, as the pair of cords are taken up, they do not always wind at the same rate. This is because one may build quicker than the other on the winding drum. As there is no means of balancing this at the jib, the result is that one cord is taking the weight and the other falls slack resulting in the hook block hanging at an awkward angle. To rectify this we have added a balancing pulley made from modern parts. The plastic pulley being an exact match to the painted metal pulleys of the model. The cord was removed from the model and re fitted so that it is tied off at the winding drum and free to loop around the new balance pulley.
Although this cured the problem compensating the hoisting cord, further modification of the block was necessary to allow it to function properly. As built the flat trunnions were not square to the rod carrying the black plastic spacers being used as made-up pulleys in conjunction with the bush wheels and 8 hole wheel discs. This meant that the whole assembly was locked up solid. The block was dismantled and the upper pair of trunnions were given a slight set in order to enable the axle rod to run freely. A dab of oil and some fine adjustment cured the problem.
It is now late July 2009 and the first crane has been refurbished and had a few outings, most recently at Skegex 09 where it has received much attention. The second crane is about to be dismantled and all the zinc parts are going to be re-plated, along with the original zinc parts from the first crane. When the plating has been done both cranes will be rebuilt using their original parts and the only job now left is to build some storage boxes for them to keep them in tip-top condition until their next outing.
In the mean time if you have any information or the whereabouts of any other similar models - although we suspect these were one offs - please get in touch. We have had a reported sighting in a toyshop in Germany and also they were seen at a children’s technology exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham, UK getting on for ten years ago. Neither of these sightings have been confirmed so if you have seen them please let us know so we can document their history.
Sue and I are always interested in purchasing genuine original display models in any condition - even really bad ones or partially dismantled or damaged models are of interest. We are also interested in the mains motors and transformers used by the Binns Road model room and especially the Airfix/MRRC transformers used on the later models. Contact us HERE