Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Popular Armies for Military Miniature Hobbies

What makes a particular genre more popular among toy soldier and military miniature collectors? I have thought long and hard about this. Several trends are obvious.  The most popular genre in the US at this time are World War II, the American Civil War and the American Revolution.  50 years ago, it was the Civil War, The Revolution, the Wild West and Napoleonics. Since the mid-70s, science fiction has grown into a niche of its own, while the Wild West has receded in the US. Napoleonics are common wargame figures these days, though there are still collectors of 54mm and larger figures. The biggest change is the availability of figures from various eras. Compared to 1968, the selection available to hobbyists is overwhelmingly vast.

The most popular armies from these genre include World War II Germans and both sides of the Civil War and the Revolution.

I had wondered why conflicts such as the Crimean War and Austro-Prussian, Franco Austrian and Franco-Prussian wars were not more popular. They had a wide variety of troop types and uniforms Also, what with the popularity of British Regiments in the hobby, why so few French troops here in the US? The French have an awesome assortment of attractive uniforms and troop types from 1840 to 1925. And what of conflicts such as the Seven Years War?

I have answers:

From the Old Kingdom of Egypt to futuristic Science Fiction, there are figures and people who like to model them. “Niche” is a relative term when discussing any genre of miniature soldiers. Every army and era has its fans. Most hobbyists, myself include, enjoy several eras and armies. Some of the discrepancies can be explained by location. The Seven Years War is mainly a European matter and so is most popular among German, British and French collectors. The facet of it fought in North America and know nas the French & Indian War has a following, but nowhere near as large as in Europe. As a counterpoint, the American Revolution is big in the US but has a small following elsewhere. If you are British or European, ti is the Seven Years War. For Americans, the Revolution.  One might say, “Six of one and half a dozen of the other.”

The American Civil War is very popular in the US. Contrary to the “Blue versus Gray” thing, the uniforms varied and some where quite ornate. There is also a smaller but ardent following in Germany and the UK.

Napoleonics are also a large genre, even if they have waned a bit among US collectors. Napoleonics are popular throughout Europe. Part of that is the fact that most European countries got caught up in that conflict in one way or another.

But why not Crimea or the German wars of the 1860s and 1870s?

For a genre to be popular, a few things are necessary:

1) The war must have lasted more than two years.

2) There must have been a variety of units, troop types, uniforms and equipment.

3) There must be lingering controversies about the war, its conduct (strategies, tactics), or events surrounding it.

4) The war must have been well-documented



You will finds all of these elements in World War II, the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. Things are less controversial with the German-French-Austrian Wars of the 1860s and Crimea. Also, none of the latter wars lasted long enough.

A friend brought up Vietnam,, which is still controversial and lasted over 10 years. However, there is no great variety of uniforms, equipment or troop types. The gear and uniforms on both sides were pretty much standardized. We had M113s, Hueys., Cobras and M48s, green uniforms and M16s. The VC and NVA had PT76s, T55s, green, tan or black uniforms, Ak47s and the SKS. Not much variety. The same can be said of World War I. Though some uniforms in 1914 were ornate, by 1915 they were pretty drab. Tactics were limited mostly to trench warfare. There is not much controversy there as compared to World War II.

The American Revolution lasted eight years, had a variety of uniforms and some aspects are still up for discussion. The Seven Years war lasted seven years, had a wide variety of troops, uniforms and nationalities. Ditto for the Napoleonic Era. The American Civil War lasted four years and had an immense number of units and militias. We are still arguing over its ramifications.

Of course there are a few flukes in there. Nonetheless, it all boils down to length of conflict, variety, documentation and controversy.



One remaining issue is why the British regiments are more popular in the US than the French. France was the oldest ally of the United States. Here I can only speculate. The US hobby was fed by British makers such as Wm. Britains Ltd, Johillco and others. Few lines of French figures were imported. Then there is the matter of language. France never supplied our hobby as much as Britain, specifically England. Had French makers more enthusiastically promoted and exported their miniatures here, I am sure France would be much more visible in the American toy soldier hobby.



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The most popular World War II figures are Germans. That army has the widest variety of everything, from belt buckles to tanks. They remain the most controversial. American, British, Soviet and Japanese armies where much more standardized and had far less variety.

The American Revolution has a wide variety of uniforms and non-uniforms. Different militias that could afford uniforms varied greatly. Consider also the Hessians, who actually came from six different German states. Each group included several different troop types, from fusiliers to grenadiers to jager and artillerymen. It was not a matter of Blue versus Red, but every color in the book. Even the British varied. having Rifle units, Rangers in green and Scottish troops.

The Civil War used standard troop types such as Light Infantry, regular infantry, cavalry and artillery. Each state sent several militia units, and many of these varied insofar as uniforms and equipment. There were standard uniforms for Federal and Confederate national troops,. Militia uniforms were varied, and many were influenced by French military fashion. These included various types of chasseurs and Zouaves.



Medieval and Ancient armies, have large followings, but they are not as popular as the armies from the 18th through 20th Centuries. A most interesting variety are the Heraldic K nights. These figures feature authentic historical heraldry of real warriors. The heralds of old kept great records of crests and liveries.

One French unit that has a following worldwide is the Foreign Legion. There is a mystique to it and a lot of controversy about its many conflicts. Movies, novels and televison series helped popularize the elite French unit.

Among Medieval collectors, the later centuries appear to be most popular, circa 1350 - 1550. The Hundred years wars and Wars of the Roses dominate, thanks to well-documented histories and heraldries.



