Cement upper side main wing halves left (20) and right (21) to the upper side of the main wing. If type C version, fix gun covers (30) at points designated by arrows in the illustration. Cement canopy (32), rear mirror (31) and antenna (33) into positions indicated...." My muscles ache from the concentration of fitting small pieces of plastic together. The work is painstaking and maddening. I am 35 years old and spending an evening building a plastic model airplane, in some desperate attempt to recapture my youth. The construction of model planes and ships was an obsessive part of my childhood, and I am attempting to discover what about it was so satisfying—and so necessary.
Memory works on its own principles. In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust claims that it was madeleines, small, molded cookies, that had brought his memory, the scenes of childhood and adolescence, flooding back into his mind. The mere taste of a cookie and one of the world's great authors was off for 1,000 pages of reminiscence.
That's O.K. if you're French, but the American in search of his past needs something stronger than cookies. For me it is airplane glue. One good whiff of Testor's or DuPont or Ambroid and I'm thrown back into that phantasmagoria called American boyhood, where modeling P-51s and Chris-Craft cruisers was a linchpin of sanity and order in the emotional rumblings of those hormonal, confusing years. The fact that model building is now a sophisticated leisure activity, a booming industry and an organized hobby means nothing to a man deep in the time capsule of memory.
I started building models before Eisenhower had his first heart attack. In the early '50s there were two types of model kits, both of which were difficult to complete, or even to start, for a preteen. There were "realistic" models, mostly of ships, which had balsa-wood hulls and die-cast metal deck fittings. The block of balsa wood had to be carved and sanded until it fit the templates that came in the kits. That was difficult enough for a boy, and by the time one got to the rigging diagrams for the Cutty Sark, a tangle of threads and tweezers and ratlines calling for 300 hours of patient detail work, it was hopeless.
January 5, 1976
The other, more popular, kits were for the flying model airplanes. Assembled and fitted with tiny gasoline engines, they would scream around your head on wire tethers until you dizzily hoped they would run out of fuel. These were nonrepresentational, for the most part; it was too difficult for companies to produce something that was aerodynamically sound and also looked like a B-17. But no matter how they looked, they were complicated. One built them the way a real airplane was assembled. There were balsa-wood struts to be glued together to form a light, strong frame. This was covered with pieces of bright silk paper, lacquered heavily with "dope," fitted with an engine or a monster rubber band and flown until a puff of wind crashed it into the tree branches.
I would sit for hours over these models, T-pins stuck in my mother's best card table to hold the glued pieces together while they dried, paring away with my X-acto knife at the dotted lines on sheets of balsa wood for more pieces. Each was part of a litany of frustration. More often than not the models were never finished.
Not everyone was defeated by the maddening precision and the demand for endless patience involved in successful model building. Many boys finished these airplanes and flew them Saturdays in the park. They were the kids who would blossom into Eagle Scouts, class presidents and surgeons. The rest of us hacked away and smeared glue, dreaming of better things.
As a kid I hung around my local hobby shop, a dirty, gloomy store full of the raw materials of the hobbyist: plastic "gymp" for braiding whistle lanyards and bracelets, sheets of copper that could be ballpeened into lumpy wall hangings, wallet kits, crystal sets and feathers to make Indian headdresses. At the back of the store were the model kits, sheets of balsa wood, racks of tiny paint jars, fuel cans and a back-room testing stand for the small engines that would belch blue smoke and scream like neurotic bees when started. Pete, the owner, claimed he'd ruined his stomach drinking 25 Cokes a day while refueling bombers in England during the war. Now he built models, dispensed advice and was generally surly to customers who knew nothing about the world of models.
The store did a brisk business in one item other than model kits—Jetex fuse. There was a small "jet" engine for model kits, a metal pod holding a primitive solid fuel that had to be ignited by a special fuse. Jetex fuse was a mainstay of adolescent pranksterism: we'd tape together the cardboard cores of toilet-paper rolls, wrap them in black electrician's tape to resemble dynamite, stick in a Jetex fuse, light it and toss it into the imaginary Deadwood banks of our cowboy games. The fuse burned beautifully and noisily. Then you went KA-ROOM and stormed the safe.
