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From the opposite end of the workbench

…the twisted ramblings of a ship modeler.

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All Modelers are weird, except ship modelers…

DISCLAIMER: If you are a mutant, egotistical, or believe that poking fun at other modelers is cruel, stereo-typical, or predjudiced, then go away from this page NOW, and go read some Fuzzy Bunny children's story to make your whiney ass all teary eyed. I'm personally tired of people being offended by this tongue in cheek humorous article. This article pokes fun at EVERYONE, and if you're offended by it, chances are it's YOU I'm writing about...ya' mutant. What's a Mutant? Read THIS editorial, and stop sending me emails telling me I'm a modeling racist...

BTW, this is simply one in a series of on-going editorials about modeling...Click Here for the others, and enjoy your stay, ok?


What makes us tick? Not just modelers in general, but ship modelers in particular? Why are we so different? As I sit here and take in the toxic fumes of home heating oil (the furnace is broken, and there’s a fellow here fixing it), I ponder the questions…

When did it start? Is it inherited? Learned? Why ships?

Well, I think it’s because of the individuality of the ships…ships are individuals, and many are legendary…Hood, Arizona, Titanic, Constitution, Victory…they inspire us to dream…since scientists believe that man came supposedly came from the sea, it makes sense, at least to me…that we identify with floatie things.

At one point in my modeling career, I built ‘other’ things…tanks, aircraft, cars, even the occasional (gasp) sci-fi kit. The one thing that I noticed was the types of people, and the models that they built.

Everybody put on your stereo-typing hat here…Now, this is not to say that modelers from other ‘verticals’ are bad people, ‘cause they aren’t…they’re just different, and it’s different ones that I’m about to trash….

Science Fiction Modelers:

Weirdness scale: 10

Creativity scale: 10

Nerd Scale: 8

Anal Retention Scale: 3

Prima Dona Scale: 2

I think the scariest of the modeling population are the Sci-Fi guys…these are the folks that are into horror, robots, Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Twilight Zone. Self professed Sci-Fi modelers prefer to wear black, and I have determined that this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re prove to spilling things like CA, kicker, paint and wiping putty knives off across your pants leg.

I’ve also noticed that sci-fi modelers are quite prone to having multiple parts of their bodies pierced. Noses, lips, eyelids, tongues, ears, foreheads…I have a logical explanation for this as well…. Most of them forget to put the X-acto knife down when they finish modeling… ya’ reach up to scratch that itch, and whammo, another hole in your face…and of course, you have put something into the hole stop the bleeding, right??

Sci-fi modelers also tend to be more ‘geekish’ than other modelers…knowing technical details of the models they build, and the precise locations to learn of them in the movies…”Well, I took the turret off this battleship model, glued it to the back of the Mark IV Galactic Destroyer model, and ran some electrical wiring out of where the gun barrels are supposed to be… This is exactly how they did it in Scene 2 of ‘Dr. Galacto’s Prostate War’, which I happen to have on DVD AND on VHS, but my friend has it on 16mm, can you believe it???”  Thank goodness there are sci-fi modelers, for these people will inevitably end up either saving the world from nuclear destruction, or will eventually become good little capitalists and make movies like Star Wars: Episode XXVIII : Chewbacca’s Dirty Little Secrets Revealed.

Armor Modelers:

Weirdness scale: 5

Creativity scale: 8

Nerd Scale: 3

Anal Retention Scale: 10

Prima Dona Scale: 1

Armor modelers are an odd lot…for a multitude of reasons. I personally believe that most armor modelers were not allowed to play in the dirt as children, and thus are making up for a lost part of their childhood. The opposite end of the spectrum also lends some validity, as armor is a way for an adult to ‘play in the dirt’ without sitting in the sand pile making pppppppppppppffffffffffffffffttttttttttttttttt   truck noises and having the drool run down the corner of your mouth, covering everything with spit. We all remember that child growing up, don’t we? Chances are he’s the guy that plowed your driveway this winter.

Armor guys, like aircraft guys (coming up later) are fortunate in that their subject matter is heavily covered. Unlike ship modelers, armor modelers have thousands of close-up photos to support their research, and fortunately for them (and all of us really) there are still many examples of tanks and military vehicles scattered all over the planet. This actually causes some problems, because I personally believe that armor modelers are the most anal retentive bunch I’ve ever met, anywhere.

