Minic Ships – Construction

Building a Safe Harbour

The Construction Principle

Construction toys have always been popular. Some of the great toy brands have been construction toys. Think Meccano, Bayko, Lego.

Building structures from component parts can be an absorbing activity. When those parts are modular and can be combined in different ways to make different structures, then you have the freedom to exercise your imagination and build what you will. Furthermore, if the parts are reusable, then the activity can be repeated at will. If you don’t like what you’ve built or it has served its purpose, then break it down and reassemble it into a new structure! 

So, what has this to do with a range of model ships? Well, the answer is that Minic decided to create as part of the range, a variety of components that can be combined in different ways to form a harbour. But what is the key component of any Minic harbour? Just that, the M836 Quay Straight. 

Quay Straight

Tri-ang Minic M836 Quay Straight

Year first produced: 1959

L100 x W52 x H6, Metal 63g, Scale 1:1200, Features: 0

The humble Quay Straight was normally sold in packs of 3, which fitted neatly inside one of the smart yellow cardboard Minic boxes. At first sight, the quay is, well, slightly boring. After all, it is essentially a flat platform. But let’s take a closer look.

The quay represents a man-made flat dockside area, painted a fetching shade of beige. Not, as I would probably expect, grey. Perhaps it represents a sandstone or sandy concrete surface. The quay is edged underneath on all sides by piling. At one end are two lugs, designed to fit under the piles of another quay straight to bind two pieces together.

Although the surface of the quay is flat, there are some features on it. Along the centre line of the quay are two rows of four raised bumps, while along each of the longer edges are two sets of bollards and four rather mysterious raised lines. Read on to discover more about these…

Since every harbour needs a quay, it’s not surprising that M836 has appeared in all 3 iterations of the Minic range. How do you tell them apart? The easy way is to turn them over and examine the underside. On the underside of the first Minic issue appears “MADE IN ENGLAND” while the 1970s issue was “MADE IN HONG KONG”. The modern issue says simply “CLASSIC EDITION” (it was made, of course, in China). There are other minor differences, but all versions include the Minic logo, and “M836 QUAY STRAIGHT”.  

The undersides of three generations of quay straight.
The underside of the Minic quays. From left to right, the Tri-ang original, the Rovex Hornby version and the modern edition.

Modular Harbour

So, the idea is that the quay straights can be combined in different configurations. Take a look at these examples, each constructed from three M836 Quay Straights.

Once you have laid out your quays, it is time to place on them items from the Minic range of harbour components. These structures are secured on the quays by placing locating holes on their undersides over the projecting bumps in the centre of the quay. This allows for some variation in positioning. Below you can see some options for how to place an M840 Warehouse on a quay.

1960s Dockside

We have seen how the modular construction of a Minic quayside can offer lots of variety, but there is a small fly in the ointment: the raised lines on the edge of the quay straights will simply end abruptly if the quay is placed at right angles to another. 

Two quay straights joined at right angles.
The paint tends to gets rubbed off the raised lines, which makes it obvious when they don’t join up…

This looks a bit odd, but after all, what do the lines represent? To find out let’s take a look at a typical dockside scene from the 1960s.

Postcard view of Southampton Docks
Postcard of Southampton Dockside 1966 (Harvey Barton).

The first thing to acknowledge is how cluttered and confusing it all seems, and this despite the fact that the image was taken during a strike when normal activity was curtailed! But let’s concentrate on the lower left corner of the card. Behind the bow of a ship tied up at the quayside, we can see a crane. The crane stands on a set of wheels which run along rails extending along the edge of the quay, so that it can be moved laterally as necessary to efficiently access the holds of the berthed ships. 

Immediately behind the crane is a warehouse. Facing us is a wide entranceway allowing the movement of goods to and from the quayside. If you look to the right you can see that there are a pair of rails that extend out of the warehouse along the quay and disappear into the next warehouse. These are for trains, bringing goods into or out of the warehouses.

So, we get a picture of the working of the docks. A cargo ship arrives full of goods. These are lifted out of the ship by quayside cranes and placed either directly into a train, or on the quayside, from where they are moved into the nearby warehouses. Later, a goods train arrives and enters the warehouse, where the cargo is loaded. The train then carries the goods out of the port and inland towards their destination. Clearly, the dockside was a busy environment, and fraught with danger! And, of course, this method of cargo handling was soon to be replaced in its entirety by the ‘Container Revolution’ (which I cover here).

The Minic Quay

The raised lines on the quay straight can therefore be understood as two pairs of rails. The wider spaced pair nearer the quay edge were for cranes to move along, while the narrower pair nearer the centre carried trains. 

All of this strongly suggests that Minic assumed a particular arrangement of harbour structures on the quays. M837 Crane Units would be placed on the edge of the quays, cranes outwards. Note how the pedestals of the cranes match the width of the rails on the quay, as if they could move along them if necessary. M840 Warehouses can be placed behind the crane units, with the entrance ways facing the cargo stacks. In this orientation, the end openings are wide enough to encompass the rails to allow trains to enter (though, admittedly, not cranes!).

A Minic quay straight with cranes and warehouses
The ‘default’ arrangement of warehouse and cranes. Nice and handy for cargo movements.

Some confirmation of this layout can be seen in the 1959 catalogue.

An image of a harbour layout from the 1959 catalogue.
Quayside showing (centre) two possible arrangements of warehouses and cranes.

Well, this leaves us with an awkward choice. We can either ignore the rails, and arrange our quays, warehouses and cranes as we wish, or we acknowledge the rails exist and, to avoid breaking them at right-angled joins, limit ourselves to longitudinal stretches of quay. Even the Minic world is imperfect!


To add some variety to the warehouses and cranes, other buildings that can be placed on the quay include M838 Storage Tanks, M839 Customs Shed and the M841 Ocean Terminal. 

Author: hexeres

Amateur photographer, military toy enthusiast, footslogger, dog lover, history buff and ebay trader to mention just a few...

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