Around 1952 a company called Strombecker put out a kit of a DC-3, the standard passenger plane of the era, in preshaped, machined pine. My ship had come in. The parts were perfectly formed; they just needed a touch of sandpaper to smooth them out. Assembly was relatively easy, a quick job with the aluminum paint, slap on the decals and presto!—something that actually resembled a DC-3! It could sit there on your desk, next to the math homework, and not seem hopelessly amateurish.
It wasn't long before styrene became popular in models. Soon Revell, Monogram, Aurora and other U.S. model companies were producing all-plastic kits. Ships, tanks, planes and cars came out with dizzying speed.
These injection-molded, polystyrene models were real. Not realistic. You could see the rivets in the armor plate, the planking on the deck. And you didn't have to be Michelangelo standing before your blank cube of balsa wood to create something passable. There were no gasoline engines to slice your fingers, no careful cutting and sanding, no books on aerodynamics involved. Any fool with a tube of cement, some rubber bands and moderate patience could build a P-51 Mustang fighter.
We learned, however, that the plastic models contained their own riddles. Unlike the traditional, funky, tart-smelling glue used on wooden models, the cement for styrene was deadly. Not the sniffing of it—that was for the next generation of pubescent thrill seekers—but its effect on plastic. Model kits then, as today, came with the ship's hull or plane's fuselage in halves. Pegs and holes guided the pieces together, and if the kit wasn't warped, and if you were lucky, they fitted. You smeared glue "sparingly" on the surfaces, as the directions cautioned, and slapped the halves together. Then the glue oozed out onto the surface of the model, ruining it.
Another problem, and one of the more intense, was painting. Plastic models are very smooth and the enamel very runny. With masking tape and careful brush strokes it was almost possible to get a crisp, accurate waterline on a ship model, the rust red meeting the battleship gray in some semblance of order. But when one peeled off the masking tape there would invariably be revealed one place where the tape had bubbled, and the model would look as if a tiny sailor hanging over the side with a gray paintbrush had fallen from the scaffolding, dragging his brush all the way down. Painting propeller tips, miniature wheels or hairlines on tiny pilots was agony. I remember once painting the boots of a jeep driver and noticing a strange taste in my mouth. It was blood. In adolescent concentration, I had bitten my tongue.
When models were truly too far gone with weird tumors of glue, FBI-quality thumbprints on the bombardier's canopy and the decals upside down, we would gather in a vacant lot with our rejects, pump the cockpits full of glue, set the planes afire and hurl them through the air, yelling "GAAAHH! ARRRGH!" as imaginary burning air crews bailed out over the Channel. We stood in the thick, black smoke of the fuming plastic—small warriors who had survived a ditching at sea or were ready to fight our way out of the Burma jungles.
The secret of models then was imagination, and the keys to imagination were the clear plastic parts: canopies, portholes, windshields. That is where the men would be: the P-38 pilot under his canopy, the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise behind the porthole. These windows were the two-way mirrors of modeling. The thrill was to imagine oneself at the controls. It was you on the bridge, feeling the carrier pitch; you pressed back in the seat as the Mustang lifted from the runway. No matter how often a boy stared at his models, the pure, acetylene fantasy was that the canopy was no longer a tiny piece of styrene but WW II Perspex, and he looked out not at the banal tranquillity of a boy's room on a spring evening but at the night sky, alive with flak, over Berlin, or at the moonlight shimmering on Leyte Gulf. "That's Admiral Tommy Schoolbooks to you, sailor. Carry on."
The good models that we built gathered dust on the shelves next to high school textbooks when they accumulated. The kits filled the gap between Ivanhoe and television. The little vehicles were the steeds on which we tilted at Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini. They were instruments that allowed us to play out the fantasies of the Korean War. They mattered deeply.
And then came girls. And a driver's license. And the models went to the attic. Our lives had become full-scale, and miniaturization was a childish compulsion.
