Friday, March 13, 2020

The Lure and Frustration of the Plastic Model Kit

WIP - '47 Chevy interior

When I was a teenager, I discovered model kits.  Although thought of as toys, they were intricate and detailed scale models of airplanes, movie monsters, war machines, ships, and cars.  These kits had to be assembled with paint, glue, and perseverance.  I did a few planes (remember the Flying Tigers?) and a monster or two (Frankenstein and the Werewolf,) and I vaguely recall trying to put together the Black Knight.  But what eventually grabbed me were the various hot rods and custom cars.  I couldn't afford a real cruiser, but for $2 I could own my own version of a '32 Ford or a '49 Mercury, painted however I wanted, with racing slicks or wide whitewalls, flames and pinstripes.  I wasn't very good at building the rides of my dreams, but I learned a bit about the mechanics of cars, the irrational idiosyncrasies of paint, and the frustration of glue that just won't work.

This phase lasted about two years, and then I moved on.  Fast forward almost sixty years.  I retired, got diagnosed with Parkinson's, finished a few crime fiction novels, and needed something to occupy my jaded and insecure mind and hands.  One lethargic day, I tagged along with my wife to Hobby Lobby.  I wandered the aisles of craft supplies, nick-knacks, and hobby paraphernalia, not absorbing much, drifting into ennui, until I stumbled across a row of plastic model kits.  I focused on a 1937 custom Ford convertible and, without much thought about what I might be getting into, I took home the kit and once again imagined building a model of something I knew I would never own.

Although it wasn't the main reason I returned to models, working with the details of these kits and relearning how to put them together has become a form of therapy for my PD, especially for my tremor and to keep my brain active. 

Modelling can be an expensive hobby.  The cars I tend to buy sell for $25 on up, while high end kits made by companies such as Tamiya go for hundreds.  Add paint, glue, various tools such as airbrushes, sprue cutters, tweezers, Exacto knives, polishing kits, magnifying glasses (absolutely necessary for someone my age,) and more, much more, and there goes the discretionary spending money of a retiree.  A kid on an allowance or earning money at the grocery store would have to really be into cars to take up this hobby.  That's one reason modelling is primarily a pastime of old guys like me -- guys who moan about the lack of youth in the hobby.

Naturally, I look for bargains at second-hand stores, antique shops, Goodwill, online, and at clearance sales held by Hobby Lobby or Michael's.  

In any event, I've put together a few more kits since that first hesitant purchase at Hobby Lobby.  I gravitate to customs from the 1930's,1940's and 1950's, lowriders, and weathered pick-up trucks. I'm not into muscle cars or American iron of the 70's and 80's, but eventually I'll try one. I've learned to use non-toxic paints and an airbrush, and how to make my own decals. I can see the difference between 1:24 and 1:25 scale. I understand the essential importance of patience and treating each sub-assembly as a separate kit that eventually will be part of the final whole. I've lost the smallest piece of an engine in my basement carpet.  I've spilled paint and glue, and came damn close to gluing my fingers together. I acknowledge that building a kit is as solitary as writing can be, although there are hobby clubs, swap meets, and contest shows if you're into that kind of thing.  Some kits go together better than others -- that's just the way it is. I know something will go wrong in each build -- I'll never build a perfect model, but that doesn't stop me from trying.  And when I get it right, I celebrate (in my head) with a dance and a shout. 

And that explains why I haven't finished my next book yet.

WIP - '47 Chevy

'39 Chevy Sedan Delivery

'37 Ford

Diorama - '40 Ford Coupe - "After the dust settled ..."

'49 Ford

'60 Chevy Apache - "Gus Corral's Old Smokey"



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest is The Golden Havana Night (Arte Público Press.)


Frank S Lechuga said...

Cool...very cool article and models!

Manuel Ramos said...

Thank you, Frank


Manuel, you have refreshed my memories of my childhood model building foray and reaffirmed my current desire to return to the craft. I'm sort of on pause but I do have a few models just waiting to be opened. Sooner than later, I'll sift through the parts trees, get painting and gluing, and with the current state of virus fear and hyper reactions I may have some extra time on my hands! Great looking models. Keep building!

Manuel Ramos said...

Thank you, Michael. Send me photos when you have something built, or in progress. Personally, I like to photograph the models almost as much as building them. Have fun.