Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Year-end reflections

It’s been a while since I wrote anything new for the Soup, so I thought I’d just check in to say hello and share a few thoughts during these final days of the year.

It’s been a busy few months here in my neck of the woods. In early November I spent a week on vacation in Napa Valley indulging in my newest interest, wine, and soon after was consumed with planning a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 at my house. Then it was all about planning for Christmas and doing some spring cleaning around the house that didn’t get done back in the spring. My workshop is a mess at the moment, serving as a staging area for clutter that I’m moving from one room to another.

While these things have distracted me from working on a model, I’ve remained engaged in the hobby thanks to the interwebz. Every day I read my favorite forums, check the 65,451 model-related groups in my Facebook feed, and contribute a comment or two here and there when I have something substantive to say.

Beyond my home a lot has been going on these last couple of months.

Scale Model World has come and gone in Telford, and based on the photographs I saw of the competition and display tables (iModeler had particularly good coverage) it’s clear to me that I really need to prioritize a trip to England in the next year or two, even if it means skipping the IPMS Nats to do so. The vendors room looked amazing, and the quality of the models was exceptional. The models coming from the hands of our European friends are truly something special; I'll have more to say about that next year.

With Telford and the nearing of year-end, many of the manufacturers have announced their 2016 releases. The good times continue with a huge variety of models in the pipeline, so I recommend each of you ask your boss for a raise. Everyone is raving about AMK’s MiG-31, and I’m sure that if I were to nominate one model as the model of the year it would probably be that one. In addition, a friend tells me that Flyhawk’s new HMS Naiad is “amazing,” high praise for a tiny 1/700 kit; one reviewer on Model Warships says the light cruiser, "sets new standards for injection molded kits in terms of quality and value.” The most ironic announcement for me was Tamiya’s Su-76. Literally the day before I told a friend that it was about time we saw a new-tool kit of the SPG.

Some of you took advantage of Squadron’s Black Friday Sale, and many of you once again complained about their prices. If you made your selections carefully or collaborated with friends and shared an order it was easy to find value in the sale. Personally I saved $80 on my purchases, not to mention the shipping. No complaints here!

Out in the real world, beyond the comfort of our workshops, we've been intrigued by Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. Nobody in their right mind wants war, but it’s been interesting to see the Su-34 in particular used in conflict for the first time. And with the typical Russian star insignia painted over on most of the aircraft, that’s one less decal to apply to our model and one less opportunity to screw up the finish! The Aviationist has provided good coverage of the operations, particularly here and here.

Finally, and most recently, we all cringed at Steve Harvey’s mistake naming Ariadna Gutierrez as Miss Universe and her short, four-minute reign as the most beautiful woman in the galaxy (with the possible exception of Rey from The Force Awakens). To put a scale modeling spin on the event, we can learn something from Ariadna’s response to the mistake. She handled it with class and grace, posting a very kind statement to Facebook, which we should remember the next time we feel slighted at a model contest.

With that I shall sign off for the moment. For those who share my passion for music, I’m going to post my list of my favorite musical albums and songs of 2015 in the next few days. In the meantime, I wish you again a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

P.S. A sincere “welcome” to all of my new readers now following me on Facebook. I’m surprised at how many new Likes I’ve received despite not having posted much over the last two months. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

It's time to be thankful

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the United States, so I thought I’d take a moment to share what I’m thankful our hobby. We spend a lot of time griping and complaining throughout the year, so I think reflecting on the good things we have is time well spent.

I've always liked the Soviet T-64, so I’m thankful for the many variants of the tank that Trumpeter has released over the last couple of years. It's a reminder of how far we've come since the primitive Skif kit. I could say the same about their T-62 and T-80 series. Looking more broadly across the hobby, we should all be thankful for the deluge of kits that have hit the shelves over the last few years. A friend recently pointed out that pretty much any tank he wants to build is available in kit form. These are the best of times. The biggest risk to the hobby now? Running out of subject matter!

I’m grateful for contests. As much as I like looking at your models online, nothing beats the experience of seeing hundreds of models in the flesh. No matter you skill level, you should be entering contests and sharing your work with me.