I had forgotten models for 15 years, until, one day recently, while cruising the local discount department store, scouting bargains on Phillips head screws, caramel corn and sailboats, I stopped at the kits counter and impulsively bought a couple. It was a deviously nostalgic thing to do, like disguising one's Buddy Holly records in Rolling Stones' jackets. I pretended to the check-out girl that I had a 12-year-old son (actually a 4-year-old daughter), and that old dad was going to show him the ropes of modeling. She studied my check extra hard and snapped her gum in Morse code.
The models in the store were of a wider variety than I remembered. There were the standard Visible Man kits, with little organs and structures to paint. And skulls that glow in the dark. But there were new ones, also, of the Star Trek crew and Planet of the Apes personnel and tableau models entitled "Giant Tarantula Eats City," "Pterodactyls Battle To Death!" These were a bit kinky for my pedestrian tastes, so I started off with a modest snap-together kit that required no glue and contained only 10 to 15 parts. It was called "Cro-Magnon Woman (Homo sapiens)." The box art, always half the kick in modeling, showed a woman dressed in a revealing mastodon skin throwing up her arms in terror at a fanged, two-headed snake in a dead tree. She was very smooth for a Cro-Magnon woman, and rather resembled Veronica of Archie comics. In the background shaggy men hunched in a cave mouth gnawing raw meat and whacking the earth with clubs, apparently out of boredom. A volcano erupted in the distance, and two dinosaurs bled in combat.
When I had all the pieces laid out, the problems of modeling returned in a rush. First of all, there were two sets of arms and legs. You could make a Cro-Magnon Veronica manifesting different reactions to the snake: scared witless or apoplectic. I went for the extreme. The parts snapped together easily enough, but then there was the question of painting. Veronica was an even coffee color. How does one pick a color scheme for prehistory? Also, Veronica wouldn't stand up on the plastic base that came with the kit. The snake stuck in the dead tree looked fine, so I placed Veronica lying down, in a dead faint. I thought it was quite creative until my daughter happened by and said, "Thanks for the doll, Dad," and wandered off with Cro-Magnon woman, leaving me with the two-headed snake. So much for realism in model kits.
Another whole new area of modeling had developed since I built ships as a boy: cars. The discount and hobby stores are lined with model auto kits. Of these, racing cars are the most detailed and the most exciting. There is Bobby Allison's Malibu Chevy, with a tiny Bobby Allison at the wheel of the Grand National car, which, like the original vehicle, can be covered with tiny decals listing the sponsor's products: Hurst shifters, DieHard batteries and Coca-Cola, including an "It's the real thing" paste-on. Then there is R. Penske's Indy special, which, with proper painting and choice of decals, can be built as either a "Norton Spirit" or the "Sunoco Dx." And Roger DeCoster's Suzuki motocross motorcycle. This comes minus Roger, so you must pretend that he is off somewhere giving an interview or that he is hospitalized.
I also found that, along with prehistory kits, TV series and fantastic tableaux with giant spiders, there are models of real animals. If you believe in sympathetic magic, as did Cro-Magnon man, who drew pictures of the deer he hoped to kill on his cave walls, you might want to get a white-tailed deer kit. It comes complete with a red squirrel perched on its back. You can also buy a model kit of a flintlock pistol and go "boom" at the tiny buck.
With all this available, I refused to give up after the failure of the Cro-Magnon woman, and next tried one of the classic plastic model kits, a Spitfire Mk. 5, in¼8 scale. The Spitfire, one of the great fighters of WW II, brought back memories: Their Finest Hour, So Much Owed By So Many to So Few, Ack-Ack Over the Channel, leather flight jackets with woolly collars.
Only six inches long, the kit contained maybe 50 parts. The usual problems reared their heads. Glue bubbled from the seams, decals still needed the hand of Marcus Welby, M.D. to be affixed correctly and painting had moved to a new order of reality, difficult to fathom. The instruction sheet showed three versions of camouflage, for different years and squadrons of R.A.F. home-based Spitfires. There were alternative gun placements, antennae and accessories, depending on which version you intended. The kit purported to be an exact replica of a Spitfire MKVB No. 74 Tiger Squadron, R.A.F., as the plane appeared in 1941.
