Archive for September, 2011

Wells Brimtoy – personal recollections

September 2nd, 2011 11 comments

Earlier this year I was contacted through this site by a lovely lady, a Ms. Rose King. Her father Jim it would seem had worked for A. Wells back in the fifties and had made certain notes of his time there and he also had some blueprints along with other items connected with Wells-Brimtoy. Was I interested ? – Was I not !!

In due course the correspondence arrived and I have decided after reading through them that rather than edit the notes her father made that in respect to both Rose and her father I would include them here in their entirety.

A.V. KING – 4 Years with A. Wells (1951 – 1954)

In 1951 I decided to have a change in employment and went to A. Wells & Co as a draughtsman. I had been working as a draughtsman since I left the British Army in 1946.

At that time wells was engaged in, amongst other things, the manufacture of mechanical – mainly tinplate – toys, including some toy train items. The design work covered the design of the product and of course the tooling necessary to produce them. The firm had a very comprehensive factory with an automatic machine section, a plastic moulding shop, press shop, assembly department and a well-equipped toolroom.

As our drawing office was responsible for the design of the product and the tooling, you can see that we had an overall picture of all aspects of production, as distinct from the commercial side, with which we had very little contact.

The individual draughtsman-cum-designer was left very much to himself and would be responsible to the Chief Draughtsman for the whole project. This was conducive to pleasant and happy working conditions. Although the Chief was a strict disciplinarian, he was very helpful and I can say that in my whole career I learnt more from him than from anyone else.

Here is an example of the complete freedom of design. One day I was approached by the Chief and told the firm wanted to produce a new line of toy lorry. They wanted short wheelbase, long wheelbase and articulated vehicles. I asked what size was required and was told ‘just to fit one of their standard carboard boxes’ !

With this information it was left to me. I started with research which meant visits and requests for information about dimensions and so forth from various vehicle manufacturers and dealers. I decided on the bedford lorry as a basis. I chose this type because although I was not, and never have been, au fait with the motor vehicle world, I got acquainted with various Army vehicles while an Armourer Sergeant during World War II, and the Bedford three-tonner had impressed me.

The next move was to make provisional sketches – to scale – of what I had in mind. This large sheet of nine sketches showed three of each type – low sided open, high sided open and covered, milk lorry, petrol lorry etc., all suitably coloured in.

The sheet was taken to a production meeting by the Chief, who then asked for a more detailed drawing of one of each of the three types. These detailed drawings were given to the Model Shop who produced 3D-prototypes. The Model Shop would solder the parts together (in production they would be ‘tabbed’) and make the plastic parts – the upper part of the cab – out of Perspex or similar material.

These models were examined and discussed at the next production meeting. After the meeting I was asked to ‘go into production’. I had to make tooling drawings, press tools for blanking, piercing, forming and deep drawing, plastic moulds for the cab tops, all necessary tooling for the turned parts plus hand assembly tools.

Of course many existing parts – pressed gears, springs and standard turned parts would be integrated into the whole. You can imagine that to cover the scheme from start to production made the job very satisfying as well as making it possible for the designer to make minor changes without upsetting other people or departments.

Two points arise when I think of tinplate work. One is the fact that when forming a tinprinted part it must not, in any way, be scratched or marked by the passage of the ‘forces’ – the top and bottom punch and die faces. Proper clearances must be maintained between the faces and all faces must be well polished, keeping the radii as large as possible.

The second point is the accuracy of the printed detail relative to the blank shape, so that the formed shape is correct. The artist produces the print shape but the correct information must be given to him. A straightforward example is a circular metal lid which may have lettering around the formed part.

The Bedford lorry cab base needed some thought as the deep form of this part was not constant. I worked on this by squaring off the area of the blank and calculating the change of shape die to forming. Sometimes the first try is not accurate and corrections have to be made. In this case the two headlights had to come out circular when the metal was formed. i was horrified to see that on my first try the headlights were not circular but slanting so my lorry looked as if it had Chinese eyes !

Now about the toy railway work – I started at Wells when a new train set was in its final stages of production. I didn’t have a hand in this but it was quite interesting. It had tinplate points and a variety of goods and passenger coaches. Critically I thought that the design of these vehicles ould have been better – more like Bing. The loco was reversing. This was not accomplished in the normal manner but by increasing the wheelbase (it was four-wheeled) so that the reversing idler pinion was engaged between a pinion on the axle and the next gear as the running wheels moved apart. Ingenious, but no improvement on the usual method.

I never saw this set in the shops. Maybe they all went for exort.

Of course one of the first things I did at Wells was to see their museum of existing manufactured items, but I was disappointed to find that there were none of the original Brimtoy range there, even in 1951, though I might have missed them.

