The Little World – Dux

Dux is a strange word here in Australia. People who are the highest – scoring students at their schools are known as the Dux of the class. Older women are also called Ducks – it is a term of easy affection.

But the Dux I remember was an entirely different thing – it was the Christmas of 1959 when I encountered the Dux construction set. I had no idea at the time how unusual it was in the world of toys.

You’ll all know Meccano from the UK and some of you will know the A.C. Gilbert Erector sets from the USA. Dux was from Germany, and I am now convinced that it was East Germany rather than the Bundesrepublik. A very unusual thing for 1959 as it was the height of the Cold War.

Still, the DDR needed foreign currency, and the department store in Canada that stocked the Dux set might have gotten them in for the Christmas trade at a very cheap price. The set was my prized present for the year, and it came in quite a large red cardboard organiser box. There were steel girders, connector plates, plastic sheets, L brackets, T brackets, wheels, axles, rubber tyres, and a wonderful fully articulated clamshell bucket. It had the look of Meccano to some extent but the girders were stiffened with a steel lip at one edge that meant they could support themselves better. The fastenings were good-quality plated nuts and bolts but there were some very odd little grommets that enabled steel shafts to turn in the girders.

There was an instruction book but even I could tell at that stage that the writer of it was not an English-speaker. I have since learned to recognise the Teutonic technical style as the Metz electronic flash company used it in all their customer communications. It was at once the most painful and frustration document you could read – the photos and diagrams hinted at wonders that the text could not support.

Well, when you’re 11 you don’t need an engineering degree to invent things, and I spent years using that Dux set to do just that. Cars, trucks, cranes, etc…though I never did succeed in getting that clamshell bucket to work properly – it was a fine piece but you needed to rig up pullys and blocks as well as the steel work to make an overhead loader of it.  It was always going to be the next project.

Well, I am ready for it now, but all trace of the Dux construction sets seems to have vanished – perhaps they evaporated with the DDR. I’ve tried eBay with no success and even the basic Google search for illustrations produces very little – certainly not the thing I remember. It might be too much to hope that an entire set has survived, but I would settle for the clamshell bucket.

There is an overhead coal loader in me that is itching to get out.

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The Little World – The Measure Of A Diorama

You all know what a diorama is – a miniature set with scale plastic models. But did you know it was a historical thing too? Apparently one of the original definitions was of a scene  that was meant to be viewed through one peephole and that had lighting effects that changed as you looked.

Well, you could do that today with the plastic models, of course, but it would require a good deal more design skill than most people possess. I include myself in the most people. I can manage pictures of a scale set when I make it for one purpose, but I never restrict the viewer to just one angle . People are free to see the thing from all sides.

This may be a mistake – the older artists may have had the right idea about it all. I believe Vermeer made dioramas to help him with some of his most famous paintings…or maybe the paintings helped with the dioramas.

Most of the works that I see at the model exhibitions are model-centric. The builders do a splendid job of a central figure or a plane, ship or vehicle, and the surrounds are merely to shore up or show up that model. They may be very well done, with superb weathering and accessories, but they are a stage set or enlarged plinth for the model.

The other approach is one that is seen sometimes in museums. If they need to depict a famous scene or battle , there may be anywhere from dozens to thousands of models employed, but they are subservient to the overall impression or story that the diorama tells. It’s rare that you see it from all sides – the only one I remember was a Waterloo set depicted in one of the castles somewhere in England that was on such a scale and in such a large room that you could walk all around the thing. I’d been a re-enactor in one of the Waterloo years and was able to make more sense of it than a casual visitor.

I often recall this, and other Imperial War Museum dioramas, and think that it forms a good basis for judging our own efforts. LIke the railway layouts that are very well done, a good diorama can stand on its own with no models visible – or at least none that dominate the viewer’s attention. Then it really becomes a Little World.

The Little World – Won’t Someone Think Of The Adults?

I suppose it is a little silly to be going into a toy shop looking for adult entertainment – unless you are an adult that likes playing with toys. That’s a hard thing to be, and an even harder thing to admit to – it’s no wonder that the trade doesn’t think it needs to cater to us.

I say us, because I like to play with toys, and I am considered to be an adult. Shows how just how successful I have been at fooling the rest of society for the last 69 years…

I went into a Toyworld store in Fremantle a couple of weeks ago to see if I could add anything to my toy car collection or find any accessories that would help with scale model photography. I had plenty of time, my own transport, and a credit card  – I could have taken away any number of boxes of fun from that shop. Sadly, I left empty-handed…there was just nothing that answered the need in the place.

Had I been buying for children, I could have had a ball. Several balls. As many balls as you can have ball-games for. If I was playing in the sand pit out the back of the house i could have had dirt diggers and dump trucks  in any size and colour. I could have had farm tractors and ploughs. But I couldn’t get any decent scale models that I would put on a shelf and display.

People may say that this should be the province of the hobby shop – and to a certain degree it is – but toy stores are the training grounds for hobbyists and it seems like it would be a good thing to give the buyers some bridge between radio control helicopters and friction toy racers.

Either that, or I get ten cubic yards of sand delivered and go outside and start to make sand roads…

The Little World – New Tenants

Spent the afternoon in the studio working up a new camera. It’s the latest in the series of the brand I prefer, but the lens that was used is the same one that served the previous model. That’s the beauty of sticking to one maker – if you have good glass it just keeps going on.

