Electronic News & Comment
Engineer's Toy Becomes a Profession

The Clarksville Elementary School Building Set is one of the engineering-inspired offerings from Paul Flack's Bridge Street Toys.
The Clarksville Elementary School Building Set is one of the engineering-inspired offerings from Paul Flackís Bridge Street Toys.

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Beth Stackpole
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Not necessarily child's play
Beth Stackpole   11/30/2011 7:51:42 AM
Love this story and the fact that they brought back an old favorite. The part about them having to rethink materials and other elements from the `60s era toys due to safety regulations is really interesting. Is this a full-time profession for them or still in the hobbyist stage??

Lauren Muskett
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Lauren Muskett   11/30/2011 8:46:44 AM
I think it is great that they keep the parts as realistic as possible and you can see they have a real passion for the toys that they make. I also like that parts are interchangeable to allow children to be creative and come up with their own designs. 

Charles Murray
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Re: Not necessarily child's play
Charles Murray   11/30/2011 10:27:37 AM
Beth: This is a full-time profession for both. When they first launched the business in 2003, Carol kept her job while Paul did it full-time. In 2005, Carol quit her job to do the toy company on a full-time basis.

Dave Palmer
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Re: Not necessarily child's play
Dave Palmer   11/30/2011 10:54:36 AM
Charles, could you clarify what the issues with safety regulations were? It's not obvious to me how injection molding the parts out of polyethylene rather than thermoforming them out of polystyrene sheets affects safety.  In terms of mechanical properties, polystyrene is brittle - but you could always go to high-impact polystyrene if this is a concern.  Or you could thermoform the parts out of polyethylene or another resin.  I would think that for low-volume production of dimensionally simple parts, thermoforming would be a better option.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Toys
Ann R. Thryft   11/30/2011 11:36:57 AM

What great toys! I wish I'd had these when I was a kid in the 50s. I think Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys (the original wooden ones) were about as far as we got. I also built things out of dominos and blocks, and glued together toothpicks with Elmer's to make enormous structures.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Toys
Rob Spiegel   11/30/2011 12:06:02 PM
There were great building toys when I was a kid. Like Ann, I had Lincoln Logs, and Tinker Toys. I even found these toys at garage sales for my kids. I also had an erector set as well as a toy that included girders and panels to build buildings. The coolest toys came when I was a bit older -- the Heath kits. Girard I think also had some kits. And I remember the joy of receiving the new Allied catalog. I remember reading it like a magazine. I don't remember Legos when I was a kid.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: Toys
Jennifer Campbell   11/30/2011 12:14:28 PM
This is definitely cool, and what a great way to spend a day at work! Ann, don't knock the Lincoln Logs and tinker toys - those have stood the test of time. I still have an old set that I plan to pass along to my daughter. I also think it's refreshing that a lot of companies are coming out with lines of wooden/organic toys, stuff that better allows children to use their imaginations.

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Re: Toys
bdcst   11/30/2011 2:17:22 PM
Hi Rob,

So many of us started down our paths with Lincoln logs, Erector sets and AC Gilbert Chemistry sets.  But I also made toys of every day household items such as quick silver from broken fever thermometers.  As children we had access to material now deemed so dangerous you need to send in enviromental specialists to clean up the smallest spill.  I can't tell you how much mercury must have seeped into the cracks in the floor in my bedroom or the yards of asbestos I cut up for my junior chemistry experiments using reagents commonly provided in those children's chemistry sets.

My first Heathkit was their OM-1 oscilloscope I built at age nine.  I sorely missed them when they folded their tent having built some of their test equipment.  I still own and use a Heathkit Nixie tube style frequency counter that I modified to run on much cooler lower power 74LSXX family logic.  It was a lot of bang for the buck being able to directly count to over 200 MHz without any pre-scalers!  And the audio frequency multiplier had a huge range such that I could meaure FM stereo pilot at 19 kHz out to two or more decimal places  19,000.00 Hz in real time!  Only magnitudes more expensive calculating counters from HP could do the same.

Anyhow Heath is back specializing in educational kits consisting of course material and experiment boards.  And they are planning to venture once again into household and ham radio kits.

For those who prefer not to attempt to build electronics from scratch due to the miniaturization and robotization of circuit board construction, SMD's etc, there are opportunities to assemble kits from fully soldered and even factory tested and aligned modules and boards.  You still need a good eye, steady hand and patience as mechancial assembly can be quite involved for today's miniaturized chassis.  An example is the Elecraft K3 HF transceiver which is a partially software defined amateur radio.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Toys
Rob Spiegel   11/30/2011 2:25:02 PM
Thanks for the comment, bdcst,

Yes, I noticed that Heath Kits were back, which is great. I forgot all about the chemistry sets. I went through a number of them. Like you I remember chemicals that didn't come with warnings. I remember playing with the mercury that spilled on the floor when I dropped a thermometer.

When I was a kid, a stick was a gun. A hunk of dirt was a cannonball. You could play in the woods all day. I made my own skate board (using roller skate wheels and plywood) because you couldn't buy a skate board. We all did.

The Lego toys today are good -- though they're a bit by-the-numbers. I agree homemade 

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Re: Toys
Tim   11/30/2011 6:49:52 PM
Building kits are great.  I agree about the Legos.  My kids have some of the Star Wars sets and really get upset when they can't find one piece that is needed to finish a piece.  It usually takes some convincing to have them use an alternate.

As a kid, I found an old lawnmower engine that I tried to use to make a go-cart.  I learned a lot about gear differentials and the benefits of a slip clutch.  I also learned that mufflers get really hot and that gas is really flammable.

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