The Monsters

I encountered the phrase I used for this post’s title a year or so ago and when I discovered what it referred to, I thought, “My, how incredibly polite!” A Monster is one of those kits from the long-ago 60s and 70s.

Standards were so much different back then. It was a rare kit I couldn’t complete in one sitting (sure do wish I had a dollar for each glue fingerprint I left on them!). If I remember correctly (saying I remember anything at all, regardless of accuracy, is rather like trying to carry water in a colander), the first kit I built was back in the early to mid 50s (when I was something like four or five). It was a Grumman Panther F9F molded in dark blue, the pilot was part of each fuselage half; there was no cockpit. I don’t remember how many times I glued myself to it. It was easy to see where the decals went, that place was outlined by raised lines! But that glue-bomb started me on the builder path.

Standards were SO much different back then. When I decided that maybe painting the “model” would hide fingerprints forever embedded into the plastic by glue (Testors tube type), I bought nylon brushes and (also Testors) paint that came in square bottles. (My painting skill was substantially less than my gluing skill.) (And yes, it is possible to have something in the physical world that has a value of less than zero.) But accuracy? Does not compute. Fit? I thought that was something someone had which didn’t figure into things. They were build-them-yourself toys. The best ones had the most working features. Canopies that slid, landing gear that went up and down, you get the picture… They were played with until they broke (fix something?! You can do that?) and then out came the BB gun.

Model display was never an issue back then. Sweeping up plastic fragments didn’t require display space.

Life took me as it has taken so many others (all?) down unintended paths, and one of the major lessons from those paths was that “Time” really is a four-letter word! Puberty hit me, books took me many amazing places, then I got my driver’s license, then I learned how to drive, and then Vietnam loomed in everyone’s mind, and (amazingly) I found myself in my late 30s. (“Found” is relative, of course.) I had an itch to make something. Being more broke than I was dumb, I fell back on my childhood favorite, assembling models. I assembled Tamiya’s venerable M3 Lee. I used rattle-cans (Testors, of course) and ended up with something that didn’t look half bad (and no glue-immortalized fingerprints). The decals looked like crap, of course, because I didn’t know to use the clear gloss trick. And here’s when The Hook got jammed down into my gills.

“What’s behind those big side doors?”

And that all led to here. The Monsters.

IF there is a golden age of modeling, it has to be now. So many kits of SO MANY things, aftermarket bits (regardless of what your take on them is), ACCESS TO ONLINE REFERENCES. Not having to buy a $35 book to build a less inaccurate $20 model? Worldwide access to everything a modeler could want!

I dove back in after my brief involvement in the late 80s. Oh my freakin’ GAWD! CAD/CAM dies!! Fit that fit. Accuracy, more advanced finishes, you know the list. You probably use them daily. I loved (and continue to love) the fit of the new kits (even the ones that have reputations, usually deserved, for fit problems, because those STILL offer a universe-sized better fit than those Monsters), and all the tools!

And then I remembered how fondly I recalled some kits from my yout’. I was surprised to discover I could still get my hands on some of them! Maybe it really is Evilbay, but eBay (and my checkbook) has done me solid service enabling me to revisit a dimly recalled series of events through glasses a lot more red than mere rose-colored. Yep…this far off the map, there do indeed be Monsters.

But if someone really wants a B-24D in 1/48 scale, where’s the kit for it? Right. Monogram, mid 70s. Right. Fit, mid 70s. And these are the less toothsome of said monsters. But where else can I get that kit? Right. Monogram it is. And for that time, those 1/48 kits Monogram did of the B-17s, B-25s, C-47s, and so on, were not bad kits. That was the standard of the day, a standard that I suspect was because the dies were not cut with the computer precision of a computer. All those dies were cut by people. Yeah…the fuselage really had to be that thick because “that thick” wasn’t “that thick” back then. There was even thicker. So the Monogram kits didn’t look like monsters (and aren’t those the most dangerous monsters? The ones that don’t look like monsters?).

I have a few fairly well built recent kits. If I did that B-24D to the potential of the kit, I wouldn’t be at all happy with it. I certainly would not be comfortable displaying it next to modern kits. And that’s when the hook stuck in my gills thirty-some-odd years back tugged hard.

“Okay, so I fix it. All of it.”

Right. That’s why I spent 975 hours on the Testors SR-71. I had to fix all of it…and there was a lot to fix.

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A Monster, is what it was. I think a good definition for Monster is the kit that is, out of the box, only good as a BB gun target. Anything more than that, as in, a decent replica of the Real Thing, requires a lot of time and a lot of work. It’s daunting to even consider!

A banquet is pretty daunting to consider, too. “You want me to eat how much?!” Well, one bite at a time ain’t all that hard.

We all pretty much establish our building order. When I do an aircraft I usually start in the cockpit. However, in Life, when I have a multi-staged task, and the Blackbird was definitely a multi-staged task, I start with the most difficult aspect first if possible. The beginning of a project is when my enthusiasm is highest (a scary thing, I’m told) and frustration free. With the Blackbird, that was the nose landing gear bay and landing gear. It all had to be scratch-built. (Other options have since presented themselves commercially.) When looking at reference photos, I was again daunted. And again, I reminded myself (talk about the blind leading the blind) of a banquet and started taking small bites at it.

This kit is a Monster. There were two and a half years (I’m not a fast builder. All I can do quickly anymore is gain weight) of small bites, and there were a couple of large bites for added frisson. Eventually I achieved what I wanted and wasn’t displeased with the overall results. And it was a MONSTER that consumed hundreds of hours and two and a half years.

The worst monster was the Gemini capsule. So much so that if you’re interested, go check the after-action report on it. I ain’t gonna talk about it.

There’s something else that Monsters are good at. Teaching you to build. The engineers who created this kit won’t be there to help you…they weren’t there to help you, that’s what makes a Monster. You have to identify the problem (easy to do, as it’s a main trait of Monsters…problems). The obvious next step is to figure out (teach yourself) how to fix the problem. (Do that enough times and you could end up being pretty good at this hobby.) Often the problem isn’t that difficult to fix when looked at. This part sticks out here, that part shouldn’t be hollow, and a lip is missing from that edge. So you take it off, fill it in, and add it. Under paint, nobody will know. Don’t let that thing scare you. If you so totally screw it up, toss it and start another one. Having solved a problem often leads us to the next one, which gets dealt with in the same manner. When I started the Blackbird, I SUCKED at scribing panel lines. The kit was all raised lines and its overall length is just over 27″ (685.8mm). That’s a lot of panel lines and most of them had to be rescribed frequently due to sanding or other work. I no longer suck at scribing panel lines.

And that is the real reason to build a Monster. (That, and the hook still stuck in my gills.)

4 responses

  1. I’ve always called these dragons and to build one successfully is to slay one. And oh boy, it can be very hard to slay one!


    1. Werd up! The Blackbird fought me every step along the way…and go so vehemently towards the end that I had to strip the paint twice (I think). Old decals. HATE THEM!


  2. Pierre Lagacé | Reply

    I still have that Testors SR-71.


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