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!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A quick fix for motorization holes

A lot of you still build older armor kits, and those of you who do are familiar with Tamiya's marketing gimmick back in the 1970s where their armor was sold with small, battery-powered motors. A square or rectangular hole was molded into the underside of the lower hull to allow you to insert the batteries that powered the tiny motors.

Serious modelers laugh at the idea of running their carefully built and painted models on the floor, so the first task with every model was filling the hole. Unfortunately, most modelers over-engineered the solution, choosing the laborious process of filling and sanding the hole flush. I counted 14,335 articles in FineScale Modeler where the authors took that approach with their tracked masterpieces.

There's an easier way, and I really don't understand why no one does this. Rather than fill and sand the hole, simply cut a piece of sheet plastic that vaguely represents an access hatch and glue it over the hole. You're done in 10 minutes and you're an hour closer to modulating the bejesus out of your model and applying rain streaks.

Simple sheet plastic on a Tamiya Chieftan.

I hear a few of you protesting. "But that's not accurate. Access panels are flush with the underside!" True, but once the model is on a base or in your display case, it's extremely difficult to see the very fine line where the bogus hatch has been applied. And rarely, even in a contest, does it matter.

So there you go. Easy, right?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Missing the post-Nats high

So here we are a month after the IPMS Nats and I have yet to spend a single minute working on a model. This is common; you attend a club meeting or contest and return home on a modeling high only to find yourself without time for the workbench. When I was in high school my local IPMS chapter met on Monday nights, and I typically worked after school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday, so even then I didn't get time with models until the following weekend. Yesterday I told a friend that in a perfect world I would schedule a week’s vacation for the Nats and an additional week immediately after. Imagine how great it would be to return home on Sunday, spend the evening with a glass of beer, and then wake up Monday morning and head straight to the workshop. That would be a little slice of heaven!

The closest I’ve come to a model over the last month was a walk past the Peking in New York City last weekend. You can read more about it here, but the ship was one of the last steel-hulled sailing vessels built. I confess to not knowing much about ships, but I always have a sense of awe when I see one up close. The Peking was supposed to be returned to Germany for restoration, but the deal collapsed, and it’s future is currently uncertain.

I hope to spend time at the workbench in a week or so. Until then, at least I have the interwebs to keep up with what all of you are doing.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The generosity of two men

I have very fond memories of my early years in our hobby. I had the pleasure of meeting several modelers who became mentors to me, not just because they passed on good advice and modeling techniques, but also — and perhaps more importantly — because they were generous. I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to know them.

One of those modelers who comes to mind is Alan Royer. I met him when I joined IPMS Ocala way back in the 1980s. He was an incredibly talented truck modeler, doing conversions and scratchbuilt trailers that were as perfectly built as they were unfamiliar to the teenager I was at the time. He invited me to his home to see his workshop and models, and I was impressed by all of the modeling supplies he had. In addition to his talent, I remember his generosity. Before I left he gave me some Evergreen sheet plastic so that I could begin to learn how to construct and assemble my own parts. It was a small gesture, but it inspired me when I was most impressionable.

Fast-forward 35 years.

Earlier this summer the hobby lost a good man, Walt Champlin, who was a member of IPMS Columbus Eddie Rickenbacker. I didn’t know him very well, making his acquaintance only through mutual friends who are members of the club, but I did have the pleasure of spending an evening at his home several years ago when I was in town for the club’s annual contest, Blizzard (which is one of the best local/regional contests I’ve attended).

I will remember Walt for his generosity as well. He had been a modeler for a long time. His man cave was awesome, with a collection of kits and aftermarket that overlapped my interests. When I finished studying Wolfpack’s A-7 resin folding wings, Walt offered them to me. “You don’t owe me anything. Just build them,” he said, remarking that he didn’t want me to simply put them in my stash and forget about them. His passing is a reminder to me that they’re still in my stash. I need to commit to using them on an A-7 build before the year is out.

I write about these two men in part because I’m a sentimental old fool, but also as a reminder in an age of internet anonymity and animosity to be kind, to encourage new modelers. It doesn’t have to be something with monetary value like sheet plastic or an aftermarket accessory, just something that will inspire them in the future.

