Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Repairing a Nodder - March, 2011

A few years back, when I was represented by Obsolete in Venice, CA, they asked me to look at a mechanical store display that a customer had purchased. The customer knew it wasn’t operational, but just loved the way it looked, and bought it anyway. The piece was a paper mache man sitting on a stool, rubbing his foot.

Always up for a challenge, and anxious to get my hands on a unique piece, I couldn't wait until it got here. When it arrived, I poured over every inch of it. I would guess it was from the 40's or 50's but it could have been older. On the label was the name "Pytram Ltd" in New Malden, England. 

It had a pivot at the neck and a pendulum inside that made the head nod from side to side. Around back there were wires coming out of a small red box, some slightly rusty parts that seemed to pivot, a pendulum-like weight, and a few other unknown pieces.

Well after a day or so trying to figure out how to make it work again, I decided to called up some friends in the automata world and ask them. I called Dug North, who seems to know about everything old and new when it comes to automata. He first asked a collector of similar objects, but no luck. Dug suggested contacting Michael Start at the House of Automata, in Northern Scotland. I knew of Michael's work through the internet and his many videos of old automata on YouTube. I emailed him some pictures. 

Turns out, besides being a 220 volt (European voltage), the piece was missing some essential parts. I found out it's called a nodder, and is fairly rare. 

I, being a purest, always want to repair things to near original condition, but at this point the only thing I could do was to forget about what might have been there before, and redesign the mechanical parts. Since I could figure out what the movement was, all I needed to do was design a simple offset pin attached to a slow moving motor, to move the rod, which moves the head. 

Here is what I came up with – it’s fairly straightforward. I added a spring to ensure the lever would ride against the pin, this helps the head move back the other way. (The two notches allow easy access to the two bolts that hold the motor in.)

I also carved a wooden back to cover the opening, and painted it black to match the rest of the body.

The movies....

I like this kind of work....... but wouldn’t want to do it full-time.

By the way, the new owner was Sheryl Crow, a good customer of Obsolete. They wanted to surprise her by getting it back in working order. I hope she was surprised, and hope she appreciates my work.

Thanks for looking,