I'm grateful for rivet counters. Yes, you read that right! Despite the lack of pay and the heat they take from armchair modelers, their contributions are important to the hobby. Rivet counters tell me things about kits that I would never discover on my own, and there's great value in that.

I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made in the hobby. My best friends are guys I met in IPMS clubs or contests. Unfortunately, most of them don’t live near me, so it’s a treat to meet up with them at contests or during family vacations.

Lastly, and most important, I’m thankful for simply being in this hobby. Building models gives me great satisfaction, and I’m not happy unless I spend time at the bench. It always strikes me odd when I meet people who don’t have hobbies. How do they spend their time? What do they spend time thinking about? I feel bad for them.

Count your blessings.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Plan or plan to fail

This month’s topic from the Sprue Cutter’s Union is:

“Do you plan and prepare for every step of your build’s process, or do you wing it as you go?”

My answer is a simple one...plan!

As I’ve gotten older, now in my late-forties, I increasingly find it important that I plan my builds with more diligence than I did in my younger years. I blame this on a poor memory or simply the aging process. Whatever it is, when I “fail to plan,” a phrase Jon used in his introduction to this month’s SCU topic, I usually forget something important.

For example, I forgot to add the control columns in an F-15B I built a couple of years ago. I forgot to remove the masks from the under-fuselage observation windows on my F4F Wildcat build earlier this year. I assembled a Rafale fighter without first considering how I would fill and smooth various seams after subsequent parts were attached. And I installed headlight guards upside down on an M117 Guardian.

I almost always begin a new project by studying photographs of the actual aircraft or vehicle (as well as particularly well built models), reading conversations about the model across the interwebz, and studying the unbuilt model. I’m looking for areas that I can improve and areas that might prove to be troublesome. I look at the aftermarket and photoetch parts that I will use and make notes about how they’ll be added to the kit. I mark up the kit instructions using a red pen, noting changes or additions I intend to make and refer to them throughout the course of the build. I also make notes to myself as I build the model, reminding myself to add this or that piece, to scribe a new panel line after fuselage assembly, etc.

This planning process is now very important to me. Planning reduces the chance that I’ll forgot something important and be left with a model that doesn’t get built or wastes my time. And the gods know that time is the one thing we never have enough of.

Remember the The Five P’s that I learned in the military…Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Contact them directly!

I don’t understand people. The internet puts the world at your fingertips -- literally -- yet we fail to use the resources that are just a click away.

This guy has two phones an an email account. Why is he posting questions on Hyperscale?

I often see modelers post to the forums asking for information about a particular vendor or web site. Here are some I’ve seen over the last few months.
  • Why doesn’t Lucky Model have Trumpeter or Hobby Boss kits in stock?
  • Will Brookhurst Hobbies charge me postage at cost for a single sheet of decals?
  • Has anyone heard from HLJ about their Mosquito pre-order?
  • Any news on if/when we will see the next issue of MMiR?
  • Squadron shows three prices on their website: List Price, Our Price, Lowest Price. Are they offering it at the Lowest Price?

These are all valid questions, but they should be directed to the respective companies not the modeling community. With very few exceptions, every company with a web presence has contact information, usually an email and sometimes a phone number, for just these kinds of questions.

I understand it’s easy to quickly post a question on your favorite forum, but I strongly suggest we start communicating with companies directly before reaching out to the modeling community, which, by the way, is full of misinformation. If a business fails to respond (and shame on them if they do), then a more public inquiry is warranted.

Friday, October 30, 2015

It's just a hobby

Doog has just published yet another insightful view into our hobby, dismissing the “It’s just a hobby” mentality that infects many of the conversations we see online, and I suspect in person, too.

He’s right. When we talk about the accuracy of the latest Trumpeter kit, obsess over the tire tread pattern on a P-47D, or discuss judging at IPMS contests, it’s too easy to dismiss efforts to improve our models or the hobby by saying, “It’s just a hobby.” It is a hobby, but it’s very important to many of us. It’s our passion and it consumes our thoughts, much like wine consumes the thoughts of an oenophile or music consumes the thoughts of a pianist.

We should remember that the conversations we have online largely mirror those we have face-to-face. Some are constructive, and some are inane. The other day I remarked to a friend that a new release is “cool.” Not exactly evidence of a deep thinker, right, but I said it? Would I express that pithy comment online? Of course not. The difference between an online conversation and one that occurs in the real world is that online conversation allows us to consider and compose our thoughts before expressing them. Ideally the comments we post online are constructive and free of microaggressions.

