The Big World – Playing With 1:1 Model Cars

I am going to go out on a limb with this column today. I have no idea whether I have correctly understood something and am going to make either an honest report of it or a complete mess. If the former, I am eligible for the Pulitzer Prize – if the latter, it is a sure ticket to talk-back radio stardom…

I mentioned the Toyotas On The Quay event that I attended and the number of what appeared to be racing cars displayed there. I was delighted to see them and thought that they were very well presented. Of course, an open air car event is a lot less sophisticated than an annual show at the Convention Centre, but there is this about it: the vehicles got there under their own steam – legally – and will make their way home again at the end of the day. This proves that they are real devices and not just the products of some dreamer’s imagination…as some show cars on the hot rod circuit seem to be.

Ignore my note of cynicism there, folks, because I do like the show cars as well…but there is more authenticity in a daily driver than a trailer queen.

Or is there?

I asked myself this when I looked carefully at a number of the ” race cars ” that were displayed. I’m quite unfamiliar with most motor sports – I can recognise the Indianapolis 500 cars from the 1950’s and I know the difference between a rail dragster and a Caterpillar tractor, but after that is all gets to be hazy. But I did look rather carefully at some of the racers and decided that I might be seeing model cars. Big model cars.

Take our featured image – the Toyota in the Castrol colours. Is it really the car that Didier and Denis piloted to an overall whatever place in the Rootyabouti Rally. Or is it a clever reconstruction of that car based upon a local Toyota – a 1:1 full-scale model, in fact? Made with loving care by enthusiasts who should be admired for their skill and artistry?

I like to think that this is the case. I should be equally impressed if one of the people who restore older vintage cars were to make General Montgomery’s staff car or Barney Oldfield’s racer. It is an entirely new level of enthusiasm, and should be encouraged with deliberate recognition.

If I’m wrong in this assessment, I am sure the local car fans will put me right.

Note: if you are a restorer or maker of racing cars…and drive with a standard WA licence plate, I’ll bet you are pulled over and grilled every time you venture on the roads.

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The Drones – Part One – Hovering For All

I noted a passing reference on Facebook to laws restricting drone operation here in Australia for private operators. I’m not going to say the Facebook posting was sensational and inaccurate – because that sort of thing would be hard to believe of Facebook… but it certainly did stir up a conversation about drone flying. The conversation went on to include other uses of surveillance cameras in our lives.

I have only encountered drones on two or three occasions – in all cases being used for recreational purposes and seemingly being operated in a safe and responsible manner. They seemed harmless enough, and the users kept them away from people as they hovered in the air. One was just a chap playing with it to see if he could fly it, and the other two were utilising onboard cameras to film a crowd at a hot rod show and the Perth skyline at dusk.

The only intrusive part of them was a constant buzz or whir, and even that was much less than a motorbike or lawn mower. I was impressed with the ability of the drone to return unaided to the point from which it was launched. I felt no sense of menace from any of the machines.

But then, I was not sunbaking nude on the Perth foreshore, growing drugs in my back garden, or erecting an illegal shed in defiance of the local council, so I had no undercurrent of guilt to worry me. I also had no sense of political grievance or jealousy in operation. There was more a sense of wonder at the sophistication of the R/C flying – in particular as much of it seemed to be automatic.

But there is a darker side – which I’ll canvass tomorrow. Charge your LiPo cells and stay tuned.

Less May Very Well Be More

Mies van der Rohe was thinking of architecture when he used a variation of the phrase that heads this column. It has since been adopted by minimalists all over the world to cut away the dross in many aspects of life.

I’ve been looking at the lives of some of the people I know to see if they use the philosophy. In a lot of cases I can be forgiven for thinking that they don’t – they have vast collections of weapons, armour, sewing materials, toy cars, and books…their lives have more more than most. How can they be minimalists?

Well, if look really carefully I can see the tiny little sections of their milieu that are clean, bare, and soothing. One person does not keep credit cards. Another eschews all interest in Facebook and social media. A third edits out all unused hobby items and gives or sells them away. No-one does it all at once, and no-one lives in a clean white space…or even a beige one. But they have all made a start.

Some are started on the road by chance…they have changed their life circumstances and do not have possessions they once owned. They may pine for them or not – in some cases I think they came to regard the possessions as owning them, and the separation has more freedom than deprivation in it.

