Dear Dave

Our readers write to DAVID J. WIGGINS

Hello again vintage fans. This spring month I am sharing with you all another clutch of readers letters, beginning with a most interesting communication I received from Bill Jones of Carlisle back in 2007. Bill had been pleased with the first feature I presented on his E.D. 2cc penny slot diesel, an item dating from 1948 and published in our May 2007 issue.

The very first British diesels

Bill sent me a couple of pages from a Model Mechanic magazine issue dated March/April of 1948. The featured piece was a full review of all model diesels then being made in Britain and I found it quite fascinating. Written by D.J. Laidlaw-Dickson and fully illustrated, it includes a string of names many of which are obscure today. As a modern engineer (albeit in electronic not mechanical engineering), I find myself looking at the pictured engines with a detached and objective eye and can easily separate those that look to have been made in a garden shed from those that clearly had the intent of a solid commercial future. Mostly I have found myself proven right by the passing of time.
For example, how many folk today have seen a Masco, a BMP, a Milford-Mite or a Foursome? Err, relatively few of us I suspect. While Id guess most collectors have seen an ETA, Mills, AMCO, Frog or E.D. and thats exactly my point. As early as 1948, the latter looked right, solid and well engineered from the very start and as a result they succeeded in the postwar marketplace and sold in large numbers through the fifties and even in some cases on into the sixties with plenty still being around to collect today.

In fairness to some of the others I must also say, that some of the early postwar diesels illustrated by Laidlaw Dickson that do not perhaps have famous names today were indeed still lovely looking things. Take for example the very Mills looking 4.4cc KEMP diesel (No. 9 in the Model Mechanic illustrations). It looks very workmanlike to me and Id have thought it had plenty of sales appeal. Ditto the tiny 0.9cc CLAN (No. 16), from Scotland. Quite pretty really, though I cant say the same of its big sister the 5cc CLANSMAN (No. 14), which looks antiquated and lumpy even for 1948. Of course, price must have been a big factor as to whether an engine succeeded or failed in those postwar years. There was so little money about then and the market was still small.

Made from Spitfires?

I was really pleased Bill sent me this stuff as I learnt a few things I did not know. Did you know for example that E.D. Ltds famous Competition 2cc diesel had, to quote: Crankcase metal from Battle of Britain Spitfires and is accordingly of a higher quality than would otherwise be unobtainable at anything like a modest selling price? So there you have it - I always thought of the Comp-Special as a rather clunky old long stroke plodder, but shall think of my own a bit differently now. I wonder which fighter squadron my Comp came from? So, thankyou Bill so much for this. You give us all a fascinating glimpse into a world of rationing and of recycled metal from a fighter plane that together with Camms Hurricane saved our bacon big time back in the 1940s. I shall ponder on that next time I pull over the start cord or flick a prop. on my tired out but dear old Comp.

A letter from British Columbia

Faithful CC regular John Tarvin sent a short note recalling the early postwar model trade in London and early r/c boats like the Wavemaster. He wrote: I knew Les Rowell when he worked at Hammersmith Model Makers (HMM). This was when his Wavemaster was the boat to have. At the time I worked at Shepherds Bush. I wonder if you remember Bill Dean? He designed model kits for Eddie Keil and KeilKraft, the most well known being the Slicker/Slicker Mite duo. He was a great asset to them. After my wife and I came out to Vancouver in 1953 and started our hobby shop in Burnaby, I had cause to buy in some book stock from a New York supplier called Bill Dean Books, and found that it was the same Bill Dean from KeilKraft. Sadly, he passed away some time ago. Small World isnt it Dave?

Yes indeed John - I never flew a Slicker as I was interested in radio control from the start and Slickers were of course freeflight power jobs. My own KK fancy in those days was a Junior-60 (or the later Super-60), but I never got either because they were much too expensive for the young Dave.

One from Norfolk

Some letters are simply compliments which are always nice to receive. One of my most regular correspondents over the last few years has been Lez Brambley of Dereham. Back in May 2007 he wrote and I quote: I received my June issue of our favourite magazine (Model Boats presumably Editor) and was pleased to read your column as indeed I always am. I believe you covered my engine collection very well Dave, but I must admit I found it all a little embarrassing to realise that what you wrote will be read by thousands around the country, indeed the world. One thing is for sure though, as it proves my photographs have stood up to reproduction quite well so I didnt make too bad a job of it, did I? No indeed Lez you didnt, and thank you for all your efforts over the last few years.

Lez went on to question me about the E.D. Condor, a very early British example of the 10cc r/c glowmotor genre. I had a punt through my early volumes of RCM&E and this was first mentioned in an E.D. advert during late 1962 as a coming soon/in final stages of development item. Looking on through 1963 it never seems to have come on to the market and why, Ive no idea. Has anyone out there seen or owned one? Whatever, it is clear that the Condor was never any threat to the very successful British Merco 49 or their later 61 version which was a 10cc bored out derivative that was being trialed itself during 1963.

Another great thing (for me) about receiving letters from Lez is that he can type. I like getting readers letters and do try to answer them all, but some of the handwriting can be impossible. Often, I am forced to reply with a sort of generalised thanks, as I just cant read them. So well done Lez mate!

An image from yesteryear

Images from Yesteryear was one of my first series in the old Radio Control Boat Modeller magazine and rooting through my own clubs photo. archive recently (that is a posh word for a box of old snaps), I was amazed to find the group picture featured here that I can genuinely say I knew nothing about.

On the back it just says: Club Officers running the 1974 Radio Control Open, but I happen to know who all these chaps are. Sitting at that trestle table in front of our boathouse at Southchurch Park are (left to right), Ray Cockman, myself, Roger Cumbers, Barry Peacock and Bob Wilkinson and I certainly do remember them all. Of those pictured, only myself and Roger, now a well known name in Electra and in fast electric boating generally, are still Southend MPBC members. Ray Cockman, one of three brothers and a noted tethered hydroplane racer in his day, is now I believe, into r/c car racing. The others Im sorry to say I have totally lost touch with. Where are they now? Ive no idea I am sorry to say.
I think that, quite aside from the pleasure of finding an unknown photograph of myself as a young enthusiast (aged 27) when I had none, my main reflection on this picture is simply to remember and appreciate all those that keep our hobby and our model clubs going year after year and then pass from sight as they drift on to other things, maybe get married, have children, emigrate or change career etc. Sometimes, like me, they come back to the hobby after some years doing something else and sometimes they dont. In any club as old as ours (Southend MPBC was formed in 1948), there are bound to be hundreds of such folk and our debt to them is large. Even if they only serve on the committee for a year they help to fill a gap between one set of longer term enthusiasts leaving and another group arriving and thus the club keeps going from one decade to another.

Almost as much fun as remembering the people is the gear. I actually built the public address amplifier and frequency monitor sitting on the table for example. In 1974 I had just begun an electronic engineering career in the service of the Crown and I suppose I was a natural choice to build anything electronic. The amplifier was built from a popular Mullard (they were a Dutch concern that manufactured valves and semiconductors) circuit diagram of the era and the monitor I developed myself, using the then popular Remcon Superhet receiver circuit as a basis and designed by an engineer called Geoff. Chapman, to which I simply added six switched 27MHz crystals and an audio amplifier. Both bits of kit worked well and lasted us for many years and to be honest, we could do with a 27/40 MHz monitor today as it seems to me that frequency discipline at the lakeside is worse now than it was then, plus there are a plethora of r/c toys and gadgets replacing the CB menace of the past and a general laziness in using pennants. There are plenty of ready made scanners on the market that would fill the bill and Maplin, as well as others, have a selection. Theres certainly no point building one nowadays.