It’s Time to bolt!
It’s flashback time!
This is something that appeared on my older blog, “Time to Bolt,” and was originally posted on June 15, 2012. The content has remained largely unchanged.
Most kids love toys, and most kids have one toy that is their all-time favorite. But sometimes there is one toy that you never seem to outgrow. You may put it aside for a few years, or even a decade or so, but somehow it always comes back, sometimes when you least expect it. For me, that toy is the A.C. Gilbert Erector.
I became an Erector fan during my teens (late 1970’s to early 1980’s), largely because my Dad was one. Somewhere around 1978, he passed his set on to me. I had been using a smaller set at that point, and his circa 1948, “Engineers 7.5” set was a bit daunting. He pretty much let me figure things out for myself.
I played with that set for ages. During my teen years it was frequently in use. I even recall using it to do my physics homework!
When I left for college in 1985, the composite Erector set went dormant for several years. My brother had access to it, but never used it much; he was largely a Lego man. When I moved to the Washington, DC area in 1996, the set came with me, though it was still dormant in it’s metal toolbox.
Fast forward to December of 2011. I pulled the set out of mothballs to build a maquette of a home project. I was trying to design a piece of furniture for the home, and the Erector set gave me a very clear view of how my design would work: It simply wouldn’t. Oh well.
But after this, I continued to tinker and build with the set. That chaotic collection of beams and plates was like seeing an old friend after almost twenty years. Surprisingly, I had forgotten how much fun the Erector could be! I have a stressful “white-collar” job, and bolting together pieces of metal has proven to be very therapeutic! Apparently I regressed a bit, and didn’t care. But something unexpected happened.
My (then) five year old daughter saw the Erector, with all it’s perforated girders, sheets of metal, and antique motor, and was totally enthralled! My father was a strong advocate of building toys for children. Erector, Lego, Tinkertoy, American bricks, Lincoln Logs, plain old wooden blocks… the specific toy didn’t matter. So long as it inspired imagination and creativity, he would say. My daughter has tried to build things with the Erector, but she gets easily frustrated. I suspect that’s because the tiny parts of the Erector are a tad beyond her age bracket. I tell her to be patient (“you’ll grow into it”), or, to try her idea using Lego instead. Try she did, and she’s managed to make some pretty neat stuff with Lego! And she has a renewed interest in her basic wooden blocks and Thomas the Tank Engine building materials. She’s also been doing a lot of artistic stuff, like drawing and painting, with renewed gusto. I can’t help but think the Erector inspired this burst of creativity. If there is one thing Erector could always do, it was get the imagination running. Apparently, that 60-year old set can still do that.
Now I understand what my dad was talking about all those years back. The family Erector set has been in semi-steady use ever since, and I’m now looking into doing some restoration and salvage on many of the parts. This may turn out to be something I can share with my daughter for several years to come. I’m hoping so. At the very least, I’m hoping I can share my experiences with this classic toy with other fans of Erector and it’s cousins.
The best toys ever made are the ones that you never totally outgrow, and the ones that always manage to provide something new, no matter how many times you play with them. Erector was, and still is, one of the best.
Additional thoughts from 2014.
The Erector hasn’t seen much use in recent months. That’s because part of my house is being remodeled, and I don’t want to lose any of the pieces in the chaos! But since writing this essay I have managed to acquire a variety of new parts, and I’ve even learned how to fabricate some of the non-metal parts from the classic and renaissance eras. I’m looking into ways to re-create parts using scraps of sheet metal and my Dremel tool. We’ll see how that works out.
My daughter is now approaching nine years old, and she had gotten better with the Erector. She is still by and large a Lego “master builder,” though, and she’s made some pretty amazing stuff with those things!
The inspiration from the Erector set still burns brightly.
2 thoughts on “The best toys ever…”
That’s a REAL Erector set – in multi-generational use – not stuffed in some collector’s box.
The “How To Make ‘Em Book” cover you illustrate is the same one I have. I often wondered if the elaborate model the boy is building was ever described in a manual.
I just completed a 30 minute documentary film on The A. C. Gilbert Company. It is on YouTube and I’m attempting to get it shown on PBS.
Let me know what you think,
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