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  • W.M. Tarrant

A Childhood Hobby Revisited


What do old guys do in the wintertime? Some of us revert to childhood. I built model planes as a kid and in my retirement have resumed the hobby.

In my youth, I had very few supplies, only a couple of paintbrushes and a modest assortment of paint and the glue in a tube that smelled up the entire house. The local five-and-dime store had a fair assortment of model planes and cars and I’d wander in and look longingly at them. I’d pick up a box that caught my attention and examine the artwork. Oh, the artwork on those models was inspiring: a World War I biplane with guns blazing at an enemy aircraft, a Curtiss P-40 with a snarling shark mouth painted on the nose, a massive B-52 bomber streaking through the stratosphere. I’d calculate how much more money I’d need to get one of these model kits and hope it would still be there when I could purchase it.

When I did get a kit, whether at Christmastime or one I bought myself, I’d lift the lid with its fanciful artwork and be met with an array of molded plastic parts. Each part was attached to a sprue from which it had to be removed. A sharp kitchen knife did the trick, as well as simply breaking the part free, which was my preferred method as it was quick though it did leave a massive imperfection. Oh, well, what are a few imperfections? Once the parts were removed, the gluing began. A nice thick bead of glue held those parts together, but the excess glue tended to distort the surface of the model. OK, paint would cover that. Parts were glued rapidly one after the other as if there was a time limit for getting the assembly completed. Gaps in seams, glue smears, parts not lined up quite right, but hey, the model was taking shape before my very eyes.

On to the painting. The little one-quarter ounce jars of enamel paint smelled delightful---well to me they did though my parents may have had a differing opinion. The models were molded in a single color, sometimes generally representing the true color of the plane and sometimes not. Detail, such as propellers, instrument panels, and camouflaging had to be added. From my limited selection of paint, I’d brush on a color that was as close to the actual as possible. I attempted to mix paints to produce some colors, though the results were poor to say the least. Dark green paint mixed with white to produce light green resulted in dark green paint mottled with light spots. Brushing did not produce a thin, smooth finish, but it was all I had to work with. The finished product looked nothing like that artwork that graced the box lid, but still, it was mine.

Sixty years later my technique has improved, though I’m still a long way from being a master modeler. With more finances at my disposal, I have a wide selection of paint, various glues, special tools, and an airbrush. And I learned to fill seams and apply primer before adding the color paint. Also, I’m learning how to weather the models with chipped paint and oil stains and dirt, the effects on a real airplane that is being used. A model that took only a couple of days to build as a kid now takes weeks as I try to do as good a job as my skill allows. Most importantly, the fun factor is still there.

The model plane in the photo is my latest finished project, a WWII Japanese Mitsubishi A6M, most often called the “Zero” by Allied pilots. It’s one of my better jobs of weathering and chipping and peeling of paint.


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