Posts Tagged ‘toy’

The putt-putt boat

April 13, 2015

Or as some say, the pop-pop boat.

I think my daughter gave me this as a Christmas present ten or so years ago. It hasn’t seen the light of day for some time but it has happy memories for me, particularly when I was a teacher and took it to use in one lesson. It really seemed to inspire and motivate a whole class.

It’s a cheaply made bit of tin plate. It had a bit of the look of a heroin addict’s accoutrements, particularly with its little dropper for filling the boiler. I don’t know where that is now, but you can fill it from a tap with no problem.

Here’s the boat on dry land.


This was taken in artificial light which seems to give silver surfaces a golden hue. The outside of the boat is silver coloured. The metal flag at the sharp end is pure decoration.

Here’s the boiler.


It’s that black disc thing, supported on twin tubes and with the potential to be heated by a bit of candle. Apparently they work with one tube, but it is much easier to fill that little boiler if there’s a route for air to escape as water goes in.

Those twin tubes run along the lower deck and then protrude out of the hull.


I used flash which got the colour rendition rather better!

And you can click here to see the boat in operation in what I promise you was a scrubbed clean kitchen sink.

The science of the thing is strange. Water in the boiler boils and the vapour forces water out of the tubes which pushes the boat. But then, away from the heat of the candle, the vapour condenses and water gets sucked back in through the tubes. It boils and so on. I’d have said that the forward motion caused by the water boiling ought to be matched by an opposite force as the water is sucked back in. But this is clearly not what happens. The little boat continues to go forwards.

If you really want to understand it, having first obtained your degree in physics try this research paper.

Otherwise just enjoy a fun toy.

My Wife’s Farm

March 26, 2015

No doubt many of us older folk – not that we are that old – had farms where the items were cast in metal. My wife had an altogether classier set of kit than I ever had. Some of her bits of farm are really lovely. Here is some of it.


Like many a farm, gathered together in an ad hoc manner, it isn’t all to scale. The delightful round haystack is not much bigger than the stooks of corn.

Some of these individual items are just grand. How about the farm cat, in a basket with a kitten.


There’s a grand shepherd.


His sheepdog waits patiently in his kennel.


A rabbit emerges from its burrow.


A hen has gone into a coop.


It can be shut in to make it sit on a clutch of eggs and keep it safe.

There are simple things, like a milk churn which still has its detachable lid.


And here’s one for the historians.


This is a bee skep made of straw in real life.. I have to say I have never seen a real skep in use. Hives, designed by humans for bees, allow for easier extraction of honey and far easier been inspection.

My wife has a great little farm here.

A Spinneroo

January 30, 2015

Actually, that’s not the real name. It seems to be rather dull in name. It’s a cyclone. I prefer spinneroo.

By Heck! It’s nearly February and I’m still thinking about Christmas past. Well, it was only just over a month ago.

My son came up with this interesting little gizmo.


I don’t know if he was aware that this is an updated version of a toy we used to make for ourselves back in the 1950s out of string and cardboard. You made a suitable disc of card – it needed to be sturdy and coloured it or punched holes in it to taste. You then passed a string through two holes near the centre and made the string into a loop. You could then twist up the string and when you pulled – with one end in each hand – you made the disc spin round, fast enough that the colours seemed to merge and the device whirred and possibly whistled as well.

This one is hi-tech and is made of modern strong twine with comfy plastic handles and two lights on the device made to spin. The effect is spectacular, Persistence of vision joins the lights into pretty patterns, according to just how you spin and shake the device.


Lucky I have a tripod for the camera. Yes, that’s me. My hands are blurred due to speed of movement and we can see how those two lights, different in colour, appear to chase each other around.

Without much practice at all you can get a rather attractive petal pattern.


Great fun! Thanks Sid and family.


November 8, 2014

Slopers was a department store in Devizes. We met Slopers in a post I did some time ago about its cash railway. You could click here to see that.

Today we are looking at one item we purchased from the shop not long before its sad demise. That was in about 1975.

In purchasing this item we either thought it would be suitable for other folks children or we were anticipating the future for it is a child’s toy.


What we have is a collection of three people kits with a (typical of the era) foamed polystyrene tray to keep them in. When purchases, some 40 years ago, they came with a shrinkwrapped plastic cover to keep everything in place. Once removed, the tray became a bit of a pain but we clearly kept it.

I suppose we could call this an acrobat construction kit. The people can be assembled and stood on the base in a variety of weird and wonderful poses.


After a long spell in retirement these chaps have just emerged for a grandchild to look at. I think it is fair to say he isn’t that impressed.


Is that mum?

August 9, 2014

No, it most certainly isn’t, but a whole flotilla of ducklings seem confused.


It’s the early 1980s and my son, aged about 4, is playing with his toy yacht. It did sail and blow in the wind, but we adults insisted on a line back to land being held, just in case of a capsize. I’m afraid the location has gone unrecorded on the slide – parents will know how short of time you are with two little children to cope with but I think it is a millpond at Swanage.

The ducklings seem to have abandoned mum – surely not all hers – and are following the toy yacht.

I guess it is the natural curiosity of the young.


A dancing flower

May 12, 2014

I guess these were all the range at one time. It’s a flower that dances to the music. That time was the 1980s and early 90s so between twenty and thirty years ago. I feel it is very kitsch now.


