Dulltown, UK: Today’s colours are: brittle black, ormolu orange, temperamental turquoise, fragile fawn, and pork pink.
Now, that post I did about a week ago on an item from the 1954 Gadgets Annual which also featured Madge and Albert: I recall that Madge suggested to Albert that he should make a model boat for the little lad next door, whose name I forget. (Link)
When I was a young lad some kind person gave me a present of a model boat – that boat sparked a formative experience which I remember to this day…
Would you like to hear about it dear reader? If not, you should stop reading right here.
It was a nice little boat, the kind of thing which would float on a pond if there was one handy. It was made of either pressed tin or plastic, I can’t quite recall, and it had the shape of a sleek speedboat; was it two shades of blue, or was it blue and cream in colour? It had imitation windows printed on the sides of its cabin. Also, which pleased me, it had a propeller at the stern which was powered by a wind-up clockwork motor located inside the hull. You could wind it up and – whoa! The propeller would whizz round – I couldn’t wait to get it into the water!
I’ll bet by now that you are wondering what this formative experience was that I mentioned earlier. Well, here we go:
I took my boat to the pond in the park up the road – I wound up the motor with the key, and placed the boat in the water, and… The propeller stopped and the boat just sat floating there, like a potato. (A potato Dave?… Yes…) On picking the boat out of the water the propeller whizzed around enthusiastically – on putting it back in it stopped dead. Disappointment and puzzlement in equal measure!
Two things popped into my head.
1) Why would a shop sell a toy boat that’s supposed to whizz, and doesn’t?
2) (and this is the important one) Why did it run when out of the water, but not when in it?
My young brain considered this oddity and I examined and poked everything on the boat that might be the cause. I wound up the motor and held the boat just above the water (in the kitchen sink) with the propeller turning, and slowly lowered it in. When the spinning prop touched the surface it splashed happily and only slowed down a little, but as it went a little deeper in it reluctantly gave up the ghost. Hm… Interesting….
Some serious pondering was done, and the next day whilst staring at the annoying thing I spotted that the tin propeller (just two blades) seemed out of proportion to the rest of the stylish vessel – it was just too big. Yes! That was it!
As water is heavier, thicker, and stickier than air the motor didn’t have the power to keep the big propeller turning! I borrowed a half-blunt rusty junior hacksaw from someone and, with some difficulty and some childish swear words, cut the blades down to about a third of their original size. Problems solved! The boat didn’t exactly whizz after that, but it did chug around nicely…
I had discovered two useful things for later in life:
1) The manufacturers don’t really care very much whether the things they make actually work or not; what they are interested in is making them look nice so people will buy them.
2) I had learned first hand a tiny little bit about the science of energy, power, viscosity, surface area, mass, and inertia.
What a great little boat that was – I wish I still had it!