Saturday 18 April 2020

V-8s, Eight Tracks, and Twins

And now for something completely different Mark Smith takes us on an evocative trip down memory lane. In this age of over-boxed, over-engineered and over-priced kits (now ducking) I very much enjoy modelling nostalgia and do hope that others might be encouraged to contribute their own tales of 'When We Were Young' as they relate to modelling in general and modelling Japanese aeroplanes in particular. Over to Mark:

"Dedicated to Chris Luevano, who is still building and still rocking.

"When I wrote Nick recently to send him that new Hasegawa Betty art featured in the March 20 post, I mentioned that as a kid I built this one, and remembered it being a very nice kit which had turned out to be one of my best models at that time. He asked me to write about it, including what I was up to then, anecdotes and popping off allowed.  So, a disclaimer…this is Nick’s fault! (It always is! Ed.)
"Believe it or not, children, that kit now so long in the tooth was once one of the nicest twin-engine plastic models in the world.  So it was sobering, that almost casual mention that it was now half a century old.  But it works out - I remember buying it here in Texas under the AMT label around 1970.  It was in a flimsy end-opening box and with a very different box art than Hasegawa’s Japanese release (See heading image above. Ed.).  It pictured, improbably, AVG P-40s attacking G4M1s of 761 'Dragon' Ku during their training period in Japan in 1943, one of the kit's decal options!  761 first went into action with G4M2s from Pelelieu in the Palau Islands in March 1944! Who cared?  It looked cool.  And only later would I learn to nitpick such details.  

"I made and survived some bad decisions, like all 16-year-olds, and was wearing some dreadful clothes (it’s a good thing the Polaroids of the day washed out so badly that most were tossed) . . . but somehow I was buying and listening to some great and groundbreaking records which included, to mention only a few:  Moondance by Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, The Who’s Live at Leeds, Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die; Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection, James Gang’s Rides Again, Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley, Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II, Dylan’s New Morning, Benefit by Jethro Tull, Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left, The Beatles' Let It Be, Creedence’s Green River, and Neil Young’s wonderful After the Gold Rush.  While I’ve cited here examples that still stand up after all these years, many other candidates would serve as well, and all released during the same two years, 1969 and 1970.   

"They were good fuel for modeling, especially when my parents were out and I could turn them up.  As the James Gang LP stated on the sleeve, “Made Loud to be Played Loud.”  I was restless in my skin without really knowing why.  Some things were starting to crowd out model-building.  I had my first job,  had just gotten my driver’s license, and my stern father shocked me wonderfully, by buying me a 1965 Buick Special with a 310 V-8 for $800, with the caveat that if he ever heard of me hot-rodding it, it would disappear.  (In retrospect, that was probably the work of my mother, behind the scenes, who was my quiet and often underappreciated advocate).  In those days a General Motors car would run about 80,000 miles or so if you took good care of it.  After that, enough things started to go wrong that it was no longer a paying proposition.  With an eight it didn’t get very good mileage, but gas was around 30 cents a gallon!  This bonus was offset, however, by America’s minimum wage then of $1.60 an hour.  My friend Jack Joy, who had an eternally spotless MGB with wire wheels and cocoa-mats (if you didn’t wipe your feet before you got in, you didn’t ride) knew about all things electronic and set up his own guitar pickups, so he came over and helped me install an 8-track tape deck, one of the worst music-delivery systems ever invented, in the car’s glove box.  I started recording my favorite vinyl to blank eight-tracks.  I was set for life.  Almost.  All I needed was a girlfriend and a little confidence - if not in that order.  

"The AMT Betty seemed a little expensive - either two or three dollars, but I was thrilled when I got it home and saw the kit.  AMT issued many airplane kits in those days.  l only knew quite a bit later that almost all were Matchbox and Frog molds of quite varying vintage.  This was responsible for the hit-and-miss nature of the kits themselves; good box art beneath secure shrink wrap convinced me to buy poor kits too often!  But this one was obviously special, with good fit and detail, and beautiful transparencies. 