The directions said that the plane was flown by Adolph G. (Sailor) Malan, Group Captain, who shot down 32 planes in his stint with the R.A.F. Captain Malan was an Afrikaner from Wellington, South Africa. As a kid, when I'd built a Spitfire, I had to be Tyrone Power in A Yank in the R.A.F. But no longer would I have to pretend to be a mere actor. Now I could be Captain Adolph G. Malan in 1941. "Start your engines. Cheerio!"
A final stunning blow to my quaint ideas of the model scene was the name of the manufacturer of this kit: the Fujimi Mokei Co., Ltd., Shizuoka, Japan. Modeling had gone international, and the fact that a former enemy put out models of a British plane seemed to bother no one.
The last kit I attempted was from Monogram, an established American firm. The model was of a P-61. Made by Northrop near the end of WW II, it was commonly known as the Black Widow. Painted black and flying at night, the heavily armed fighter took over the South Pacific skies; as a daytime fighter it was far less effective. As with the Spitfire kit, the historical information accompanying the Black Widow was minutely detailed. I learned, for instance, that there was a change of eight inches in length between the "A" and "B" versions of the aircraft. And this particular P-61 had been piloted by Major Carroll C. Smith of the 418th Night Fighter Squadron. I even learned that on the night of Dec. 29, 1944 Major Smith and his radar operator, Lieut. Phillip Porter, shot down four Japanese planes, a record. The plane, for obvious reasons, was dubbed "Time's A' Wastin'," and had a logo of a Snuffy Smith-type figure scurrying toward home.
The kit was another masterpiece of detail. There were, of course, various instructions for the "A" and "B" versions: there were six separate canopies of clear styrene; the flaps could be positioned either up or down and the cockpit interiors were lavishly detailed with tiny altimeters, levers and wheels. Had I still been 13, I probably would not have been able to bear the detail. I would have gone quietly out of my mind, entering some total fantasy from which I never would have returned.
I had no hope of completing the plane, but examining the parts and reading the instructions were almost worth the $6 I paid for the kit. The interior of the P-61 wasn't to be painted a yellowish white, but "zinc chromate." The decals had invasion stripes and tiny Japanese flags for the seven "kills" of Major Smith, and writing so tiny you needed a magnifying glass to read "life raft inside panel," "caution—remove service wires before removing radar cone" and "first-aid kit inside door."
The kit also contained a brochure entitled Tips on Building Dioramas. What I at first mistook to be a photograph of an operational P-61 turned out to be a diorama. It was so realistic it made the model spaceships in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey seem like clumsy toys.
The scene represented was "an olive drab and gray P-61 of the 6th Night Fighter Squadron operating off Saipan in October 1944." Was that the 11th or 12th? Nothing could surprise me now, I thought. The diorama was on a plywood base about 20 inches square. The plane was stripped down for service and repair. The leading edges of the wings were almost bare of paint, the steel showing through where the coral sand from the prop wash had scoured the surface. The upper surfaces of the plane were bleached from the Pacific sun, exhaust ducts made dirty smears on the engines, oil spills stained the sand. There were lifelike palm trees, a disassembled propeller lying on a tarpaulin, drums of fuel, an engine hanging from a portable block hoist, a table set up of planks on fuel drums, where machine guns were being cleaned with tools no bigger than an eyelash.
And, of course, there were men. Perhaps three inches tall, the crew was actually working on the plane. This had gone beyond "lifelike" or "gee, isn't that neat?" This was the stuff of nightmares—miniaturized history. A static world war on a piece of plywood. One sunburned crewman lifted a machine gun onto the oil-stained table and, if you looked very closely, you could see that he had a five o'clock shadow. ("Better shave that, soldier.") And if you looked even more closely, the guy was wearing a prewar Chicago Cubs baseball cap! I locked the doors and wondered if the guy was still alive, a car salesman somewhere in Peoria or Cicero. Did he know that a tiny piece of styrene had been molded and painted and "superdetailed" (the brochure's word) into a miniature likeness of himself?