I understand how some people can become annoyed at the minutia we discuss. It's comical at times. Recently someone asked about the correct color of a 1950s era tarmac. That’s a bit much in my opinion, and I was tempted to tell him not to obsess and just paint it a suitable gray color. But it’s important to him, so I simply moved on to the next topic.

Let’s embrace our hobby. Let’s embrace the passion others have for it. Let’s learn when to contribute and when to put the laptop down and build a model instead. In them meantime, remember that as your thinking about whether the access panels are correct for that Kitty Hawk 1/48 MiG-25PD you’re building, someone is carefully planning next year’s crop of hay for the state fair.

Award-winning hay at the 2015 New Jersey State Fair. Beautiful, ain't it?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My modeling imperative

This month Jon, our esteemed shop steward at the Sprue Cutters Union, asked this question for October:

We all get lazy at times but let’s face it, there are areas of this hobby that modelers cannot get skimpy. Whether it’s a part of the assembly process, a finishing technique, or a particular tool, what do you think are the essential aspects you cannot afford to cut corners on during a build? What are your imperatives?

I have to agree with the thoughts of the commonplacemodeler, who said his first imperative is to finish every model. That should be the priority for each and every one of us. If we don’t finish models, we don’t improve our skills and we amass a collection of half-built models that never get built. Neither is a good thing.

Beyond that fundamental imperative, for me the painting and weathering of a model is the most important aspect of every model I build. And every model I look at.

My favorite aircraft from the 2013 IPMS Nats, Bob Windus’s expertly finished 1/48 Hs-129.
As I think about the models I’ve seen at contests and club meetings, those that remain in my memory are those that were, shall we say, stunning. They weren’t necessarily the best built; they may have had construction errors that took them out of contention for an award; they weren't necessarily the most detailed. But they were exceptionally well finished. Whether they had very little weathering or significant weathering, their overall impact was the factor that creates a place for them in my memory.

Here’s the thing. You can put all the detail you want into a model, but once it’s on a contest table or in your display case, it’s very hard for a viewer to see unless he makes an effort to get up close and look for it. Most models are enjoyed at a distance of two to five feet, so it’s crucial that they’re painted and weathered to the best of your abilities.

And yet, I have to wonder why detail is also important to me. The models I’ve most enjoyed building are those to which I’ve added a bit of detail. I should build a few models de-emphasizing detail and focusing on finish. That’s what I did with my Academy F4F Wildcat and a Hobby Boss 1/72 MiG-3 recently, both with good results. Maybe it’s time to try again.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Are hobby shops doing enough?

I recently wrote about the demise of hobby shops and wondered if that’s really a bad thing. We talk a lot about the challenges that hobby shops face in light of the availability of models on the internet, but I’ve always wondered if shop owners have done enough to drive sales. Many seem content to just sit and wait for people to come into their stores. They’re not encouraging customers, particularly existing customers.

A couple of months ago my fiancée and I had dinner at a nearby restaurant, and after the meal they gave us this envelope.

As you can see, it offers two rewards. At the very least it promises three dollars off your next order. It also entices you with the possibility of a bigger reward, but you won’t know what it is until you give the sealed envelope to you waiter upon your next visit. It could be an additional $5 or $10, or even $500. It’s an intriguing opportunity and it’s hard not to want to go back for another dinner.

I wonder why hobby shop owners don’t do something similar. Call me crazy, but if I were an owner I’d be doing everything I can to get my customers to buy my products, and a big part of that effort would be directed at my existing customers.

I’d periodically have flash sales and alert customers via email. Imagine, “25 percent off all plastic kits on Saturday from 10-noon."

I’d offer a rewards program for frequent buyers. For example, get a $10 coupon for every $200 you spend.

I’d offer a birthday discount, like 20 percent off order on your birthday.

I’d give a reward for volume purchases. For example, spend $250 and get $20 off your next purchase of $100 or more.

You get the idea. I realize there’s be a cost to programs like this, but I have to believe that $25,000 in revenue, for example, with a rewards program is better than $15,000 without one.

