Hello and welcome to Wooden Curiosities.
My name is Mike, I'm an woodworker and automatist hobbyist. My love of tinkering began when I was ten or twelve years old. I remember poking around my father’s workshop intrigued by the projects scattered across his workbenches. I loved the look & feel of the old hand tools, each with its own story to tell. It was a magical time of discovery. I also enjoyed the tinkering tales my father told us about our great Uncle John, who lived on a farm in Vermont and had an outbuilding full of magnificent gadgets.My father was a R/C airplane hobbyist, so he always had a number of radio transmitters, receivers, and servos on his workbench. During this time, my dad modified my Cox gas powered dune buggy into a radio-controlled car, the first I had ever seen. It was quite the hit with the other boys in the neighborhood, we played with it for hours on end, which I imagine brought my father much happiness.
My introduction to automata occurred at one of the local amusement parks, either Holiday Hills which was located within a rocks throw of the Saint Louis airport or the Chain of Rocks Amusement Park which was located on the bluffs of the Mississippi. These amusement parks were very similar to their cousin, the carnival, with the main difference being that the amusement parks stayed in one location whereas carnivals never stayed in one spot very long, much to the benefit of the carnies. It was here that for one thin coin I got get my fortune told by Zoltar. The little ticket that was spit out should have read, "You will have a lifelong love affair with automata."
My love of building automata began one Halloween many years ago, when I thought it would be fun to try and scare some of the younger kids in the neighborhood by creating a laughing skeleton head. The contraption would be set on the porch and operated by me as I watched out the window for approaching trick-or-treaters. The skeleton head was store bought and made from fluorescent green plastic and luckily for me it already had a movable jaw. A black light, in the background, highlighted its sinister appearance. I rigged up a RC servo to move the jaw and another servo to turn on a cassette player which contained the evil laugh track. I don't remember scaring many kids, but I still have fond memories of building the laughing skull. I consider this to be my very first automata, no matter how crude it's design.
It's been a one step forward, two or three steps backwards since then, but I'm happy to say that the tinkering spirit never left me and I am still really thrilled when I see a cleverly designed automata. Take note, that if you take the time to pursue the history of automata you can't help but become entwined in its web of cleverly designed mechanisms which are on the verge of magic, magic that dates back much further than you might even dare to imagine. How much of this art has been lost because we fail to share our knowledge with one another? Seek and build my friends, seek and build to the best of your abilities and then share your discoveries with everyone you meet.