P.S. I lost track of Alan Royer shortly after I graduated from high school. If anyone knows his whereabouts, I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Other voices: IPMS/USA 2015 National Convention after action report

I've long intended to open Scale Model Soup to other modelers who have something to share, and Paul Cotcher of Red Star Scale Models is the first to step up.

There's always a great deal of conversation following the IPMS Nats, and this year has been no different. Maybe you've seen the conversations on the IPMS/USA Forums, or maybe you've been quietly talking about the Nats among your friends, but either way there's no shortage of ideas about how to improve or change an event that for many of us is Christmas in July...or August, as the case may be. Paul has some interesting thoughts and may offer more over the coming weeks.

- - - - -

By most standard measures this year's IPMS/USA National Convention was an outstanding show. As has been the pattern for the other shows that Columbus has hosted in recent history (1997, 2009), this was a big show with over 2400 models on display, which ranks this show in the top five all time (it's worth noting the three of the five top spots all belong to Columbus). There was a wide variety of vendors available to cater to almost any modeling taste. From my own perspective as a vendor, my sales were excellent, so the show was more than commercially successful. In talking with other vendors it seemed like they were having successful shows as well. With all the success, good sales, and lots of models on display, there are still issues that must be discussed, and problems that are only there IF you can look beyond the normal IPMS measures of success.

First, this should not be taken as a critique of T.J. and the local crew in Columbus. They were always on point, always quick to solve a problem, and seemed to have things well in control. In the areas that they were able to control, they did a great job! The failings of this year's show all center around the facility and scheduling. Knowing this year's vendor coordinator, and having a few offline discussions with him, as well as asking around with the Hyatt staff, it seems pretty clear that the issues were not the direct result of the Columbus staff.

Around a month before the show several vendors found out that there were scheduling conflicts with the rooms, particularly at setup. Those of us in the Union room already knew (it was written in our contract) that we would have to close early on Saturday. Now, we found out that we could not setup until 1:00 on Wednesday, with the show opening at 2:00. As a vendor, I cannot stress how important setup time is. Some of us have elaborate displays that are time consuming to setup. It is difficult enough to get this done without many distractions. However, once customers are in the room the problem compounds quickly.  Imagine trying to get everything organized at the same time customers are excitedly looking through new product or trying to make purchases. So with only an hour of setup time available, we had an extremely stressful setup schedule. The norm that we've come to expect is that vendor setup runs from at least 9:00 in the morning (sometimes even as early as 6:00) until a mid-afternoon open time. This allows everything to be ready so that the vendors are immediately ready to serve the excited customers that pour in quickly after the doors open. Those of us vendors in the Union room were not even the most impacted. The room across the hall (which I believe was the Franklin room) was not available for setup until 6:00 pm, four hours after the show opened. So those vendors not only didn't have long for setup, but they also lost valuable sales time (effectively their Wednesday was setup only with no sales).

While reviewing options with the Hyatt staff and having a little time to kill Wednesday morning we found out a few key things. Most importantly, the group that had the spaces before us (CCH) had contracted with the Hyatt two and a half years before the Columbus team contracted for their space. So where IPMS would have contracted for that space in 2013 after winning the bid for the convention, the CCH convention would have contracted in 2010 or 2011. This is an important fact to consider when we think about planning our conventions. The lead time for planning a space is far longer than the normal two year bid cycle that we are on. I'll speak to that in more detail in the next article.

As our vendor coordinator suggested, once setup was completed, the show would run just fine, and that in fact was the case -- until it was time to clear out on Saturday, and then there were a whole new set of issues to deal with.

Sometime Friday evening we started noticing a lot more pink around the hotels and convention space, and by Saturday they started to arrive en masse. 31 is a multi-level marketing type of organization selling handbags and similar merchandise, structured much like Mary Kay (anyone remember that in Dallas in 2000?). By Saturday the "pink people" were hard to miss, they were EVERYWHERE, and IPMS was suddenly the small fish in the pond. Once they arrived, their security and the Columbus police cordoned off all the normal loading zones for their busses. For those of us vendors trying to load out on Saturday, the places to load our vehicles were severely restricted. Even the very helpful Hyatt staff that was working with carts to help us load out quickly were at a loss as to where to put our vehicles while we spent the few minutes moving stuff from the carts to the vehicles. I personally was redirected several blocks to the other side of the convention center (a path that was not obvious) only to find the 31 busses on the other side as well -- and very rude security people (working for 31) that would not allow us to load.

