The Little World – Dux

Dux is a strange word here in Australia. People who are the highest – scoring students at their schools are known as the Dux of the class. Older women are also called Ducks – it is a term of easy affection.

But the Dux I remember was an entirely different thing – it was the Christmas of 1959 when I encountered the Dux construction set. I had no idea at the time how unusual it was in the world of toys.

You’ll all know Meccano from the UK and some of you will know the A.C. Gilbert Erector sets from the USA. Dux was from Germany, and I am now convinced that it was East Germany rather than the Bundesrepublik. A very unusual thing for 1959 as it was the height of the Cold War.

Still, the DDR needed foreign currency, and the department store in Canada that stocked the Dux set might have gotten them in for the Christmas trade at a very cheap price. The set was my prized present for the year, and it came in quite a large red cardboard organiser box. There were steel girders, connector plates, plastic sheets, L brackets, T brackets, wheels, axles, rubber tyres, and a wonderful fully articulated clamshell bucket. It had the look of Meccano to some extent but the girders were stiffened with a steel lip at one edge that meant they could support themselves better. The fastenings were good-quality plated nuts and bolts but there were some very odd little grommets that enabled steel shafts to turn in the girders.

There was an instruction book but even I could tell at that stage that the writer of it was not an English-speaker. I have since learned to recognise the Teutonic technical style as the Metz electronic flash company used it in all their customer communications. It was at once the most painful and frustration document you could read – the photos and diagrams hinted at wonders that the text could not support.

Well, when you’re 11 you don’t need an engineering degree to invent things, and I spent years using that Dux set to do just that. Cars, trucks, cranes, etc…though I never did succeed in getting that clamshell bucket to work properly – it was a fine piece but you needed to rig up pullys and blocks as well as the steel work to make an overhead loader of it.  It was always going to be the next project.

Well, I am ready for it now, but all trace of the Dux construction sets seems to have vanished – perhaps they evaporated with the DDR. I’ve tried eBay with no success and even the basic Google search for illustrations produces very little – certainly not the thing I remember. It might be too much to hope that an entire set has survived, but I would settle for the clamshell bucket.

There is an overhead coal loader in me that is itching to get out.

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The Little World – Just Leave the Milk And Cookies On The Table

When I am finished playing I will eat them. I may be some time – I’m currently in 1959. And if I can find the sort of things I need on the internet, I may not leave for years.

You see, 1959 was the year that I got the Schuco wind-up Ferrari racing car. It cost $ 10 at Uncle John’s Hobby Shop on 7th Avenue in Calgary, Alberta and the $ 10 represented the entirety of my birthday money. I cannot say why the pressed-tin car appealed to me – but I knew that it was a must-have.

Normally that $ 10 would have meant at least three plastic models and some paint from Don’s Hobbies – about a block away from Uncle John’s. It was my central model shop – every other place was judged in relationship to Dons. I’m delighted to be able to report that it still exists – some 60 years later. Changed, moved, but still Don’s.

Well, I took the Schuco home, ran it around every flat place I could find, and carefully kept it safe and sound for decades after that. I knew that there were other Schuco wind-up models as I encountered them occasionally in hotel gift shops, but I never had any money to buy any more.

The Ferrari came down to Australia with me, and for some reason I cannot remember, it was eventually traded for some die-cast ship models. I put it out of my mind…until I went to Nürnberg in Germany in 1995 and visited the largest hobby shop in that toy city. There was a whole cabinet of Schuco tin toys for sale – modern reproductions by the company of their classic models. I saw the red Ferrari, and any thought of other purchases went out the window – At a vastly inflated EEC modern-day price I was the owner of my birthday car again. It has pride of place in the model cabinet…and as you can see, has been the favoured prop of a favoured live model – Jane Hebiton.

And yes, the Ferrari still goes like a rocket when you wind it and set it out to run on a flat tiled floor.

Note that I am still in 1959 for another reason; more of that in the next column.

The Little World – Won’t Someone Think Of The Adults?

I suppose it is a little silly to be going into a toy shop looking for adult entertainment – unless you are an adult that likes playing with toys. That’s a hard thing to be, and an even harder thing to admit to – it’s no wonder that the trade doesn’t think it needs to cater to us.

I say us, because I like to play with toys, and I am considered to be an adult. Shows how just how successful I have been at fooling the rest of society for the last 69 years…

I went into a Toyworld store in Fremantle a couple of weeks ago to see if I could add anything to my toy car collection or find any accessories that would help with scale model photography. I had plenty of time, my own transport, and a credit card  – I could have taken away any number of boxes of fun from that shop. Sadly, I left empty-handed…there was just nothing that answered the need in the place.

Had I been buying for children, I could have had a ball. Several balls. As many balls as you can have ball-games for. If I was playing in the sand pit out the back of the house i could have had dirt diggers and dump trucks  in any size and colour. I could have had farm tractors and ploughs. But I couldn’t get any decent scale models that I would put on a shelf and display.

People may say that this should be the province of the hobby shop – and to a certain degree it is – but toy stores are the training grounds for hobbyists and it seems like it would be a good thing to give the buyers some bridge between radio control helicopters and friction toy racers.

