Monday, June 4, 2007

AMT 1/24th Caterpillar D8H

"D8" is one of the few earthmoving phrases to have entered the lexicon of daily life; most people have heard of the D8 even though they might not know what it is. The D8H was one of the most successful dozer designs in history, with a production run than ran from about 1958 until about 1975 or so, when the "improved" D8K was released. Mind you, the D8H underwent substantial change over those years, and this model represents a fairly late D8H with hydraulic actuation, powershift transmission, and a single-shank radial ripper.

This is probably the oldest model in my collection, going on 25 years old at this point, and I think from looking at it you can see how my technique, particularly in regard to weathering, has improved over the years.

AMT got an awful lot right in this kit, but they also got a few things wrong. The "holes" in the armored cover over the radiator are black dots printed on a sticker, for example, and I never liked the radial ripper, either to use or to look at on a model. But the kit's worst feature is its tracks. On paper they sound good - individual track shoes that click together to make a track that actually works; how cool is that? But the track goes together in a way that is entirely unrealistic; it works much more like a tank track than a dozer track, and there's no particularly easy way to fix that problem. The track shoes are also missing the characteristic pattern of bolt heads, typically four per shoe, and in some cases there are two extra empty bolt holes per shoe where one can bolt on ice cleats. The grousers are very tall and very square in section, which is about right for a brand-new track, but I've personally never seen a dozer with such pristine grousers. On this kit, I brought them down to something approaching scale height by trimming them with a knife, every single dang one of them. They're vinyl or polyethylene or something, so they can't be shaped with sandpaper very easily. (One might, as an exercize in frustration, modify one track shoe to eliminate the outside pair of hinge pins and add the bolt heads and then cast up a whole bunch of replacements in fiberglass resin.)

But in general, it's a nice kit. The two main areas that need work are the unrealistic tracks and the dark dots on the radiator cover instead of holes. And there is enormous scope for modification, like adding a blade tilt cylinder, scratchbuilding a four-barrel parallelogram ripper, adding ROPS or EROPS, adding branch risers, or, my personal favorite, adding trash guards and blade extensions to turn it into a landfill machine.

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I painted this kit. Actually, I do know what I was thinking. I was thinking I'd just bought my first airbrush, a Badger, and mixed the chrome yellow paint far too thin, so I really didn't paint the plastic at all; I just changed its sheen a bit. I also hand-brushed Testor's aluminum on the push arms and blade. Aluminum! What was I thinking? I've been around dozers enough to know that running a dozer for any length of time polishes the blade and push arms to an almost mirror-like silver, but no, I had to paint it aluminum. Flat aluminum. Yeah, that's realistic.

Dozer tracks in Arizona, at least on the machines that I was familiar with, never developed much rust. They were always about as brightly polished as the blades, with the exception of an old D7F that blew a final drive and sat for a few weeks; it's the only dozer I ever saw with rusty tracks. So I painted my tracks Testors Chrome. It's realistic, but it doesn't look realistic (and in this picture it actually looks light grey, so I don't know what to think).

The good news is that though this kit is no longer in production (the latest reissue deleted the "Caterpillar" markings and was referred to strictly as a "bulldozer") I have four of them in my stockpile and one day will build this kit again, and do it properly.

The operator, by the way, is a Fujimi figure, a woman in a skirt and halter top. She'd probably look better in a Ferrari, but I enjoy the beauty-and-the-beast angle of putting the trim, pretty sports car driver atop a dozer.

How Not To Photograph A Truck Model

One day I'll take a better photograph of this combination, but not tonight. Here we have a 1/24th scale John Deere 310 backhoe, a 1/24th scale International Paystar 5000 dump truck, and a scratchbuilt beavertail trailer. Everything here has been modified or scratchbuilt.