Wells were however producing some of the more common items which are fairly well known, but the Brimtoy range must have been very wide. When I was quite young (in the 1920’s) I had a small number of Brimtoy items such as the little four-wheeled coach in the white and blue colours of the Furness Railway, a North BR covered van and a gas cylinder wagon, all of the same size as the LNWR motor car van which I managed to obtain at a very inflated price about 1989.

Some of the toy locos being produced in 1951 were unique in as much as the boiler/firebox/cab blank was of a constant width, the boiler having more curvature than the cab. the material was split to allow the different curvatures.

During this period I suggested that the toy locos and coaches could be printed in British Railways colours. Working with the tracer we sprayed a loco, tender and coach and repainted the loco in BR black with the totem. The coach was done in ‘Blood and Custard’. I believe the idea was adopted.

At that time Wells were producing the 6161 toy which had a very accurate representation of the Royal Scot 4-6-0 LMS locomotive. I remember it grieved me to see this altered – I was not asked to do this – to a garish tank loco printed in pale green with a very inaccurate design, including wheels that looked like rubber tyres ! The later BR tank, No.80025 – the same model – was an improvement.

Whilst at Wells I designed the plastic mould for the wheels which were used on later toys. These ran a lot better that the original tinplate ones, as Hornby’s O gauge ones did. The Hornby ones gave me a few ideas !

One interesting toy on which I worked was the Flying Saucer. This – unlike the imitations which followed – was completely metal. It consisted of an aluminium ring about 80mm in diameter with four ‘propeller’ blades. The ring had at its centre a boss with four teeth. The thumb power was delivered through a 0.4 tinplate box or frame in which ran a gear rack with a spring and a formed over thumb piece at the other end. Thumb pressure depressed the rack which engaged on a pinion attached to the driving teeth, rotated the blades which lifted vertically. The saucer rose to about room height, levelled out and flew level for a considerable distance. This toy was quite successful.

The tooling was very intesting. I managed to design the press tool for the frame so that 0.4 flat strip was fed in one end and the completed frame emerged at the rear. This frame had about six circular holes, four slots for tab assembly, plus ribbing etc, making six or seven stations in feeding.

A rather amusing incident occured while I was busy on the design of the forming tool for the propeller blades. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about some of the finer points so I made up a full sized model of what I had in mind in Harbutt’s Plasticine. Plasticine is a very useful medium in which to work as fine details can be produced by judicious use of a pen knife and I’ve used it many times in tool design.

 I finished the plasticine mock-up and put it to one side, intending to draw up the design the following day. Unfortunately I had to go out that day and didn’t return until a few days later. On my return I was amazed to find that my plasticine press tool had gone and in its place stood a beautifully carved plasticine rose. It was so well done that I hadn’t the heart to destroy it. I had to work the whole tool design again. Needless to say I had a few words to say about it, but I never found out who was responsible !

Another design project at Wells was the Atomic Spray Set-up. This was a coating process for giving a very fine chromium coating to the plastic model of the Morris Minor car. The model and the full sized car being very popular at the time. There was a big demand for the model – or toy – as Morris Minor owners would fit it to the bonnet as a mascot. When chromed it looked very good.

The chroming process was very complicated and included a final stoving oven. I remember that I had forgotten to include ventilation on this oven which was quite large. this omission was forcibly pointed out to me on the first trial run!

We did some large scale models of various cars – I recall the Vauxhall Velox and the Zephyr Zodiac. These involved drawing the form of the body in three planes accurately to scale. These drawings were used in the Tool Room where the body form was generated in 3-D using a pantograph.

The toy gears used at Wells were not milled or hobbed but the punch and die producing them were accurately cut, not to 20deg. involute form as is standard these days but to the clock gear form, the meshing of the smaller gears with pinions being 0.8mm. Thus the centres of any two gears would be the two outside diameters minus 0.8mm. A good crown wheel was made by pushing a spur gear through a die to form up the teeth.

Although I had studied gear design prior to my Wells period I increased my knowledge on this interesting and very important subject with the instruction given to me by the Chief Draughtsman at Wells. I had cause to thank him frequently in later years, especially when I worked for the South African Navy many years later.



I hope you will agree that the notes her father made of his time at Wells give an interesting and tantilising insight into just one aspect of what goes into producing a ‘simple’ toy.

After reading through these notes several times now there are a couple of things I am curious to know. Jim mentions the Chief Draughtsman and the influence he had yet doesn’t mention his name once .. what a pity .. I for one would love to know. And what about those coloured drawings of the Bedford lorries .. I’d love to have one or two of those !!

So many thanks once again Rose for getting in touch and providing a unique insight into the workings of the drawing office at Wells.

If anyone else has similar stories to tell of the life and times at Wells Brimtoy or any pictures of the people and factory etc. please get in touch, I’m sure we would all like to hear about it.

Categories: General Discussion Tags: