Skip to content

Lifelong love for Meccano connects collectors at museum

'What happens is that people like us put away our childhood toys, and years and years later, you kind of get bit again,' says enthusiast

Part of this past weekend's Wheels and Tracks in Motion event at the Simcoe County Museum included special ways to build bridges between different age groups. 

The Midhurst facility hosted a Meccano collector’s gathering as part of its annual Wheels and Tracks get-together.

Meccano, a construction system mostly made for use by children, comes in many different sets that include metal pieces, wheels and gears, which can then be connected together with nuts and bolts, all with the goal of constructing a wide variety of simple machines and structures.

The company was created in 1898 by Frank Hornby in Liverpool, England, and was a precursor to the wildly popular Lego building blocks of today. In 2013, the Meccano brand was acquired by the Canadian toy company Spin Master, and they maintain a manufacturing facility in France.

Napanee resident Hubert Hogle was on hand at the event on Sunday and proudly showed off his replica of the iconic Star Wars robot R2-D2. It took him six months to design and build, and it is fully functional.

The hardest part of the work to create it was building the head, Hogle said.

“It’s hard to make a spherical piece out of flat Meccano,” he told BarrieToday. “But it can be done. And that’s the challenge, trying to find a way to solve the problems. Solving problems is what we enjoy.”

Hogle has been fiddling around with the little metal pieces for 73 years now.

“Since I was six,” he said. “It was the No. 1 set and I bolted some thin strips onto a plate, and thought ‘isn’t this neat?' And it kept me going every year, as Santa Claus would bring me some more Meccano. By high school, I got the largest set that you could get and went from there. I’ve enjoyed it all through my life.”

Meccano has also been used at universities for teaching structures and mechanics throughout the world, he says.

“The mechanical engineering building at Queen's University, which I went to, they eventually threw out their Meccano and I got some of it and it’s in my collection now,” said Hogle.

Georgina resident Hessel Pape, who is the treasurer of the Canadian Modeling Association for Meccano and Allied Systems, which has members across Canada, the United States and one member in Australia, will happily talk with anyone interested in learning about Meccano's rich history.

He received his first Meccano set in 1945.

“The set was a mixture of everything and nothing fit together,” Pape said with a laugh.

Ingenuity was a necessity for staving off boredom when he was young, and with plenty of Meccano parts, the gears in their minds churned out handy creations.

“When I was a kid in Europe, we had an upstairs flat and there was a boy about my age — he had Meccano, too, so we set up something on the balcony and strung a line to the sidewalk and we used to send notes up this cart lift,” Pape said.

“That was a long time ago," he added. "And what happens is that people like us put away our childhood toys, and years and years later, you kind of get bit again, only by this time we have some money to buy the parts that we always needed to build something.”

Pape admits that it hasn’t been easy passing on the Meccano bug to his grandchildren.

“Well, we try, but unfortunately they’re into Lego. We try to explain to them that it’s just different," he said. 

And what about the future of this forerunner to Lego?

Spin Master, which owns the Meccano brand, announced this year that the factory in France will be closing in 2024 because it had not been able to achieve profitability.

This news leaves much uncertainty among the veteran collectors.

“Whether they outsource kits from elsewhere, who knows. Unfortunately, they are not promoting it as much anymore as we would like to see,” Pape lamented.

Reader Feedback

Kevin Lamb

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
Read more