The subjects are the old tenants and the new tenants of a time-share holiday property. I believe there was some form of dispute over the tenancy and it became necessary to institute a noisy eviction.

Yet another example of the dictum that you must never let a chance pass you by. The palm trees were a plastic kit found in Melbourne, the planes picked up from Hobbytech here in Perth. Heaven knows where the tractor came from. The sky and sea are an image I purchased on a job-lot of CD disks from eBay. Some enthusiast decided to cash in on his holiday and hobby images and auctioned them off. I daresay he has done this many times and this beach may well turn up in other people’s pictures. Never mind – I paid for the picture and I think it has served very well.

They say that there is no money in stock photography these days – probably true if you are looking for a livable wage. But if you are prepared to sell your stuff off individually, there is hobby money in it. I’m not the only person who is searching out material for posters and flyers.

The Little World – Finishing The Job Properly

I have been making plastic, wood, metal, and paper models for the last 60 years. Many of them were made in my first 17 years of life, and all bar one have disappeared. The survivor tells me how crude some of the products were back then.

But, crude or otherwise, the models of my youth were wonderful things. The center point of my life in some years, as the rest of it was spent in grey, drab boredom.  I think back to them fondly. But there is a touch of concern in the nostalgia; did I do the best job  that could have been done at the time?

The kind answer is…probably yes…given my level of skill and the materials available to me at the time…but my grown-up self wants perfection in its memories, and wants to go back and re-do the things that were badly done or half-finished.

eBay can help me in this, provided I am willing to buy old kits for 100 X  what they cost when they were new. It would have to be a pretty deep psychological wound that needed healing to pay some of the prices on eBay.

Fortunately some of the manufacturers have re-issued old kits…or redone them. And some have never been taken from the inventory. It may be possible to buy the airplane that was never built during 1962 and start in where I left off.

I am going to try. I won’t go to the nostalgic excesses that some do, but I would like to see what I might have done all those years ago. If the result is a mess, I will know that I was wise to chuck the kit back then, too.

The Little World – Be It Ever So Humble

We are often told that we must be proud of our humble homes. This is generally written in magazines that then tell us we must renovate said humble homes and the quotes will start at $10,000.  The pictures that we are shown in the ads are generally bare and minimalist. A Shaker would look at them and feel deprived. Corbusier would draw doodles and curlicues on the sideboard. In short – they are selling you the chance to live in nothing at all for a tidy round sum of money.

Hot damn.

I have concluded that this is a load of, and have decided to make my decorating statement upon the Rooseveltian principle; I shall do what I can with what I have, where I am. To that end I have designed my modelling workshop – it is in the heading picture.

You see a combination of fortune and stinginess.

A cabinet that once housed dental instruments – bought at great expense in 1969 and never sold off.

A cheap hanging motor from the local DIY shop

An X-Acto jigsaw that has survived all my married life.

Discarded bookshelves rescued from the verge.

A cardboard office organiser.

Birthday, Christmas, and Father’s Day presents. That’s the good stuff.

A picture of my late father as inspiration.

His bench vice. Probably his only vice.

The drafting table that only gets used for serious projects. Most plans are drawn on a clipboard in builder’s crayon.

The shop teachers of my youth would reel in horror, but then they were the sort of men who hung tools on pegboards. I have tried to follow their example but eventually everything comes tumbling off the wall. Perhaps that happened to their careers as well.

The only thing I am sure of in my modelling shop is that I can do it. I may not do it well, and it may not last, but for a brief period of time there is always something succeeding. It is all I can ask for.

 

The Little World – Flat, Flatter, Flattest

No, I’m not referring to paint finish. Flat should mean flat in any case there. Of course it is also mixed in with matt, matte, eggshell, lustre, and a number of other descriptive words. When in doubt, paint a sample.

I really mean the basic necessity for all scratch or kit builders…a flat surface. Some portion of the big world upon which to erect some portion of the little one. It is closely aligned to the other necessity – a right angle. These sound easy enough to do but practice shows how hard it is to get them.

Model airplane builders need a flat base to act as a measurement basis for the curves of the fuselage and the angle of the wings. They need a flat base for the undercarriage, and a level flat base to set up the aircraft. The vertical stations that might be measured on a plan need to rise from this base at 90 degrees.

The model ship builder needs that level ground to also establish rib positions. Unlike the  full-size counterpart, there’s no need to use gravity to slide the model into the water. so you don’t need to build on a slope.

The model architect absolutely needs a level flat base to raise walls and structures. Even if there isn’t a straight line in the building, the thing has to be vertical. Pisa was a mistake…and Gaudi a greater one…

My solution for my workshop has been to use a commercial whiteboard in a frame laid on top of a standard trestle table. It is a smooth Laminex surface bigger than any of the model foundations I use, supported with a 25mm-thick MDF board captured in a metal frame. Glue does not stick to it and when it is truly horizontal everything erected upon it is true as well.

Currently I use a small modeller’s set square for much of the setups, but will purchase a larger metal square in the future. You cannot have enough precision.

Note: the whiteboard is far larger than most building models but the extra room can be used to set up clamps and jigs to hold building components as they set. As long as I do not need to nail to it, I can build anything.