P.S. If you’re wondering what we ultimately got in that pretty red envelope, well, it’s a funny story. I didn’t realize there was an expiration date, so we didn’t get to use it. Turns out it was good for $50!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to critique someone's model

Our good friend Doog recently wrote about the attaboy culture in our hobby, the tendency to offer only compliments on others' models. I found myself agreeing with him, particularly having spent a number of years painting figures, where the community of painters eagerly seek feedback on their painting skills from respected, more experienced painters.

How would you critique this piece of crap?

Look at that landing gear! What do you say to that?

So what if you're the person who's asked to provide that feedback? How do you deliver a helpful critique without coming off as a jerk? Here are some ideas.

When someone asks you for feedback, I know what you're thinking. "He only wants to hear something positive. He doesn't really want an honest critique." I'd suggest you begin by asking the guy what he likes the most and the least about his model. That should open an interesting conversation. You may agree with what he says, which makes your critique a bit easier if you're not willing to put yourself out there with a critical assessment. For example, if he says he doesn't like the paint, you might say, "I think you're right. It looks like the consistency of the paint was too thick for the pressure you used."

Without an opening like that, I like to begin with a compliment. Open the conversation by telling the modeler what you like about his model. Find something, anything. I remember being a high school student, new to the hobby, and bringing a younger, even less-experienced friend to an IPMS meeting. He brought a really shabby looking A-10. He was maybe 14, really didn't know how to build a model beyond simply assembling it and painting it with a cheap brush. Nonetheless, the club president complimented him on his decision to display it on a base. It was a simple gesture that made my friend feel good about his efforts.

If you're asked to provide a deeper critique, it's important to realize that most feedback falls into one of two categories. The first are "mistakes," items that would typically be noted in a formal contest environment. For example, you might point out a visible seam on the fuselage spine. Or you might point out poorly aligned bombs under the wings.

The other category consists of more subjective feedback. These are the items that one modeler may like and another dislike, such as panel line shading, weathering, and paint choice. When I address these items, I always add a disclaimer. For example, "I think your weathering is a little too heavy, but that's just a reflection of my preferences."

No matter what feedback you provide, ask a question or offer a solution. "I see a seam on your wing tanks. What kind of putty are you using?" Or, "The paint looks a little dark. Next time you might try adding a little yellow to the mix and see if you like it." Ultimately this process is about helping, not judging.

I can't stress enough, always comment on some positive aspect of the model. Find something, even if it's nothing more than the modeler's choice of subject matter. "I really like your P-51. I could look at that plane all day long." Or, "It's really great to see a P-80 in the contest. You rarely see them built up." Remember, we all have an ego, even if it's a small one, and we like to be complimented from time to time even as we endure the discomfort of growth through critique.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The little contest that should

As my long-time readers know by now, I’m a huge proponent of model contests, especially entering them. I try to attend as many as I can, looking at models, seeking out bargains in the vendors room, and meeting up with friends. For a hobby of introverts who spend more time in our basement workshops than we do socializing, contests are those periodic opportunities we have to come up for air and spend time with each other.

That’s why it pains me to see poorly attended contests. One such contest is Armorcon, held annually in Danbury, Connecticut. I’ve been attending the show for five or six years now but have been disappointed with the relatively small number of entries I see from year to year, typically between 200-300. Last weekend's show was no exception.

It’s unfortunate, because theoretically the contest has everything it needs to be bigger than it is. The sponsor, the Northeast Military Modelers Association, is a chapter of both IPMS and AMPS, so they should have a strong network into the members of both organizations. And they have location. Connecticut is a great spot for the large number of modelers in the Northeast, with more than a few states and a dozen or so IPMS chapters within driving distance.

The vendors room is strong, with vendors selling practically every armor kit currently on the market (including new releases). Red Frog Hobbies brings a huge line of paints and supplies, Farina Enterprises has their line of diorama supplies, and Boomer’s Books had an outstanding assortment of new and out-of-print books this year.

Armorcon has seminars, which are rare in IPMS contests. This year they were anchored by a discussion of Soviet post-war heavy tanks from Neil Stokes, who you probably know from his definitive books on the T-34 and KV series and his web site, 4BO Green. He talked about the IS-3, IS-4, IS-7, and T-10, a timely subject given the recent releases from Trumpeter and Meng.

