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  • Writer's pictureTerry Groves

B.R.A.T.S. Building Memories and Knowledge

Plastic Model - Magic in a Box

Even when I was really young I had a passion for plastic models. For me, it was the assembly, fitting the parts together to make something, that held my fascination, more so than the final model.

I recall watching my older brothers, Mark and Robin, assemble cars, planes, boats, tanks, and even monsters. This was before I had enough manual dexterity to manipulate the small parts myself. I watched as Dad showed them how to remove the parts from the frames that held them, trim off any excess plastic using an exacto (or pairing) knife (or teeth in a pinch), pre-fit the parts before applying a little glue using a toothpick to dab on just a tiny bit. Then, they would either hold the parts as they bonded, or use a little tape to secure them.

By the time it was my turn to do the assembly, I was quite familiar with the process. My first attempts were not perfect. I was anxious to see the final model and didn't take the necessary time to ensure I trimmed the parts properly. Sometimes I didn't follow the directions, guessed what went where. That led to some mistakes, gluing the wrong parts together or in the wrong order, requiring some disassembly. That exercise never goes well with plastic models.

Eventually though, I learned to be more patient, developed skill in ending with a neat, tidy final product.

And then there was the painting. Again, first attempts were sloppy and clumsy but, with time, we all got better at adding fine detail, realism to our models.

Our dressers, shelves and ceilings became festooned with our creations. Many of the instruction sheets used proper part names so we learned about what we were building, cowlings, fuselages, nacelles, radar domes, became normal parts of our vocabularies. Our interest lead to discussions about which particular weapons systems were better, what features were preferable, what tactics were used. All that knowledge coming from simple pieces of plastic.

Mark and Robin came up with the idea of creating battle scenes on their dresser top. They shared a bedroom so it was a logical arrangement. I shared a room with my younger brother Paul and he never caught the model bug.

Mark and Rob would arrange a towel on the dresser, add some models, some plastic army men, cotton-ball explosions and then they would record battle sounds on a cassette tape recorder. I would help as I could but my input was mostly rejected. I was too young and my voice was too high pitched for the recordings. Regardless, we built these little dioramas, having absolutely no idea about the art-form we were working with.

When we grew tired of the models, having looked at them long enough, or if one got damaged (can't imagine how that might happen), or if we simply had to cull our collections to make room for more, we would introduce our models to our pellet gun or to firecrackers or see if those planes could really fly.

We became quite adept at floating battleships on a wide spot on Turtle Creek (Bayfield River) with a few firecrackers (red lady-fingers or yellow/black checked blockbusters) payload. We even managed to rig extra long fuses to allow them to cruise into the middle of the river before exploding.

Shooting models apart with the pellet gun, encouraging each other to make more and more difficult shots, helped us develop some pretty good marksmanship skills. Being able to hit what you wanted with a rifle missing its rear sights and having a slight bend in the barrel was challenging.

I will always treasure my memories of building (and busting) models with my brothers. Who would have thought that learning could be so much fun.

What did you do for hobbies as a child?

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