The Little World – It’s Only A Hobby – Part One

I remember a comedy record that Lou Jacobi made in which he said that he had a hobby of catching honey bees in a jar. Another character asked him if he put air holes and honey in the jar, and he said ” No “. When they remonstrated with him that this would cause the bees to die he said ” So what? It’s only a hobby…”.

SO WRONG on so many levels – both in humanity and in hobby-manity. But you still laughed at the deadpan delivery…

Leaving aside the comedy and the poor bees, the idea that something is ONLY a hobby is one of the most corrosive ones that you can hold. If you approach anything upon that basis, you are doing yourself and whatever you attempt a vast disservice.

I am not generally an advocate for passion. People who profess it generally do so to press their opinions upon you – opinions that might not pass the scrutiny of logic, practicality, or morality. Passion becomes at once an engine and a vehicle for anything. I like engines and vehicles, sure, but not when they are made to bear down upon me.

I cannot do the cold logic of the Vulcans, nor even the measured stuff of classical philosophy. I refuse to go into the marginal footlings of Talmudic logic…it seems to be something of a hairy fraud. But I can see some things clearly, and one of them is the need for a good reason for nearly everything.

I say a good reason – not a bad one. The bad ones come close to that passion thing, or to Lou’s callous hobby. A good reason in the Little World can be many-fold:

a. Because it is beautiful. Lots of dollhouse and teddy bear and doll hobbyists draw strongly on this. The things they do are intrinsically beautiful and everyone who sees them is rewarded. Lucky hobbyists – to make something that does this much good.

b. Because it is unusual. And if you did not do it, no-one would ever know about it. Who knows what stimulation your model of a Hungarian tractor might give to someone’s memory or curiosity.

c. Because we need to remember it. If there was a historical occurence, item, idea, or person, you can frequently record them in miniature in such a way that people do not forget it.

d. Because we need to understand it. A prime example of this for me was to see a set of models made in the Museum Of Science in London in the 1990’s. They were cut-aways of steam engines and boilers done with colour highlighting for water, steam, and air passages. It was the first time in 48 years that I had ever really grasped the idea of water tube and firetube boilers or of automatic fireboxes. Never forgot it and I’ve been grateful to whoever  made those models.

In all of these instances there may be some passion…and a great deal of dedication. They might be hobbies, but the best of them are never ” Only a hobby”.

 

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The Little World – Just Leave the Milk And Cookies On The Table

When I am finished playing I will eat them. I may be some time – I’m currently in 1959. And if I can find the sort of things I need on the internet, I may not leave for years.

You see, 1959 was the year that I got the Schuco wind-up Ferrari racing car. It cost $ 10 at Uncle John’s Hobby Shop on 7th Avenue in Calgary, Alberta and the $ 10 represented the entirety of my birthday money. I cannot say why the pressed-tin car appealed to me – but I knew that it was a must-have.

Normally that $ 10 would have meant at least three plastic models and some paint from Don’s Hobbies – about a block away from Uncle John’s. It was my central model shop – every other place was judged in relationship to Dons. I’m delighted to be able to report that it still exists – some 60 years later. Changed, moved, but still Don’s.

Well, I took the Schuco home, ran it around every flat place I could find, and carefully kept it safe and sound for decades after that. I knew that there were other Schuco wind-up models as I encountered them occasionally in hotel gift shops, but I never had any money to buy any more.

The Ferrari came down to Australia with me, and for some reason I cannot remember, it was eventually traded for some die-cast ship models. I put it out of my mind…until I went to Nürnberg in Germany in 1995 and visited the largest hobby shop in that toy city. There was a whole cabinet of Schuco tin toys for sale – modern reproductions by the company of their classic models. I saw the red Ferrari, and any thought of other purchases went out the window – At a vastly inflated EEC modern-day price I was the owner of my birthday car again. It has pride of place in the model cabinet…and as you can see, has been the favoured prop of a favoured live model – Jane Hebiton.

And yes, the Ferrari still goes like a rocket when you wind it and set it out to run on a flat tiled floor.

Note that I am still in 1959 for another reason; more of that in the next column.

The Little World – Knowing When To Stop

Knowing when to stop is a concept that all Little Worlders should firmly grasp. It is most useful for the designers as well as the builders.

a. I built two kits of the same vehicle recently – One by Hobby Master, and one by Airfix – both long-established firms. Both designed in England and manufactured in China. Both made with good-quality materials – in the case of the Hobby Master this included plastic castings, a zamac casting, and rubber tyres. The Airfix kit was all plastic. Price for the HM was higher, but not excessive.

Well, they both made up to good models, and I was pleased, but the Airfix kit had been made with more pieces of plastic on the sprues and consequently there were a lot more joins to be made. Some of them were joins that required the parts to be 90º accurate – difficult to do in 3 planes.

I’m a reasonably careful worker, but even so I got more things out of line with the Airfix than with the HM – and the extra-fine detail does not show enough in 1:76 scale to merit those inaccuracies. I’ve noted this problem with my next Airfix kit as well, and will look to other makes for my needs in the future.

The designers should have stopped dividing the master model into parts earlier – sacrificed some of the tiny parts for integral moulding. The end result would have been more certainty for the modellers – particularly if they were juniors.

b. I noted that there is yet another re-issue of a die-cast car model by a well-known firm in yet another fanciful livery. I think they have put it out in about 10 varieties…only 2 of which have any basis whatsoever in reality. By all means put out something that returns money to the company, but try not to flood the shelves with examples that have no further value. Stop at 2 authentic models and one fantasy.

c. Other die-cast makers and resin casters are putting out what may be accurate models of especial vehicles by the score – luxury vehicles, racing cars, one-off show cars. Lovely work, but far in excess of the more mundane cars and trucks we see on our roads or remember from the past. Some makes are ignored completely – others have perhaps one example of a line that actually went for decades. The collector is hard pressed to make a representative collection – it is all dessert and no potatoes. Time to stop and to start making more average sedans.

d. Some collectors pursue balanced collections. Some concentrate on one make. Some concentrate on one model from one maker, and break their hearts and our ears with their search for the fabled lost variant that was only available on Wednesday March 18th, 1959 on a radius of 2.7 miles from a newsagent in Pinner.

