Let me take you on a journey through time and space, back some twenty-odd years (and trust me, some of those years were very odd), and about 80 miles north from my current location…
Are we sitting comfortably? I’d get a coffee or something, as this is pretty long.
Then I’ll begin…
Hereby hangs a tale of shameless self-aggrandisement. We journey to 1986. Durham university. YT has been chosen, though he knows not why, to take part in an inter-schools technology conference, called Input ’86. Schools from around the North East send promising young things to the conference, to Learn Stuff and Do Exciting Things.
We’re split into teams of four, and given Tasks. First task is to build a machine which will transport a can of Coke (or generic soft drink of choice) down a ramp, into a swimming pool, across thepool and up a ramp on the other side. Without sinking, tipping over or otherwise falling apart. Much in the style of The Great Egg Race. The great Heinz Wolff himself is in attendance, of course, though there is no sign of the lovely Lesley Judd.
Our team spent several hours constructing our device, only for it to fall apart, tip over and sink, approximately halfway across the pool. Kind of embarrassing, really.
Our heads hung in shame, we retreat to lick our wounds and await the next task the following day.
We are to construct a tower, from assorted pieces of metal. This tower must not exceed one metre in height, and must be capable of supporting a weight of 50kg. We cackle with glee, and start drawing plans of a *really* short tower, say about an inch high, made of solid metal. Our hopes are soon crushed when we are told that the rules had been hastily amended, as everyone had the same idea.
New rule: The tower must not be less than 75cm in height.
So, we crumple up our original plan and start again. We devise a tower *exactly* 75cm tall. With legs just slightly off vertical, for balance. Comprising of lots of triangles, as triangles are Strong and A Good Thing. We reinforce the top of our tower with lots of metal, as this is where the weight will go. We also strengthen the base, as this is where a lot of the outward force will go.
At the very last minute, we add a band of metal around the centre of the tower, to try and hold it together, as the legs would otherwise buckle.
Our tower is a flimsy little thing. Four legs, where they should be. Rivets cover every joint. Surely not up to the task in hand.
Time’s up. Testing begins.
There are about ten teams, and the winner will be the one whose tower holds the most weight. Our team is last in the running order.
Each tower is tested at various loads up to 50kg. The first tower passes. Their team heaves a sigh of relief. More weight is added, and it quickly buckles under the stress. Pretty good.
Towers come and go. Each passes the 50kg mark easily. Some crack early, some last slightly longer. Towers of various shapes and sizes are put under the test rig and, eventually, destroyed.
Time for the penultimate tower. The record at this point is around the 200kg mark. Pretty impressive.
Tower 9 is loaded up on the rig.
250kg, 275kg, 300kg. Pass. Pass. Pass.
325kg. Pass. The uni guys are nervous, the test rig can only supply a load of 350kg. Students mill around, looking for the weaknesses.
One joint finally collapses under the strain. Legs skew and buckle, and Tower 9 is crushed.
Time for Tower 10. Our tower. Our little bit of metal, against The Rig.
50kg. Pass. A sigh of relief. Imagine the embarrassment if this had failed as spectacularly as the coke-carrying machine.
We make it to 200kg, and it’s looking good. 250kg. 300kg. Our team looks nervous, apprehensive. Beads of sweat appear on furrowed brows. Could we match the 350kg? We’re in comfortable 2nd place already.
Solid. Absolutely rock solid. We’ve won! We’ve beaten the rest.
Cheers and pats on the back, grins all round. We’re presented with a souvenir pen of some description, to mark the achievement.
A couple of weeks later, I’m back at school. The teacher comes into the lesson, and hands me an envelope. It’s from Durham uni. They decided to set up a stronger test rig, to see what our tower could take.
It finally *started* to go at 682kg, nearly doubling Tower 9’s record. Our tower weighed in at less than a kilo, the lightest of the lot.
My point? I don’t really have one. This is a story that has made me smile with a fierce kind of pride since that day back over 20 years ago.
I just wanted to share it with you.
 other hot drinks are available.
 Yours Truly. Me. Hi!
 no, not literally
2 thoughts on “Tower of strength”
682kg is quite an achievement. What kind of rig were they using for testing?
Not sure of the bigger rig, I have a photo somewhere…