13 January 2010

Model(ing) citizens

One of the hobbies that I find myself not having a lot of time for is modeling. Scale models, that is. I've been building the things since I was seven or eight years old. In those days, stores like K-mart had a decent hobby and model section. Even the grocery stores had a few kits that I'd scrape and save several allowances for. I started out with battleships (lots of guns!), had the obligatory Star Trek Enterprise and Klingon Battle Cruiser kits, and built more than my share of planes.

Even today I still like to build and I have a backlog of models-everything from a WWII US Baltimore class heavy cruiser (one of my favorite warships-I wish there were one left as a museum) to a Y-Wing from Star Wars.

Sometimes companies will repop (reissue) old kits from the 1950s and 1960s. Being older now than I was in the 1970s, I see that these kits were big, clunky, and not necessarily all that accurate a representation of their subject. But at the time, they were great. You could knock them together in an afternoon, if you ripped the parts off the sprue, used half a tube of styrene cement, and didn't bother with niceties like paint.

Also, with the benefit of age and experience, those clunky kits, can, with a bit of work, be built into a decent model. Sometimes these old kits are the only representations of a certain vehicle, ship, whatever, that are available.

But as I look at some of the newer offerings by the model companies, I don't know how anyone could afford to start to get into the hobby. One of my first kits was an M47 Patton tank from Renwal, all plastic, with such exciting features as opening hatches, rotating turret, elevating main gun, vinyl treads, and little men representing the tank crew and a half-squad of infantry. The kit probably cost all of $5.95 back in 1975.

The latest issue of Fine Scale Modeler has a writeup on a kit of the 'Ersatz M10', which was a German Panther tank made up to look like a US M10 tank destroyer. They were used in the Ardennes in 1944 as a deception by the Germans. A nice kit, but not for the squeamish-or a beginner:

Dragon 'Ersatz M10' kit-745 parts (43 photoetched-metal), $60.95 (!)

Cripes! Even I won't pay $61 for a model. And I guarantee the build is more complex than the old M47 kit I wrote about. The tracks are most likely individual links, which I grant look better than the old 'rubber band' tracks but are a tremendous, fiddly pain to build. The photoetched-metal is very thin and used to provide 'in-scale' grab handles, dials, handwheels, light guards, and whatever else is too hard to mold in plastic-but using photoetched metal requires a good set of clippers, a bit of patience, and cyanoacrylate (super glue) to attach to the model.

So you have a kit which will require two types of adhesive, several types of tool, a big workspace, and a lot of patience-most of which the beginner or novice won't have.

And most modern vehicle, ship, and plane kits made today are of similar complexity and price. They build into great-looking works, but they're certainly not for all ages.

To be fair, there are several companies producing simpler kits, but they kind of go too far to simplicity-they're pre-painted and snap-together. Five minutes and no skills required. It doesn't seem like there are a lot of kits in between-complex enough to take a few hours to build and finish but don't require a complete workshop along the way. Makes one wonder if the hobby will continue, and if the upcoming generation will have enough patience and a long enough attention span to actually complete a model.

So. You all have learned one thing about me-I'm a bit of a geek. But you all knew that, or should have, anyway.

I must go now, and digest the implications of former Cardinal slugger Mark McGwire's admission of steroid use. I never would have guessed he was on the juice! Just because all of a sudden he had the strength and muscles of an ox (along with matching temperament, intelligence, and glandular secretions) and his head grew enough that his cap could hold a bushel of peaches didn't indicate anything out of the ordinary for me!

Mark, we all knew. It wasn't a surprise.

yankeedog out.


  1. YD

    $60 bucks is cheap.

    My eldest son is heavily into Warhammer 40K and individual models can run into hundreds of dollars.

    I used to love making up the kits myself but now no longer have the time or the patience to do so.

  2. A hobby I want to pick up again, though maybe I need to check the prices first.

  3. McGwire admitted it? Huh. Imagine that.

  4. Ausgaz-Some of the Warhammer kits are great (especially the Tau vehicles) but they are pricey! And, yeah, a decent-sized force will get costly.

    I've read that models are very expensive down in your part of the world anyway.

    Bangar-Shop wisely if you get back into the hobby. There are a surprising number of the old kits (the ones we blew up with firecrackers) out there, repopped.

    Flint-I think McGwire had to come out (so to speak). Cards manager Tony LaRussa hired him as a hitting coach (and an amazing number of the big steroid guys were close to LaRussa. I'd like to know his role in the 'roid era. Just sayin') and he was going to get asked about it by the media in every city in the league.