"Airbrushes, which I had only even heard about a couple of years before, were too expensive for my budget and I still hand-brushed everything.  A very fine modeler and artist, Raymond Waddey, encouraged my work on seeing it at IPMS meetings.  He found things to praise where such were scarce, and I know now that instead of telling me what was wrong, he showed me how I could make things better.  I was pretty young for this group, a little awed by the quality of their models, and most of the better builders remained fairly distant.  Ray’s models were hand-brushed but magnificent, and as a natural artist, his weathering astounded me, along with an ability to scratchbuild cockpits and make new vacformed canopies to show them off.  He showed me how to blend colors at their demarcations, though I could never do it as well as he did, and he gave me three very expensive Grumbacher brushes which I used for years.  He would later give up modeling for painting full-time.  I will always remember his kindness and example. 

"On the Hasegawa  Betty I used those brushes, along with Pactra paint mixes, to model 'K-325'-  the one illustrated in color in the Men and Machines title “Japanese Naval Bombers” by Rene Francillon.  This was in the green and brown segmented camouflage, with natural metal undersurfaces.  I hand-painted the tail codes which turned out pretty shaky, but the AMT decals were useless even if I’d gone for one of their schemes.  For the undersides I used a mix of Testors Silver, which was a very bright and finely pigmented paint, mixed with a bit of Pactra Flat Black and Flat White (oddly, Testors Flat Black and Flat White always looked terrible compared to their Pactra counterparts when brushed, but in this case combining the two brands proved compatible, and made for a nice Aluminum shade.  I tried the same mix around 2000, however, without success).  These were the little square bottles which cost a quarter.  I liked the rivets on the kit just fine, as while out of scale, they weren’t too bad for the day, and with a fairly wide brush one could achieve a finish with hardly any visible brush strokes.  I’m convinced that few modern day paints brush as well as the ones from those days (Me too! Ed.).  Imrie-Risley, the military miniaturists, made a wonderful line of paints called Military which I managed to discover just as they quit making them.  They were superior for white, red, yellow, and a beautiful Prussian Blue.  I believe they were formulated fairly ‘hot,’ to paint white metal figures, but with care could be used without damaging plastic.  The Imrie-Risley website still lists these colors and equivalents, though admitting that they no longer carry the paints which are available from certain vendors.

"For decals, I used hinomarus from either A.I.R. or the ones from IPMS-USA, I can’t remember which.  Both were a sort of rusty red, favored at the time by the cognoscenti, but they went on nicely.  At that time there were hardly any available options for aftermarket decals, much less for  Japanese aircraft; these, as well as a few aftermarket sheets from ABT of France and ESCI in Italy, were the only ones that offered any Japanese choices at all, and they were in 1/72 only.  But both those brands had very yellow carrier film, at least by the time they reached me, and suffered from a dead flat finish which always silvered.   I wish I had some pictures of that finished 1/72 Hasegawa Betty (or even knew what eventually happened to it).  I do recall it looked the part and went together beautifully.  If such photos existed, they wouldn’t be any good, remembering the Instamatic and Polaroid cameras we had.  Back then taking decent photos of models was difficult and required expensive equipment and some expertise.  

"In fact, remembering as best I can the process of building this kit reminds me how much the hobby has changed just in its basics.  Using tube glue neatly on such a large model, for instance, proved a challenge.  Glueing the fuselage meant covering a large mating surface area and getting it together fast while it would still bond best.  Too much would soften and foul the plastic.  (Shortly afterward the US government stepped in to make the product safer, which may have foiled glue huffers, but rendered new tube glues useless for any permanent join. Thanks, government).  Though the parts fit well, doing the seams was an exercise in compromise due to the rivets unavoidably removed.  Back then I was using Squadron “Green Stuff” to fill seams, which was nothing more than fine-grain auto body putty and couldn’t be scribed.  The advent of superglue, or cyanoacrylate, proved a big leap forward for general assembly, with the benefit of filling the same gap it bonded, as well as taking sandpaper and re-scribing well.  But that would be a few years away.  (Before its arrival, however, Lee Thomas, an ace builder in our IPMS North Central Texas group, had a trick of mixing MEK with sprues from the subject kit to provide a liquid sympathetic filler that could be easily scribed.  In conjunction with Tamiya Thin Cement, superglues make construction and prep far easier than I remember from those days.  In fact in every area modelers are now spoiled for choice.  Yet compared to those simpler days we can be somewhat paralyzed by such bewildering variety as well as a surfeit of fine online work, the quality of which is often breezily narrated, but hard to match.      