Some have looked ahead and seen the entanglements…and have been strong enough to avoid them. There’s a degree of discipline and sensibility in this if a person knows their own limitations and is determined to stay within them.

Some have been attracted by a growing movement in the world for simplicity. This isn’t even religious in some instances – just people wanting to free some part of their psyche from the entanglements of possessions and relationship and acquaintance.

Of course there are detractors. Anything that you do or feel or think will be a target for someone’s disapproval. You have only to set outside a café on a busy street with a bag of Maltesers and pick off passers-by with a slingshot to find that out. You’d think people would be grateful to get free chocolate candy, but No…However, every individual can design their life and surroundings to some small extent, and the incipient minimalist can make those tiny little islands of simplicity in the hope that they will one day coalesce into a haven of calm.

Me? I am going to go through my shed and discard all that I derive no good from. It’s started already and the floor is getting less crowded already. That this will make room for more model building is inevitable, but then model building does me good.

And then I shall start on the clothes closet. The time has come to admit to myself that I shall never wear the historical costumes again. I must find someone who will.

Free the Political Prismers

Don’t I mean political prisoners? No, though it might be a nice gesture for them, too.  And in some cases it would give them a welcome opportunity to take their turn as the local tyrant and imprison others. A game of musical cells…

What I really want is freedom from the complimentary rainbow that WordPress stuck on my blog page some weeks ago. As pleasant as it might look, and as charming as the cause for which it advocates may be, it is a banner that has little to do with the rest of the writing. It is also a little cloying.

I hope that when the results of the same-sex-Simon-Says plebiscite are announced and the business goes off to the parliament for resolution that the WordPress operators will take it off again. They can bombard their members of parliament with as many rainbows as they like, but I’d appreciate a return to normal* round here. If people want bands of colour, I can make them in Photoshop and string them all over the place.

Here’s one advocating triple-expansion cylinders for French steam locomotives. I think it deserves your support.

 

*  Normal is not a good thing to define as it tends to make the neighbors nervous.

The Burden Of Genius

How can you sit there at your computer and read a title like that without writhing?

Who the hell is this bird anyway? What makes him think that he has any genius to bear?What the hell has he ever done?

As much and as little as anyone else. And I hasten to add that very little of it gave any evidence of genius. There was the average number of childs’ and youth’s successes and a hope of greatness that may have been held by my parents, but eventually they probably had to accept that I was just an ordinary Joe. I discovered it in my teens – and I can’t say that I was unhappy to do so…though I think I would have appreciated more brain power as a university student and more business acumen as a practitioner.

Probably the only real genius I have ever exhibited occurred when I discovered I could draw things in the margins of my school books and on pads of yellow paper. This went on to the ability to remember and reproduce line diagrams seen in textbooks, and this in turn to passing examinations based on the false assumption that anyone who could draw well knew the subject.

No. I knew the drawing. Later on in my career I would have to try to translate the drawing – that perfect clinical diagram – to the actual teeth, gums, cheeks, lips, blood vessels, and noses of the patients. Did you know that a high-speed drill will go through all of the above?

One day I was sitting at the dining room table with a pad of yellow paper and decided to test out my childhood ability to draw a circle freehand. After a few goes I got it. Then I decided to put two Disney eyes on it. And a hat. And from there it all took off. I found my own style of cartoon drawing – very crude by the standards of others – but made it serve me as a vehicle satire and jokes. I learned early on to draw myself in cartoon style and then used that as the basis for all the send-ups and pratfalls that poked fun at others.

It was profitable. I drew cartoons for my own profession’s gazette, then for hobby clubs, and eventually for a European toy manufacturer – they paid me handsomely in toys!

I have used the style here in this weblog column as Brother Stein, the sanctimonious Quaker and again for the commemoration of the start of WW1. It is still useful whenever I want to zing one past the censors here or on Facebook.

And the nice part of it – the simple Photoshop Elements drawing section contains most of the raw form shapes I need to continue the style long after my own hands go shaky. All I need to find is a suitable topic and away we go.

Doesn’t Matter If It Is A Front Porsche Or A Back Porsche…

It’ll still be grey…

That’s an old Canadian joke, and I’m qualified to tell it. In North America there are three colours for the front or back porch of a private dwelling; unpainted  ( and weathering badly…), grey, or salmon pink.

