I’ve always loved Laurel & Hardy’s 1934 film “Babes In Toyland,” and have certainly been known to intone the toy soldier’s signature phrase to myself during any number of odd—and usually inappropriate—moments. Ore-oh, OREO, indeed! If I could only fit myself out with one of those natty enameled uniforms then I’m quite sure that I’d be styling with the best of them.
But I digress. On this day, my purpose is to discourse on orreries; not ore-ohs, nor even oreos. For the uninformed, an orrery is (to quote Wikipedia): a mechanical device that illustrates the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the Solar System in a heliocentric model. In this somewhat mod-ern era, mechanical orreries have fallen out of fashion, particularly since online orreries like “The Planets Today” are so easy to use, and exceedingly more accurate.
The problem with electronic orreries is that they lack my favorite component: gears!
To be clear, I go gaga for gears. There’s something about a pair of well-machines brass spur gears snuggling up to each other that sets my little heart aflutter. Or maybe it makes my blood boil. Whatever the case, I simply love ’em, especially if they’re made out of brass, so imagine my delight when I received my “Build A Model Solar System Kit” last week. I’d ordered the thing months ago, so long ago in fact that I had forgotten that I would ever receive it. Much to my delight, though, it chose to show up just in time to brighten an especially grueling 17-hour day.
If you look at the video, above, there will be no doubt as to the “geariness” of the kit. There must be 30 different gears in there, and even better, the whole thing is, well, an orrery. I’m—more than anything—an astronomy nut, so the ability to combine gears with my favorite hobby is just about as good as it gets.
As to the kit, itself, I can unequivocally state that it came with the single best set of assembly instructions that I’d ever encountered; including a 32-page full-color manual, two assembly videos and a separate introductory video. Even better, the kit was broken down into 12 assembly stages, with each of the components stored in it’s own set of stage-specific Styrofoam cutouts, and further identified by a matching full-color overlay. Again, I cannot praise the kit enough. The quality was nothing less than superb! Now, for $199 + $50 S&H, it seems reasonable to expect such quality, but even so, I was more than a little blown away.
I do have a couple of caveats, though. For starters, I didn’t like the “top-down” assembly process, and would have much preferred to build things from the “bottom up.” This is especially important since the overall structure is quite heavy, and as I started to get into the gas giants it began to feel more than a little unwieldy. My next concern had to do with the screws. Eagle-Moss should certainly be commended for separating out all of the components into little form-fitting bins in the Styrofoam. My number one peeve, though, was that the screws that were used to put together each of the ten pairs of large and small gear sandwiches were kept in the same baggie. I found separating out the slightly differently-sized screws to be extremely difficult; a task that was further exacerbated by the fact that picking a bad screw for the small gear sandwich virtually guaranteed that sandwich would be too loose.
Beyond the two above quibbles, I found myself wishing for a number of engineering improvements as I built the kit. Now don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is surprisingly well engineered, but even so it’s clear that a number of shortcuts were made to keep the cost down. If I was engineering the kit myself (and, I must say that I feel inspired to do just such a thing, if only for myself!) then I’d certainly eliminate the plastic bearing surfaces then get rid of all of the set screws. Moreover, I’d engineer something more along the lines of the Sanderson Orrery.
Again, I am extremely well pleased! If your inclinations run the either the mechanical or astronomical than my advice would be to walk; don’t run, lest Eagle-Moss discontinue the kit before you can get one in your hands. Indeed, I plan to buy a second one just so I can have the fun of assembling it from scratch yet again…