The green circle in the flower pot is a microphone which responds to loud noise. This is used to drive a motor which makes the flower dance.

I have a short film of the flower, bopping to a bit of Eric Clapton. Click here to see it.

I used to be involved in teaching electronics so I rather like these weird little toys. Mine came from a jumble sale long after they were out of fashion.


The Dipping Duck

March 18, 2014

I do like my scientific toys and none come much better than the one I call ‘Dippy’.

Dippy is shaped a bit like a bird and once you give him a drink of water he continues to dip his beak into it until he can no longer reach the water. It is as if by magic!

Here is Dippy.


Dippy is an old bird – definitely over thirty. Sadly, his feet split many years ago and they are fastened up with splints – actually sticky pads.

To see Dippy working, click here.

Sorry folks, you’ll have to have a bit of science because, of course, Dippy is not magic. He’s a clever mix of well-balanced technology, a volatile liquid and a way of creating different temperatures.

Dippy’s head is covered by a thin layer of absorbent material. It gets wet each time he pokes his bill into the water. That water evaporates. In the film I have created a draught so that it all works quickly. When water evaporates it takes heat from the surroundings so the vapour in Dippy’s head is colder than the vapour in his tail end. That creates a pressure difference and the red liquid is forced up through Dippy’s pipe shaped neck. Eventually there’s more weight above his hip joint than below it and the head falls forward into the water. Whilst near horizontal the pressures can equalise and the liquid all falls back into the body sending Dippy to the upright position again. If you keep water in front of him he’ll drink indefinitely.

But for those who don’t like or who aren’t interested in the science, just enjoy the quirky shape keeping going for ever. For after all, it does seem like magic.

A Hexbug

January 22, 2014

Gosh. It is nearly a month since Christmas. One of my presents back then was a hex bug. These are cunningly engineered little ‘bugs’ which seemingly have no moving parts on the outside and yet they move forward. Inside the little beastie there is a small electric motor which drives an out of balance flywheel. This makes the device wobble up and down. It stands on flexible legs which point slightly backwards. When the flywheel pulls hex bug up the weight on the legs reduces and they move to a more upright position. As the flywheel moves down friction stops the legs from sliding backwards and the result is that the whole thing moves forward.

Here’s a photo against a ruler so you can gauge the size.


It is a bit less than 2 inches long and as you can gsee it has twelve legs.

Of course a picture really doesn’t do justice – so click here for a video. In the video I have made a small barrier to keep Hex bug in place. Like the daleks, it’s not too good with steps. At first we see a nosey cat, interested in a switched off bug, but then I switch it on, upside down. Like all good bugs, this one can right itself. It does nearly turn right over in the film, but soon rights itself again.

What a fascinating device!

A forgotten gramophone

January 19, 2014

Both my wife and I have had some involvement with music and we have a cupboard filled with odd or even quite normal instruments. In a recent sort out we even came across a gramophone I had entirely forgotten. It is a Lumar Mechanical Toy Gramophone and I think it dates from the early 1960s. Not only had I forgotten the gramophone, I have no memory of where it came from. But it was there, in the cupboard.


As can be seen, we still have the box it came in. This tells us that the machine came from the stable of Louis Marx and Co in Swansea

Inside is a gramophone in two pieces. One part is the clockwork motor and turntable. The other is the needle carrier, diaphragm and sound arm.


The two parts are designed to slot together very easily.

A key fits down one of the holes in the turntable to allow the motor to be wound.


We have a collection of ten records produced for this machine.


They are a mix of Christmas carols and other popular music for children. Any of the records which carry a date say 1963 so they are over 50 years old. They play at 78 revolutions per minute but look much more like the 45s which were the modern thing back then.

You can click here to hear the machine playing a short extract of ‘Blow the man down’.

My hand appears to press the brake / speed control lever and then put the needle in the groove. After a quick speed adjustment, the music starts.

For those who want to know, the brake lever operates a pad on a James Watt style governor which aims to keep a constant revolving speed even though the motor is running down all the time.

The dustbin lorry

October 22, 2013

These days refuse collection is a high tech affair. Huge lorries pick up the wheelie bins and may weigh them, recognise who the bin belongs to and even keep records of it all. To cram as much in as possible a press compacts the rubbish into a tight, tiny space.

Back in the 50s a much more personal service was not a bit like that. A small lorry with opening side hatches can round. The dustmen (or refuse collectors) came around to your back garden, collected your bin, took it out to the lorry and emptied the contents via the side hatches and then returned your bin. Of course, at Christmas time they may have made some extra clattering noises to remind you they felt entitled to a Christmas box – a small some of cash for their kindness and hard work throughout the year.

I do not have a photo of such a lorry, but I do have a Dinky toy version.


What a little beauty! I certainly had one of these lorries as a kid. It was old (as ever it was not new to me) and battered. This one – and I’m not sure if it is the same one, has been renovated by my brother-in-law who at one time enhanced his income by meticulously doing up such toys.

I have opened one of the side hatches for the photograph.

This is a Dinky version of a Bedford truck.


The first version of this model came out in 1948 but they were popular and stayed in production until 1965. If this is the very one I had as a child then it will be an early one.

So what’s that big handle on the side for? Well, like the real thing this is a tipper lorry. It has a rear hatch and if you wind the handle you tip the refuse container and the contents can fall out of the rear hatch.image006

It’s a lovely model and thanks to Bill for doing it up.