The contest entries are quite good from year to year. I’ve pictured some of my favorites from last weekend. The contest follows the typical AMPS style of judging, with entries carefully scrutinized and scored by four judges with the best awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

I really believe this contest can be bigger. It should have larger attendance and stronger contest entries. I don’t quite understand what’s happening, but I hope we can get the word out and make this contest the “must-see” event of the fall contest season. I'll do everything I can.

Note: I have no affiliation with the NMMA. I'm just a loyal customer.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Microaggression and the scale modeler

Have you heard the term microaggression? I hadn’t either until a few weeks ago until I ran across this article on Vox.

The term goes back to 1970 when a Harvard professor used it to describe the insults that white people made toward African Americans. A psychologist later expanded use of the term to include insults toward other marginalized groups and defined microaggressions as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.”

For example, a white person might say to a wealthy African American, “You’re a credit to your race.” Or when you learn that the Asian high schooler who lives next to you won a math competition, you might respond with, “I’m not surprised." These comments aren't intended to be insulting, but to the group they're directed at, they are.

I write about this here because we see microaggressions in the scale modeling community as well. They’re the subtle jibes at other modelers and companies that often result in a discussion quickly going downhill. Here are a few that I noticed over the last few months:

"There is a correct way of doing things, then there is the Kitty Hawk way.”

“Prepare for the criticisms of this kit and your commentary from the usual suspects."

Anyone who refers to eBay as Evilbay.

And from your’s truly, my periodic contribution to the scourge of microaggression, “Very nice painting and weathering. It’s nice to see armor that’s not over-weathered for a change.”

These comments are not overtly aggressive, but they’re expressed with a tone that can trigger a more aggressive response from someone else. And that response can subsequently prompt another, and so on until a discussion thread is locked, deleted, or its participants banned. It’s all very silly given the context of what we modelers talk about, but it’s a reality in our community.

I can’t tell you not to be a jerk. Haters gonna hate, as they say, but for those of you who are reasonable, level-headed members of this community, I can only suggest that you look carefully at how you express your opinions, and when confronted with a microaggression (or an all-out aggressive remark) from someone else, that you choose the high road by simply not responding. Don't feed the trolls, as they also say.

If you're interested a deeper look into microaggressions and how to deal with them (particularly if you're a moderator on any of the forums), be sure to read this article.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Solving the problem that is yellow

I often see conversations on ARC and other forums about painting yellow. It seems to be one of the more challenging colors to work with. I've never had to paint a large area of yellow myself, but with a few models in the stash that will eventually call for yellow (T-6/SNJ, T-28, Blenheim), I've been anxious to see if it’s as hard a color to apply as people seem to imply. Of course I'd use my paint of choice, Tamiya.

Before accepting the challenge, it might be helpful to briefly review basic color theory.

Three attributes define all colors:
  • Hue – the simple name for a color, such as yellow, red, blue.
  • Lightness – a color’s value in terms of whether it can be described between two poles of light and dark (or black and white).
  • Saturation – a color’s colorfulness, that is, whether it’s intense or dull or somewhere in between.
Let’s talk about hue. I’ll share a simple thought: Yellow, even a specific pigment such as FS 33538, is basically…yellow! As I suggested in this post a year ago, don’t obsess over finding or using a “correct” yellow for your model. Be content with a color that any reasonable person would identify as yellow.

That leaves us with lightness and saturation. There are many factors that affect the specific yellow that you see on a 1:1 scale airframe. There’s the sun's illumination and its light being filtered through clouds, real-world weathering, variations in the manufacture of the color used on the actual aircraft, the correct mixing and application of the paint in the factory or field, etc. Likewise, there are many factors that affect the specific yellow that you see on a scale model. The light in the room, scale effect, the paint you used, your ability (and a viewer’s ability) to correctly see color, and the memory that you (and a viewer) have of what they think the correct color should be.

Those factors affect the lightness and saturation of the colors that we see. Accepting these variables and knowing that you cannot control all of them makes it easier to be comfortable applying a color to your model that looks like yellow.

