Memories for a Lifetime
The past few years have witnessed the publication of more than a few of these blogs, and during that span of time you've been reminded more than once, or maybe even far more than once, that I began my scale modeling career way back in 1956 or so. You've also endured my rambling on, seemingly interminably, about how much fun the hobby has been, and how much it's enriched my life over all those years. The past was really kind to me in that regard, and I'd like to take a few minutes to share a little bit of it with you, not so much to talk about my own specific polystyrene history but to help remind those of you of a certain age, or at least of a certain mindset, about the way things used to be before The Age of Electrons significantly changed parts of our hobby forever. With our stage thusly set, let's take a fond look back at those long-ago days.
The place to start is probably at the beginning, so let's just jump right into that. My own personal introduction to scale plastic modeling came at the hands of an older cousin, who was a teenager when I was six. I'd seen advertisements for plastic model airplanes in magazines and comic books but Jerry had actually bought and built a few of them, specifically the then new and cutting-edge Revell F-94C and F7U-Something-or-Other. He'd built them, decalled them, and mounted them on their stands so he could display them. He showed them to me and I was hooked!
That's the thing about Scale Modeling as it Was; the timing was right and almost every teenaged American boy and, I suspect, more than a few teenaged American girls, built at least one plastic model of one sort or another to see what it was all about, in turn inspiring those of us the next rung down the ladder to try our hand at it too. Not all of us stayed with the hobby, not by a long shot, but almost every kid I knew had built at least one model something-or-other before they reached the second grade.
Then there were the stores that sold the kits. Yes, there were hobby shops, real brick-and-mortar hobby shops, but those weren't the only places you could buy a model in those days. Drugstores had them. Department stores had them. Hardware stores had them, and occasionally bookstores too. My mom bought my first plastic model for me in a supermarket in rural Georgia, and I saw my very first Aurora biplane, a Nieuport 11, on the shelves of a department store in Wichita Falls, Texas a year or so after that. My parents soon learned that I would disappear as soon as we went into any retail establishment that had even a remote chance of selling plastic models of any kind and I wasn't alone in that sort of behavior. You've hear of Hooked on Phonics? Well, my generation was hooked on plastic!
As exciting as those department stores and supermarkets could be to the aspiring young modeler, none of them could hold a candle to The Real Thing, that holy grail of plastic modeling: The Hobby Shop. The first real hobby shop I ever entered was Huff's Hobbys, in Wichita Falls. It was a place of wonder for a seven-year-old, with stacks of kits for sale and built models hanging from the ceiling and mounted to the walls. That shop had an ambiance that I remember until this very day; it was a place of magic and wonder for me, a place where Sherman tanks named "Black Magic" lived, sitting on the shelves beside boxes filled with impossibly large Aurora B-25s and B-26s. Blair's Supermarket in Canton, Georgia sold me that first plastic kit but the second one, a bright yellow Aurora "Zero", came into my possession via an early visit to Huff's.
I mangled that "Zero" pretty badly while attempting to assemble all nine or ten of those yellow pieces and my dad helped me build (read "built it for me while I watched") my next couple of models as a result; a Revell H-19 and a Monogram Invader, but I was on my own after that. It's possible, just barely, that each new acquisition was built to a somewhat higher standard than those that came before, but I honestly don't believe that's true---I'm pretty sure I plateaued early and stayed there for more than a few years, but those first few years were magic! Monogram C-47s, replete with little paratroopers, the Revell Century Series of fighters (a gift set that I received one magical Christmas), a Monogram Air Power Set, a Revell Space Station, Lindberg's remarkable B-17G and almost any other bit of polystyrene I could get my hands on more than filled my spare hours.
There was a revelation for me late in 1962 when I saw my first 1/72nd scale Revell kit, a Hawker Hurricane (I think), in a local department store. Those 72nd scale Revell kits started coming at a fast and furious pace while we were in Japan and they were dirt cheap too, only 35 cents in the base hobby shop. Those tiny kits turned me from model cars back into airplanes, and Jack Dusenberry and I probably bought at least one or two of every one of those models that made it to the shelves there. It was the beginnings of a Golden Age for Young Phillip.
1965 saw my dad transferred from Misawa to South Texas, where the aforementioned Young Phillip discovered that a hobby shop called Dibble's Arts and Hobbys was conveniently located next to my high school, less than a block away! That happy discovery launched both a budding career as an employee there and friendships that have, in many cases, lasted a lifetime.
Nowadays we have the Internet, of course, and we can find pretty much anything we might want in the way of kits or accessories online. The kits we can buy today are light years away from the stuff we purchased way back when we were kids but they are also, for the most part, far more expensive, even factoring a dose of inflation into the discussion, than they ever were before. That factor has driven off the kids in great measure, and computers and an increasingly flawed concept known as social media has done its share of damage too. When we were young it was cool to build model airplanes. Now it's very much a niche hobby, and one with an ever-aging consumer base that may ultimately lead us to the demise of the hobby as we know it.
