Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
K'NEX Power Tower Crane Kit

A couple years ago I started a new blog tag to look into items of the past and it started with Rokenbok and continues with another toy: K'NEXs.

K'NEX was a toy that was an alternative to LEGOs because they worked a bit differently. A K'NEX structure as seen above was much more wire-frame in shape with rods and connectors to connect the pieces. This can be seen in stark comparison to LEGOs which was just a collection of plates and bricks.

Now of course if you look at both those toys in present day - they introduced so many different pieces that anything that was once specific to one toy is no more. So we should turn the clock back to the 1990's to look at how these toys were ~20 years ago.

K'NEX was founded in 1992 by a Joel Glickman - a company behind K'NEX known as K'Nex Industries Inc stayed involved until selling the company to Basic Fun! in 2018.

If you purchased the above Power Tower Crane in 1998 you'd get an instruction manual included, which in the case above would be a 44 page colorful document (pdf).

page 41 of construction manual

If you've ever built IKEA furniture you know this style of showing all the pieces is quite common, but what IKEA does is establish a shorthand notation for each piece type. So you might be struggling to find piece J4, but for K'NEX the idea is a bit more simpler. Pieces within the same family are different colors so there is no need for piece shorthand. Quite obviously IKEA will do that because you don't want furniture that is visibly built with every possible color screw and bolt - so they must establish a different method for identifying pieces.

That means once you are on a build step - you can follow the colors of the depicted diagram to lead you to that successful build step.

page 5 of construction manual

This doesn't look too bad to follow, but I vaguely remember this style of instruction being hit and miss with kids in the 90s. Some much preferred the style of LEGOs and thought this above design was difficult to follow.

Depending how you felt - one great feature of K'NEX manuals were including a subsection that showed you where the piece belonged in what you were building and what it should look like up to that step.

top of page 5 of constructional manual

You can see on the image above this one you are building step 5, 6 and 7 which combines with the full step 1-7 to build the bottom left section of the tower.

We can take a look at a manual from around that time with LEGO and we get the below guide. A much easier tiny building of the greater city, but isolated in its own building manual.

City In Flight Manual

Color plays a big role in this guide as well with a more individual step by step approach. I'd just argue that each step for K'NEX is much more involved than a single step on this LEGO guide. However, perhaps comparing the Power Tower Crane towards the City In Flight is not an equal comparison.

Either way - it was immensely fun back then building the Power Tower Crane even if my room was packed with pieces a tiny tower taking all the room.

Too bad no pictures of that achievement are left around. It'll just live on in memories and this post.

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