While this is normal logistics for a large convention, it underscores an important point for IPMS, that we are a relatively small group. Yes, we need a lot of space for vendors and for the model displays, but, in terms of the number of people, we are a small group. In talking to the 31 folks (that weren't their rude security people) we found out that they were expecting anywhere from 45 to 65,000 attendees for their convention, and that the convention didn't officially start until Monday (mind you this is still Saturday afternoon). By Saturday night, area restaurants had a 2 plus hour wait and elevators had half hour lines to get back to our rooms.

The most important lesson learned here is that those planning future IPMS events need to be keenly aware of conventions taking place before and after our event, and when those attendees are leaving from the show prior or arriving for the show following, and need to be utterly clear of our contract start and stop times, such that the hosting convention center does not try to fill in a meeting right before or after ours by crowding it in before/after our start/stop time.

Finally Saturday night and the awards banquet arrived - and as such we found out why we had to leave the Union room early. It had to be converted from our vendor room into the banquet room, as there were no other available spaces for the awards banquet to be held (again, the entire town was consumed by the 31 show). The available space was BARELY adequate for the banquet tables and had next to no space for those that invariably arrive afterwards for the awards show. The same hallway where we had unloaded our vendor goods were now filled with chairs trying to peek through the doors at the screens.

Those highlight some of the issues faced by this year's convention -- again, none were really the fault of the Columbus team planning the show. The issues were largely minor in nature (save possibly for the scheduling conflicts for vendor setup). I'm certain there are people complaining far more loudly, as there always seem to be about IPMS shows after they complete. Hopefully most can read this as an objective look at the issues that we faced.

It is important to consider these scheduling and space issues when we next begin to look at how to restructure the IPMS show to help in the planning, logistics and operations of the show that would put a near permanent end to these kinds of problems, not to mention the far more minor registration and similar operational issues that seem to plague us each year.

The opinions expressed above are those of the contributor and not necessarily of Scale Model Soup.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Q&A with the CEO of Squadron Mail Order

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Gwynne Gorr, CEO at Squadron Mail Order. She's been on the job now for almost a year and has some interesting thoughts on trends, promoting the hobby, and a look into Squadron's product line.

Scale Model Soup: Jerry Campbell, the founder of Squadron, passed away about a month ago. You’re now the CEO of the company he founded. What is his legacy in the hobby?

Gwynne Gorr: I believe the greatest legacy Jerry left behind was making the tools of this hobby broadly available to everyone. From his first retail location in Detroit to our distribution facility in Carrollton, Texas, it is easy to see that he worked very hard making sure that every person who had an interest in modeling had access to not only interesting subjects to build, but the tools and accessories to make those builds the best they could  be.

SMS: Tell us about yourself. How did you come to join Squadron as CEO?

GG: I spent a large part of my career leading the precision model business for The Franklin Mint, a role I truly loved. I learned a tremendous amount about what collectors look for in excellent models and bring that with me as I work with the team at MMD in the world of model building. The Franklin Mint was all about quality, integrity, and creativity. It is these key tenets that I am focused on now at MMD to help make it the greatest modeling company in the industry.

SMS: When you look at your own sales and other industry information, what trends do you see within the scale modeling hobby today?

There are lots of interesting things we see evolving from “the numbers” these days.

While aviation subjects are still number one, there has been a pretty dramatic growth in armor subjects. This has been driven, I believe, by an improvement in the quality of these kits thus making them more interesting to build. Improvement in track design has also been a contributor.

Availability of higher quality, more sophisticated kits is on the rise. Companies like Trumpeter, Kitty Hawk, and Panda have really been bringing up their game, and newer companies like Meng are adding pressure for excellence into the competition. All this is great news for modelers.