The challenge with painting yellow is the opacity of most paints. They generally don’t cover well, so you have to use a thick application or many thin applications. The former is problematic because thick paints don’t flow efficiently through an airbrush, and the latter is problematic because many layers of paint tends to obscure detail.

With all this color theory in mind, I set out on an experiment by selecting a suitable model, Sword’s 1/72 Northrop N-9MA Flying Wing. Pretty crude kit, but the point of the project was learning how to paint yellow not superdetailing. Nevertheless, I added a few things here and there, particularly splitter plates inside the leading edge air intakes, and I had to scratchbuild a new front landing gear when the kit piece broke.

Earlier this week I arrived at the painting stage. First I applied a suitable blue to the underside of the aircraft, custom mixed by eye. Simple.

Then I thought through an approach to yellow that would address the challenges I described earlier. Most modelers suggesting a white undercoat prior to the yellow. I’m not one to apply bright, true colors to my models, so I decided to try something different. I wanted to try a tan color with a marked yellow hue. I decided on Tamiya XF-59 Desert Yellow mixed 50:50 with XF-3 Yellow, the paint I would use for the main color. I theorized that tan would provide a deep primer color that would not subsequently require copious amounts of yellow. And I was right; the color was perfect for a reasonable application of yellow.

In thinking about the final yellow, I’d read that opacity was problematic, so I decided to follow this “tan theme” and mix a bit of the same Desert Yellow into the main yellow color, which I theorized would increase its opacity. I used Tamiya XF-3 Yellow, XF-59 Desert Yellow, and XF-2 White in a 4:1:1 ratio respectively, the white used to bring down the color a bit for scale effect. Again, the result was a satisfactory color that, I think, is slightly lower in saturation than it would’ve been had had I used the pure yellow out of the bottle.

I’m very happy with the result, especially after some subtle post-shading, though to be self-critical I don't think I used the right color to tint the yellow. A pin wash and weathering will ultimately follow, which I expect will alter the finish a bit.

As you approach painting challenges, I encourage you to think outside of conventional wisdom. Follow your intuition. Try something new. Make your own path. You might be surprised what you learn along the way.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Maybe hobby shops are obsolete

Every couple of months there’s a post to one of the big forums about another hobby shop closing. We lament the closure, talk about how great hobby shops are, and then open a new browser window and place an order from a favorite online retailer.

It finally happened to me, two weeks prior to the IPMS Nats, when I saw that Avenel Hobbies in Colonia, New Jersey would close at the end of July. It was one of the best shops I’ve been to, and it’s a shame to know I can’t go there for paint, supplies, or a kit. Whenever I made the drive to the shop I always tried to buy a model, paying retail, if only to make my small contribution to the shop’s success. (Alas, it didn't help.)

We all know why hobby shops are failing, so I won’t beat that dead horse. Prices, selection, aftermarket, blah, blah, blah. Suffice to say, this is our reality, and we have to face the implications.

I haven’t been to a hobby shop in three or four months, and I have to be honest that I don’t miss the experience. So I have to wonder…are hobby shops obsolete?

I hear your arguments.

“The LHS is a great place to meet up with friends.”

Really? Whenever I was at Avenel or any local shop I almost never saw modelers shopping much less talking. Meetups are a rare event, though in fairness I do know of at least one shop in Ohio where 10-15 guys regularly gather every Friday to talk plastic.

“The LHS is a good place to introduce new modelers to the hobby.”

Maybe, but I have a feeling that new modelers — at least adult modelers — will gather information about the hobby from online resources before setting foot in a hobby shop. For example, I’ve been considering learning how to brew beer at home. There’s a small shop near my home that sells supplies, but I’d probably do my research and make my subsequent purchases online. I don't think someone new to scale modeling to be much different.

“If I need a bottle of Model Master paint I can buy it at my LHS instead of waiting a week to mail order it.”

Yes, if you're lucky to have a shop close to you. Avenel Hobbies was a 60 minute drive for me, so swinging by after work was not an option. The two remaining shops, mediocre by comparison to Avenel, are at least a 30 minute drive. It’s easier for me to mail order paint and nearly anything else I need. Granted, that presumes that I monitor my supplies and plan ahead, but I don’t find that task terribly difficult, and ordering online ultimately saves me time driving to/from a shop on the weekend, time that could be spent at the workbench.

