Sunday, March 27, 2016

Inspiration: Bob Steinbrunn

I’ve met dozens of excellent modelers in my 30 years in our hobby and seen the work of hundreds more in print and online. There are a handful that have truly inspired me, whose techniques, craftsmanship, or whose general approach to the hobby have shaped the modeler that I am today. This is the first of a series of articles to acknowledge their contributions to one man’s participation in this wonderful hobby. I hope you find similar people in your life.

You may not recognize Bob Steinbrunn’s name, but he’s been building models for more than 30 years. I saw his work in early 1985 when he published his first article in FineScale Modeler. He described his build of the old Monogram T-6 Texan, eliminating what semblance there was of detail in the cockpit and superdetailing it using basic modeling techniques and sheet plastic; the result was a cockpit that looked better than any of the resin aftermarket alternatives on the market today. He extended the same treatment to other areas of the model, such as the landing gear bays, flaps, and engine. He followed up this article with many others over the years, focusing mostly on 1/48 WW2 aircraft.

A selection of Bob Steinbrunn's articles in FineScale Modeler.
Bob’s articles showed the modeling community what you can do with simple materials and a bit of skill. I’m convinced that the scratchbuilding he showed in FSM sparked the origin of the cottage industry as we know it today. Modelers saw his work and wanted the same results (albeit without the commitment of time at the bench), and we now buy photoetch detail, resin cockpits, and aftermarket detailing parts from dozens of aftermarket companies. This was a turning point in the hobby.

Bob eventually moved on from aircraft, turning his attention to armor – scratchbuilding a 1/6 scale M5A1 Stuart, which is documented in a book he published in 2011 – and ships – such as a mostly scratchbuilt 1/192 scale USS Kidd. Bob is modeler par excellence, and I often think about his modeling as I hone my own humble skills. His modeling reminds me that I don’t have to buy expensive aftermarket to detail my models. If I had to pick a favorite modeler, Bob Steinbrunn would be that man.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Is your stash complete?

We modelers like to brag about the size of our stashes. We toss out those big numbers and laugh at the newbies among us who think that their collection of 40 kits is a lot. There’s even a Facebook group where I can show you mine and you can show me yours. But is there a point when you can officially declare that you have everything you want?

I think I can say that I do.


I’ve maintained a wish list in Dropbox for many years, which I’ve continually updated with the kits, aftermarket, decals, and books that I’m looking for. Dropbox has an app for the iPhone, so I can pull up that list when I visit hobby shops, browse the vendor rooms at IPMS contests, or search listings on eBay. Slowly, very slowly, I’ve removed items as I found them. When I looked at the list yesterday I realized there wasn’t anything left that is inherently hard to find left. I’m…done?

Not quite. There will always be models and related products that I want to buy. What’s left in my wish list are the items, some kits but mostly aftermarket, that I think I need for future projects. For example, I bought Valom’s new 1/72 RF-101C, but I have not yet picked up the F-101A and C variants. I have only one of Valom’s four Navions. I’m patiently waiting for the Hobby Boss SS-23 Spider to drop significant below the $95-111 price point that I see. And there are many Aires exhausts, Armory missiles and bombs, and Eduard sets for kits I already have. But in terms of “rare” models, I have everything I want.

It’s taken a long time to get to this point. I wanted an Airfix/MPC C-130 for a long time but was intent on finding one sealed (too many parts that could otherwise go missing); I finally found one at a hobby shop a couple of years ago. When I realized Sword’s P-80A had become difficult to find and that I didn’t have one (oh, the horror!) I saved a search on eBay and eventually won one. When I was more intensely engaged with figures years ago I longed for Kirin’s 120mm Highlander and happened to find one at an IPMS contest. I didn’t spend a fortune to acquire any of these. I tempered my eagerness with patience.

The internet and particularly eBay have leveled the playing field. Very few models are truly “rare” these days, despite the overuse of the word in eBay listings and the occasional IPMS vendor who proclaims everything on his table as such. Every time I was outbid on models that I sought over the years, I reminded myself that eventually — maybe not today, maybe not this year, but eventually — another one will show up.

I share my experience because I want those of you who are seeking your holy grail (and who doesn’t have one…or five) that this day will come for you, too. In the meantime, build and enjoy what you have, and remember, as I remind myself every day, that your happiness is not contingent upon acquiring or building any one particular model.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why we build what we build

Why do you build what you build? It’s easy to answer, “Because I like German fighters from the Second World War,” or whatever it is that drives your interests, but dig deeper and ask yourself that question again.

A friend and I recently had a conversation about what kits in our respective stashes we’d be willing to sell if, for some reason, we absolutely had to. Or, put another way, which kits would you most definitely keep if you had to downsize?

My strongest interest is Cold War military aviation, if only because those are the aircraft I saw growing up in the 80s. I build older and newer subject matter as well, but mostly for a change of pace. A guy can paint only so much European One schemes before getting bored! For me that in-person experience with those aircraft is what created an affinity for building scale models of them. If I haven’t seen an aircraft in-the-flesh, it probably won’t be a favorite subject when I make a purchase or think about my next project. I wrote about the Ryan Navion last month, but there are other examples.

As I look back over 30-40 years of interest in aviation, I understand now why certain models in my stash will never be the victim of a downsizing.

I saw my first F-16 in 1982 at an open house at MacDill AFB. The 56th Tactical Training Wing was transitioning from the F-4 Phantom to this new airplane, so it holds a special place in my mind. That one of my high school friends became an F-16 pilot 10 years later only reinforces my interest in the jet.

An F-16 of the 56th TTW.

Several years later I spent a week at a Tyndall AFB Civil Air Patrol summer encampment. The organizers paired each cadet for an afternoon with active duty personnel who were performing the jobs we were interested in. They didn’t have pilots available, so I spent the afternoon with an F-106 crew chief with the now-inactive Air Defense Weapons Center. That aircraft isn’t the most interesting modeling subject, but it’s one that I intend to build sooner than later. (I started the Monogram kit that summer, but some construction mistakes on my part doomed the project.)

I’ve always liked the B-25. One was stored at a nearby airport for a number of years, and I had the chance to fly in one when I was 13 or 14. I have two Hasegawa kits in the stash, and I’ve been tempted on more than one occasion to buy the 1/32 HK Models kit. Some day….

That's me, just before my flight!

I love the UH-1. Going back to my high school days again, I flew in a UH-1P several times thanks to orientation flights offered by the 56th TTW. If there’s one “ultimate” model I’d like to build in my lifetime, it’s a super-detailed 1/32 UH-1P.

That's me, the skinny kid in the flight suit behind the crew chief.

Fast-forward a few years and you’ll find me a young buck serving a four-year enlistment in the Air Force…flying a desk. The unit I was assigned to supported, among others, the F-15E System Program Office, the organization responsible for the overall procurement and management of the F-15E. It’s no surprise then, that the Strike Eagle is special to me, too. That and a high school friend was a crew chief on the C model with the 33rd TFW around the same time.

Hasegawa 1/72 F-15E in my stash.

These connections to aircraft, armor, ships, and vehicles — no matter how tenuous — are what give passion to the models we build. When I see modelers posting to the forums telling us they’re burnt out or don’t know what to build, my response is always the same: Build what excites you the most. Look back what inspired you from the beginning and pick up where you left off.