The age of the average modeler continues to grow higher. The need to invigorate younger people to give the hobby a try is paramount to its health and well-being in the very near future. Everyone in this industry needs to do what it can to change this trend and grow the number of hobbyists. This is a focus of MMD and you will see a number of new categories of programs from us soon designed to attract new people to our hobby.

SMS: How can Squadron, the manufacturers, and organizations like IPMS promote scale modeling?

GG: I think there are lots of things that can be done. Get involved with organizations involving children to expose them to the hobby with programs like model building clubs, sponsoring activities with groups like Scouting, working with veterans groups communicating the benefits of modeling, and more editorial in broad based publications designed to show people how far the hobby has come since “the old days” to attract adult modelers that enjoyed the hobby as a child but have since abandoned it.

This is a major focus of MMD, and hopefully of all the manufacturers and organizations in the industry. It represents the future lifeblood of our business and is of highest importance.

SMS: Why are models so expensive, particularly those coming out of Asia?

GG: There are two significant dynamics affecting the price of models these days. First of all, manufacturing numbers are down. There are many more models coming out than there used to be and many fewer modelers to purchase them. This leads to much smaller production quantities which in turn reduces economies of scale in manufacturing. This all adds up to higher cost. Add to that increasing labor rates in China coupled with higher raw material costs and it leads to higher pricing across the board.

Additionally, the bar has been raised with regard to what the modeler expects. We want more detail, more parts, more interesting subjects, more photo etch, etc. These things all add up to higher cost as well. Again, if we had a larger base of builders, it would help to mitigate costs as costs could be spread out better across production.

SMS: Some of my readers have asked about Squadron’s not carrying the latest Airfix kits. Will we see a re-stock?

GG: I am happy to say that we should see Airfix back in our warehouse in late August or early September.

SMS: Tell us more about Squadron's new lowest price guarantee.

GG: It is our desire to build trust with our customers that we will bring them the best of everything in modeling. We have worked hard to increase the number of products we offer over the past several months. We have been very busy developing new tools and accessories such as the Squadron Plastic Weld to make the hobby enjoyable. We are implementing a new computer system to improve overall service to our customers. We are creating a vast library of videos, available on our website, to help modelers learn new tips and techniques to assist with their builds.

In addition to all of this, we want our customers to know that they can count on us to be fair on price. If a customer can show us one of our kits is higher in price, we will match that price, period. We are committed to bringing the very best possible experience to anyone who buys from Squadron. Not only the best price, but the best service, the best resources, and the best selection as well.

SMS: What is the biggest challenge facing Squadron?

GG: I think the greatest challenge is making sure the merchandising reflects the desires of what the builders want to build. There are tens of thousands of  modeling products out there and carrying them all would be impossible. Sorting through what is good, what is compelling, what is most interesting to the ultimate consumer is certainly not an easy thing!

Our team at Squadron is built largely of modelers themselves, so you can imagine the intensity of debate as we evaluate new products as well as old ones to determine what and how many to buy.

SMS: What can we look forward to in the latter half of 2015 and into 2016?

There are lots of exciting things ahead from Squadron. We have two new Encore kits coming soon; one in August and one in November. The first two issues of these limited edition kits this year sold out in a matter of a couple of weeks, so we encourage customers to act quickly when the new ones are offered. They won’t last for long!

We are working hard on building our video library of tips, techniques and reviews from Jef Verswyvel, our Chief Modeler. These videos are designed to help people improve their building skills and share the latest and greatest industry releases...all while having a little bit of fun at the same time. Be sure to tune check them out at

We are thrilled to announce that we will be going ahead with the 25th anniversary EagleQuest event in Dallas next summer. EagleQuest is a celebration of all that is model making; competition, camaraderie, and an opportunity to visit our warehouse operation are just a few reasons to attend. Watch for more information coming soon and we hope you can attend.

Squadron is proud to also be a sponsor of Happy Joe, a veteran’s organization whose purpose is to help service men and women find employment in the digital world when their service to our nation is complete. We will have several new programs launched over the next year in support of their good work and spreading the word to others about this wonderful effort.

Lots more top secret projects are underway as well. Stay tuned and keep modeling!

SMS: Thank you for your time, Gwynne.