Thursday, March 12, 2015

The magazine that started it all

The year was 1981. John Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan, MTV was launched, and the Space Shuttle flew for the first time.

It’s also the year I learned that there was a lot more to scale modeling than just haphazardly gluing parts together and relying on the colors that the plastic was molded in.

This is the magazine that started it all for me.

It’s the June 1981 issue of the now-defunct Scale Modeler. Maybe the old-timers among my readers remember the magazine. It wasn’t very good in hindsight — if we have had the Internet back then most modelers would’ve poo-poohed it as many of you do FineScale Modeler today (unwarranted, in my opinion) — but it was all we had in the United States back then, and we were happy.

My tiny, Florida hometown didn’t have much, so I always looked forward to going into nearby Crystal River to pursue the extensive magazine collection of the only bookstore within 50 miles. That’s where I found this issue of Scale Modeler and quickly realized that I had no idea guys were taking the hobby to the depth that I found within those 74 pages!

Ken Belisle, in an article about his F-14 diorama, used paint from a company I'd never heard of, Floquil (where can I get this stuff, I wondered), and added brake lines to the landing gear and used a tube for the pitot tube! Wow!

In his build of the Matchbox 1/72 PB4Y Privateer Bill Grant used putty and sand paper to hide seams. (People do that?) And what is this Micro Gloss and Micro Flat he mentioned?

But it was Jed Bates’ Otaki 1/48 P-40E Kittyhawk that really make an impression on me. It was beautiful, as well executed, painted, and weathered as any model I’ve seen in the last few years. No Alclad, pigments, or canopy masks, just basic supplies and above average skill. I read the article several times over and studied the color photos to fully appreciate his work. It should be no surprise that I bought the Otaki kit as soon as I found one. That is, after I located good hobby shops and attended my first IPMS convention years later. As you an see, the model is still in my stash!

The models featured in one issue of one magazine sparked a passion in me that’s still present today. It’s been fun for me to look back at the issue (a replacement, sourced via eBay) and see the little things that inspired me, and it’s a reminder that the models I see today, whether online or at contests, continue to fuel this passion and inspire me to continue. Twenty years ago I thought I’d be a better modeler than I am today; I'm not significantly better, but I still love this hobby and can’t imagine spending my spare time engaged in anything else.

What sparked your interest in the hobby? What keeps you going today?


I feel compelled to point out that Ken Belisle is still active in the hobby today. Here are a couple of his 1/72 builds from the IPMS National Convention a few years ago. He's one of the best 1/72 scale modelers in the world.


  1. Damn, I love columns like this! Brings back similar memories from about the same time. I remember trying to figure out what Hot Stuff was!

  2. Scale Modeler was also my first inkling that there were others out there who not only built models but did them well. Think it was 1974 when I found my first issue at a base PX (Dad was Air Force). Before that I remember seeing a display of tank models on bases (no figures) at a library but that was pretty much it.

  3. Thanks, a great post. I was initially inspired by the Shep Paine leaflets in early Monogram AFV kits. These were the first indication to me that moe could be done thna just build and paint the kit. Then came Military Modelling magazine and Fine Scale Modeler.

  4. Can someone direct me to a history of Scale Modeler magazine? I am particularly interested in learning about the artists who painted many of the cover illustrations.

    1. Hi Richard. I'm afraid I can't help. I've never seen an index of the issues. But many of the covers are least in my mind!