I modified the truck, which looked very strange to my mind. It looked very "East Coast" with its enormously high box sides and pronounced "cow catcher" on the front bumper. I cut the dump box down considerably, which easy on the sides but a little trickier on the tailgate (I needed to preserve the hinge and latch details, which meant I had to take a strip out of the middle instead of simply hacking off the top). I greatly reduced the size of the cab rock guard, and sawed off and threw away the ridiculous front bumper railing. I really wanted to replace the strange cleated tires, but I'm not well-supplied with spare truck tires, so I used what came in the kit. I should have modified it a bit further. Looking at it, is seems quite obvious to me that the rear axles are about three quarters of an inch too close to the rear end of the frame. I should have moved them forward a bit, which would have been easy enough in the early stages of construction (the rear suspension is, I believe, a Hendrickson "walking beam" suspension, and it wouldn't have been difficult at all to move the mounts). As it is, the rear axles are set so far to the rear the mud flaps wouldn't fit without substantial modification of their mounts. I painted the truck with semi-gloss black, authentic John Deere green, and water-based off-white latex spray paint. I was not favorably impressed with the performance of the latex spray paint; it had poor coverage and tended to run badly, but it was probably never really intended for plastic anyway.

I modified the John Deere backhoe mainly by cutting off the ROPS (Roll-Over Protection System, otherwise known as "the roof"). I like older equipment, and taking the ROPS off seemed to add about fifteen years to the tractor's age. Otherwise it was built more or less out of the box, though it was weathered heavily with washes on the tractor and tires. I used my normal weathering technique on the bucket and hoe, which was to paint them the normal yellow, then overspray them with dark brown, and then drybrush them heavily with a lighter rust color and then drybrush them a whole lot with silver to represent metal polished by contact with the ground.

The trailer was something I scratchbuilt out of oddments that I had laying around - ABS I-beams and angle iron left over from something else, lots of Swiffer sheet styrene, and eight resin castings of the wheels and tires from a Jeep pickup truck kit (they're about the right size and have the right square-shouldered profile, but the wheels aren't quite right).

AMT 1/24th "Fire Fighter" Funny Car

Those who know me well will know that I harbor a deep interest in drag racing. I don't build a lot of car models, as a general rule, but most of the ones I do build are drag cars of one form or another. What we have here is the reissue of the AMT "Fire Fighter" Mustang funny car. It's a pretty nice kit, except I think it is mislabeled. It comes with twin four-barrel carbs, a hood scoop and no blower, so I think that makes it more of a Pro Stock car than a Funny Car, but who am I to quibble?

As is traditional for me, I soaked the chromed parts in Blech-Wite for about a week until the chrome and most of the conductive film had dissolved. I haven't tried Alclad-II and I was running short of Bare-Metal Foil (I tear through BMF because I also use it to mask canopies and other oddments on airplanes and spacecraft). So I just airbrushed the formerly chrome parts Testor's Chrome Silver, which I think looks pretty nice. It's not as shiny as genuine chrome, but I don't see many drag cars at my local drag strip sporting chromed wheels anyway.

As is my usual wont, I didn't pay a lot of attention to engine detail. In fact, if you pop off the hood, you'll see that I never even painted the four-barrel carbs! Heresy! And as is my other wont, I didn't bother to produce a show-car gloss on the body. Again, I see relatively few high-gloss cars at my local strip, and in fact I see more cars in flat primer or flat black than uber-glossy paint.

The hardest part was painting the Goodyear lettering on the tires; I used off-white craft paint (technically, "Tapioca"). Since I finished this car I ordered every contingency decal sheet Slixx had on offer and I propose to add a few to spice up the car a bit, but needless to say I haven't done that. Speaking of decals, the long flame decals are difficult to align - you've got to make it fit at both wheel wells and the filler cap and the bottoms of the windows, and it's not easy. But it worked better than I expected it to, frankly.

AMT Peterbilt 359 and (formerly) Three-Axle Trailer

I am not, by and large, a competent builder of 1/24th scale truck kits. I'm so incompetent I'm not sure if they're 1/24th scale or 1/25th scale! I find them to be a lot of work and I'm not good with the cab interiors; it seems that no matter what I do or how hard I try, I end up messing up the windows.

