November 17, 2002
wouldn't believe how many buildings I built while I was growing up!
be sure, they were model buildings, but I was quite the
architect. If you had visited me at home in the early 1960s,
you might have seen, in one corner of the dining room, unusual decor
like the display of models shown here atop a wheeled metal
me show you some of my pictures.
had been playing with construction toys from an early age.
first, there were simple blocks.
kindergarten, there was a set of Tinker Toys, a cylindrical
container full of dowels and wooden disks. (I recall my father
teaching me an important principle when it came time to put the
Tinker Toys away: to fit everything into the container,
put the largest pieces in first.)
I got an Erector set, a collection of perforated steel pieces that
could be assembled with nuts and bolts.
used the set's electric motor to make a self-propelled toy
truck. (It was an impractical vehicle, due to its low-traction
smooth aluminum wheels and trailing AC power cord.) I built a
Ferris wheel and enlisted my parakeet as a passenger. And when
I started announcing high school basketball games into a tape
recorder, I used the Erector set to make a collar and chest brace to
hold the microphone in front of me.
I especially enjoyed the toys that were designed to create miniature buildings.
parents gave me a set of American Plastic Bricks around the time I
was in first grade. These were stackable plastic blocks, each of
which was grooved to represent several bricks. Most of the
blocks were red, but white ones could be used for foundations, sills,
and lintels. Wedge-shaped blocks could be used to build
gables. The gables supported a folded green cardboard roof,
embossed with a hexagonal shingle pattern. Holes for doors and
windows could be filled with printed cardboard representations of the
necessary hardware, anchored into slots in the blocks. I spent
hours playing with these pieces in their various combinations,
assembling them into little brick houses and schools.
I was in third grade, we took a photo of the presents under the
Christmas tree after they'd been unwrapped. They included a
briefcase (to carry my piano music) and a set of American Logs.
rough-textured wooden beams with notched ends were used to construct
log cabins. The roof was made of overlapping horizontal green
planks, upon which was placed a red wooden block representing the top
of a chimney.
took a cabin to school for a display, perhaps for Lincoln's
birthday. My parents suggested enhancements. We covered
the red wooden block with a layer of brown modeling clay to make it
look more realistic, and my father drilled a hole through it, so that
"smoke" (from a piece of dry ice hidden in the attic) could
actually come out of the chimney.
favorite construction kit, because of its versatility, was called
American Skyline. I assembled white plastic drum pieces into
vertical columns, and into the slots between the columns, I slid
horizontal pieces: walls, doors, steps, and so on. There
were also die-cut sheets of plastic printed with a checkerboard
pattern for floors and roofs.
based the design above on the Richwood High School gymnasium/auditorium,
with permanent seats on one side of the basketball court and a stage
with temporary seats on the other side.
the left is the completed (roofless) model, including backboards at
each end and a few plastic "people" borrowed from my
HO-scale railroad accessories.
I finished putting a model together, I'd photograph it. I knew
that within a week or two I would be taking it apart, to use the
pieces for another project.
designs, like the church on the right, came directly from the book
of suggested projects that was included with the construction set.
I got this design from the Bible. The label beside it includes
a scale (one inch equals five feet or 3.3 cubits) and reads:
"Simplified Model of Solomon's Temple, 959 B.C., with panels
removed to show interior."
front of the temple are the two pillars Jachin and Boaz and the
grand staircase. In front of the stairs, the square structure
is an altar.
I was in the 11th grade, I built this model of the North Dakota
state capitol, which we had seen in Bismarck on our vacation that
summer. It's reflected here in the mirror on my bedroom
dresser. The legislature meets in the rounded chambers on the
left, while the tower on the right is for state offices.