Michael’s turning trash into treasure using toothbrushes and tweezers

The onslaught of Covid-19 here and around the world has brought with it an ever-burgeoning vocabulary of strange words and terminologies

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 6:00 am
‘Total wreck’ 1960s Dinky Spitfire
‘Total wreck’ 1960s Dinky Spitfire

Aside from the basics, like SARS-CoV-2, Oxford-AstraZeneca and isopropyl alcohol, previously unfamiliar words are now commonplace, while new ones sprout every day and grow, blossom and spread.

Similarly, frequently-used words that became more or less defunct over the decades are re-appearing.

Because many of life’s ‘normalities’ are prohibited or severely curtailed by the pandemic, old habits, customs and routines have returned, bringing with them words and expressions from days of yore - and brand-names from Roamer’s boyhood!

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Michael Gilmore wearing a multi-function U.S. Army WWII M1 helmet

I haven’t thought about Corgi, Hornby, Air Fix or Dinky for over half a century till an e-mail arrived in Roamer’s mailbox from Ballymoney-reader Michael Gilmore.

Regular readers will recall some of Michael’s previous accounts here, particularly his stories about military ‘living history’.

He introduced us to the US War Department’s enthralling ‘Pocket Guide To Northern Ireland’ and absolutely unforgettably, half a dozen years ago he explained how to cook a meal in an American Army ‘M1’ helmet - the modern version of the one worn by GIs in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

“Uses for the helmet were widespread and imaginative,” Michael told us, “these included washbowl (for shaving in), hammer (bashing tent pegs into the ground), seat (in helicopters), pillow (better than a boulder), bucket, and in field cookery as a cooking pot or a fire container.”

1960s Dinky Austin 1100 restored and converted to a Panda car

As well as wearing it, he brewed coffee and cooked a steak in his ‘M1’ and shared photographic evidence here to prove it!

Michael has been on furlough since last June and “without work or being able to indulge my WWII interests” he explained, “I have used the time available to exercise my creativity.

“And, because it is me, you could bet it is a mix of quirkiness, nostalgia and something a bit different.”

As some of his previous accounts on this page have confirmed, Michael admits he loves “old cars and vehicles”.

1960s Corgi Commer Milk Float

But his recent e-mail continued, “the workings of the internal combustion engine have always escaped me. So how did I manage to restore a Rolls Royce, a 1950s bus, a Ford Transit and many other classic vehicles. Answer.....I downsized.

“What I do is restore, upcycle, recycle and customize classic Dinky and Corgi toys from the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s.”

Dinky manufacturing ended in 1979 and Michael is “long past 40 (even 50) years old” but he remembers “like a load of kids, I had tons of the things. I loved my cars and it turns out, many many others did too. If you’ve ever watched the antique shows on TV, you’ll have seen that mint-boxed old Dinkys and Corgis can be worth a fortune.

“Well, I work at the other end of the spectrum. I get hold of the wrecks, the bangers and the scrappers, and bring them back to life for collectors and enthusiasts.”

Most of his Dinky discoveries are on “eBay, car boot sales, donations and rubbish that comes from attic clear outs.”

He stresses that he’s “not in the business of working on perfectly good antiques. I do up scrap, rubbish and barn-finds.

“My craft is aimed at bringing back life to previously well-loved toys.”

He refers to all this as “turning trash into treasure”!

Michael always wears gloves and safety glasses at his modeller’s bench.

He listed an almost endless variety of paint, tools and equipment in his e-mail.

“Model paints, spray cans, paint brushes, masking tape, wire brushes, craft knives, files, pliers, screw drivers, forceps, a good light and an electric multi-tool with cutting discs, drill bits, wire brushes and polishers.”

He also redeploys tooth brushes, surgical tweezers and cocktail sticks!

He says that the process “is just like real car restoration, but on a smaller scale.”

Michael outlined the tricks, techniques and intrigue of Dinky toy restoration - his most memorable, most difficult, most interesting and most time-consuming projects - and there’ll be more about him and his remarkable pastime on Roamer’s page in the very near future.

“It’s fascinating researching automotive heritage and you’ll learn plenty,” he enthused, even though he doesn’t hoard or collect all the toys he restores, often giving them away as gifts or even as retirement presents.

“I make them as a hobby,” he stressed, “because I like making them.”

Michael’s e-mail included “before and after” photographs of some of his restorations and a link to Martin Dare’s restoration channel at https://youtu.be/gL5CDvVT6J0.

Martin Dare is a well-known Dinky toy restorer and the Austin van he’s working on in the video “is a good illustration of the processes I’ve mentioned,” Michael explained.

He says his is “a good news story from the world of furlough.

I have certainly got so much out of exploring this pretty unknown hobby. It’s quirky, nostalgic, it’s about days gone by and fond childhood memories. It’s fair to say I probably have more Dinky cars now from the 60s than I had when I was a kid.”

But he constantly emphasised “these aren’t toys I’m playing with. They’re antiques.

“When the hobby bites you, it opens up a whole world of nostalgia, skill and insight. People will marvel at your work and the amount of satisfaction you will get from ‘a job well done’ will be immense. Anyone can do this - male or female, young or old.”

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