I'm afraid to say that hobby shops may no longer be a viable business opportunity. That so many have closed tells us either there’s no market for them or the owners are mismanaging them. Or a combination of both. Either way, like it or not, we’re adapting to a new reality that may not be as bad as we suspect.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

My favorite Boston bookstore

Boston is one of my favorite cities. It offers a wonderful mix of old and new, has a great restaurant scene for foodies like me, and it's a comfortable walk from one side of the city to the other. I have not yet prepared a "so you're visiting Boston" article as I have for New York City, but I thought I'd tell you about my favorite Boston bookstore.

Brattle Book Shop touts itself as America's oldest bookstore, founded in 1825. That's the Nineteenth Freakin' Century! Even if that were just a marketing gimmick I'd still encourage you to visit when you're in town. They stock more than 250,000 titles, but the great thing about the shop is the selection on the shelves. You won't find those run-of-the-mill B&N coffee table books and latest best sellers. Instead you'll see more obscure titles that came from the collections of book lovers. Boston is a city of intellectuals, so the selection is one you won't find anywhere else in the country.

And here's the great thing for the scale modeler. Brattle has an awesome selection of military titles, filling up nearly an entire aisle.

Here's a small selection of Brattle's aviation titles.

I even found a bound collection of journals from the American Aviation Historical Society spanning 1956 to 1984. The price? Over $1,000, although membership in the AAHS provides online access to these same journals. But they sure would look great in your library, right? You can browse the journal index on their web site.

While I'm writing about Boston, I should briefly mention two of my favorite places to eat. For lunch go to the Parish Cafe on Boylston Street in Boston's Back Bay. They have a unique selection of sandwiches, each designed by a prominent American chef. For dinner I recommend Cragie on Main in Cambridge. This is a manly restaurant (their dining room and menu are reminiscent of Resto, one of my NYC recommendations), with a rotating menu that usually features oysters, clams, sausage, and even pig's head. My girlfriend wasn't game for the latter on our last visit to Boston, so if any of you are interested, ping me and we'll make a reservation!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A visit to the Mahan truck collection

Do you like big trucks? Of course you do!

I had the pleasure over the weekend of visiting an incredible collection of antique trucks, all part of The Mahan Collection in Basking Ridge, NJ. I was quite fortunate actually, because the collection isn’t open to the public. The open house was via invitation only, and as they say in New Jersey, “I know a guy who knows a guy.”

The trucks have largely been restored by Gary Mahan, I understand through his own efforts, and via the acquisition of another collector’s trucks. Most of them are Mack, though there are a number of other trucks from other manufacturers as well as antique construction equipment on the collection grounds. The trucks are housed in a half-dozen warehouses, most with informative placards similar to what I’ve seen at The Museum of the United States Air Force, right down to the provenance of each truck.

Here’s a handful of the trucks and other interesting things I saw. If you’re in the NJ/PA area you’re likely to see some of Gary Mahan's collection at truck shows sponsored by the American Truck Historical Society (ATHS). 

A big thank you to my friend Randy for the invitation.

The beautiful property of the Mahan collection.

One of the many buildings housing the trucks.

1943 Mack FC, the world’s largest chain-driven truck. This dump was used moving over-burden, rock, coal, copper, nickel, and iron ore.

Unusual 1927 Mack AB that features a Caterpillar engine. This particular truck was used in Scranton, PA.

You’ll probably never see the Mack bulldog perched atop the Caterpillar logo anywhere like this.

1934 Mack CH.

One of the more contemporary trucks in the collection, a 1960 Ford F-1000 Super Duty. This particular truck was operated by a CT garage.

A modern Mack that Mahan uses to haul trucks to ATHS shows.

Not every truck in the collection has been restored. This cement mixer shows its age and character.

An unusual find in the Mahan back lot.

You want stencils? We got stencils!

I enjoyed seeing how many of these old trucks incorporated both steel and wood in their construction. Here wood supports the dump body of the Mack FC shown above.

Here wood is used for the windshield.

Here wood is used for the truck bed.

The Mahan man cave.

Most awesome table ever!

We've got tires!

We've got parts. Some of them primed even!

We have fiddly bits.

Gary has paint!

Gary has a sense of humor!