The demise is still more than a little way off, though, and we're presently living in a New Golden Age of Plastic Modeling, one in which almost everything we could ever wish for can be found, albeit for a price. True; those old-time hobby shops are, for the most part, a dying breed, but a forty-five minute drive from our house in the country will get me to Dibble's and Hill Country Hobby in San Antonio, and a little over an hour's drive can find me at King's in Austin. In my world The Magic still exists, a fact I'm reminded of every time I go into one of those shops and spend an hour or two talking plastic with my friends, and sometimes with total strangers as well. Yes, the old-time hobby shops are dying off at a remarkable pace, but that only makes the ones that survive more precious to us all.
Thanks, then, to Aurora and Lindberg, and Hawk, and Monogram, and Revell, and to all those other companies too, both domestic and foreign, (a great many of which are sadly now long-gone), for a lifetime of pleasant endeavor, and thanks to Huff's, and Dibble's, and Kings, and Hill Country, and all those other shops and retailers who sold us our polystyrene treasures. Then there are the friendships which are, and always have been, the most precious gift of all that this special hobby has bestowed upon me. There are far, far too many of those to list in the space available here, although a special thank you has to be extended to Trey McMurtrey---it was an e-mail exchange with him a while back that started me thinking about those long-ago days.
So what's the point, you might reasonably ask. I'm not sure there is one, but I'll offer this: The aforementioned Trey McMurtrey has been modeling since well before I met him back in 1967 or 68, and he's still at it today, as has Frank Emmett, another name you hear about on these pages from time to time. There are a lot of other hobbies out there with participants equally as enthusiastic, but this one is the one we've all chosen and I happen to think it's really special.
Everyone should be so lucky...
Ain't Nothin' Wrong With This One
North American Aviation's P-51 Mustang has been an iconic airplane, and the subject of countless polystyrene kits for more years than I can remember. Some have been good, some have been bad, and a few have been horrid, but the airplane is right up there with the Zero, the Spitfire, and the Bf/Me109 as one of those must-have models that the larger manufacturers of plastic model airplanes put in their catalogs sooner or later and there are at least two more new kits in 1/48th scale, this time from Airfix and Eduard, slated for release later this year. Those kits, coming from those particular manufacturers, are definitely something to look forward to. Still, we haven't been all that badly served in years past in terms of 1/48th scale Mustangs. Take, for instance, the occasionally-maligned Tamiya offering:
Other areas that need a little help are the interior, which definitely benefits from the application of an Eduard "Zoom" set, and the machine gun muzzles, which beg to be drilled out. That semi-circular internal canopy brace that's molded to the canopy frame has a series of lightening holes in it in real life, and you can add those with a drill if you're ambitious. (I never do that even though I know I should, but you certainly can!) Tamiya apparently had access to somebody's restored warbird when they cut the molds for the kit because they faithfully chose to duplicate a pair of skin doublers/scab patches on the upper leading edge of both wings. I'm sure they're on that warbird but they don't belong on anything else and they have to go! Fortunately, all that's required in that regard is to sand them off and polish out the area you reworked.
You really do need to fix that leading edge doubler, and I can honestly say that I invariably do that, but I don't normally fix the flaps and you need to do that too! Take a look at the photo immediately above and you can see a red circle that shows a notch in the upper surface of the flap's inboard corner. That notch is there so you can model the flaps in the closed position if you want to, but it was normal for the F-51 to have dropped flaps unless it was under power or had just been shut down after a flight and you really can see that notch once you know to look for it. The same thing applies to the "rivet" detail Tamiya put on the surfaces of those flaps. The fact that they wanted to put some sort of detail in that area is perfectly understandable but it's definitely over-stated and needs to be addressed. I didn't fix those things on this model, or on any other Tamiya Mustang I've ever built, but I tend to build this particular kit as therapy, usually after I've just finished something else that's been a struggle for me to complete. It wouldn't take that much additional effort to correct those flaws if you were so inclined.
One more thing regarding the kit: The exhausts aren't all that well detailed and you may find yourself tempted to use the QuickBoost offerings for those components. I've done that and personally prefer the way the kit items look, but it's your model and your call!
That takes us to one of those philosophical moments, where we all sit back and ponder something or other that really doesn't mean all that much at the end of the day. In this case let's consider the need for yet another Mustang kit (or two!) On the plus side a new offering from Eduard will likely include almost impossibly fine airframe and cockpit detail while an Airfix kit of the same thing will probably be fairly close behind and will, in all likelihood, offer a wide range of underwing hangy things plus the one or two components necessary to turn the model into an F-6D photo ship. A new kit from either one of those manufactures would in point of fact be a Very Good Thing, but at the end of the day the now long-in-the-tooth Tamiya kit holds its age well and is still a viable, and affordable, option. Couple that with the fact that the model is so darned easy to build and you can rest assured that I personally will hang onto the 3 or 4 kits presently sitting in my closet and will eventually build them all. Newer is newer and better is better, but sometimes you can get pretty decent results from Good Enough. (And no; I never did fix that leading edge seam. Next time...)
