HOW I BECAME A TOY INVENTOR By David Vogel of Brainwave Toys. This is aimed at 5th through 12th grade students.
I am a professional toy inventor and have always liked to experiment and take things apart. Ever since childhood, whenever my family bought something new like a television or a lawnmower, my parents would make a joke of it and say, "Uh, oh. Better keep it away from David!" They knew all too well that when I saw something with levers, gears, wires or switches, I just had to tinker with it or "take a peek under the skin" to see how it worked. Eventually, I learned to tinker only within my limits, but along the way some things did not survive my curiosity.
On my sixth birthday I was given a Deluxe Erector set and I become a real tinkerer. These days there are plenty of construction sets with motors, gears, and even computer controls. However, over thirty years ago, the Deluxe Set with a battery- powered motor was really something special. I can remember how heavy the set was, the big box, the shiny steel parts, the nuts and bolts, and the colorful connectors. But the part that really got my heart pounding was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen: the electric motor. By attaching this beautiful device to the correct parts, I would be able to make a real, motorized car! Well, life didnt get much sweeter than that, so I quickly went to work on my automotive dream.
Of course I was not happy to just make a car like the one in the instruction manual anyone could do that. What I really wanted to do was to use up every single part in the kit to create my own huge fantasy car! And why stop there? Surely, my mothers meat thermometer would make a terrific steering wheel. And, come to think of it, my father could not possibly care if I cut up that old silk tie of his to make my cars seats more comfortable. And, hmm lets see. My brother would not miss his Cub Scout Knife if I borrowed it to use as a battering ram on the front, would he? No, of course not!
Over the next several days my project grew and grew. I included nearly everything in the house that was not bolted down. This included a pencil sharpener, paper clips, loose change, a can opener and blown fuses. Where nuts and bolts did not quite do the, white glue and tape did the job. I daydreamed that if I grew up someday to be a famous car designer, then other car designers would look back at this, my first car. They would see that I was already a budding genius at the age of six.
At last it was done: my beautiful machine made of metal and silk, wood and plastic. It was a giant over two feet long. It did not really look very much like a car, yet to me it was the best thing to ever roll on four wheels. I found the single "D" sized battery it needed and forced it past the glue into the battery holder. I turned on the switch with great excitement, and was completely surprised by what happened next.
My car did not move. I could hear the motor humming, but for some reason my wonder car did not move. I thought that the problem was just a worn battery, so I tried another one. Yet the car still would not move. I removed the motor, which was hard to do because I spilled white glue on part of it. For some reason the motor ran fine when it was not attached to my car. And then I realized what the problem was: my car was very heavy and I needed more electricity. Not a bigger motor, mind you, just more electricity. I thought about what to do and decided to just connect the motor to a wall outlet. So I cut the power cord from an old lamp in the basement, removed the plastic cover on its ends, and attached it to the motor. I scraped away some more glue, and put the motor back into place. At last, I thought, I will really see this baby move.
As I plugged my new power cord and twenty-foot extension cord into the wall outlet, I wondered why the Erector Set People did not include one with the kit. Maybe, I thought to myself, they just did not want little kids to have such fast cars. Of course, that was it. There is stuff for kids and there is stuff for adults, and the stuff for kids is just not as good as the stuff for adults. That is simply the way it is.
Well, I can tell you one thing: Never plug a battery-powered motor into a wall outlet. I am very, very lucky that nothing happened to me. You should have seen what happened to that motor. As the electricity traveled through the lamp cord to the motor, there were bright sparks three or four inches tall. The motor spun very fast for a few seconds and then quickly stopped with a creaky groan. Smoke and the smell of an electrical fire filled the room. Yet in my horror I looked through the smoke and noticed that my car had moved forward by about two feet. As I began to feel a mixture of fear and pleasure, my mother ran into my room. At first she looked frightened and angry, but slowly her face said something far more familiar: Clearly I had "done it" again.
I did not go on to become an engineer or a scientist. I decided that I like the business and artistic parts of inventing toys and studied these things in college. These days I depend on engineers and scientists to do the scientific work on my projects. However, sometimes I get so excited about a new invention that I start to do some tinkering myself. At times like that, the look on the engineers faces is very familiar. I am certain that what they are saying is this: "Uh, oh. Better keep it away from David!"
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