But here's AMT's old Peterbilt 359 and a reissue of the old three-axle gravel trailer. Of particular note is that the three-axle gravel trailer has only two axles. Three-axle trailers, while not unknown in Arizona, are somewhat uncommon, and I thought it would look a little cramped and congested what with all those axles on the road. So I simply cut off one axle, about the easiest modification to a truck kit I've ever made. Otherwise, the trailer was built out of the box, and painted for the most part with Krylon semi-gloss black and Krylon aluminum. I rubbed a little flat tan paint on the tires, let it set for about ten minutes, then rubbed most of it off with a paper towel dampened with mineral spirits - my usual technique for dealing with truck tires. The wheels got heavy washes of black paint to represent brake dust and general road grime.

The tractor (as we rather snootily refer to such things) was given to me as payment for building a friend a different model. It remained in storage for a long time, as in years, before I finally got around to building it. Amazingly enough, I hadn't lost any parts. It's painted OSHA "safety red" and semi-gloss white, and I added the hydraulic parts from the dump trailer. The air lines are solder that I wound around a paintbrush handle and painted blue and red, while the hydraulic lines are black plastic tubing that I'm pretty sure came from a Tamiya motorcycle kit. I didn't have any glad hands so I just drilled holes in the trailer and stuffed the lines in, hoping that nobody would notice. I also hope that nobody notices that it doesn't have a green electrical connection.

I made the door decals by fiddling around in Microsoft Word and printing the logo on a plain old laser printer. It's a little too thick to really look like a vinyl door sticker, but it's not bad. I didn't weather the tractor except for the tan paint on the tires trick.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Revell 1/72nd U-Boat

This is Revell-Germany's 1/72nd scale Type-VIIC U-boat. It's a big and rather striking model, though perhaps more "big" than "striking". Note how it overflows my jumped-up "photo studio" in the first picture and gets into one of the lights! Its sheer size makes it difficult to work on; I ended up having to move it to my "woodworking bench" just because there was more room there.

But for such a large model, it goes together relatively quickly and easily, though I found the rudders and stern diving planes somewhat fragile, and the odd shape of the dismounted conning tower makes it all too easy for it to roll off the workbench. Ask me how I know that. Sharp-eyed viewers will note that the optics at the top of the attack periscope are missing - they snapped off when the conning tower rolled off the bench and were never seen again.

I spent a lot of time opening up the free-flood holes in the hull, and in a way I wish I hadn't. I didn't duplicate any of the pressure hull behind the free-flood holes, so in the right light you can see all the way through the hull and it just doesn't seem right.

I decided to build it as Erich Topp's boat from earlier in the war ("U-552 Early" in the instruction sheet) though purists will note that I didn't apply Topp's Red Devil marking to the conning tower. Maybe someday, but my decal sheet was damaged by exposure to high temperature, wind, bad vibes or something and I only barely managed to salvage the decals on the base. Later, when I have more nerve, I'll try Topp's personalized markings, but for now, I'm simply pretending that the Red Devil washed off in high seas.

Buy lots of paint! The hull consumed a full bottle of Model Master flat black, and I still had to touch up here and there with a little bit of hardware flat black. Still, I knew I was going to weather the boat, so I didn't worry about the coverage too much. I weathered the boat with pastel chalks for the most part. I use a stiff white artist's brush to grind pigment off the bars of chalk, which is cleaner and easier than rubbing the stuff on sandpaper, and I kept sealing as I went along with Dullcoat. The clear flat spray darkens and tones down the weathering, so for a while I was scrubbing on pure orange and hoping that it would look all right overcoated. I think it does.

I found the Squadron "U-boats In Action" volume useful in building this kit.

There is no crew, yet. A while back I bought Revell's vinyl "Kriegsmarine" figure set and will add a few figures to the boat. I'll probably use the guys in slickers on my S-100 and add a couple of nonchalantly-standing guys to my U-boat just to give it an impression of scale. Any thoughts of showing the crew manning the deck gun were dashed when I hung the kill pennants from the overhead rope, but none of the Kriegsmarine figures look much like Topp and his bridge crew lounging in the sun while the boat arrives in port. So I'll just throw in one or two guys for scale and call it good.