The unpainted ones are seen in the hillbilly states where money is tight and in the New England states where there is more money but the people are tight. They are also traditional in the maritime provinces and out in the bush in B.C. Doukhobors take it further and never paint anything else on the house – it means they blend into the landscape better when the Mounties come searching.

The grey ones painted with a special mixture that consists of any paint in the garage that has not entirely dried out and is contained in a tin that can be prised open. All the blacks, whites, greys, and lesser colours are poured into a tub and mixed up – this gets slathered over the porch. Sometimes it is glossy and sometimes it is matte, and if you don’t get it all done in one day you risk getting both finishes at the same time. No-one ever cleans and saves their brushes after a porch job – it is generally considered hygienic enough to throw them in the nearest bushes.

The salmon pink is also a mixture made from all the brightly coloured tins that have been left over after painting bathtubs, soap box racers, and Finnish houses. It is distinctive and memorable, and no-one ever really thinks it is going to turn out that shade. Not even the salmon. Note that one car maker actually made a car – a small Hyundai sedan – in this exact shade, and they made them deliberately…at least I think it was deliberate. I can say I have seen them about 10 years ago here in Perth. Short-lived, unfortunately.

These vehicles are enthusiast’s cars seen in Sydney and Perth at car shows – though there are certainly a number of Porsche vehicles on the road at any one time – including a somewhat unexplained SUV with curves named after a variety of pepper. My contact with the marque has been very fleeting – an associate of my late father owned a bathtub Porsche in 1966 and there were some occasions when it was repaired enough to go on the main roads. I believe it had prestige value at the time, though the real value may have lain in the pile of receipts from the mechanics. I remember he had the rubber shock mounts between the body and chassis replaced at one stage of the game and the cost equalled the price of my new Renault sedan.

Have I ever wanted to own or drive one? Not really. I do covet the Audi TT and I would love an early 1960’s Volkswagen Beetle in perfect condition, but the sporty Porsche has never rung my bells. I remember James Dean.

 

 

The Little World – Nowt Boot A Trick – Part Four

Light pours from the heavens like liquid gold.

It pours from old-fashioned street lamps like tallow candles, and from mercury-vapour fittings like the cold green smell of death. Sodium lights remind us of sleazy bars and painful treatments for public diseases. Is it any wonder that I drive with my eyes closed?

I mention these sorts of horrid illuminations because I am eventually going to have to provide one or all of them for my street modules. I can remember all of them in Canada and Australia in my childhood and youth, and they contribute no little part to the authenticity and temporality of a model scene.

Doll house makers are favoured with a number of small light fittings for their structures – ornate candelabra and modest side lights – library shades and even fluorescent fixtures. The larger size of the scale makes it easy to get good lighting, as long as you can provide a suitable voltage. But the dollhouse street lamps are big, and for the most part are patterned after Victorian or Edwardian prototypes. Unless one is modelling the older parts of Montreal or Toronto, there is little use for them – and certainly no use for a prairie city in the 1950’s.

Fortunately there are perfectly good grain of wheat bulbs on sale at the electronics stores for a modest sum that can be pressed into making tungsten-filament street lamps for the 50’s. The holders, shades, and brackets will have to be scratch built, but many of them were of fairly utilitarian style anyway. A production line to make a dozen would be wisest – dull work, but best to have a stock of them.

The mercury-vapour light that started to make inroads into the cities about 1960-62 will be another matter. They were green, cold, and a lot brighter than the old lamps. Here I think I am going to have to go to more specialist suppliers to get coloured LED bulbs ( and learn how to wire them up ) for both the mercury and the later sodium lights. Green and orange should be reasonably easy to achieve but again the fitments will need to be even more modern. The heads of a modern street lamp can be very streamlined castings indeed. Even the light poles are frequently octagonal tapers with a preformed swooping shape – this is unlikely to be do-able with a metal tube, and some sort of resin casting may be necessary. Fortunately for most modern lights, there are a variety of DC gel/acid batteries available on an inexpensive basis from Jaycar and other stores. And one can generally find a leftover mains charger from somewhere with whatever weird little voltage is needed.