A Veterans Day Conversation on Hobbies: Modelling

In connection with Veterans Day and this month’s “Collection Development” piece that Ed Burgess (EB) and I (MH) wrote on World War I, we thought we’d chat about our World War I-related hobbies.

I’m a modeler.  I admit it freely, without shame.  I don’t have the collector’s obsessive gene that you have, Margaret.

MH: Yes, I collect trench art—not too obsessively. Speaking of obsessively, what are you doing in this photo I’m showing of you?

EB: I’m vacuuming the Combined Arms Research Library at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where I’m the library director.

MH: Okay. Now that we have that straight, back to your hobby.

EB: Modelling encompasses many things military, civilian, and imaginary—

MH: Imaginary! So there’s a steampunk angle, eh?

EB: Yep, I’ll get to that. Generally, I enjoy building miniature vehicles.

MH:  Any kind in particular?

EB: In World War I there weren’t as many land vehicles as we would see in World War II. The Germans had only one tank, the A7V. They only managed to build 27 of them and they never worked very well. Here’s a model of one (right) built and painted by my friend Dr. Mark Gerges.

MH: So without many land vehicles, what do World War I modellers focus on?

EB: Many military modellers tend to concentrate on the exuberant explosion of airplane types that the Great War produced: monoplanes, biplanes, triplanes (who doesn’t know the Red Baron?) and dirigibles.

MH: Wow!

EB: In World War I, the paint schemes on planes tended to be idiosyncratic. Since many of the pilots are well documented,  there’s a wealth of historical examples to represent. Plus they had exposed cockpits and lots of complicated wires and cords, fun for a modeller to work with. On the left is a model of a Fokker D-VIII, flown by the German army late in the war. It was an entrant at the International Plastic Modelers Society (IPMS) convention this year, but I don’t know the modeller.

MH: Show us one of your planes.

EB: I tend to look for offbeat subjects to model. For instance, I took a 1960s era kit of Little Nellie, James Bond’s autogyro in You Only Live Twice, and turned it into a Wallis autogyro, here:

MH: And I see you won a prize.

EB: A modest prize for a simple (but gloriously executed) kit.

MH: Congratulations! And what makes a well-executed model?

EB: First and foremost, basic construction. No seams, no glue spots, properly angled wings, wheels squarely on the ground. Second, historical accuracy. “This is a French-built FT-17 tank equipping Lieutenant Colonel George Patton’s battalion at Saint-Mihiel, September 1918, with the 37mm Puteaux SA18 gun” would be a typical rivet-counter’s description of his model.

MH: The joy is in the details. I can see that.

EB: And there are more of us than you may realize. It’s a solitary and often invisible pastime. Step into a modeller’s workroom and you’ll hear “DON’TTOUCHTHATIT’SFRAGILE!” We’re mostly crouching over a workbench in the basement, and trying not to flood the house with paint fumes. And, those of us who take it seriously tend to be adults, often returning to the hobby years after childhood.

MH: And since our childhoods—yours and mine—the Internet happened. How did that change the hobby?

EB: It transformed it. A secondary market sprang up, with a cottage industry in parts to modify kits, for example one company specializes in variants of Sherman tanks. Before the Internet, before eBay there would have been no efficient connection between small businesses making resin parts with serious modellers. There’s a guy in one of my clubs who makes jet parts. Sells them worldwide. Local hobby shops are losing out to the aggregators online.

MH: But modellers still like to get their hands on books, right?  What are some good series for historical modellers?

EB: Osprey’s military history books are excellent for modellers because they are full of good images, but Osprey also has series specifically for modellers: “Osprey Modelling,” “Osprey Modelling Manuals,” and “Osprey Modelling Masterclass.”

MH: Tell me more about the clubs.

EB: Some model clubs, like mine, meet in libraries. We meet at the Leavenworth Public Library. Libraries tend to have reference books, sometimes with pictures, which makes modelers jump up and down in excitement. Also, putting up displays in libraries often encourages young people to come to meetings and get involved in the hobby.

MH: A nice fellowship.

EB: We trade tips and techniques, naturally. Often a club will have a demonstration or maybe a report on an aviation museum visit. Last month, for instance, I learned about using Future Floor Finish to protect paint and lock down decals.

MH: Like the decals in this next image? I like this piece a lot.

EB: Yes, I particularly enjoyed merging
a Russian tank with a 1915 bus.

MH: Steampunk!

EB: A steampunk charabanc. This represents an alternate history involving Victorian technology—possibly on Venus.

MH: So what’s more fun: writing book reviews for Library Journal or modelling?

EB: Well, I’ve been doing both for some time…. Different kinds of detail work. Visit your public library if modelling appeals. Email Margaret (mheilbrun@mediasourceinc.com) if you’d be interested in book reviewing. Or do both, like me!

MH: And next time we’ll chat about collecting trench art, my own World War I hobby. Till then.









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Margaret Heilbrun About Margaret Heilbrun

Margaret Heilbrun is a former Senior Editor, Library Journal Book Review.


  1. Danny Adams says:

    I love the planes – I’ve always been a big fan of WWI planes. Especially now, in this first year since 1918 with no living WWI veterans.