A Meccano Enthusiast at Glasgow, Marvels of the Empire Exhibition (MM 1938-07)

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index

A Meccano Enthusiast at Glasgow: Marvels of the Empire Exhibition

THE Glasgow Empire Exhibition houses nearly 70 separate Pavilions and Palaces, ranging from the giant Palaces of Industries to the compact little one of Burma, but every Meccano enthusiast will make straight for the Palace of Engineering, which lies on your right as you enter by the South Gate. Here you might wander for a week and still be finding something new and engrossing at every turn.

The Palace Engineering is so vast that the only way to ensure seeing everything is to walk clockwise round it in a spiral course, refusing to look at any exhibits other than those on your immediate left. In that way you can close in gradually on the centre, where has been installed a complete evaporating and distilling plant for a modern warship. Alongside stands one of the eight high-pressure turbo-feed pumps designed for the new Cunard White Star liner "Queen Elizabeth".

Here are some 240 exhibits, large and small. Particularly interesting to model-building enthusiasts is the stand showing scale models of a 250-ton hammerhead crane, a 50-ton fitting-nut crane, 100-ton ladle crane, a level-luffing crane, a tower crane, bascule and rolling bridges, and a riveting machine. The detail work of these models is extremely fine, and it is interesting to note that the firm exhibiting them was responsible for the steelwork of this Palace of Engineering, which itself is as extensive as Buckingham Palace, and is said to be the largest temporary building ever erected.

Not far away there is to be found the first Diesel engine ever built in England, 40 years ago, and still working as steadily and silently as the day it was first started. Turbines, complete and in section; sets of reduction gear, steering gear, pumping and winding gear for every type of craft afloat, can be examined here; and adjacent to these are torpedoes and torpedo tubes, submarine mines whole and sectioned, a paravane with a plan of its method of trawling for mines, anti-aircraft guns, periscopes and range finders – all there to be inspected at close quarters.

Opposite this stand are scale models of dozens of famous craft, ranging from a 20-ft. model of the "Queen Elizabeth" to a silver model of the tea clipper "Cutty Sark". The new "Mauritania", troop-carriers, oil-tankers, paddle-steamers and stern-wheelers; a train-ferry built for the Chinese Government; scale-model yachts, gun-boats, ice-breakers and submarines; all these are to be found in their cases, and many more, awaiting inspection from keen model-ship builders.

An interesting exhibit alongside is a stabiliser fitted to a sectioned model liner. On deck and in the saloons are passengers and crew. At intervals the vessel it made to rock, and then the stabiliser automatically comes into action. It is interesting to see how the fins emerge and counteract the rolling motion of the vessel under the guidance of the gyroscope, until once again the vessel is on an even keel.

There is, too, a very fine exhibition of locomotives, including "Pacifics" used on the French State Railways. But, to leave this Palace of Engineering for a moment, the best exhibit of this sort is to be found in the British Railways Pavilion, where very fine scale models of the four crack trains – "The Coronation Scot" (L.M.S.), the "Coronation" (L.N.E.R.), the "Cornish Riviera Limited" (G.W.R.), and "The Southern Belle" (S.R.) are to be seen running along a 140-ft. diorama representing typical British scenery. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the large model goods marshalling yard, in which all the main operations an the handling of mixed goods traffic may be watched. The signalling and switches are all controlled by a hidden operator, so that the effect is of a full-size system.

Back in the Palace of Engineering again, there is an exhibit of wire and hemp rope winding machines at work. Another shows rope-plaiting to avoid spin. Yet another machine is at work reducing a length of phosphor bronze wire 0.0116 in. thick to the almost unbelievably small gauge of 0.0024 in. at the rate of 3,000 ft. per min. The wire passes through 15 graduated diamond dies, and when it reaches the last it is so fine-drawn that 11 miles of it weigh barely 16 ounces! This fine-drawn wire is then woven on a loom on the stand, making delicate filters and mosquito curtains. The mesh is invisible without a magnifying glass.

The "still" exhibits are very impressive. One is a model of Britain's largest steel ingot, 230 tons, entering a furnace. In another Pavilion, by the way, there is to be seen a very large working model of a steel-forging press. Here, by a series of switches, the operator can manoeuvre the model ingot to and from the furnaces, hammers and rollers, setting each in motion in turn and raising and lowering the ingot on a powerful overhead travelling-cane. Other "still" exhibits are a 30-ton rotor shaft standing alongside a stern frame and propeller shaft bracket; a railway bogie and pair of locomotive crank-axles; a 10-ft finished propeller, and a 6-ft. driving wheel from an express engine, cut through vertically to show the quality of steel used.

But working models are even more interesting, and there are plenty plenty among which to choose. A model sugar-refining plant and a model laundry stand together, there are working models of belt-conveyors and elevators with sectioned driving gear; there is electric switchgear, colliery winding gear and, surrounded by people with their fingers pressed into their ears, a large working model of a high voltage research laboratory in which sparks 2 ft. long pass between different terminals with a noise like a pistol shot each time. Near at hand there is a gas cutting plant in which you can see a knife-like flame cutting out the intricate pattern of the Empire Lion in metal an inch thick as though it were brown paper.

Before leaving the Palace of Engineering, however, there is a little-advertised stand that no one should miss. Here the Home Office is exhibiting countless ingenious devices for reducing the number of accidents in factories and industry generally. Many types of machine maybe handled, all power-driven, and each is fitted with some type of "push-away" guard, a device that gently forces the operator's hands out of the danger zone; or a "remote-feeding" device, or one that automatically arrests the machine if the operator insists on putting his or her hands where they have no right to be. Enthusiasts who have visited the Meccano factory in Binns Road will remember seeing some of these devices in use on stamping and other machinery there.

