Blog: reawakening the childhood engineer

3 min read

Our anonymous blogger mourns the lack of time to pursue those fondly-remembered childhood engineering projects 

A significant part of my childhood was spent dreaming up crazy ideas for things to make, something that I suspect is shared with most of you reading this.

As I was brought up in an engineering household (both parents were involved in industry throughout their working lives) these flights of fancy tended to be based around stuff powered by internal combustion engines.

Into my teens and pocket money subsidised by delivering newspapers meant I could move on to projects a little more complex than launching Lego “aircraft” via a wheeled cart fired down the coal shed roof, the aerodynamic properties of these designs being inversely proportional to their satisfyingly spectacular disintegration on contact with terra firma.

Andrey via

As previously related, to the horror of the assembled readership, my practical abilities were never great and this has been a constant frustration throughout my life. I can spanner away with the best of them but whittling a gear linkage from a couple of blocks of steel? Unfortunately not and because of this the more ambitious dreams inevitably remained just that.

The refrain “one day I will...” has been a constant accompaniment throughout my life.

Along came girls, unemployment and cars; all of which distracted somewhat from childish pursuits. These were followed in turn by focus and finally establishing a foothold in my chosen career with my early years in engineering, when viewed from this distance, seeming to have flashed by. They were exciting times spent working on interesting stuff whilst all the time absorbing as much knowledge and experience as I could.

Of course it wasn't completely plain sailing but every new position was an opportunity to learn, or to move up the ladder, or to consolidate my status overall within our community. Interestingly a constant was colleagues of all ages who had kept alive and fanned the sparks from their childhood into conspicuous achievement. From re-engineering cars to building and flying model aircraft or even creating accurate documentation of HMS Victory's rigging.

For myself, I have gradually improved my own skill sets but generally only as required by work. Spare time has been reserved for other activities although the excitement of those early years with their long held ambitions still remain, albeit dimmed and smouldering in the sub-conscious.

The refrain “one day I will...” has been a constant accompaniment throughout my life. Now I'm the wrong side of 50 yet still doggedly the right side of death and a memory rising unbidden has once again prompted me to reach back towards the almost extinguished ambitions of my younger self. For some unknown reason I suddenly recalled a water cooled internal combustion motor, presumably made for a model boat, with a water jacket shrouding its single tiny cylinder. I 'd bought it intending to carry out a refurbishment before building a model car around it. It's probably still in my parents' shed awaiting its moment of glory and, after a moment's consideration, I came to the conclusion that now is possibly the time to finally extinguish all hope of realising these dormant projects.

Although I now have more skills to call on, ironically, it doesn't really matter any more. True, I have the ability and resources at my disposal to design what I want and can probably make most of what I design. Not to any great level, but acceptably so. What I cannot make I can afford to get made through specialist manufacturing services or rapid prototyping.

The only thing holding me back now is the time needed to do it, and that's the one thing I no longer have. My life has evolved to the point where it is filled with something other than daydreaming about crazy projects, forcing a necessary  acceptance that these ideas will never be made real. Yet, you know, I'd almost forgotten that I always fancied designing and making a working miniature liquid fuel rocket motor. Just something to run on a test bench, although a scale model of Blue Flame for it to go in would be nice. Rather exciting really, when you think about it and life would be terribly dull if we simply gave up on this sort of stuff. Yes, one day...