‘You mean to tell me you built that Panther tank only using photos from the Squadron Signal book?!?! Well, if you ever intend to build one right, you’ll need the following resources, all of which I have, but I’m not going to loan you. You’ll need Speilberger’s Panther und Siene Abarten in German, cause you lose alot in the translation in the English version. You’ll need to travel to Aberdeen, Maryland, Samur France, and the Imperial War Museum in London. You should also go to Bovington while you’re there. Oh, and you’ll need the new Tamiya Late-War Panther G ($75) the Aber and Eduard Photoetch sets ($50) and the Frui tracks ($40) and the turned barrel ($12) and the Zimmerit PE sets are awesome too ($18). You have to put an interior in, Tank Workshops is the best ($50), and you need to…Have your head examined…

Excuse me there, tank-boy. I really didn’t want to grind the heads off the bolts on the transmission cover simply because they’re molded on as 11/16 and they’re supposed to be 5/8. At a recent model show, I happened upon a group of armor modelers looking at photos of a Sherman tank…they were in a heated discussion over a pair of steel pipes about 6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, welded to the sides of the turret. “I bet it was for some kind of weather cover” chimes one. “No, that can’t be right, because there would have to be another set somewhere else” “Maybe it was to hang some kind of storage rack on it or something” says another… I looked at the photos, and my immediate response was ‘flags’. Having grown up in the area, I remembered the tank (donated by the local Guard unit) appearing in parades, and it always had a pair of flags flying from the turrets…I was greeted with boos and hisses from these tread heads…”You’re wrong, they never did that” and “No, that can’t be right” Ok, what’s your logical explanation then, heavy equipment boy?? Listen knuckleheads, I climbed all over that thank in the 1970s when it was parked in front of the Guard building…and I never remembered seeing those pipes there…and, when you look at the photos, the snots of weld aren’t even painted, they’re rusted…the pipes aren’t even the same color as the turret. And I remember watching this tank go by in parades with two flag poles stuck in the pipes on each side… As I finally lay my case to rest, they unanimously agree that this vehicle is no longer pure, for it has been altered…much like a spoiled virgin no longer worthy of tribal sacrifice, and is now destined to become, at best, the 104th or 105th reference on their list. Oh the shame…

Aircraft Modelers:

Weirdness scale: 3

Creativity scale: 5

Nerd Scale: 3

Anal Retention Scale: 8

Prima Dona Scale: 10

Aircraft modelers are, for the most part, part of all of our common ancestry. Everyone has built a model airplane, therefore, we must respect the aircraft modelers and hold them in high esteem, right? WRONG!

I have never before, in my life, met a snottier group of people obsessed with their own egotistical self importance. Yes, your semi-scratchbuilt and fully riveted 1/24 North American P-51D Mustang wearing custom 4th Fighter Group decals is beautiful, but you, my friend, need a life and a shower. I guess its do to their sheer numbers that we encounter the most idiosyncrasies. Aircraft modelers tend to be far more nit-picky, and are comparable to armor builders when it comes to abstract details…. “Uhhh, that little bit of plastic you have on the cockpit dash looks like a Revi 14 reflector gunsight, and since this is an incorrectly painted 1/72 Bf-109G-6, (and remember, it’s Bf for Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, not Me for Messerschmitt) from III/JG2 in October of 1943, it should be a Revi 12 gunsight, not that one. Just thought you’d like to know”

Did someone pee in your breakfast cereal this morning? Are you that anal retentive that you needed to tell me that? Would it bother you for the remainder of the day if I didn’t know, or are you simply studying to be a mutant??

Aircraft modelers also go through the most trouble to get their models perfect, because face it, they have to be perfect, because all aircraft modelers are experts, at least in their own minds…

I’ve seen aircraft modelers take a 30 year old kit, sand off all the detail, re-scribe panel lines in the entire aircraft, vacuform a new canopy, buy aftermarket parts, decals, photoetch, and build an absolutely stunning model…only to have his aircraft buddies pounce on it like an unlucky Capybara in a river full of piranha. (Editor's note: I actually got an email from an armor modeler informing me that Emu are not native to the Amazon basin, and I should have known better. I rest my case about armor modelers) Tattered and torn and ego bruised, the aircraft modeler consoles himself buy spending far too much money on yet another conversion kit, “ This conversion kit from Outrageously Expensive Resin converts the F-16 heads up display from a b40/42 into b50/52, and it’s only $79.95, and you get 2 PE parts, 2 resin parts and detailed instructions. What a bargain!!” Hey rocket-boy, the conversion kit costs $79.95 and the kit is $22.95… I guess, that since aircraft models are our common ancestors, that we should show some respect…but then again, floatie things have been around for 2700 years or so…aircraft are just reaching 100…

Car Modelers:

Weirdness scale: 6

Creativity scale: 5

Nerd Scale: 1

Anal Retention Scale: 5

Prima Dona Scale: 2* (NASCAR and Hot Rod Types)

Prima Dona Scale: 8* (Open wheel, exotics, Formula One, GTP)

Car modelers are a diverse group.  They come from a variety of social classes, yet they share a common theme, their models have 4 wheels. It basically ends there.

