Peter Flies the Plastic Fantastic

My dad got me interested in plastic modelling, building Airfix Series 1 bagged ships. I remember watching him at the kitchen table, building “The Golden Hind” or “The Great Western”. He was working on a model of “The Revenge” (What? Sir Francis Drake had another ship?) when his second son, your humble scribe, decided to work on it while Dad was away at work. I managed to make the maindeck melt and sag, through over liberal application of glue. I’m sure he was disappointed, but I did live to tell the tale.

I would wash cars or cut grass or shovel snow to earn a few bucks, and once I had earned it, it was off to the hobby shop! I’d return with my prize and it would be completed in 30 minutes, the glue would be dry in an hour and flying operations in my bedroom would commence not much later. (Author’s note, I was about 8 years old at the time!)  At first I built whatever I could afford, without regard for scale or subject matter. (This explains why I gave my grandma a glue smeared, unpainted Airfix German 8 wheeled armoured car for Easter one year. I meant well.

She proudly displayed it on her television set) Then I decided to concentrate on 1/72nd aircraft from the Second World War. My plastic air force was unpainted, and had no filler applied to the various seams which resulted from construction. It looked “Grandma Moses” primitive, but my collection, though of dubious quality, was used on at least one occasion by my parents to divert conversation.

Eventually I began to purchase plastic model paint, glossy finish at first, not really very authentic, but it sure as Hell looked good! Then Testors a) began to produce flat military model paint, to add some realism to your finished product, albeit not total realism, as not all military colours were covered. However, “baby steps”!

As my interest in the hobby developed, I began to use putty to fill the seams on the fuselage and wing joints, to make my magnum opus b) look more like an aircraft and less like a bunch of plastic parts hastily assembled by a twelve year old boy. There were other changes afoot, as well. Part of the fun of this hobby, for me anyway, is research. I began to look at ways of making a model slightly different than what the manufacturer had sold me, by converting the kit during assembly. For example, it is relatively easy to convert a Spitfire IX fighter to a Spitfire XI photo recon aircraft, once you have researched the necessary changes. This gave full flight to my creative processes, and gave me a great sense of accomplishment as I surveyed my completed handiwork.

Plastic aircraft modellers began to demand more from the manufacturers, like the opportunity to build  an aircraft in different markings or even in different versions. As Time went on, I began to amass a collection of parts and decals that I hadn’t used in construction, the famous “spares box” beloved of plastic modellers everywhere. I could use this resource for inspiration for my upcoming projects, because I always like to plan ahead. It’s an excellent way to keep mentally sharp.

Alas, plastic modelling went the way of “Puff The Magic Dragon” for most of my contemporaries in their mid teens, as they discovered cars and girls. In my case, my family had no car, and I was pretty confident that I could discover girls in my own time and in my own way, so I kept building models on into adulthood. I grew up in Orillia, and The Hobby and Record Shop was the “go to” place to feed one’s plastic habit. Mr Prag, the owner, was a nice man, and tolerated my Friday night and Saturday invasions of his inner sanctum. I remember ordering the Monogram b) 1/48th c) De Havilland Mosquito from him, the first time in my life I had ever done anything like that. This was a wunderkit, to a 14 year old, anyway. You could build 3 different versions, lots of extra parts and decals left over for future use. I was so excited when it finally arrived that I ran home with it under my arm. Now, I didn’t just throw that one together, no sir. It had cost me $2.30, a serious investment in those days. (Why do I remember that price, and have to look to see if I’m wearing a shirt?)

As time passed, I joined the Canadian branch of the “International Plastic Modeller’s Society“, and was active in several chapters of the society, founding one, as a matter of fact. I also have attended a number of conventions, where like minded folk can rub elbows, hit the vendor’s room, admire the models entered in competition and generally run with their own kind. After all, there are few places in the outside world where you can freely discuss U.S.A.F. d) camouflage patterns without being stared at. e)

Our chapter would put on a model display at various events such as airshows, and that was great fun. I always enjoy interacting with people. Men would often say to me “Well, I used to make them when I was a kid…” leaving “…but then I grew up!” as an unspoken challenge. I’d just smile. Once I had an American air force pilot point out that my T-33 model was incorrect. It should have had his name on the canopy frame, as he had flown the actual aircraft that I had modelled when he was first assigned to the 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron!

Once I ran into a client of mine from work at an airshow. It was my lunchtime, so I treated him to a beer and a burger and we talked aircraft for 30 minutes. I’m pretty sure that that had not been in his plans when he’d set out that morning for the show! Many happy memories of those airshow displays, memories of friends, some of whom are no longer with us, sadly. (R.I.P. Keith.)  We also put on a display at the annual “Aircrew Reunion” held every September at the Royal York Hotel.

This reunion was for World War Two veterans, and it was really something to see them looking at our models. Normally we don’t allow people to touch our models, but I remember a blind man who had been a mid upper gunner. His attendant asked if the man could touch my Halifax bomber model. I let him do so, and observed. The man gently ran his fingers up the spine of my model, until he felt the turret. He broke out in a beatific smile, and my eyes welled. Beautiful, unforgettable.

Life has a way of making you change, even when (especially when?) you don’t want to. Years of squinting at a computer and “tromboning” paper and the resultant effect on my vision meant that I had to abandon 1/72nd scale for something easier to see, 1/48th scale.

I am still building plastic model aircraft, not as often as I’d like, but often enough. When I was cutting grass and shovelling snow, I swore that there would come a time when I would have lots of different models to choose from, at my leisure. That time has arrived. I have a classified number f) of unbuilt kits, ranging from a “Floh” all the way to a Short Sunderland. There are copious numbers of Phantoms, Tomcats, Spitfires and Canberras. They bide their time.

Still to be Built

I have gained a lot of pleasure from plastic modelling, met some fine people, had some amazing experiences. I highly recommend it as a hobby.

Keep ’em Flying!

See you soon

  1. a) Company which produced paint, glue and putty which are modelling necessities.
  2. b) A pioneering American model producer.
  3. c) Scale. 1 inch on the model is 48 inches on the real aircraft. I was building 1/72 at the time, but the lure of this beauty was too much for even me to resist. I have always loved the “Mosquito”.
  4. d) United States Air Force
  5. e) Some modellers believe that “50 shades of grey” was about U.S. Navy camouflage in the 1980s 😉
  6. f) It’s classified. I could tell you, but then I’d have to bore you to death. Lois may yet read this column.


3 Responses to “Peter Flies the Plastic Fantastic”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    “Magnum opus” (first footnote b) is Latin for “great achievement”. I threw this column together in a hurry this morning and couldn’t find that phrase for the life of me. My apologies.

  2. Teresa Coulter Says:

    Another great story Peter. As you know one of my fondest memories of you as a kid was when our family came for a visit and you introduced me to many of your plastic model creations in your room and one got caught on my sweater. I’ll never forget what you said and I quote, “To use a horrible pun, I believe it has become attached to you!” I will never forget that. I was a very shy cousin of yours and you knew how to break the ice! We both had a good laugh and and I was instantly comfortable. Even when you don’t know it you affect people in a positive way! Thanks for the memory cuz!

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