The brochure was full of tips on building dioramas. You use Liquitex gray acrylic paint in a glue plunger to make separational lines in the concrete runway, for instance. In the wet sand and pebbles of the turf, underlaid with Cell-u-clay, you make footprints and tire tracks and use unraveled hemp rope colored with green food dye for grass. You make camouflage nets from cheesecloth, tarpaulins from wet facial tissue painted with thinned white glue. Bullet and shell holes are done with the tip of a hot knife—although why not build tiny guns and bullets and do it for real?
There were many cautions for the burgeoning dioramist "Tanks get filthy, airplanes merely dirty." Figures of men required that the modeler become a tiny Dr. Frankenstein: "...figures could be cut apart at the waist and swapped. The same could be done with arms, legs and heads." All this surgery was to get certain poses out of the small figures. Dioramists borrow parts from other model kits, use HO scale railroad model equipment and build ammo boxes, water cans and fire extinguishers from bits of sheet plastic, cardboard and that now ancient standby—balsa wood.
This kind of modeling resembled what I had done as a boy as much as a 1950 professional football team resembled the contestants in last year's Super Bowl. How could one be sure it was still a hobby and not the life work of a sect of particularly tiny monks somewhere on a mountain-top? To check out the state of the pastime—or religion or art—that modeling had become, I visited one of the new, hardcore modeling stores. Called the Squadron Shop, the establishment in Syosset, N.Y. bore little resemblance to the hobby huts of my boyhood. The place was new, clean, well lit and was floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall models. It was a Saturday morning and model builders had gathered to drink free coffee, show off their latest productions and talk shop.
They were not kids. Mostly men in their 30s and 40s, they spanned the spectrum of the middle class. There would be no way for a policeman to tell, if one of these guys were captured on the street, that he'd just painted a German Heinkel bomber. Normal-looking grown men, they walked around the shop, delicately holding small ships and tanks and planes, browsing through the racks of models and paraphernalia and tools.
And there was enough to browse through—1,000 models on the racks. All of them plastic, all of them static, non-flying, non-operating kits. There was not a gasoline engine to be seen, and no "hobby" stuff, either. This was rolled-up-sleeves modeling.
The kits ranged in size from a 1/72 scale B-52 with a wingspan of 30 inches to a 1/72 scale T-34 Russian tank, 2½ inches long. Ninety percent were military vehicles, most of WW II vintage. But the standard, mass-produced kits were only a part of the whole scene. There were many to help the dioramist convert his $1.98 kit into a 2,000-hour project. Kits with titles like: Two Cottages Reduced to Ruins, Jerry Cans & Oil Drums, 1936-45. Barbed & Concertina Wire.
Model paints had bloomed into an extravaganza of military earth hues, arranged not by color but by nation, war and theater of operation: "Khaki, British, North Africa, 1940." There were thick volumes of decal sheets in a variety of scales and "conversion kits" of inexpensive vacuum-formed plastic parts to transform the MIG-19A to a "B" version. There were drills from Sweden, two-hair brushes to paint the five o'clock shadows on tiny sergeants, odd files for small places and a substantial library of periodicals and books covering everything from German paratrooper camouflage patterns in Holland, 1943, to the hues of hat plumage on Napoleonic uniforms.
And if one tired of models, there were war games. Not only the usual "Battle of the Bulge" and "Gettysburg" variety, but also "Year of the Rat—Vietnam, Spring, 1972" and "Sinai—The 1956, '67 and '73 Desert Wars." Three wars for the price of one, though brief. There were games based on battles so obscure they have already slipped through the fingers of history.
As I pondered a kit containing "figures running, Korea," a stalwart, clean-cut man asked the cashier, "Where's the latrine?" The military ambience of the place was overpowering. When I was a boy, most models had been of military subjects. But whereas we were boys looking for heroic vehicles some five years after a major war, these were grown men, most of them in their middle 30s—too young by any standards to have been in WW II—walking around 30 years after the fact in a shop that contained more technical information and outdated strategic secrets than the Department of War in 1944.