I am willing to believe that they care about this, but they should stop before they try to make the rest of us care.

e. That final touch of paint on the model often is the final touch plus one. And that extra spritz or brush then spoils the whole paint job by running or skinning. Oh, if only we had stopped earlier…

f. The extra model on the shelf is just a little more weight. And then another. And eventually the shelf – like the camel’s back – has just one straw or model too many. You can see where  this is going.

g. Some model lines – some model collections – are finite things. There were only so many of something that were ever made and only so many models are possible. What do you do if you come to the end of that line and there are no more things to collect? A sad stop.

So it is all a matter of timing – and balance. Success may be reached but should not be over-reached. Every meal has a satiety point  – up until then it is all delight…but after it, everything is nauseating. We must learn our saturation points and stop in a timely fashion before we reach them.

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 – You Never Know What You Never Knew

Earlier in the year I joined a Facebook group that deals with my favourite hobby – die-cast toy cars and photography. The fact that finding it was completely by accident ( and a Facebook algorithm ) shows me just how much we miss in life. Even if we are alert, we are rarely alert enough.

Of course this would all have been par for the course in the pre-internet days. We functioned with hobby magazines from the newsagent or drug store, the occasional book  found buried in the public library, and the personal contact of the hobby club or the hobby shop.

If you lived in an out-of-the-way portion of the world ( we’re so isolated that the Black Plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century is just now starting here. You’ll need a note from your doctor…) you got to see the latest hobby supplies about four years after everyone else and if it was a short-lived craze you probably only saw reports of it in overseas magazines. The magazines had a greater impact than the internet now as they were frequently the only source of information. You’d be surprised how many people built marvellous models from the flimsiest plans.

And also what primitive materials were utilised. Wood, metal, early plastics, paper…they were all good stuff and they still are, but back in the 60’s people didn’t realise that they were crude and just went ahead and built masterpieces with leftovers. And they fastened them together with a wide variety of glues and adhesives that worked only fitfully. Epoxies were here, but they were very slow curing. Acetate cements were the go, and no sign of cyanoacrylates. Lots of model boats were made with powder and resin glues in an effort to make them waterproof. And lots of them came apart in the water.

Were we less happy with our early scratchbuilds? No – and we were perfectly delighted with plastic kits that would seem laughable now. The eye of the Little World builder is an adjustable one and can see past surface flaws to find the inner beauty of a model.

It would be nice to think that we can still muster up this sort of vision now.

The Little World – You Can Buy It In Any Size But The One You Need

Here – pick a card from the blue deck. Any card. Now turn it over. What does it say?

1/72?

Okay, that’s your scale. Now pick a card from the red deck and turn it over. It says…?

Portuguese torpedo bomber?

Okay, that’s what you need to buy from the hobby shop. Here is a large pile of money and a stopwatch. You have five hours to go to every hobby shop in town to buy a 1/72 Portuguese torpedo bomber – either in kit form or as a die-cast. If you do you get to keep the pile of money and if you fail we take all the tyres off your car and burn them in your back yard. Ready? Go.

This is the best game. The desperate modeller heads out the front door at a dead run and drives to the nearest hobby shop. They have 1/35 scale torpedo bombers. The next one is five miles away and they have 1/48 scale kits. The third store is across town on the freeway and they have a special on Portuguese torpedo bombers this week. All at half price and all at 1/32 scale…

It’s a big town and there are lots of stores and the five hours tick slowly away as the candidate rushes to each one. He is assured of success at the four-hour, 55 minute mark when he reaches the last one in the outer suburb that advertises itself as ” Portuguese Torpedo Bombers R Us ” and has the 1/72 signal beaming onto the clouds above the parking lot. Bursting into the doors he is confronted by the man who says:

” Oh you’re too late. We sent them back to the wholesaler yesterday. There was no call for them…”

I don’t know about you, but I like a nice tyre fire in the back yard on these summer nights. That, and the sobbing of the modeller, seems to be a home comfort.

The Little World – The Box That It Came In

Oh, what a fool I have been! If only I had known! If only I had taken the time! I could be sitting on a pile of old cardboard that would be worth $ 45 dollars today!

Well, I can only be depressed as I see eBay sales of empty boxes that once contained plastic model kits. Relics of the 1950’s found in the back of the chicken run and now offered to the nostalgia market. Things we once threw out as rubbish…but now can be sold as rubbish.

I blame my parents. They were cruel and hard and fed me regularly and let me sleep in a warm bed and wear good clothing…and moved regularly to continue work within the construction industry. They never stayed long enough in one place to build a dedicated, air-conditioned storage warehouse to let me keep my plastic model kits and the empty boxes. They deprived me of a career as an empty-box mogul.

I should have seen it at the time. I should have taken firm steps to compel them to my will. If only I had thought to go to a lawyer and take out injunctions…

At least I should have carefully cut the front box art off every kit I ever had and pressed it into an album. All the rest could have gone, but it would have left me with a wonderful souvenir of the times…and a valuable reminder of the kits. As it is, I think I can go to the collector’s books and Google right now and assemble a series of images of the box art as far as I can remember what I had. Some of the colours were a bit bright and glaring, but that was the 50’s for you – the world was made of different dyes then.

Love Canal still is…