A couple of weeks ago I realized that it was the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, and that made we go look at how close I was to finishing my 1/72 scale Doolittle raider B-25. It turned out all it needed was a final coat of flat finish over the decals, and like that, the first plane model I've complete in I don't know how long was done. And that's when I realized that the thing that's held me back for 25 years – my inability to airbrush competently – wasn't an obstacle any longer. By getting a good compressor and using primarily acrylics, I can airbrush base coats as well as the all-important gloss finish (before decaling) and flat finish (after decaling).
That got me to thinking – the part of the Pacific War that I'm most interested in occurred in 1942, so maybe I could use the 75th anniversary as an excuse to finish up the backlog of 1942-era models I have stacked up in the workshop. (Is that a Twin Peaks movie poster in the background? Oh my …)
But why do I have them in the first place? I realized yesterday that the answer is a moderately interesting (to me at least) one.
The spring of 1992 saw a lot of activity in my life. I had been living in a nice little house in Waco attending law school and working in Baylor's General Counsel's office. I graduated in February, and two or three days later took the bar exam. But my job as a law clerk working for Judge Hall in Marshall wouldn't start until March, so I became a full time assistant to the general counsel for the interim.
While I was in graduate school in Austin beginning five years earlier, I began rediscovering the hobby of ship modeling as I was able to visit hobby stores in Austin and elsewhere. Village Hobby (now closed) was a favorite, as was King Hobby. And even for a starving college student, the kits I'd always wanted growing up were now available for just a few dollars, and there were books I'd never dreamed would be available about ships and aircraft – as well as photoetched parts, resin kits – just an enormous amount of really cool stuff.
And now I realize that I had almost three months with nothing to do except work 9-5, after ten years of working considerably longer hours as a college/graduate/law student. So it appears I went a little medieval on the ship modeling/naval history book collecting hobby. (As for the books I kind of still am – as you can tell the shelf and a half shown in the summer of 1992 is now several times larger, and is crowned by a trompe l'oeil portrait of Admiral Nimitz).
My primary project that spring was one I'd probably started the fall before, and that was an excruciatingly detailed scratchbuilt model of the aircraft carrier Wasp (CV-7) in 1/700 that I was inspired to build after meeting a former crewmember the fall before in Greenwood, LA. I saw a "Stinger Club" bumper sticker and followed the guy till he pulled over for gas.
These days you can pick up an injection molded model of this one-off carrier, but in 1992, scratchbuilt was the only way to go, so I rolled out a set of 1/192 plans of the ship, and built it through the spring so I could send an article on it to the former crewmembers' magazine. As the photos showed, the tiny carrier was detailed to the nines, with a full air group, probably a couple hundred crew members and a fairly full set of rigging, including signal flags. I added a very slightly kitbashed Hornet (CV-8) as of the Doolittle raid in 1942 later in 1992, and an almost-complete scratchbuilt battleship Texas. (25 years later it remains unfinished).
"1942 – Issue in Doubt" – Admiral Nimitz Museum Symposium
At some point I became aware of the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, which at the time was putting on large symposia every year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Pacific War. The 1992 event was being held at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio on March 26-28. As it was only three hours away, I took a couple of days of work and went to SA, and then on to the museum itseld in Fredericksburg. Hysterically, I took 30 pages of detailed notes about the various panels. But it was my opportunity to meet veterans of the 1942 battles like Dick Best and George Gay, as well as authors like Paul Stilwell, John Lundstrom and the kingfish – Walter Lord.
During the spring and into the summer and fall after I moved to Marshall I continued to pick up models. And working just as a law clerk though the summer of 1993, I kept building them, completing a 1/700 scale Lexington (CV-16) and getting most of the way through a Ticonderoga (CV-14) and Yorktown (CV-5).
But all that basically came to a halt once I left the court and started practicing law in the fall of 1993. Although I had a setup for modeling when I moved into my first house in 1994, I didn't use it much, and even less after Jamie and I married in 1996, and kids began to show up in 1999. Even after we built our home in 2004 and I had a purpose-built model workshop off the study, I still really didn't build anything until recently. I got most of the way through a 1/700 Lexington (CV-2) and Essex (CV-9) and similarly most of the way through three or four 1/72 scale carrier planes, but my abysmal airbrushing skills meant that I couldn't really finish an aircraft model, and couldn't really even start a ship – hand painting large sections just doesn't work in 1/700 scale.
2016 – The Air Compressor Epiphany
It was actually a couple of years ago that I realized that a first-class air compressor cost about the same thing as a pair of shoes, so I picked one up, along with a new airbrush (forgetting I'd already tried the "it's the airbrush's fault" route by buying a new one several years earlier). But between work, family, and house, I didn't even take the thing out of the box for years. But when I finally did and tried it out, it was an absolute epiphany. For the first time I was able to airbrush and get a reliable base coat down on the models I had resumed work on – a 1/700 Essex and the 1/72 scale B-25.
But I still got bogged down in trying to find a level of detail to stop at. I kept telling myself that if I tried to recreate the 1992 Wasp with photoetch detailing, dozens of aircraft and hundreds of tiny crew I'd never finish. I had spent over 20 years looking up all the aftermarket additions for all my kits, and then never building them because my painting skills weren't up to the job. I had, in fact, become not a modeler, but a kit "collector". The breakthrough for me was the 1/200 scale AMT Man in Space kit last fall, where – other than an aftermarket decal set – I refused to accurize the kit at all, focusing instead on simply doing a good job painting, including the necessary glosscote/dullcote to do the decals right. Amazingly, it worked, and I realized that I could both paint and decal adequately to build models.
For example, getting the base coat for a 1942 SBD-3 this week was a piece of cake – pour, spray, flush, and I'm done – and ready to assemble and hand paint the details. Museum quality, it's not, but this is a hobby, I finally realized. I just want to research the model, and see a competent rendering of it on the shelf. I can't see the level of detail I'm skipping anyway!
2017 – The "75th Anniversary" Epiphany
But it wasn't until April 17 that I realized that 2017 was the 75th anniversary of the events of 1942, and that all those carrier and carrier aircraft kits I'd stockpiled over the past 25 years actually had a potential deadline for completion and posting on social media. I had missed the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, which was a shame, since I now have good 1/700 models of two of the ships on "Battleship Row", but I got the Doolittle Raider completed on time.
And like any good lawyer, once I have a deadline, I can start working. So Monday, May 8 is the 75th anniversary of the climactic day of the Battle of the Coral Sea, which ended with the sinking of the old Lexington (CV-2), and I'm already planning ahead for the June 4 additions for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. Being able to say "done" and move on is something I've never been able to do before. Well, 2017 is the year that that changes.