Memory Lane: My Erector Set

Vintage Erector Set Gilbert No. 6 1/2 Metal Case Many Pieces Working Motor 1950s

One of the joys of staying home from school sick–well, not really all that sick–on a cold, rainy winter’s day was my very own Gilbert Erector Set, complete with electric motor. That’s the blue thing with the black band around it, directly over the little metal pump-house. At least I always thought of it as a pump-house, without exactly knowing what a pump-house was.

Ah! Take this into bed, open the metal box, and get busy building things! All kinds of things: whatever you could imagine. But this was an old-fashioned set, so you had a lot of screws and nuts and had to use a screwdriver and a wrench. And the pieces, instead of being shaped for you, were metal plates and girders in assorted sizes–plus wheels and gears, as needed. The motor was for making things turn, which it did quite handily. The pump-house had no obvious purpose, but no way would I have ever parted with it.

And it was amazing how the time went by, as you put together towers and improbable flying machines, enclosures for your plastic dinosaurs, and more. Before you knew it, it was suppertime.

Of course, you had to have an imagination, to do this. True, the set came with an instruction book for making this or that; but it was more fun to invent things that weren’t in the book. The best part was this: until you actually finished putting something together, it never looked like anything. Just a bunch of girders, big and little wheels, and screws and nuts. It all came out of your imagination, by way of your hands.

Erector sets still exist, for those who want them. You can still get old sets like mine on eBay, if you want them. I comfort myself with the thought that they wouldn’t be selling them unless someone were buying them.

About leeduigon

I have lived in Metuchen, NJ, all my life. I have been married to my wife Patricia since 1977. I am a former newspaper editor and reporter. I was also the owner-operator of my own small business for several years. I wrote various novels and short stories published during 1980s and 1990s. I am a long-time student of judo and Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu). I also play chess, basketball, and military and sports simulations. View all posts by leeduigon

7 responses to “Memory Lane: My Erector Set

  • Mike S.

    Erector Set – WOW- what memories. I was about 8 or 9 when I got one for Christmas. My imagination went into overdrive. My oldest sister had just started dating a Navy man and we spent a whole day working on a 3 room conveyor line with a long string over erector set towers connected to the motor. Mine had a couple of different gear combinations to change the ratio for speed and it seemed to take forever to get the line bucket to the far room then back to the motor to complete a run. What a great time to get to know someone and develop relationship while learning how to use imagination.
    Thanks Lee, Great memories.
    Mike S.

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  • Erlene

    I bought two sets of metal with nuts and bolts, construction tools, etc. for a grandson who loves all this stuff, even still interested in legos. He can putter for hours, and I consider it much more “constructive” than playing video games.

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    • leeduigon

      We had all kinds of building sets–Erector, Lincoln Logs, Crazy Ikes, and a couple of sets whose names I don’t remember, but they were really great for building skyscrapers.

      I am so thankful that my imagination was given a chance to grow and flex its wings! And it perturbs me to think we may be raising up a whole generation without any constructive imagination, any initiative, at all.

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  • Marge

    For Christmas when I was nine years old I was given a basic LEGO set. I was to share it with my sister. Yeah, I tried to avoid doing that as often as possible. Usually, I had to be told to “let her have some blocks to play with!” A friend of mine had a panel-and -girder set which I so wanted a set for myself.

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  • UnKnowable

    My dad bought me an erector set and I spent many an hour building various projects. I remember quite clearly building an independent front suspension based on Ford’s Twin I Beam as used in their pickup trucks. Perhaps ten years later, my first ever new vehicle was a real Ford pickup with that same suspension.

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