Airfix 1/72nd Vosper MBT

Airfix has a fair to medium-bad reputation in the United States for making fairly unsatisfactory airplane kits. I happen to like them - they're inexpensive and readily available, and who cares of the engine nacelles on the Bf-110 aren't the right shape?

I couldn't tell you if the Airfix MBT is accurate compared to the genuine article, because I really don't know much about British MBTs (or much else). But as a kit, I think it's really very satisfactory and it builds up into a nice model that seems to positively brim with realistic deck clutter. It also has nice figures, which is fairly rare in boat kits - the old Revell PT-109 could take lessons from the Airfix kit in this regard in particular.

I have three complaints to make about the kit. The first is that the painting instructions are deceptive. They're accurate if you pay attention to the paint callouts, but if you naively assume that the tones of grey on the painting diagram model real life, you'll end up painting the boat as a photographic negative. The second is that when it comes time to assemble the hull, you need more hands than I seem to be equipped with. Four would be handy, three to hold the parts and one to apply the cement. And finally, the instructions are very vague on exactly how the ammunition drums fit on the forward 20mm twin Oerlikon. I eventually just glued them on and forgot about it, but I know my interpretation is incorrect.

But having said that, it must be said this is a very nice kit and a must-have for people who like largish-scale boat kits.

HO Scale Scraper

Here's an odd thing, and I can assure you that you've never seen anything like it before, because only one exists and I have it (and, you might add, that's my problem). I've always been somewhat drawn to the peculiar lines of the Caterpillar 830M scraper-wheel dozer, and one day I was farting around with some HO scale stuff when the idea of scratchbuilding something akin to an 830M (but not necessarily an 830M) occurred to me.
The four-wheel tractor is a fairly crappy HO scale loader (more a toy than a model). I reversed and detailed the cab, added a dozer blade from an old Woodland Scenics dozer, and added hydraulic cylinders that were left over from building a Kibri Liebherr scrap hander (Kibri kits aren't cheap, by any means, but they tend to leave one with lots of spare parts). I scratchbuilt the scraper bowl out of sheet plastic (mostly cut from old Swiffer boxes) and odds and ends from the scrap box, though I did make a mold of an HO-scale MAN eight-wheel-drive truck (by Roco) and cast four rear tires for the thing (the rear tires are duals).
After adding more Kibri hydraulic parts and various bits and pieces, I painted it Testor's "Interior Green" (which I thought was a nice and fairly vivid "construction color" that wasn't yellow for a change) and added "Koehne" stickers cut from an old Kibri sticker sheet.
Now I just need to build the railroad layout to put it on!

Another Roman!

I don't actually remember who made this kit. I think it was Pegaso, but I'm not certain. But I do know it's white metal, it's fairly large, and it's quite heavy; the tree alone weighs more than my usual breakfast. But I can say it was nice figure, though I again found painting the design on the scutum taxing, especially so in this case since I decided to paint a "victory wreath" design instead of a "Jove's thunderbolt" design. I think I probably should have painted the boss of the shield brass instead of silver, but live and learn.

More Romans!

More Romans, in this case, a pair of 54mm Andreas Romans sold as a set, complete with the rocky hilltop base. I quite like Andreas figures; I find them nicely detailed and well-sculpted, and like most white metal figures, there wasn't a lot of cleanup to do. They were painted for the most part with "craft paint", though I did use enamel washes and good old Testor's Chrome Silver here and there. The hardest part was painting the insignia on the scutum; well, that and not bending the pilum.

Verlinden 200mm Roman Bust

Verlinden's 200mm Roman bust. I was pretty pleased with the sculpting and casting of this kit (I use the term "kit" loosely because it doesn't involve a lot of parts) and it was fun painting it. Originally I used Testor's Chrome Silver on the armor, but it was so shiny it looked like a miniature casino, so I toned it down with acrylic silver. I still don't think I've captured the proper look; as it stands, it looks more like aluminum than hammered iron.

But it'll do.