Nuts, Bolts and tiny Solar Panels!

06 Mar

My house has a very shallow roof.

While this is all well and good as far as walking on it to examine broken tiles or spying on the neighbours is concerned, I am actually unlikely to be doing either of those things and what really concerns me is the inside of that shallow roof – which is an extremely low loft space!

Actually, if you know my home address (and no, I’m NOT going to tell you if you don’t know already) you can look it up on Street view in either Google Maps or Google Earth to see the pitch of the roof. If you stop alongside the garage and don’t go too far past, you can also see me unloading stuff from the boot of my old Nissan Micra – go a bit further and that vehicle mysteriously changes to my daughter Hannah’s old Ford Ka!

From that image of me you will get the impression that I am not a small person.

In fact, at 6 foot 4 inches tall and around 20 Stones in weight I am the worst possible person to attempt to squeeze into that congested loft space!

And yet, whenever necessary, it is my job to get up there. This is probably due to the fact that apart from some dishwashing, painting, taking the bins out and a tiny amount of cooking I actually do bugger all around the house and it is, therefore, only fair!

Normally it is only necessary to visit the loft in November, to bring down the Christmas decorations and again in January to put them back again. The rest of the stuff up there remains untouched.

Last summer, though, we had our en-suite bathroom refitted and it was necessary for the plumber to fit the new shower by accessing it from above and this meant that a track through the various intervening boxes had to be cleared for him.

There was no room for this to be done by rearranging – removal to one of the bedrooms was the only answer. I accomplished this by laying on my stomach, passing the boxes back along my body and hoping that Faith would catch (or at least slow) them as they dropped through the hatch.

Incidentally, when I got out of the loft the first thing I did was have a shower. That’s not to say the loft is dirty – it’s just that in and around the random boards I’ve put in over the years, it is lined with one of my least favourite substances – glass wool!

Thanks to the antics of the nearest thing my class at school had to a bully, I (and others) suffered a great deal of unpleasantness from having this stuffed down the neck of my shirt. It itches like crazy and I’m sure left tiny fibres actually stuck in me for weeks afterwards!

One of these days Mr Potter, one of these days………!

ANYWAY, it was only after I’d showered off the largely imaginary itchiness and actually looked at the boxes now seeing the light of day for the first time in years, that I realised that they contained two of my greatest treasures!

The first and by far the bulkier of these is my old model railway, vintage around 1960, still in its original boxes and enhanced 25 years later by the purchase from Chelmsford second-hand market of a box of additional track and other rolling stock. While this is a Hornby train set it is not the famous O-O (pronounced “double O”) gauge version which most boys of my generation would have heard of and/or owned.

For some reason my father went for the lesser known T-T gauge which was, I believe, 1 millimetre per foot smaller in scale – it was like Betamax video; smaller, better in quality and totally unsuccessful commercially!

I don’t think I’ve had it set up and working since it was recovered from my parents’ loft (at their request) in about 1981. For some strange reason my little girls showed no great interest in it.

The second item from my far off childhood was that other staple of the thinking boy’s toybox and also created by Frank Hornby – MECCANO.

For anyone not aware (I think they still make it although it’s mostly plastic now) this USED to comprise perforated metal strips and plates of varying sizes which could be joined together in an infinite number of ways by tiny nuts and bolts to make interesting vehicles and structures.

There were various numbered “sets” that could be acquired (from 00 to 10) and wherever you started you could then buy a conversion kit – the one named “4a” would convert set 4 to set 5 and so on.

It was as a result of Meccano that terms such as “trunnion”, “flange” and “lock-nutting” entered my vocabulary.

At this point I can almost hear my late father’s voice, at his most dry and humorous, saying “Much harm can come to a young lad if he gets his trunnion lock-nutted to his flange!” Not, of course that he would have bothered to say that to me when we were working on Meccano constructs – I had no sense of humour then!

For me though the thing that made my Meccano really come to life was the little, black clockwork motor included. While you had to ensure that the peg over which the key fitted was readily accessible, its size (approximately 2 inches by 1 ½ inches by ½ inch deep) meant that it was normally quite easily concealed within the body of any vehicular construction. A rubber band fed the power from the motor via gears to the wheels.

Dad and I found, however, that some devices (a cable car system working from a base on the floor up to the picture rail about a foot below the ceiling) required a bit more “oomph” and we got this by salvaging the much larger clockwork motor from another (broken) toy. That other motor (4 inches by 2 ½ inches by 1 inch deep) did the trick and is still in the box with the “official” one.

Keeping in mind the sizes of those two clunky, steel-sprung power sources let us now jump forward 50-odd years.

A couple of weeks ago, for my 63rd birthday my younger daughter and her husband bought me a novelty present. It was a kit – marked as suitable for “Age 10 and over” (so I should be OK!) containing hundreds of small parts to enable the proud owner to build a solar-powered robot with a variety of different bodies.

As suggested in the instructions I duly checked and trimmed all of the small plastic pieces and the two 1 inch square solar panels that provide the power source, and then went back through the contents to try to find the motor – which did not seem to be present.

And then I found it – in a small plastic bag loose in the box.

It is a metal cylinder less than half an inch in length and less than one quarter of an inch in diameter! It had what looked like a pin sticking out of one end and two coloured wires emerging from the other. And that was IT! A small cog fits over the pin (from which other gears can be connected) and the wires connect to the linked solar panels.

I haven’t yet constructed any of these robot varieties and to be fair they will be somewhat lighter than the Meccano equivalents but they will run as long as light is available rather than needing winding up every 30 seconds or so.

It does make me wonder what could have been done with a Meccano set in the 1960s if modern photo-electric technology had existed then!




Posted by on March 6, 2016 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Nuts, Bolts and tiny Solar Panels!

  1. withamwanderer

    March 6, 2016 at 10:18 am

    The reason your little girls didn’t show an interest in the train set was because you didn’t tell them about it. One of your little girls was VERY interested in the mechano but was told it wasn’t coming down from the loft to be played with because it was old and dad’s. I feel it’s important to set the record straight in these matters.

  2. Alfie

    March 6, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    It wasn’t a TOY! Perhaps if you’d said “I’d like to make something with it” rather than “Can I play with it?” I might have reacted differently. I’ll let you have a go next time you’re here if you like. I think you’re old enough to be trusted with it now! Probably!

  3. Vincent

    March 10, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    I had a “Double-O” set – it included a Deltic loco with rubber tyres that Hornby showed pulling a KID along!

    Last I heard, Potter was working in a bank…


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