I grew up with model kits in the 1970s and 1980s, and I’ve always loved them.
And neither of those qualities, incidentally, is the same thing as being good at building model kits.
My father is a truly great model-builder, but I don’t think I have ever possessed the patience, coordination or necessary skill to build great models, and then to paint them as well. Most of the time, I just wanted to play with the kits immediately after assembly and begin my imaginative adventures in the final frontier.
Still, I have terrific childhood memories of sci-fi model kits from decades-past. Starting from the time I was probably five or six, my father would purchase a model kit for me almost weekly from a hobby shop in nearby Bloomfield, New Jersey, and spend Friday evening assembling it for me.
I would have to go to bed before he finished gluing and painting, but first thing the next morning, I would spring up from bed and find the completed, painted – gorgeous — model waiting for me on the staircase leading up to the attic, which was right outside my bedroom.
It was always a spectacular thing, to wake up Saturday morning to a new toy, essentially. After breakfast and some Saturday morning television, I was off to worlds of fantasy and excitement…
I still remember my Dad’s work station in the house where I grew up on Clinton Road in Glen Ridge. Behind the family room sofa, he had a table (with wobbly legs…) and atop it was a giant gray box. Inside that large flip-up box were all of his modeling supplies, from utility knives to paints, to clamps and sand paper.
In a narrow space nearest to him, on the other side of the box, he had his assembly area. I still remember that the surface of the table was splotched and blotted with paint droplets. Sometimes, when I was very little, I would sit at his table during the day and try to scratch the paint off with my fingers, for some reason. I also have lots of memories of watching my Dad working on my models at his “station,” occasionally looking up to catch what was happening on Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, or The Bionic Woman.
Since I’ve always been a space adventure fan, the kits my father built for me were when I was little were usually of the Star Trek or Space: 1999 variety: starships and moon bases and the like. That was where my tastes went, but my Dad was also a great builder of his own kits, primarily tanks from the World War II era.
One morning in the early 1970s that I’ll never forget, I found on those stairs outside my room a completed Star Trek exploration set from AMT, consisting of the famous communicator, phaser, and tricorder. That kit really made my weekend, and I promptly took the Starfleet equipment out on landing party duty (by the nearby train tracks and field, where I played…).
I also remember going to that same hobby shop in Bloomfield some time in 1978 — before Battlestar Galactica actually premiered on ABC — and seeing on the shelves the whole line of Monogram model kits from the series, including Colonial Vipers and Cylon Raiders. At that point, I had no idea what a “Colonial” or “Cylon” was, but I knew I had to have those spaceship kits, and my father, as usual, indulged me.
Another experience I recollect very clearly came in the winter of 1980 — when I was very ill — resting on the sofa in our family room and watching the Lake Placid Winter Olympics while my father built me an AMT Starship Enterprise. As bad as I felt physically, I also felt good because I knew for certain that the next morning I would wake up and have a beautiful Constitution class starship to play with.
When I became a pre-adolescent, my love of models didn’t abate. Now, my Dad and I would go out together on Saturdays and hunt for hobby shops all over New Jersey and sometimes in New York City. My Dad would always use the opportunity of model kit “hunting” trips to talk to me about how I was doing in school, how I was feeling, and on one occasion, he used our weekend ritual to fill me in on the facts of life…
Over the years of my childhood and adolescence I collected model kits from Star Trek, Space: 1999, Planet of the Apes, Star Blazers, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Black Hole and other franchises. Eventually, I started building the models myself, but as I wrote above, I never was as good at the task as my Dad was. I did build a terrific Blue Thunder and Airwolf, when I went through my obsessive helicopter phase in 1983-1984, however.
And to this day, one of my all-time favorite models to build was “Gerry Anderson’s Starcruiser One,” a kind of three in-one spaceship from Airfix that, in my opinion, was an absolutely perfect spacecraft.
I have included with this post some photos of the model kits (boxes…) I’ve collected over the years. I know it’s a wealthy collector’s hobby today, and in 2012, there are toys available of the vast majority of these spaceships. But there’s still something incredibly special to me about a sci-fi model kit.
For when I was young, there was no other way to play with the starship Enterprise, except by AMT model kit.
Although I suppose most Star Trek fans would say that the famous Federation starship was constructed at the Naval Yards in Earth orbit, as a kid I knew with certainty that the great vessel was built – with a lot of love — at my Dad’s work table in the family room.