"Whilst I don’t know the final resting place of that Hasegawa Betty any more than the Buick Special, the photos here are of another classic G4M1 Betty model, the 1/144 scale kit by Imai which I built in the late eighties and was part of a treasured gift of several Imai 1/144 Japanese WWII airplane kits from friend Dennis Naylor.  (Coincidentally the Imai kit featured the same 'Ryu 01' on the box art as the AMT kit! Ed.) This was well before they were briefly reissued by Hasegawa, box art and all, and back when they were impossible to find and highly prized – at least by me!  It remains a very good kit, much better to my mind than the old Crown Betty mold in the same scale, the same one Minicraft has remorselessly flogged in countless boxings for thirty years.  However you can now buy the original Imai mold from Aoshima (old kits never really go away), which has nice decals.  Try HLJ or eBay.

"I sanded off the main canopy frames because they looked a little heavy and vac-formed a new canopy, along with new vac-formed landing gear doors (one is missing in the photos) to replace the over-thick ones.  There were no other changes or additions to the kit.  I like the shape, the flared cowl flaps, and the nicely molded propellers, rare then, and a deal-breaker in 1/144 it seems.  The remainder of the clear parts were used as is, and their raised framing made them surprisingly easy to paint with a sharpened toothpick to hand for removing the shaky lines.  I made a very small diorama using some of the figures that came with the larger Imai kits.  One had a box camera on a tripod, and was snapping a photo of two officers, while another figure looked on leaning against the front fender of a fueling truck, another bonus in one of Imai kits.  (These figures were in a different tan plastic, and were never included with any of the re-issues).  The diorama was damaged in transport though, before these photos were taken, and the Betty torn off the groundwork – the landing gear doesn’t quite point in the same direction anymore.  The basic color was the then-new IJN Green from Tamiya (airbrushed this time), with light grey lower surfaces, which should properly be natural metal.  The national markings were masked and sprayed this time, with the tail codes provided by Railroad Scenics transfers and the weathering done with silver-gray paint and chalk pastels.  One unusual feature of this Betty is the anti-glare area between the dorsal gun position and the tail fin, which has been a point of discussion elsewhere, but for me seems apparent in an in-flight photograph.     

"I agreed with WD in the Comments section for 20 March; I too was puzzled that Hasegawa has never seen fit to match their newer-generation 1/72 G4M2 with an update of the historically more important G4M1.  But in the meantime, don’t write it off - the company’s old soldier from the late sixties is still in Dad’s Army, and still does credit to a beautiful airplane.   

"Another old soldier of sorts from that era, The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend, was asked by an interviewer from Artist Direct in 2006, “What goes through your minds now when Roger Daltrey sings that immortal line from your song My Generation: “Hope I die before I get old”?  His answer is a great one for considering anything one loves doing, for a living or a hobby.
“I spoke about this earlier. But I can say a little more . . . this time I am not being ironic. I am 61. I hope I die before I get old. I hope I die while I still feel this alive, this young, this healthy, this happy, and this fulfilled . . . If you are 24, you have plenty of time to work it out. Trust me, in the end it becomes possible . . . For many years, when we were still really children, we stopped playing 'My Generation' because we thought we were too old. That was the Who themselves buying into the wrong interpretation of the lyric 'I hope I die before I get old', which is more about a state of mind than actual age.” 

"Daltrey and Townshend recently announced that The Who will perform at Wembley Stadium with symphonic accompaniment on Saturday 6 July this year, with special guest Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.  Here’s hoping that by that date, or at least very soon after, such a vast crowd can once again gather in ways so long taken for granted, and enjoy such a moment, perhaps with a new and deeper appreciation.  

"In the meantime, almost all of us have a lot more time on our hands around the house or apartment than expected or wanted.  As I was writing this, local authorities here in the Dallas area announced a shelter-in-place order for at least the next two weeks due to the Corona virus.  And from here it looks like more time will be needed.  I had thought I would not be able to focus on a model airplane in the middle of the larger angst, but it’s already helped, although such times can put model-building in proper perspective as well.  I would be interested in hearing others’ memories from the Way-back Machine, the particular builds that opened doors, books or films that were the kindling, and people that have made a difference.  For myself, as I have the dais here for a moment, I want to say thanks particularly to Nick Millman / Straggler, chief cook, bottlewasher, and purveyor of Aviation of Japan, who over many years has been such a friend and facilitator among those who love Japanese aviation.  
"Anyway…if you’ve binged enough quarantine television to be approaching burnout, try putting on a little of whatever music fueled some of your early models, be it Bach, Miles, John Legend, or Flock of Seagulls; and if you need a subject…well, I can think of one that is the eight-track tape of 1/72 twins . . . "     

Mark Smith

Image credit:- AMT box art via; Imai box art via Scale Mates; Model photos © 2020 Mark Smith


Baronvonrob said...

