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A Calendar of Meccano Races and Contests being held around the world. To include such events as 'Walking'; 'Tug o' War'; 'Climbing' and 'Robot Wars'. For Contact; Time; Venue; Rules and other matters follow the link to the club web site.


Entering a race as a Proxy Contestant


Most of this article is plain common sense, but then aren't most things? There's always the chance that you find something you hadn't thought about before. Making the decision to enter a contest far from where you live, perhaps on a different continent, requires a certain amount of soul-searching. It takes a bit of weighing up the pros and cons. Perhaps you are finding it difficult to make up your mind. I have made this decision only once but even that limited experience may be helpful to you in coming to your own decision. I live in South Carolina, deep in Gilbert Erector country and very sparse in Meccano. I will tell you about the way I worked through it.

Entering the contest will mean that the model in question will be out of your hands for quite some time - maybe a couple of months. If the contest you are considering is for a radical new design, you may have to actually enroll as a contestant well before you know for sure that you can build a model that will work. This means that you could posibly have to say later 'sorry, I have to withdraw, I have no model'. The sky will not fall in. You will have much less time to design and build than the local contestants. You won't even be there on the day to see that things go as you want them to go. You will have to box up your model and spend money mailing it to someone - who I am calling a Proxy Mechanic for want of a better term - who will handle your model in the contest and then spend a further amount on postage for the model's return to you.

I seem to have started with the 'cons'. Now let's go through the 'pros'. At the top of the list is the feeling of accomplishment from just entering. And you might win the contest, but frankly there's not much chance of that, and you probably know it. For one thing the locals will have - as I've said before - a good deal more time for development and fine tuning of their model than you have. And what happens if you make a real breakthrough just after you mailed the model off? OK, this happened to me. You just have to send off the revised assembly as a kind of recall job. The way to get over this is to say 'I'm not in this thing to win'. Well, you can say that, but it wouldn't be true, would it? Far better to say 'I'm going to enter this race because I have to start somewhere and hopefully I'll improve with experience'. Now that is nearer the mark and it might just tip the decision for you.

Quite a large proportion of Meccano enthusiasts live away from the big cities holding Meccano races and have little chance of getting to the venues themselves. Becoming a proxy contestant is one answer to that situation.

Some people like puzzles and challenges. Entering a contest and building a model to do well under a new specification is an ideal way to keep yourself concentrating on a design concept or searching for the configuration that will be a winner.  Most creative work occurs when designers are challenged. For decades the exhibition style has been to place dissimilar models for display and judge them on the degree of ingenuity, innovation, etc. Now races are starting to occur where the models are built with the same functional objective so that there has to be an obvious winner. In this situation it's the concept and functionality that counts, not how grandiose the model looks.

If you decide to enter from your isolated location, you will become linked directly to the international world of Meccano, increase the hobby's activity level up a notch or two and Frank Hornby would be proud of you. If this doesn't have you fighting the tears back and half-way to the Post Office then I'm not reaching you. For those still with me I'll continue with a few practical aspects as I encountered them.

The model needs to arrive at the other end more or less intact. The Proxy Mechanic has kindly offered to see your model gets to the contest but doesn't expect to have to rebuild it. Many hours in the air inside a parcel will vibrate every nut on the model. To minimize this I applied a tiny dab of Superglue on the bolt threads and put the whole thing inside a medium sized plastic bag so that if any nuts do shake loose at least the scale of the disassembly can be determined quickly. Inside the parcel the model needs space to move if the box is partially crushed. This space needs to be packed with peanuts - the non-edible variety. 

Your decision whether to 'go' or 'not' needs to be made early enough to let you be linked-up with a Proxy Mechanic. You can't mail the model off before this as you won't know where to send it. Don't send it off to the Club address or worse still the Venue, which may be just a large empty hall hired for the day of the contest.

E-mail or write to the Club Secretary and express your interest in being a contestant. Ask for guidance as to the possibility of your model being handled by a Proxy Mechanic. They may have a list of senior club members who have agreed to act in this capacity, and can link you immediately. My experience throughout was that everyone was extremely helpful. I got every help from club officials and fellow contestants. If this process takes a few days to arrange not to worry, you are going to be busy anyway, designing and building the model. In my case I believe it was five models before I thought I got it right, and about 20 incarnations.

I thought it best to absolve the Proxy Mechanic of all liability. The event itself may have insurance against loss and liability - ask if this concerns you - but if a 13 year old steps on my model and destroys it, I thought I would take that risk. I did insure the parcel in transit (cost US$2) as I've had a few parcels vanish lately. The postage itself was US$32 air mail, from USA to the UK but obviously this varies with weight. To lessen the risk of Customs Duty being incurred it might be worth fixing a notice like this, but YOU need to pay this should it happen.

I wrote a four-page Handbook and sent this to the Proxy Mechanic. It discussed such things as the model's trim, design features, lubrication and troubleshooting hints. He also received a full size drawing which would be useful if serious disassembly had occurred on the air journey. I was conscious that my model was the club's first overseas entry and I wanted things to go well so that the club would continue to accept proxy contestants in future events. I did join the club for 12 GBP but I don't think this was conditional.

I hope it works out well for you if you decide to enter. If this article still leaves any readers with burning questions, contact me at lawrence@carol.net

by David Lawrence


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