Bruce Culver is 34, a medical illustrator at a Brooklyn hospital. By day Bruce is a mild-mannered member of the white-collar army of commuters, but on evenings and weekends he becomes a technical expert on the engineering and performance of German armor, 1936-45. He knows everything about Dr. Porsche, creator of the dreaded Panzer tank—and the prototypical Volkswagen—and can tell you things about the subject Hitler didn't know. Bruce got into modeling seven years ago, and it became more than a hobby. "Serious modeling, the super-detailing and diorama stuff, got going about 1968," he says. "It made the slapping together of pieces of plastic into an art form and attracted a lot of older guys. But what it has really done is bring back a concern for history. The WW II vets are aging now, and they remember only the mellow experiences, the camaraderie of the war. It's been up to modelers to preserve the accuracy of the whole period, both human and mechanistic."
In addition to modeling, Bruce writes reviews in a variety of modeling magazines for a growing readership of enthusiasts, and even researches armored vehicles for model manufacturers for a healthy commission. He explains some of the psychological reasons behind superrealism in model building: "You can take a Tamiya kit of a Sherman tank, for instance, paint it painstakingly, and have a very nice-looking model. I can enjoy looking at a model like that. It takes a few years to do it well, and then you're bored. You're like a robot. A new kit comes out, they plug you in and you build it.
"The fascinating part is history. You know, most schools stop teaching it at WW I. Most kids don't know anything about WW II. A Jewish kid in our neighborhood asked me if Hitler was a good guy or a bad guy. Modelers fill the gap.
"Take that Sherman tank. In action in the war it would be covered with dirt and caked mud, dented by small-arms fire, a fender ripped off against a tree, a missing machine gun. Maybe a replacement black-out lamp would be a darker green than the weathered hull of the tank.
"And the figures. A German tank crewman fighting in North Africa, for instance. His shirt would be bleached out more than his shorts from repeated washings, he might be carrying a British pistol from the Battle of Tobruk. Would he wear the Iron Cross? Dioramas are where it's at for the serious guys. Because you've got to be accurate. I'm building a Sherman tank now. On my vacation I'll go to the National Archives in Washington. I'll probably spend a week hunting down the training and operational manuals of the version of the Sherman I'm building. I want to reconstruct the complete interior. Also, I'll go to the war museum at Aberdeen, to look at actual Shermans. I'll take measurements and 200 or so photos. I've done it before."
If it is difficult to imagine a grown man hunting through the National Archives for a photo of a tank dashboard to put into a two-inch model, it is even more difficult to imagine what the modelers imagine. There is a fictional modeler, one Bruce Beamish, who is reputed to have obtained spectrographical analyses of German paint for his models.
The kit manufacturers cannot keep up with the accuracy demanded by their customers, and modelers wish they would not try. Enthusiasts actually want less detail in kits, because it gives them a special edge to make up from scratch the superdetails. But the hardcore guys do want basic accuracy. "Some companies, many of the Japanese ones, take measurements from American tanks and planes that are in Japan, those that were left after the occupation, or were captured during the war," says Bruce. "Many are damaged, so that when they photograph and measure, it's not a representative vehicle they're working from. Often they'll put antennae on the wrong side, or use an ambulance interior for a three-quarter-ton truck."
Bruce is asked by another modeler in the Squadron Shop how to get a realistic rust effect on tank treads. He patiently explains that operational tanks didn't have rust on the treads, that in fact it was a court-martial offense in the German army to let the treads rust. But the modeler won't be put off. "I'm doing a model of a Panzer in Dresden two months after the war is over," he says. "Now how do I mix the paint for rust?"