Thanks Mark,
Now you have inspired me to breakout an ancient Hawk/Testors SBD and crank up on of the greatest songs of my youth Dwight Twilley's anthem to all "I'm on Fire"

Michael Thurow said...

Thanks Mark and Nick! This is how it was. Being in the same age bracket, though not on the same continent, as Mark I can only mirror his experience and enthusiasm with the 'old' models and colours.

"this age of over-boxed, over-engineered and over-priced kits" - yeah! there is nothing better than a good old Otaki kit!
"Men and Machines title “Japanese Naval Bombers” by Rene Francillon" - yeah! affordable and packed with information!
"Testors Silver" - yeah! still have one of their silver rattle cans! - and
"I’m convinced that few modern day paints brush as well as the ones from those days" - yeah! so true!

Cheers, Michael (just restoring a 1973 Monogram P-51B)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mark,
different continent and probably 10 years apart but so many things in common.

All the best


Dan Salamone said...

Thanks so much for writing and sharing this piece. The past few months, I've worked on 2 different new tool 1/48 kits (not Japanese subjects), and both have at times given me moments to ponder collecting stamps. It's not like I haven't been building for 47 years and pretty much seen it all (as far as kits released after the balsa block era). Both kits are mostly assembled, but burned me out from their "perfect fit" to super detailed photo etch". Insert eye rolling emoji here.

Being that I've been off work since April 1st, I wanted to build. I grabbed another TX40 project that I had started in 2017, and have had more fun than should be legal with a sharp Xacto, sheet plastic, and Tamiya liquid glue. The simplicity of the Hasegawa kit itself, the pleasure of taking images, then making drawings, then creating from scratch, has been gratifying and, wait for it.... fun. Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to get back to my Fine Molds Babs, or the Tamiya Hien, but it's sheer folly to dismiss the older kits, for many reasons.

Thanks again for the uplifting story in these uncertain times. :-)


Bill Gilman said...

Great post Mark! I'm a bit older than you, but everything you said brought back some great memories (although my Dad bought me a 59 Chevy with a straight six, no honking V-8 for me. It got worse, though, the next one was a Corvair!) I think Nick should make this a regular series with us old fogey modellers trying to remember how on earth we made it this far smelling all the paint and glue fumes.


Mark Smith said...

Thank you each for your comments and memories, and I appreciated the chance to contribute again here on the blog. Jim Anderson sent me some pics of his Hasegawa Betty after this article appeared, and it really looked good shape-wise - but those rivets were bigger than I remembered! I remember Sydney Chivers writing in a Scale Modeler article of the seventies that the Hasegawa Emily was a nice kit but had 'rivets the size of casaba melons.' I didn't know what a casaba melon was then but certainly got the gist, and have always remembered the comment. But, jazz player Ben Sidran has it pegged in one of his songs:
Critics - can't even float
Just stand on the shore and wave at the boat.

Unknown said...

Wow! What a great post! I guess I'm an outlier in that my modeling years were done in isolation with no local club, older mentors, etc. I didn't even get to see my first hobby shop until I was 12 when we moved to a larger place. My model purchases were driven by whatever the dime store, drug store, etc. had in stock. However, ignorance is truly bliss, and I never felt cheated. I can still recall the joy of building, and that's something I've been trying to get back.
I do have definite memories of building a slew of kits listening to Elton John, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, etc. When I got my driver's license I had to drive my mom's car: a '71 Pontiac GTO with a 400ci engine, turbo-hydromatic 400 transmission, and factory ram air. Torture it was! ;) Finally, I got my own car.

And now, I really do need to find a good reference book on G4M bombers.


Ken Glass said...

Thanks for sharing, Mark & Nick.