Who Came First?
The year was 1969, or at least I think it was, and I was standing behind the counter at Dibble's Arts and Hobbies in San Antonio one dismal, rainy afternoon, when I heard a rumbling from the parking spaces in front of the door. The sound was that of an American V-8 engine, and a healthy one at that, but the only car in our lot was an old Jaguar XK-150 drop-head coupe that had just pulled up. A tall, thin guy with glasses, probably about my age, got out and came into the store and introduced himself, which is how I came to meet Al Orvedahl, a college student who had only recently moved into San Antonio to go to school. (That V-8 rumble had well and truly come from his Jaguar; he'd decided shortly after purchasing the car that it lacked performance, so he shoe-horned a Pontiac 389 into its engine bay and began a career surprising Corvette Stingrays, or at least he was doing that when the car wasn't overheating due to the retention of that itty-bitty Jaguar radiator, but that's a story for another day.)
The next surprise came a couple of months later, when he brought in a completed 1/32nd scale Revell F4F-4 he'd been working on for the past several months. The kit was an absolute revelation and featured impeccable bodywork, a paint job that was well above average, and decals that looked as though they'd been painted on, but those things weren't the cause for our amazement; that came from the details he'd added to the model.
Take the cockpit, for example. Al had gone in and added all of the details Revell had missed when they tooled the kit, scratch-building them from sheet styrene and stretched sprue, and he'd manufactured a set of lap belts for the seat he'd made. We take those things for granted nowadays, except that nowadays most people use resin or photo-etch instead of hand-crafted styrene, but almost no one was doing it in 1969.
Then there were the seams where the wings and horizontal stabilizers joined the fuselage, which were immaculate, with no lost rivet detail. It turns out Al had used white glue to fill those seams, wiping away the excess to allow a perfectly filled joint. That's also a common trick these days, but it wasn't back then. He'd used that white glue to make the insulators on the antenna wires he'd stretched from sprue as well---other people were using stretched sprue back then, including me, but nobody was making insulators out of white glue at that time, at least not that I was aware of.
Al also discovered Hasbro Light-Brite pegs and their usefulness for making colored lenses and transparencies for models, and other things as well, and the list went on and on.
Some of you have been using those tricks for decades, I know. I've been using them too, as well as writing about them, or at least I was as soon as I picked them up from Al. Since that time, I've seen all of those tips, and many others from "The Day", periodically repeated as "new" techniques in various magazines and internet "publications" and forums. I even ran the Hasbro lens idea in an early edition of the original Replica in Scale. I learned several of those tricks from Al, and I'm reasonably certain he picked them up from somebody else, which takes us to today's Lesson in Humility.
There are plenty of new ideas and techniques out there in The Magic Land of Modeling in which we dwell, but in actuality most of them had their origins back in the 60s and 70s, way back when our hobby was really beginning to take off (no pun intended!). Those ideas and techniques have been passed down, perpetuated, and improved upon for decades, and precious few of them are truly new. The origins of most of them are lost in the polystyrene mists of time, which leads to their periodic rediscovery and transmission as new ideas and techniques.
There's nothing wrong with any of that, of course. The important thing is that we learn, and by learning become better at what we do within the hobby. Technology (laser printing, for example) is rapidly passing by certain of those old techniques and rendering them obsolescent, but even that is creating its own mythos of who came first. At the end of the day we all learned from somebody, and there's considerable validity to that old notion that everything old is new again. I think somebody even wrote a song about it!
Let's go build a model, then, and maybe give a thought to those old guys who figured things out for us so we wouldn't have to. They're the reason we can do some of the things we do and, for the most part, we don't know who they really were with any degree of certainty. That's worth thinking about, at least in my world!
And the Beat goes on...
An Apology to Jules
Bringuier, that is. As you all surely remember, Jules Bringuier was the guy responsible for Classic Airframes and the wonderful and eclectic range of kits that fabled company brought to us only a few short years ago. Long on imagination and daring, the company was, at the end of the day, a purveyor of short-run kits of unusual subjects, which is another way of saying that precious few of their offerings were easy to build, particularly for those new to the hobby or possessed of limited skill sets. The gorgeous box art on each and every one of those kits, coupled with that aforementioned eclectic subject matter, seduced more than one modeler into attempting one of their kits, and those attempts often resulted in an indifferent result or even outright failure. Classic Airframes kits were a tough date, pure and simple.
With that as a largely unnecessary introduction, let's you and I go back to 2004 or so. That year was one in which my own personal world was being rocked by fractuousity of a familial nature, as it were, and I desperately needed something to take my mind off the tragedies of the moment. That particular Something came to me one dismal Saturday afternoon during a visit to the now long-defunct but fondly remembered Village Hobbies in Austin, where I spied a Classic Airframes P-6E sitting forlornly on the shelf. I've always had a thing for that prettiest of the Curtiss Hawk family and plastic is plastic, right?, so I grabbed it and almost ran to the counter to pay for the thing and get it back to the house so I could begin work. Things were looking up!
All of Classic's kits were of the mixed media variety, a game I'd never played before, and that P-6E was a gentle introduction to the genre for me. Some of the "normal" styrene parts were a little bit on the clunky side, but any plastic model ends up being the sum of its parts and the parts I was examining looked perfectly usable, so I dove in. There were some burps and hiccups along the way but nothing insurmountable, and in a few short days I had a completed airframe that required only the addition of the upper wing before it could be deemed Finished.