Either that, or I get ten cubic yards of sand delivered and go outside and start to make sand roads…

The Little World – New Tenants

Spent the afternoon in the studio working up a new camera. It’s the latest in the series of the brand I prefer, but the lens that was used is the same one that served the previous model. That’s the beauty of sticking to one maker – if you have good glass it just keeps going on.

The subjects are the old tenants and the new tenants of a time-share holiday property. I believe there was some form of dispute over the tenancy and it became necessary to institute a noisy eviction.

Yet another example of the dictum that you must never let a chance pass you by. The palm trees were a plastic kit found in Melbourne, the planes picked up from Hobbytech here in Perth. Heaven knows where the tractor came from. The sky and sea are an image I purchased on a job-lot of CD disks from eBay. Some enthusiast decided to cash in on his holiday and hobby images and auctioned them off. I daresay he has done this many times and this beach may well turn up in other people’s pictures. Never mind – I paid for the picture and I think it has served very well.

They say that there is no money in stock photography these days – probably true if you are looking for a livable wage. But if you are prepared to sell your stuff off individually, there is hobby money in it. I’m not the only person who is searching out material for posters and flyers.

The Little World – Finishing The Job Properly

I have been making plastic, wood, metal, and paper models for the last 60 years. Many of them were made in my first 17 years of life, and all bar one have disappeared. The survivor tells me how crude some of the products were back then.

But, crude or otherwise, the models of my youth were wonderful things. The center point of my life in some years, as the rest of it was spent in grey, drab boredom.  I think back to them fondly. But there is a touch of concern in the nostalgia; did I do the best job  that could have been done at the time?

The kind answer is…probably yes…given my level of skill and the materials available to me at the time…but my grown-up self wants perfection in its memories, and wants to go back and re-do the things that were badly done or half-finished.

eBay can help me in this, provided I am willing to buy old kits for 100 X  what they cost when they were new. It would have to be a pretty deep psychological wound that needed healing to pay some of the prices on eBay.

Fortunately some of the manufacturers have re-issued old kits…or redone them. And some have never been taken from the inventory. It may be possible to buy the airplane that was never built during 1962 and start in where I left off.

I am going to try. I won’t go to the nostalgic excesses that some do, but I would like to see what I might have done all those years ago. If the result is a mess, I will know that I was wise to chuck the kit back then, too.

Taking Back Life – Part Four – From Whom?

The catch line about taking back life begs a question – where did it go and who has it now? I’ve only just started to find out that answer for myself.

It’s one that all the readers can ask themselves – because the answers that they find will all be as different as their own lives.

In my case a great deal of time went out to learning – all the years from 1953 to 1972 were spent in formal education. It was not unpleasant, and paid me handsomely by giving me a profession that I could trade upon. Subsequent years also educated me in a subsidiary art that I could turn to employment after the initial profession petered out. So I was set for earning power.

A great deal of time was spent in travel – this means re-location, socializing, and the discipline that comes from experiencing the solitude of the newcomer.

And a certain amount of time was spent in pure amusement – in my case I found most of it from the construction of scale models. All through my life I have had a chance to try my hand at a number of types of modelling. Most were successful – the only exception being model flying. But even here the act of constructing the failed airplanes was rewarding – training hand and eye to small tasks. Teaching visual proportion. And also teaching patience – very few models were ever dashed to the ground in the workshop. Most of them suffered that fate at the flying field.

So what am I now going to take back in my retirement? Why the pure amusement. I now collect scale models and make scenes and dioramas with them. I then use these in my studio for art and commercial illustration. I have discovered the joys of scratch-building as well as kit assembly. I look daily to solve new problems at the workbench – I haunt hobby shops and toy stores looking for parts. I have even started to exhibit some of the models at fairs and shows.

The real benefit this gives is internal – it brings me back to my roots – the little kid at the kitchen table making models – and stimulates my memory. I’m starting to get back some of the scenes and scents of my youth. Daily life took them away for 50 years and now daily routine can bring them back.

The Little World – The Wonderful Can Of Beans

A bit of a digression in today’s LW…I attended my monthly collector’s meeting yesterday, and while I did not get a monthly newsletter, at least I got to see some rather wonderful tin toys.

They hold a monthly competition based upon a theme, and I guess this must have fitted the bill. The theme, by the way, was the letter M…perhaps these are M of metal.

In any case they are the cheeriest set of racers in the hall. You can make a fuss about scale modelling or not, but these toys would have been the delight of the young when they were new and have remained to delight to old now that the world has become more sophisticated.

I grew up in the 50’s and Japanese and Chinese tin toys were commonplace in the dime stores. They were somewhat despised by us kids as we got older for their simplicity and garish colours, but we didn’t know art when we saw it. Now they are regularly traded and reproduced as cultural objects and I can count several cars, locomotives, and robots in my collection. Nothing as good as these, though.

The forms were simple – I suspect the racers were formed in a press over a wooden master buck and in some cases the pressing wrinkles are still visible. The sheets of tinplate would have been lithographed before the forming process, of course and they are a tribute to their artists. I think they might have loved their design brief as well, because they have certainly not hesitated to use every colour in the poster paint box.

It does raise a question about whether they would have as much appeal if they were printed up as contemporary Jaguars, Ferraris, Astons, etc. The heading image seems to indicate that they might be just as good in a closer to real configuration.

And I should be fascinated to see modern Australian stock racing cars in their complex paint jobs done in tin style. I wonder if there is still the artistry and machinery available?