Late 2021: A Groundhog Emerges
The terms Engineer and Artist both cover huge fields of expertise and I feel it’s rather pretentious to label oneself with either title, but now in my senior years I feel perhaps moving from the former to the latter description might fit me better.
Playing with my Meccano construction kit is the starting childhood memory, I never had the patience to follow the book of plans and incorporated all kinds of toybox junk into my construction games. A large magnet, a 240v fan motor, my Mamod stationary steam engine was modified with gears and wheels to become a mobile engine and I made a gramophone record player with a Matchbox sound box, in fact many non-standard articles featured in my play. Utilising anything and everything was a way of life, fresh new materials were never considered and nothing was wasted. I developed a good memory for possible recyclable junk and became very observant.
And so my skills have evolved. I make engines. I don’t make models. I copy basic ideas and let my unwritten plans run freely.
Being a bit more dramatic and a bit pretentious, I would rather like to be remembered as some sort of engineering artist.
I think some painters must simply start with a blank canvas and a vague idea of a picture, they paint freehand adding detail as they go. Sometimes they make a bit of a mess and either leave it or keep adding colour until they are satisfied. Oil paintings must be difficult to finish, there is always something needing tweaking.
This is how it is with me. I start with an idea emanating from a picture, a book or perhaps a visit to some engineering collection and look round for any interesting materials. A vague engine idea slowly emerges and I keep tinkering. If I drill a hole in the wrong place I might fill it in some way or use it as a feature or just leave it. An artist might do this with his picture. Nothing goes into the scrap bin.
I have no interest in striving to produce Gainsborough perfection or following any of the great masters I simply apply my basic engineering skill to assemble a mechanical picture.
Perfect precision is no longer for me. It’s not too difficult if one has limitless time and money but they say the cost of perfection is prohibitive, I’ve strived for that during my apprenticeship and working life.
Now I have the freedom of retirement and throw the paint at the canvas!
Few will understand my way of thinking and the results will offend realists. Engineers won’t understand and will see me as a stupid botcher to be avoided.
There may be just a minute vestige of Salvador Dali in my thinking.
If someone can look at my wobbly wheels, bad fits and wonky saw cuts then I hope they see just a tiny bit of art in my productions.
Every assembly I cobble together has a basic theme of being an engine and one golden rule is that however badly they do have to run albeit on steam or compressed air.
One aspect of working without any kind of design or plan is that every tiny piece is a project in itself, I might spend hours making, fettling and finishing a component to my satisfaction regardless of any other part of the total assembly. A knob, a handle, a chimney or even a copper pipe may take a ridiculous time to meet my standards or it might just be rushed into rough functionality in my haste to reach a certain point of progress. Each piece gets added to the jigsaw and a picture slowly emerges, sometimes with surprising results!
Back when I was a lad one of my jobs was to mow the lawn i.e. cut the grass!! and even then I was sufficiently interested in mechanical things to want to discover how the mower blade only revolved when I was pushing forward. It also made an intriguing ratcheting noise on the pull back demanding investigation, so grass cutting was quickly forgotten as I took the old iron mower to bits…
October 2021 and I’m struggling for inspiration until a pair of those steel lawnmower wheels came up on Ebay which brought back memories and started me making a contraption that runs along the ground. It needs a reduction gear arrangement and some kind of differential drive axle but this bit is beyond me.
I tackle making individual parts without any real idea of the nature of the finished engine and achieving a decent reduction gear with available junk has resulted in utilising the gears from a big old hand drill.
This sort of tractor assembly will lead me into making something like a model if I don’t stick to my ‘no model’ principle and so a 3 wheeler is on the cards but then looking at 3 wheelers it suddenly dawns on me that this assembly is going to resemble a model invalid marathon trike.
Must ensure it runs with the large wheels at the front!
Nov 11th and it’s changed again, I’m back to 4 wheels and a sort of tractor theme with twin oscillating cylinders running in a shallow V formation.
20th November and to my amazement it runs!!
But this is only phase one as it’s running on air and so a steam boiler made from small Gaz bottle is attached and plumbed in. It’s heated with a camping gas burner which proves adequate for a bench test firstly just getting the engine to run in ‘neutral’ and later after a bit of running in it actually drives those lovely lawnmower wheels. Phase two successful.
Next I have to think about the huge step forward of making it self propelling and mobile which entails adding the camping gas canister in some kind of aesthetically pleasing manner. It would look best if the canister laid down but I think you are supposed to keep them vertical so a sloping compromise came about.
A WW2 brass shell case was cut and attached as the canister holder, a bit heavy but looked ok.
The engine drove both back wheels on the bench and I thought that would ensure good grip and so a steam powered test run on the wet garden grass had to be attempted.
Getting steam pressure up took a while needing a lot of heating and warming of the engine to stop the steam condensing before it would run on the bench but having got things hot it was time for my very first garden drive ……
It ran well, trundled down the concrete like a hog on a straight line mission as those linked big iron back wheels wouldn’t allow turning!
After quickly disconnecting the drive to one wheel I started it going round a curve but I had allowed the power to go to the wrong wheel and it simply slipped on the wet grass.
Back to the workshop for a rethink.
I need to make it steer, oh dear… its beginning to look a bit like a model!