In his office at the back of the store, owner Terry Mulqueen, a soft-spoken, 34-year-old Anglo-Irishman from London, loads a pipe and stays clear of these intense discussions. He stoically reflects on modeling and its enthusiasts from the vantage point of eight years in the business. "It's a good hobby," he says, "and it takes such a number of hours to assemble and paint one kit the way serious guys go at it now, with body filler and airbrush, that it is inexpensive. It might take an adult modeler several months to assemble, modify and paint one kit. The dioramists work several months on a $2.89 kit.
"If you wanted to start out today with every conceivable tool for the job—an airbrush with compressor, electric drills and jeweler's tools—it would only cost $120. That's less than you pay for golf clubs, and you don't have to tip a caddie or join a country club, either. All you need is a table in the basement, a good lamp and you're in business."
Mulqueen estimates that there are tens of millions of model kits produced in the U.S., Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy. His own store on Long Island sells more than 20,000 kits a year, but Mulqueen was startled by one recent industry statistic. "We found that only about 70% of the kits sold were ever assembled. I guess it's because many kits are bought as gifts, and kids buy kits that are over their heads."
A further reason for the unfinished 30% is that modeling has become such an industry, and such a nostalgic pastime, that there are obsessive kit collectors who buy and save them to sell or trade later, like baseball cards. "We have many customers who buy up each new model as it comes out," marvels Mulqueen, "and maybe that's the best thing to do, financially. An old Strombecker DC-3 in the original box brings $20 at a modelers' convention.
"Over half my customers are past 28," he says. "It really matters to a lot of guys; outside their jobs, it's their whole life." (At least one enthusiast has managed to avoid the 9-to-5 drill altogether. Most of the models on these pages were done by Sheperd Paine, a professional free-lance miniature artist who is also co-owner of the company that produces the single figures shown.) Mulqueen thinks that the whole WW II thrust of modeling is explainable in non-military terms. "After WW II the vets were looking for models to commemorate their ship or plane or truck or whatever, and it was they who created the demand. The kits were flowing then. And WW II was the last clear-cut war in terms of right and wrong. Korea and Vietnam are still emotional events, so the younger adults stuck with WW II. Now it's an exercise in pure history for these guys."
There are models from later wars. Among those from Vietnam are helicopters, riverboats and planes, but as Bruce Culver points out, "In WW II a vehicle was an honest, efficient piece of equipment. Then, a bomber like the B-29 that dropped the A-bomb needed the right weather, needed to see the target. Now there are heat-seeking missiles fired from miles away, a bomber costs $14 million and has a number, not a personal name like Enola Cay. The personality, the individuality is gone, and war has become another aspect of computerized gaming. Who wants to model that?"
And how will modelers handle the events of the '60s and '70s? Will there be tiny dioramas of Nixon helicoptering from the White House lawn, with modelers arguing over the shoulder-braid color of the Marine guard? Will there be a miniature Lee Harvey Oswald in a miniature Texas Book Depository? Our wars have shifted to the streets and the Supreme Court and finally to economic graphs of unemployment. Maybe a diorama of a city in default?
The untried men who command their in and out baskets each day at the office drive home through traffic jams, eat supper and rush to the basement to command the 8th Air Force. They were never heroes. The most heroic thing left for the majority of us to do is dispute the electric bill.
But down there on the workbench we can become Rommel, Patton, Eisenhower in 1/72 scale. We can get all of Omaha Beach on the Ping-Pong table, all of the Pacific theater in the bathtub. Frustrated imagination and a hazy history move together like two halves of a fuselage to be glued. And perhaps we need such pastimes. If we accept the fact that it's all right for a kid to think he's a Yank in the R.A.F., it may well be that it is just as important when we're 34 or 54. Maybe it will hold us together.
And speaking of adhesion, glue has also changed. It's now called Permabond, an offshoot of a powerful surgical adhesive. You dry-fit the parts of a model together, use one drop of the stuff every inch or so and, by capillary action, it runs in the cracks, permanently cementing the pieces in 10 seconds, with nothing showing. Like nostalgia, it's dangerous, and must be handled with care, DANGER! warns the label. CAN CAUSE SEVERE EYE INJURY. INSTANTLY BONDS SKIN. And memories, too.