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By Terry King terry@yourduino.com

When I retired from IBM some years ago, I told a few stories about people I had met who had, in retrospect, had a great influence on my fascination with designing things. Like Buckminister Fuller, Isaac Asimov, Willy Ley, Dick Landers and A.C. Gilbert. This was one of the stories:

The Old Man was a character alright, even at 10 years old (1950) I knew that. He drove his jeep around the game preserve in our town, with his hound dogs waving back and forth in unison in the back. Sometimes he gave us a ride.

My friend Mark Landers was only 7 but he was as crazy as I was about building stuff. We got Good Junk everywhere. The farms in our neighborhood had barn yards with lots of old rusty machinery, and an old orchard had lots of old junked cars. We had wrenches, and a hammer.

Marks's father, Dick Landers (Sales Manager of A.C. Gilbert) built model boats with real engines like the old Ohlsson 60. And he let us use his tools. He worked for the Old Man at the Factory in New Haven. We got to go there on Saturdays.

On the weekends there were no workers in the factory. The Old Man was puttering around the place everywhere. He let us do lots of stuff. He was kinda gruff, but he didn't seem to mind at all that we were just kids. He never said he wanted to teach us anything. He let us weld stuff with the spot welder, and dust powdered metal into the stamping press that made the wheels for the American Flyer trains. BAM! There was a perfect bronze locomotive wheel. You could break them with your fingers before they went thru the sintering oven. Of course we got to run the biggest American Flyer train layout ever, in the showroom! But what we really loved was all those bins of PARTS back in the factory. Parts to build Erector Sets, parts to build American Flyer Trains. After we started exploring the bins, we never ran the trains in the showroom anymore.

Mark in a A.C. Gilbert Catalog

"Hey, kid, What's this??", the Old Man would say, as he reached into some bin. Out would come something like the armature for a diesel railroad engine. We built some train trucks (just the wheels/motor part) up out of parts. They went like hell just by themselves on the track. Eventually we had a rollercoaster track in Mark's room. We told the Old Man we knew why he called them American Flyer after we put two transformers in series on them in Mark's Room.

He and Dick looked at each other and laughed. Mark said he knew why the Old Man's name was A.C. too. They laughed a lot at that one!

It took years before I realized how much some people had gone out of their way for me when I was a kid! I'll never expect kids to realize it now, either.

EngineeringSetRoboRED-350.jpgNow, at 75, I run a company based in China, from Vermont, that provides kits and parts for schools and hobbyists interested in Arduino Microcomputers, Robots etc. I recently realized that those kits are SO much like the Erector Set that A.C. Gilbert patented 100 years ago. They don’t DO anything. You BUILD things with them. Wow.

I love answering the questions and writing the How-To on http://ArduinoInfo.Info and sending stuff to kids in Cambodia, VietNam, Europe and the USA.

No Doubt about the connection...

So, what about kids today?? If any of you notice a kid who is really interested in this stuff, in Making Things, especially if they don't have much money, email me and I'll send you a kit you can give to them. Of course that means you'll need to help them out... terry@yourduino.com