My own personal modeling karma has always included a big chunk of good luck where things with multiple wings were concerned, and I'd never had an issue getting a biplane of any sort together in a tidy and workmanlike manner. True, you have to be careful during assembly, and pre-planning doesn't hurt either, but at they end of the day they're generally an easy thing to build. Generally.
This one, however, was one of those rare biplane kits that fought back, and successful completion wasn't in the stars for that project. Try as I might, I just couldn't finagle that accursed upper wing into the correct position---it simply wouldn't go on there properly! At that point in the festivities I decided to consult the collective wisdom of the entity known collectively as The Internet, where I found a literal plethora of information from the two or three people who had resolved the strut issue by trimming said components so I gave that a shot too, which provided me with yet another opportunity to duplicate my previous failure at attaching that darned wing to the airplane, which I proceeded to do. Duplicate my previous failure, I mean. Phooey!
There was a temptation to throw the kit into the trash at that point but I didn't do it; instead, I put everything back in the box and kept that P-6E in storage for the advent of a better day, the precursor of which came at a local model show a couple of years ago when I ran into an old friend of mine, Richard Ng, who was attending that very same show and offered to sell me a couple of new-in-the-box Classic Airframes P-6Es on the cheap. It was an opportunity of sorts, or maybe even an omen, and who was I to say no? What harm could it do, right?
Anyway, and to stop rambling and more-or-less get to the point, I decided to resurrect the project a couple of weeks ago and had the good sense to photograph the festivities along the way, almost a first for me! What follows is how things shook out:
There's a little more to do before we can call the project done, of course. There's rigging to be done, and three radio antenna masts plus antenna to be added, and then the prop and a tiny bit of paint touch-up here and there, but the model is far enough along to prove the point. A great many modelers of my own personal acquaintance, including some exceptionally talented ones, have long been of the opinion that the Classic Airframes biplane kits were poorly designed and virtually unbuildable. I thought that too, and had the notion drummed rather forcefully into my head back in 2004 when I first began the model you see before you. My problem then was simple---I thought I knew better than the kit designer did when it came time to mount that upper wing, and in consequence I tried to rush the assembly of that most critical of biplane components. The end result was a badly built, and presumably unbuildable, model airplane that sat in its box, partially assembled, for some 13 years before I finally decided to give it another try.
The model isn't finished yet, although it soon will be, but the simple act of following directions and building slowly turned the trick and produced a pretty good looking model airplane for my collection. That brings us back to that whole apology thing, because Jules Bringuier had it figured out way back then and it turns out his kits weren't the problem, or at the very least this one wasn't. Nossir, in this instance the problem was me, pure and simple. A new day, and a new attitude, produced a result far better than the one originally achieved. That unbuildable kit was entirely buildable right from the box, just as its designer had intended. Yes; Classic Airframes kits can be a handful to work with and it still seems as though every one of them presents its own unique set of challenges to the modeler, but some fine model airplanes have been produced from those kits over the years. For that we owe Mr. Bringuier a hearty thank you, albeit a somewhat tardy one, for being willing to produce kits that no one else would have ever touched. Classic Airframes was obviously a labor of love, and I for one am grateful that he was willing to invest his time and treasure in that dream.
It ain't what you do;
It's how you do it!
The J Geils Band said that a very long time ago and it could be the theme song for this, or any other, short-run kit, which takes us right up there into The Wonderful World of Patience and Forethought.
I shall serve no model airplane before its time...
A Movie You HAVE to Watch!
Norman Camou spends a lot of time searching out historical aviation pieces on YouTube and the like, and sent this to us yesterday---a home movie shot in New Guinea back in The Bad Old Days! It's a personal document of sorts so there are things in there other than airplanes, but there are airplanes to be seen! It's a little over half an hour in length so get comfortable and prepare to be amazed!
Many thanks to Norman for sending this treasure to us!
And in late-breaking news: Norman found and has sent along yet another version of the movie. It's the same film and the exact same length but is from YouTube and is of much better quality than the first one. We've left the original link up there too, as a just in case. Thanks again to Norman for sending along this remarkable film!
The Relief Tube
In last issue's New Guinea Blues article I mis-captioned a photograph of a crashed P-38 that was actually sitting on a runway in the Solomons and not on a beach in New Guinea as stated. The error was mine and mine alone and has been corrected---thanks to Bobby Rocker for noticing it and keeping me honest!
And Now For a Special Message
This issue is late. There's nothing new there, of course---it would be entirely appropriate to re-name the project Late r Us at times---but the project has had to take a back seat to some recent and significant issues that have, gratefully, been resolved, and is very very late in consequence. Nothing terrible has occurred and there's certainly nothing to for any of our readership be concerned about, but issues of a time-stealing nature conspired to put any sort of schedule right down the old plumbing, a Defecation Happens sort of thing if you get our meaning.
Anyway, our next issue should be a good one: There are Grumman Guardians in the wind, along with post-War Helldivers, and the photography shared with us on both aircraft is remarkable, but it's going to take a little time to finish up watermarking and captioning the photos (thanks again, Picture Pirates!) and we wanted to get something in print in the meantime so you'd know we were still alive and kicking!
Please accept our sincere apologies and maybe we'll be able to get something else published in a couple of weeks.
Until then, be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon!