Model Citizen

As far as I know, kids don’t build plastic model kits anymore. In the early sixties when I grew up, they were hugely popular. Models were available almost anywhere toys were sold- drug stores, hobby shops, five and dimes, even grocery stores. If you attended a boy’s birthday party in 1963, you were likely to see several model kits cheerfully received.

Even my older brother (who seemed to me devoid of creative DNA) was a capable model builder and assembled a pair of Austin Healy 3000s. He wasn’t interested in embellishment however, so they received no paint or decals. Me? I couldn’t accept the tires being the same hue as the fenders. Applying paint and decals was the best part!

Hawk released their Weird-Ohs kits (Digger, Davey and Daddy) in ’63 and when we saw them, we had to have ‘em! Artist Bill Campbell (clearly inspired by Big Daddy Roth) produced some truly unbelievable box art. I slammed together Digger in his bucket-T and couldn’t goop on the pigment fast enough. The result was always a disappointment but I was hooked. MODEL PAINTS! Didn’t you love those little quarter ounce bottles? They had a load of ‘em wherever models were sold. The Weird-Ohs were right up our alley and I procured “Freddy Flameout” and several of the “Silly Surfers” when they became available.

The first realistic car model I remember attempting was a ’69 Barracuda. This bad boy deserved special treatment so I stepped up and purchased one of those slightly larger glass jars of metallic bronze paint. I was in such a hurry to get to the finish in fact, that I glued the hood shut so I didn’t have to mess with an engine build. Naturally I didn’t own a decent brush and very likely didn’t possess any thinner but I was undeterred. I proceeded to apply numerous coats of thick enamel hoping my brush strokes would magically disappear on their own (they didn’t). A week later when my ’Cuda was dry enough to touch, it still looked like crap. Application of decals was my last resort but there simply weren’t enough decals on the sheet to disguise my horrific paint job. Defeated, the Barracuda took its rightful place in the garbage can and I took a hiatus from model building.

Before long, an older brother (or perhaps it was “Mike” down the street) presented me with a solution: rattle cans. Custom colors were expensive but almost any can of spray paint would do. Whether dad bought it to touch up a fender or mom purchased it for a craft project, it would certainly go on smoother than brush paint. I remember Mike donating a “Little Red Wagon” drag truck for me to experiment on and the result was stunning. I shot it flat black then added a canary yellow spatter effect! I was so proud of the result that I entered it in a model contest- which I lost. The judges sited shoddy workmanship but I’m convinced that they agreed my paint job was awesome! The good news was that I was back!

Mike and I both entered the next model contest. He built a cam-backed dune buggy called “a Shelako GT” and I assembled a Porsche 904 racer. I think we pooled our allowance money for a rattle can of Appliance White paint. We didn’t win that competition either but the Porsche received an Honorable Mention (mostly thanks to Mike’s tutelage). Armed with a little encouragement I was ready to tackle something more challenging. I requested an eighth scale trike motorcycle model called “the King Chopper” for Christmas. It was the first model I ever assembled with a ton of detail and I was pleased with the finished product. I got to display it on one of my mom’s knick knack shelves in our family room (for about a week!) I believe that was the final build of my childhood.

If my model building experience had ended with the Barracuda fiasco, I probably wouldn’t have ventured back into it once I retired. I have discovered that I am a much better model builder now than I was in my youth. For one thing I now have patience which I didn’t possess as a child, allowing glue and paint sufficient time to cure. For another I have a little expendable income, affording me quality supplies like good brushes and plenty of paint thinner. Lastly, the paint they put in rattle cans these days is much improved. If you can follow directions, you can lay down a paint job as good as Earl Scheib.

If you built models back in the day, I encourage you to try it again. For me it is as much fun now as it ever was. If you‘ve never tried it, for whatever reason…What do you have to lose?

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