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From the opposite end of the workbench

…the twisted ramblings of a ship modeler.


The Golden Age of Ship Modeling

Although I cannot lay claim to being around since the dawn of plastic modeling, I can say that I was around when things were pretty crappy in the plastic ship model world. I’ve lived (as we all have) through the emergence and growth of the resin ship industry, and we’ve all seen some incredible things in the last 25 years…

‘But I want a model of __________, and no one does one in 1/_____ scale. Whaaaa!!!’

Shut up…because you nauseate me. In the 1970s, all we had were some 1/700 subjects, and lots of box scale Revell Missouris and PT-109s…on occasion, we’d get a decent kit like the 1/429 Arizona, but it wasn’t until the release of a PE set that this model really stood up and shined.

I build 1/350 now, since the eyes are going and the mind is gone. In the 1/700 scale world, things were a bit better, but not much. The big 4 in Japan, Hasegawa, Tamiya, Aoshima, and Fujimi, initially focused on IJN subjects, and those ‘other’ subjects weren’t that spectacular…Kits were often a mish-mosh of various fits from various eras, and were filled with errors (Hasegawa Essex for example). A few were very nicely done, such as the Hood, but ship models lacked the details of their aircraft and armor counterparts until the advent of photoetched brass parts in the early 80s.

In the 1980s, Tamiya comes along, and we get a handful of 1/350 subjects. Bismarck, Missouri, Prince of Wales, Yamato, and all of the spun-off sisters of those respective ships. Then comes the Enterprise, big, clunky, and expensive…and that was basically it until Tamiya decides to throw a bone to us with their 1/350 Fletcher… along with those few new releases, we saw Tom’s Modelworks and Gold Medal Models emerge with a new product, photoetched detail parts, and for almost a decade, this was good enough, as it allowed the modeler to add considerably more detail to the basic kits that were available at the time.

Then things start to get nutty in the ship model world…the Japanese 1/700 manufacturers start re-tooling their older kits, and soon we’ve got some Hi-tech full hull models hitting the markets…like Haruna and Ise, Kirishima. Skywave/PitRoad starts to re-tool many of hteir ships, and start to overshadow their Japanese competitors in the 1/700 market. Dragon/DML enters the fray with a series of 1/700 and 1/350 ships…Tamiya releases new 1/700 ships with their Indianapolis and Prinz Eugen…damn, things are looking up for the itty bitty ship modelers…but the 1/350 scale folks are still wallowing with less than twenty kits…

Then it happened…the ICM Konig. WOW!! A new 1/350 ship model!! But wait, what the hell is the Konig??? I have no clue what ICM was smoking when they decided their first release was to be an obscure German WW1 warship, especially when all we heard from plastic manufacturers was that the time, effort, and money invested in tooling was far more profitable if it was in the form of (yet another) P-51 or Tiger Tank…ships didn’t matter. Anyway, ICM inhales too many toxic fumes and decides to do Konig…and shoots themselves in the foot.

Had ICM not sniffed glue, they could have done an Arizona, Scharnhorst, Hood, hell, they could have done just about ANYTHING, and made more money than they have with the Konig sisters. Promises of our long anticipated 1/350 Hood, Takao, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and other ICM ‘To Be Announced’ releases are now vapor-ware rumors…yet people are still holding out that ICM will release a Hood…

Then some upstart company called Trumpeter (Banner, Panda, all these spin off companies have me confused) announces a 1/350 Arizona. Wow! Where did this come from? Although I’m still not sure, the 1/350 Arizona comes out looking like an mixture of an upscaled Revell kit mixed in with details from Tom’s Modelworks (nicely done) 1/350 resin kit. The kit is sub-par by today’s standards, as everyone uses the Tamiya kits as a benchmark. But…all that aside, it’s a NEW kit.

