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Convention shows that model building isn't just for kids

Mike Still • Aug 10, 2019 at 9:00 PM

CHATTANOOGA — Three large rooms at the Chattanooga Convention Center were filled Thursday with dozens of vendors and hundreds of mostly middle-aged and older men looking at the latest in plastic model building.

Chattanooga is this year’s venue for the International Plastic Modelers Society-USA for its annual national convention, where modelers come to compete with their latest creations and to see what is new in paints, tools, aftermarket parts and the newest model kits.

The host IPMS chapter, Chattanooga Scale Modelers, combined inside jokes from two John Belushi movies, “Animal House” and “1941,” to create the convention’s theme — a cigar chomping pilot in a P-40 with the legend “Was It Over When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?”

Walking through the vendors’ room, visitors were greeted by tables full of new kits, older and rare models, bins of decals, specialty tools, paints, glues, cements, photo-etched and resin detail parts, airbrushes and other supplies.

John Vojtech demonstrated what looked like a seamstress’ pounce wheel, except that it pressed rivet holes in plastic. One could sand oversized raised rivets off a model and use the riveting wheel to create more scale-like rivet patterns.

For those who think Peter Jackson’s only job is directing movies like “Lord of the Rings,” the Wingnut Wings company table showed Jackson’s other job — producing kits of World War I fighters and bombers.

A 1/32 scale Handley Page 0/100 kit, unbuilt and unpainted to show the parts detail, covered almost a square yard of table surface.

Jackson has worked for years on making a film about the World War II Dambusters raid by Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers on a series of German dams in 1943.

The movie is still in development, but Wingnut Wings has used Jackson’s research to produce two 1/32 scale Lancaster kits that drew visitors to the vendor’s table all day Thursday.

Roy Sutherland, whose professional career includes being a cinematic modeler for “Star Wars: Episode II,” the Mark Wahlberg remake of “Planet of the Apes” and “Terminator 3,” began building models 54 years ago. By the early 1990s, he was running a nationally known company producing cast resin detail parts for other companies’ plastic kits.

“Resin casting was a turning point for kit manufacturers,” Sutherland said as he manned his Barracuda Studios tables. “They saw the work we were doing, and they started to up their game in detail and quality.”

Sutherland’s current operation has done a steady business over the past decade in making a variety of resin parts and decals to complement new kits coming on the market.

Jeffery Garrity, owner of Rare Plane Detectives, manned his tables at the Nationals vendor room as he, wife Kathy and assistant Liz handled a constant stream of convention attendees looking for older and rare model kits.

Garrity said he has put to use a variety of past careers — comic book dealer, advertising, entertainment writing and hobby dealer — to develop his business. Garrity buys collections of unbuilt kits from across the U.S. and maintains a mail-order and internet-based sales business.

“I’ve seen everything,” Garrity said of his buying trips and collections. “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

As Garrity looked around his block of tables, the stacks of models resembled a history of the plastic model industry in the U.S. with kits ranging from the late 1950s to releases from the past few months.

In the convention’s contest room, a variety of aircraft, ships, automobiles, spacecraft, figures, armored vehicles and what-if models were still coming in before judging started Saturday. For the science fiction buff, there were plenty of Star Trek, Star Wars and other models, A three-foot long model of the Discovery from “2001: A Space Odyssey” had three men looking in the open pod bay doors to see if HAL had killed off Frank Poole.

Sutherland and Garrity each said that demographics show the typical U.S. modeler is aging.

“Boys Life magazine did a survey around 1962, and it showed that 99 percent of every American male had built a model,” Garrity said. “That has changed. It’s hard to compete with video and computer games.”

Sutherland said the average age of a modeler in the U.S. is now about 50.

“In Europe, its 30,” Sutherland said. “The younger modelers are in Europe and Eastern Europe. In Japan, the hobby is still strong and it’s growing in China. Who knows what it will look like here in the coming years?”

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