NASCAR Modelers are the epitome of the ‘Good Ole Boys’ of modeling. These are guys that fart and drink beer, drive pickups and live in trailer parks. They’re God-fearin’ folks who like Elvis, guns, and hound dogs. They think Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty heroes, and they don’t believe in anything other than NASCAR and Indy. “Formula One is a bunch a’ sissy foreigners driving wannabe Indy cars, and I’ll take ya outside an’ prove it to ya!”  NASCAR modelers aren’t afraid to put a Viagra logo, or Carrot-Top, or a Scooby-Doo on their car models. And just like their actual driving counterparts, NASCAR modelers acknowledge their models in a similar manner, “ Well Bob, ya know, I applied the first coat of primer to my Rousch-Viagra-Pfizer-Rubbermaid-Trojan-Condom-Sharpie Ford Taurus, and it was running great comin’ out of the spray booth, then we ran into some trouble on the back stretch there after some sanding, things got a little messed up coming out of #4 when I got into some traffic and tripped over the cat. Well, I got up into the high side of the shop and got into the loose stuff and just lost it, there was not much I could, the car went into the wall, and we busted things up pretty good.”

Hot Rodders fall into the middle of the car-modeling realm. They’re not quite as…shall we say ‘fanatical’…about their subject matter as their NASCAR counterparts, and are far more creative than most other modelers from any other species of modeling. For the most part, hot rodders are everyday guys who have come to the realization that they will never be able to afford a ’chopped and lowered Custom ‘49 Merc, with blower and Nitrous and slicks and JATO assist. Hot rodders will take an average car model, and start cutting…and pretty soon it’s an entirely different model…Hot Rodders will mix custom paint, buy aftermarket tires and wheels, and run 1/24 scale plug wires…Hot rodders don’t care about scale, 1/24 and 1/25 scale go hand in hand, there ain’t no difference.

The High Society car modelers, if there is such a thing, are the open wheel and exotic car modelers…these are the guys that only build Ferraris, Formula One cars, and the exotics… “This Caterham 7 took me nearly 4 years to build, and I replaced every nut and bolt in the kit with custom machined fasteners I turned on a lathe myself. The paint came from the factory in England special order, and I hired an English butler to maintain the model once it was finished.”  Ok Nigel, how’s about hopping into your little gem and driving it off a short pier? High Society car modelers typically don’t watch NASCAR, but they’ll stay up until 4am to watch the Grand Prix of Japan, 150 laps of the same driver leading the entire race and some retired British formula one driver mispronouncing “Aluminum”. That reminds me…a bonnet is something a woman wears on her head, ok??? The thing that covers the engine is called a ‘hood’. Anyway...

Car modelers do, however, possess skills that are often beyond their plastic brethren…for good car modelers have learned the ancient art of Hi-Gloss Paint. Mirror deep finishes, no imperfections, and even the good ‘ole NASCAR guys have it figured out.. “Ya’all ain’t gonna believe this, I was with the missus the other day at the mall, and she went inta’ that there Victoria’s Secret place, with all the fancy knickers. Well, the missus bought this little night-gown thing, and ya know, she wore it to bed last night. I’ll be durned if it wasn’t the softest cloth you ever done seen. Here, look at how it buffed out the paint on my Rousch-Viagra-Pfizer-Rubbermaid-Trojan-Condom-Sharpie Ford Taurus…

Ship Modelers:

Weirdness scale: 1

Creativity scale: 9

Nerd Scale: 3

Anal Retention Scale: 8

Prima Dona Scale: 8

Ship modelers…my brethren, my counterparts…some of the best modelers in the world are ship modelers. I’m not sure if it’s because I am a ship modeler, and therefore biased, or if it’s because ship modelers are, for the most part, average people. Ship modelers are looked upon as ‘in their own world’ by all other modelers, for ship models themselves exude detail and difficulty. Other modelers are intimidated by the amounts of photoetch, rigging, and small parts that go into the average ship kit… Ship modelers rarely brag about their models, simply because it’s too much work…” Well (sigh), I started out with the Tamiya USS Missouri…and after I bought the White Ensign and Gold Medal Models PE sets, well, I added about another 2500 aftermarket and scratchbuilt  parts to the model. It’s taken me about 2 years to build, that includes the scratchbuilt 40mm mounts, all the internal compartments above the main deck level, the operating radar, the flyable aircraft and working catapults, the 1/8 mile of rigging line I added, and the actual USN WW2 paint I added for scale effect. That’s about it…no big deal really” 

Ship modelers are to model show judges what Vikings were to Scottish sheep herders…most of them have no clue what’s about to befall them, and most have no clue what they’re looking at…good, bad, or ugly. Since the only ‘reasonably experienced’ ship model judges are probably the ones that have entered the category, ship modelers are left to the mercy of their NASCAR, Sci-Fi, Armor, and Aircraft brethren, and the vast majority of them can’t tell a bollard from a bit. The response for judges to tackle the ship category is enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey (you dirty minded folks will learn what this means later), and folks reluctantly agree to try to determine the best models in the category.