Suddenly, Tamiya is no longer the major player in the 1/350 plastic ship market. (What about resin you idiot??? I’m getting to them, so relax). Trumpeter announces an aggressive list of 1/350 ship models, including the FIRST World War Two 1/350 injection molded aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet. The excitement builds, but hey, it’s probably another ICM Hood, right? Wrong.  Hornet hits the markets, and lots of folks are excited…and some, in typical fashion, start complaining…the bow is wrong…I complained for awhile, because in this modern age of computers, CNC machining, 3D modeling and the Internet, there’s no excuse for inaccuracies. But hey, it’s a freakin’ aircraft carrier in 1/350 scale

So while we’re all out scooping up Hornets, the word comes out that an Essex in coming!!! ESSEX!!!! That’s almost as awesome as HOOD!!! Then Essex arrives, and modelers are basking in the warm glow of Trumpeter…they’ve become our newest, bestest friend, and their models are competitively priced, which means we can buy MORE.  Trumpeter again wants us to mortgage our homes, as they’ve announced a Lexington, Liberty Ship, and, heading directly towards Tamiya’s jugular, a 1/350 USS Nimitz…unheard of. Finally, someone who’s listening to us, the poor neglected ship modelers of the world!!!

“But I still don’t have a model of ____________ in 1/_____ scale!! Whhaaaa!!!”

Yea, ok, whatever…you’ve waited for 25 years, keep waiting. Eventually, it’ll probably be done. In a period of less than 5 years, we’ve doubled, tripled, maybe even quadrupled the number ship model kits that are available to us in plastic. Revell of Germany opened up with a 1/72 S-100 Schnellboot, an awesome kit (I’ve built 3 so far), and rumors are out they’re doing an early S-36 version as well…we caught a sneak peek at their 1/72 Type VIIc U-boat due out in November of 2003. Tamiya announces some 1/700 releases. Skywave/Pitroad is releasing new subjects, starting with a Liberty Ship in 1/700, then an beautiful Takao, then a whole series of pre-war destroyers. All of a sudden, it’s a very good time to be a ship modeler…then we get word of Admiral Models, a new injection molded company launching a series of previously untouched subjects.

All the while the modeling community was whining about the lack of plastic, a small group of people recognized the lack of subject matter and sought to fill the void we’ve been living in…these are all names we recognize in our community… Tom’s Modelworks, Corsair Armada, Classic Warships, White Ensign, Regia Marina, Blue Water Navy, and Iron Shipwrights. I know many of these folks personally, and I don’t think any of them got into the model ship business because of the money. If someone thought they could make a killing in this business, they weren’t in the business very long. The work is tedious, expensive, and the returns are not always profitable. Making patterns, making molds, casting parts, cleaning parts, packaging parts, doing photoetch, buying boxes, drawings instructions…is, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass. And still, the consumers complain about the cost of resin kits…even though the producers are often working for one or two dollars an hour after expenses.

So where does this leave us?? Trumpeter will never be able to catch the resin industry, so the companies I’ve mentioned and those relative newcomers to the scene (in the last 4-5 years) like JAG, WSW, Delphis, Kombrig, Loose Cannon, may end up losing some of their subjects to the less expensive plastic kits that are released, but as the selection of available models grows, so does the community, and the demand for more subjects will hopefully increase. In the end, I personally hope it becomes one big vicious circle…more resin, more plastic, more choices, more ship modelers.

“But I still haven’t got my _____________ in 1/_____ scale!” 

Ugh….still here are you?? Let’s stop for second and look at the average modeler (mutant) who complains about the lack of subject matter. Chances are this whining mutant has a garage, attic, basement, or self-storage unit FULL of model kits that he’ll never build…and chances are, even if that model you’ve been complaining about not having does come out, you’re going to paint it with a mop and rig it with hemp rope ANYWAY, right??

In my personal opinion, there’s only one kind of person that reserves the right to bitch about there not being a model of a particular subject…and that person is the guy who served aboard the real thing. Everyone else, shut your yappers and enjoy the Golden Age of Ship Modeling, because from the looks of things, it’s only going to get better.

Now, for all you mutant anal-retentive accuracy checking modelers, there's a decent chance that Tamiya didn't release that 1/700 whatever I wrote about, PitRoad did, or something to that effect, and I got it ass-backwards...don't bother emailing me about it, ok?


Jeff Herne