Newer isn't necessarily better...
You Don't See This Very Often
Bobby Rocker's been at it again, this time with an extremely mundane but oh-so-unusual Mitchell. Let's take a look:
Thanks as always to Bobby Rocker, who's apparently bottomless collection has helped this project in so many ways.
Just a Few Final Neptunes
In our last issue we alluded to the possibility of just a few more Lockheed P2Vs for your edification, and today's The Day we do that! These birds are a little different, though---they're all owned by a civilian fire-fighting organization, Neptune Aviation Services out of Missoula, Montana, and to the best of our knowledge they're all still flying. Mark Nankivil was out on a trip West with his family and got a chance to photograph several of their aircraft while they wintered at Alamogordo:
Hi Phil! Loved your posting with P-2s - here's a few from our trip last year when we stopped at the Alamogordo airport and took photos of the Neptune Aviation Service P-2s that winter there... We were fortunate to stop by when we did as one of the aircraft was being used to fly certification flights with the USFS with drops being made up in the mountains. Two turning and two burning on take off makes for a neat sound. Enjoy the Day! Mark
And enjoy the day we shall!
We can't leave this particular essay without saying a word about Mark's photographic skills, which could well be defined as exemplary. Many thanks for providing us with this window on a world most of us never experience.
Just Hustlin' Along
Everybody knows who Jim Sullivan is, because almost everybody interested in American military aviation has read at least one of his many books, or admired his collection of photography regarding US naval aviation from the World War 2 period. What a lot of people don't know is that Jim's collection spans a far greater period of time than just the first several years of the 1940s and extends to include those guys in the blue suits as well.
You've all suffered repeatedly about my reminiscences about the time I spent in northern Japan, but several years previous to that adventure had been spent at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. Sheppard was ostensibly a training base, but SAC established a presence there for a short time in the early 1960s, significantly adding to the mix of aircraft to be seen overhead. In 1960 or 61 your editor was outside enjoying a typical Texas afternoon when a single B-58 came whistling and howling over the then-new Capehart base housing area at relatively low altitude and with everything hanging out. It was an impressive sight to say the least, and one that caused me to immediately jump on my brand-spanking new Schwinn Corvette and pedal off to the base bookstore, which also sold model airplanes, so I could purchase an until-then ignored Monogram B-58 kit. The Hustler was a technological marvel of the highest order and was something to see when it was in its natural element, and its science-fiction appearance and all those J-79-related noises only added to the mystique. Would it have worked in combat? I suspect it would have functioned as well as anything else in an end-of-the-world combat scenario, but it's more likely that its primary value lay in making The Other Guys think about what they'd have to do to counter it. In any event, it was a beautiful airplane that was ahead of its time in so many ways. Thanks again to Jim Sullivan for sharing these photos with us!
So Why Can't We Have a Kit?
You may or may not remember the Army Air Force's desire to have itself a lightweight Mustang but that quest, which initially manifested itself in the never-produced P-51F and eventually did come to pass with the limited-production P-51H, resulted in a ship that was both The Best of the Mustangs and the most enigmatic of that family of fighters. A lot of people don't care for it based on its looks which are, we must admit, far from inspired, but that dumpy-looking fighter could out-perform any of its predecessors by a considerable margin and was far and away the fastest of the breed. We've run a number of photographs of the H model in previous issues of this project and would direct you to the "search" function of this blog if you'd like to renew your acquaintance with them---just go to the bottom of this page, locate the barely discernible graphic, and type in P-51H or F-51H---so we're not going to duplicate that photography today. Instead, we're going to share another image from Bobby Rocker's collection with you that graphically illustrates what could have been.
Thanks as usual for Bobby Rocker for plumbing the depths of his collection to find these unique and priceless images!
Under the Radar
Today's volume in this occasional feature covers a book that, perhaps more than any other, fits the bill for having a title and subject matter appropriate to said feature's name:
If you decide to hunt down your very own copy you might want to keep in mind that the volume is a basic directory of electronic warfare aircraft and is far from being a definitive history of the subject. That said, the information that's provided for each aircraft covered is more than adequate to the purpose and the work is, to the best of our knowledge, the only book of its kind presently available. We consider it to be a worthwhile acquisition to your library should your interests run in that direction.
A Parting Shot
Almost all of our potential Relief Tube entries for this issue were of the "I really like what you're doing" variety, for which we say thank you all very much! Unfortunately, that means there's no real purpose to running a normal Tube this time around, so how about another photo from Bobby Rocker to end out the day? How about a really unusual photo? Are any of you interested? Ok; we thought you might be...
Many thanks to Mark Aldrich and Mark Nankivil for identifying the unit, time frame, and temporary nature of that camouflage for us!
And that's all she wrote for this addition---we'll see you again in a couple of weeks. Until then, be good to your neighbor. It's the right thing to do!