I guess it’s this misconception about ship models that makes us unique amongst our fellow hobbyists, because I’ve noticed that very few of us remark to other modelers (especially the ‘others’) about how easy it actually is. I’ve noticed a trend lately at my monthly IPMS meeting. More of the hard-core aircraft and armor guys are beginning to see the light, and are venturing into ships, jokingly called ‘The Dark Side’. And it’s nice to see, because they’re bringing with them a vast array of techniques and knowledge, for none of us, even the most experienced modeler, can afford to stop learning…which leads me to…

Newbies and Wannabees:

Weirdness scale: 3

Creativity scale: 1

Nerd Scale: 3

Anal Retention Scale: 1

Prima Dona Scale: 0

Newbies and Wannabees are, believe it or not, the future of our hobby. Every single one of us was a newbie or a wannabee, or both, at some point in our lives. Most of us didn’t realize it until we went to our first model contest, and we were stunned, dumbfounded, awestruck, and outright intimidated by the models on the tables.  You can always tell a newbie or wannabee, because they’re like country folks in the big city for the first time…eyes wide, staring, taking photos of everything…this is a whole new world to them, it is alien…But you were there once too…back then, you were painting with the little Testor’s or Pactra enamels, using the plastic bristled brushes and working on your Revell Missouri. There was no such thing as resin, photoetch, CA, zip kicker, or aftermarket parts or conversion kits…it was whatever was on the shelf in the local drugstore for under $2.00.

As much of a modeling idiot-snob as I am, I always try to encourage and help newbies or wannabees as much as I can. Folks can only progress so far by reading and looking at photos. It falls on our shoulders to help modelers to learn the techniques that we’ve learned or discovered or dreamed up. I recently taught one of my modeling students how to dry-brush. He now dry-brushes everything, including his cat…he’s so enthralled with dry-brushing, something I’ve done for years, and now just take for granted that everyone else does, too.

Modeling is a solitary hobby, we do it alone, locked in closets and basements and converted spaces in our homes, and we rarely venture out, the monthly model club meeting, and the occasional model show, to show off the results of our work. But during that time in between, we do the best we can with what tools and knowledge we have.

“I wish I could build like him” Why? He’s overweight, losing his hair, unemployed, his wife left him for the mailman, kids are in reform school, and he’s spent every last cent on his models…that’s a helluva price to pay for that stupid little trophy, isn’t it? No, we can’t let the newbies and wannabees be disillusioned, because it really doesn’t matter in the end. Your models should be built as well as you want them to be. If you don’t like rigging, then don’t rig. If you want to drybrush and weather and photoetch, then go for it, knock yourself out. If your model wins the Nationals, good for you, that plaque will sit nicely on your desk. But if your model wins your approval, that’s all that really matters…

As I sit here writing, under the influence of cough and cold medication (the perfect time to write about this crap in my opinion) I’ve come to the realization that we’re all weird, every one of us…equally…NASCAR guys no doubt laugh at us, who in turn are laughed at by armor modelers…and the Sc-Fi guys are laughing at all of us, because they care the least about what people think…and I guess I really don’t care what people think (or do) for that matter… “Well good, cuz I need you to help me out…ya’ see, I need to get the accurate colors for the Rousch-Viagra-Pfizer-Rubbermaid-Trojan-Condom-Sharpie USS  Fletcher… ugh…

“Hi, my name is Jeff, and I’m a modeler” (everyone in monotone: Hi Jeff) “I’m a ship modeler now, but, I started out building airplanes, then I got into armor, and I’ve even built a couple of cars…I still have a weakness for Formula One cars, and I’m especially fond of Panther and Tiger tanks.”

For all you folks with dirty minds wondering about freezing the balls off a brass monkey, here’s your lesson for today… In the olden days of ships with cannon, the cannonballs were stacked on a square metal base, with indentations for the bottom row of cannon balls. The balls would then be stacked in a pyramid on top of the frame. The frame was made of brass, and when it got very cold, the brass would contract to the point that the cannonballs would roll off…the frame was called a ‘Monkey’ by sailors…thus, freezing the balls off a brass monkey.

Now go build a model!!

Jeff Herne