Erector Classic Period Ferris Wheel

Welcome to the first installment in our "Complete Model" series of pictorials. One of the most famous and most popular of all Erector models through the years has been the Ferris Wheel. Although at least one version of a ferris wheel design appeared in Erector manuals from the very beginning (1913), most Erector fans and collectors consider the Classic Period version to be the finest of them all. It seemed to be the perfect combination of size, color, and design elegance.

Classic Period #B Ferris Wheel

The earliest Erector ferris wheels were hexagonal in shape, as curved girders were not yet part of Erector sets. In 1920, the first "round" wheel appeared, although it was still built using straight girders. To accomplish this, the girders were rotated 90º along their long axis, then bent into a curve as they were screwed together until they formed a flat ring like those around a barrel. Then, in 1924, the E 5" curved girder was introduced, and the the first true "round" Erector ferris wheel could be built. The next innovation (and improvement) occurred in 1927 with the introduction of the BI, BJ, and DV "giant" girders. At nearly 6' in height, the new ferris wheel designed to use these girders was the largest that ever appeared in an Erector manual. Unfortunately, no single Erector set produced that year contained enough parts to build the wheel! An example of this model can be seen in the Model Gallery (Al and Mike's Giant Ferris Wheel).

The very next year, 1928, Gilbert modified the design of the giant girders; the results were the EX, EY, and EZ "big channel" girders that remained part of the Erector line until the end of production in 1962. Altogether, six new parts were added to the Erector line in 1928 in order to build the newest ferris wheel design, which is the subject of this pictorial: the Classic Period Ferris Wheel. Most of these parts are shown in the photo below (the BB plate is not a new part).

The parts were included in two sets, the top-of-the-line #10 and a new accessory set, the #B, introduced that year specifically to build the new ferris wheel (although the set also built 53 other models). The #B "Ferris Wheel" Accessory Set was produced for five years: 1928-32. The set changed very little over its five-year lifespan; the 1929 version is the set shown in this pictorial, and the one I used to build the model shown in the photos. The 1929 #B featured a red and black painted wooden box measuring 21¼" x 8½" x 3¼", with brass sidegrips and suitcase latches. The parts were packed in two layers, the top layer being a black painted metal tray.



As mentioned above, the Classic Period Ferris Wheel built with the #B Accessory Set is a marvelous design. The resulting model stands just over 3 feet tall at 37" (not the 4 feet erroneously reported in other sources). It measures 17½" at the widest point (the outside of the wheel hub supports), and the angled legs that anchor the vertical support towers straddle a horizontal distance of 38". Although the design is a fairly simple one, it nonetheless would have benefitted from a few more detail drawings in the instruction manual. Instead, a single page (shown at right) presents all of the clues to its construction that Gilbert saw fit to print.

As the photos show, the most obvious feature of the model is its predominantly reddish-orange color: virtually all of the parts used in the model's construction, including the big channel girders, BB segment plates, Q 11-hole base plates and FU cab roofs are painted in this same color. The two large rings that form the outer edge of the wheel are each constructed from 18 EZ 6" curved big channel girders. It is difficult to tell from the instructions exactly how these are screwed together. I began as you might expect, by attaching them end to end until I completed a circle. The result was not a "true" circle however, being somewhat larger, so I experimented by removing one of the EZs; the result was somewhat smaller than a true circle. After a bit more trial and error, and counting holes to determine the best spacing for the wheel spokes and cross-supports, I overlapped the 17th and 18th EZ girders by 3 holes (see photo). The final result was a very nice circle that allowed for even spacing of the spokes.

The spokes themselves are B and C girders screwed together so that they, too, overlap slightly. They are attached to the inner row of holes on the EZ girders at their outer end, and to the rim of an AZ bull wheel plate on their inner end. The desired result is NOT a spoked wheel that lies flat, but rather a wheel with the hub raised out of the plane of the rim, the deflection of the hub being about 1-2". The end result is that on the completed wheel, the rims are just under 7" apart while the hubs are nearly 9" apart (see diagram). Again by trial and error, I found that overlapping the B and C girders by 2 holes produced the desired result (see photo).


The wheel is supported on two square towers built from EX and EY big channel girders. On top of each tower are bolted two opposing BB segment plates. The wheel itself rotates on the 13" long, 5/16" diameter FV axle rod, the ends of which go through the large center holes in the BB plates. At the lower, outer ends of the BB plates, 2 bracing legs are bolted to each tower. These legs are built from EX big channel girders and DP 12" slotted angle strips.



The wheel supports four large, covered passenger cabs, or gondolas, although the design of the wheel would readily accomodate eight such gondolas (given sufficient parts to build the extra four, of course). The gondolas are built from Q base plates, A and D 3" girders, and FU cab roofs. I used O pawls to attach the roofs to the gondolas (it is not clear from the instructions what Gilbert intended here). The gondolas hang from the outer rim of the wheel on 7½ axle rods, on which they pivot freely.



The model was designed to be unpowered; in fact, no motor was included in the #B Accessory Set. However, like many another unpowered Erector model, it could easily be adapted for power. The illustration in the instruction manual (see above) indicates that a P56G electric motor could be used to this end. The suggested construction involved screwing M small double angles at equal intervals around the outer edge of one side of the wheel, then looping a string around the wheel (cradled in the M angles) and the motor pulley.