Second in interest after the Palace of Engineering is probably the Colville-Beardmore Pavilion. More heavy engineering and working models; a 60-ft. propeller-shaft weighing 14 tons, and polished like silver; rifled gun-barrels for Navy and Army; and a slab of armour-plating that has been "tested to destruction", which means that it was submitted to gunfire many times heavier than that for which it was intended, just to see what it would stand. There are jagged holes in it now that tell of its ordeal. Near it is one of the eight-cylinder Diesel engines fitted to the ill-fated "R.101" and rescued from the debris in France after that airship crashed in 1930. An imposing exhibit is a 14-ft. steel plate standing on its edge and surrounded by samples of steelwork of massive gauge that has been deliberately twisted and tied in knots while cold to prove its quality. This Pavilion contains a free cinema where are shown such films as "The Age of Speed", "The Romance of Engineering", "The World of Steel", all worth seeing. Another Pavilion with a free cinema is the Shell-Mex one near by. Films showing the prospecting and finding of oil, well-sinking, pipe-laying, and so on, are excellent, and in the main hall there is a vast model map showing the world's oilfields, with tankers steaming over the seas carrying their important products from port to port.

It is not far from there to the United Kingdom Pavilion Here, after the famous "Mechanical Man," the most striking exhibit is probably the very large scale model of a coal mine, sectioned to show every process from blasting and drilling to screening and washing. This wonderful working model will be fully described and illustrated in next month's "M.M."

Towering over you as you enter the Pavilion is the full-size wheelhouse, bridge and chartroom of a modern cargo vessel, on which all the instruments may be inspected, while there is a sailor on duty who will answer questions. Down below is a large Yarrow tank containing a complete wax hull fitted with all the mechanism and recording apparatus used at the National Physical Laboratory for testing streamline and the resistance of wind and water. Near it is a small tunnel that is utilised for research work on propellers.

Then there are the two vast Palaces of Industries, the West and the North. They are excellent hunting ground for the boy who always wants to know "how it's done". A full-size bakery plant is continuously at work, showing the whole process from kneading the dough to wrapping the baked loaf at the rate of 30 loaves a minute, and there is hardly a point at which the human hand comes into contact with it. Toffee-making machinery, cigarette rolling and packing, flour milling, paper bag making, packet filling, printing and folding advertisement sheets – all these are on view, and one of the most ingenions of all gadgets to be seen is a little rubber nozzle that sucks up each sheet of paper in turn in order to feed it through to the printing rollers, without picking up two sheets together.

There are many looms at work, weaving blankets, sheets, rainproof material and carpets; there is even a loom weaving spun glass into fabric for insulating walls and boilers. A strange contrast is to be found where, on one side of the aisle, a Scotsman is weaving tartan on a 200-year-old hand loom that looks rather like a Heath Robinson sketch, while on the other side a modern power-driven loom, roars and crashes, deafening workers and audience alike. The old Scotsman takes no notice whatsoever. Glass-blowing is to be seen; a machine is stamping the eye in needles at a tremendous rate – you might be surprised to learn that it takes three weeks to make a needle; and you can inspect the watch that was tied to a driving-wheel of the "Royal Scot" on a run from London to Glasgow.

Even now there are some 50 or 60 Pavilions to be explored, each with an afternoon of interest in it. In the Rubber Pavilion you can inspect the de-icers that are fitted to many aircraft to-day; in the Service Pavilion is one of the Hawker "Hurricane" bombers', similar to the one that recently flew from Edinburgh to London in 48 minutes. In the Colonial Pavilions there is a large model of the recently completed Singapore Airport which was built on land reclaimed from malarial swamps. The Coal Pavilion has exhibits of ancient and modern coal-winning gear; the Shipping Pavilion has a huge model of the Mersey Docks containing scale model ships 2 ft. long that mysteriously approach, pass through dock-gates, berth, and set sail again without human agency. And several Pavilions have teleprinting apparatus in which news dictated into a machine in London is automatically coded, wired to Glasgow, decoded and set up in type on Linotype machine without the intervention of human beings – perhaps one of the most amazing inventions of modern times.

The first thing you see as you approach the Empire Exhibition is of course the 300-ft. Tower. Slim and tall, it stands on a hill exposed to all the winds, and to make sure of its stresses it had to be embedded in a 3,200- ton block of concrete. From its summit on a clear day you can see 80 miles. To the north-west it is possible to see the "Queen Elizabeth", a sister-ship to the "Queen Mary'", in the shipyards on the Clyde. A lift carries you from the top to bottom of the Tower in 31 seconds, which is fast enough for anyone!

The Pavilions of the Dominions are full of interest. The most striking feature of the Canadian exhibit is a map of Canada over 1,000 sq. ft. in area; it is painted on burnished Canadian copper, weighs a ton and is illuminated by an ingenious electrical device. The Australia Pavilion has a magnificent working model of Sydney Harbour and its famous Bridge, and the reproduction of an old Dutch homestead that is the South Africa Pavilion shows a great range of products of the Union, including raw and cut diamonds that make the eyes sparkle.

Among all these Palaces and Pavilions it is easy enough to lose your way, but the Tower stands up on its bill like a sailor's landmark, and is a splendid guide. To north and to south of it all day long two great cascades of water tumble towards the main gateways, and by night these are cunningly floodlit with changing coloured lights. The Tower too, is floodlit, and you will be well on the road for home before it fades out of sight behind you. But long afterwards the memory of the great Exhibition will remain with you as a little world gathered together, complete in every detail, for your delight.

— , Gary Hogg, , A Meccano Enthusiast at Glasgow, , Meccano Magazine, , July 1938