You know, I had a post planned for Christmas. I had it half-written. All I needed was an hour or so to polish it off….and then wham!
We were derailed by ‘Le Grande Project’. You see, we’d been asking the kids, particularly C, ‘what do you want for Christmas?’ for a while now. And received the dreaded shrug. Variations on ‘is there anything you really want?, elicited similar responses….until three days before Christmas. Yes. Three Days. That was when he wrote his letter to Santa. And oh boy, what a letter. Go have a look at it. Go on. It’s no particle accelerator, but – oh boy!
|Letter to Santa Page 1 of 4 – Le Grande Project
The cars and trucks, somewhat plausible…19 Tanks? 100 pistons? 200 pieces of steel girders? And on it went. It was only after prompting that C decided that Santa might need a few words (i.e. like Dear Santa, this is what I want for Xmas) along with the blue-prints…
…poor Santa had run afoul of ‘Le Grande Project’.
You see, C’s new passion of the moment is …bridges. Thinking about them, watching TV shows (a la Big, Bigger, Biggest – Bridges), playing computer games about them, planning them and building them with anything to hand. The problem was, the things to hand, were in his mind, not quite good enough.
|K’nex Bridge Kit + Instructions
It started off simply – block building with his sister J. Then he moved onto his K’Nex Bridge building kit – he’s been working through the designs in this kit for a while now – theirs and his own designs.
Build a bridge, photograph it, and film it under stress when an earthquake hits. Rinse. Repeat.
But you see, it’s not versatile enough. He’s played the computer game Bridge Project to death. He’s completed 47 of 48 levels, and trust me, these are real engineering challenges – using limited materials – wood, steel, cables, pistons, and then tests to see how much the bridge can endure: cars, buses, tanks, earthquakes and windstorms. He’s learned about stress and strain, learned how to make Warren trusses and suspension bridges. Learned about carrying capacity, and how spectacularly gravity can collapse the (deliberately) poorly designed bridge…
..and that’s where Le Grande Project started. You see, he didn’t just want to make it on the computer. Oh no. He wanted to make bridges for real.
|Spaghetti Bridge pieces – all just a little too imprecise
and non-reusable for C.
So we started looking around for how to scale model bridges to test the strength of various designs. And stumbled upon spaghetti bridges. These are the bridge-models used in wonderful competitions, and is often used in University engineering courses. So off we went to the supermarket and bought packets of spaghetti – lots of spaghetti. Then hours of slowly gluing pieces together – layer on layer.
Then it was time to put it all together – with marshmallows. And we discovered that marshmallows are very tasty – but pretty hopeless at holding up a spaghetti bridge. Alas.
So now Santa was tasked with finding something bridge-like for Christmas. That was real: with steel and wood; iron and pistons. Santa and his helpers had a wonderful time laughing maniacally and pulling their hair out in awe and frustration. Reality had flown out the door a long time ago and started doing wheelies down the driveway, in a large leopard-print suit…
After a fruitless day looking at hobby stores with the kids, (inspiration where are you?) I sent a desperate call out to the forums – (Thankyou to everyone who responded!) – and we had a plan. A DIY model bridge – from basic materials. And my poor DH spent a very long day trawling the whole city going from craft shop to hobby shop, to hardware stores…until enough ‘scale’ items had been found. Hours later, Santa could be very proud of his helper!
He had a haul of:
- 12mm x 12mm wooden dowel,
- multi-sized paddle pop sticks,
- matchsticks in various sizes,
- ridiculously small nuts and bolts,
- a special mini-drill bit (9/64″ or 3.57mm),
- a couple of hinges (for pistons),
- and lots of PVA wood glue.
Thankfully, C decided that Santa did it right, despite the lack of steel. (After explaining our lack of welding and drilling material able to cut and rivet steel, and no garage to store it in, he decided that was acceptable.)
And so began construction of Le Grande Project. I mean, what else do you do between Christmas and New Year? DH and C have spent hours designing and putting together their bridge.
|Drilling holes in Paddle pop sticks for trusses:
4mm hole for 3mm screws recommended
|It’s not as easy as it looks – slow and steady,
or you get split paddle pops.
|C and DH putting together a roadbed of
paddle pop sticks and wooden dowel
|Showing the side – with the holes in the dowel to attach the trusses
|Upside down roadbed, showing it’s construction
|Roadbed from on top – all neatly lined up.
And now the dreamed up bridge is in C’s own hands….and we may get a few moments before we’re hit between the eyes with another Le Grande Project…impossible managed!
|Le Grande Project, so far…more spans planned!
So, where to from here? What great ideas for bridge-building and learning have you found out there?