Ancient Collectors tend to favor Hellenic Greek and Romans armies and enemies, but close on their heels are Egyptians, Assyrians and Persians.

Viking Age collecting focuses mostly on Vikings and Normans. There are fewer Saxon figures. Irish figures from the era are notably absent.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Obituary: Roy Everett, O Gauge Railroader and Author

Roy Everett died last week. He was an electrical engineer of amazing talent, having worked on satellites and other advances technology. Roy was also an avid model railroader. His basement was home to a massive, exquisite O gauge railway. Roy called it his Little Lakes Lines. He invited local O gaugers to his home every so often to run trains

Roy’s layout was featured in model railroad magazines several times. He wrote a book for O Gauge Railroad magazine entitled “Animations for your layout”. It detailed the way to replicate a variety of animated scenes which he had on his own railroad. Roy’s animations were stunning. They ranged from a smoking billboard (like the cigarette add billboard on Times Square) to a fully operational amusement park complete with its own generating station and rides with accompanying music. One of the most elegant animations was the simplest - a little girl riding a swing.

Roy Everett was president of the Albert Hall, a music venue in the Pine Barrens.

I had the opportunity to run trains on Roy’s layout several times. The animations and scenery were spectacular. I remember how my little O27 chuggers were dwarfed by the large, full-scale models of everything from the Blue Comet to the Pennsy S2 Turbine. That was a lot of fun. Roy was very generous with his time, knowledge and his layout.

May he find joy and friendship in the next world.




Here is a link to his obituary: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/app/obituary.aspx?pid=188034403

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review- RR Track Software by Blue Mountain Software


Standard Gauge layout drawn with RR-Track
RR-Track 3D rendering of Standard Gauge layout
Track planning for model railroads used to be a “hands-on” thing. It involved drawing the plan on paper, by hand. Lionel and some other makers offered templates for drawing track. Of course, there were always plans that had been pre-drawn by model train makers or hobbyists. Most manufacturers included several track plans in their catalogs and instruction manuals. Entire books of layouts were also available.

You had two options: copy a pre-drawn layout or spend hours drawing your own by hand. Accuracy was not guaranteed by either method.***

Enter the computer age. Track planning has been made easier through computerized programs for that purpose. I first came across one of these when I bought an MTH train set.  There was a CD included in the set that had a copy of RR-Track layout planning software. The CD contained a version made for MTH for its Realtrax. track system. I loved it.  I contacted RR-track and upgraded. Eventually, I was doing plans for O, O27, Standard, S, HO, N, G and TT systems.

There were two type files: track and accessories. The track could be one of many track systems. For instance, O gauge systems include the superior tubular O and O27 as well as Lionel Fastrack and Supero, MTH Realtrax and Scale Trax, K-Line SuperSnap, Gargraves sectional and Ross switches. There are numerous brands and systems of track for each gauge.

Recently, I upgraded to the 5.3 version. Since I was a prior customer, I was able to upgrade for $60. The new version was a big update with lots of goodies. Here is what I found

Track systems: RR-track covers Standard,  G / Large Scale, O, S, HO, N, TT and Z Gauges.  Z and TT cover one track system each. Standard gauge covers two. The other gauges include a number of American and European track systems. For example, there are 15 track systems for O Gauge ,and 14 for HO!

Accessories: there are various kinds of accessories covered. Lionel Prewar, Postwar and Moderns., MTH Railking, Plasticville, American Flyer. Miscellaneous O, Pola and Piko G / Large Scale, and HO and N scale accessories. These include buildings, bridges and other structures as well as lighted accessories and trackside signals.

3D Standard Gauge Layout, another view

New and Old Features

The good. old features dominate RR-Track. Drawing is on a grid. Default setting is 1 square = 1 foot of layout space. The user can also opt for Metric ( :p ) One can view the plain track plan and then view it in a 3D rendering. The software draws plain pictures of terrain, track and everything from buildings to trackside signals.

The new system allows you to choose three options at the start: start a new layout, choose an existing layout, or pick from one of several you have worked on recently. It then walks you through a process to determine the layout size, track gauge, benchwork and then choosing a name for the file. It takes a couple more steps than the older versions. Benchwork is a new feature, by the way.

Now a separate piece appears in the screen. This has options such as Plan View, Component View, Terrain view, 3D View and Simulation View.

In the Plain View, click Objects and you will find the means to make generic scenery such as trees, lakes and roadways. There are a couple fewer tree types in the new version, but that is no loss..You can also draw generic buildings or basic shapes. I have found the Object menu valuable to making attractive and realistic track plans. You can also label track

Plain View is the layout map.
Plain View

Component View shows all track, accessories and parts used on the layout. (It saves as a txt file),
Component View

 Terrain View allows you to work contours. (I still have not gotten the hang of it, nor the trick to make elevated track).*
Terrain View

3d View is supposed to. show you the layout in a 3D rendering. You can change the view to other angles, etc. **
3D View

3D Print View

Simulated view allows you to pick a train and “run” it on the layout. This is a new feature. You can choose from a variety of locomotives and freight, passenger and MOW cars.  It really helps to run a locomotive with passenger cars to see if a train can pass without hitting scenery.,

Simulation View

I have tried two other types of track software - AnyRail and SCARM. They are okay, but in my opinion, they do not hold a candle to RR-Track. I have found RR-Track to be user-friendly and accurate. It is versatile. The RR-Track sections connect together smoothly, unlike the other systems. It is easier to connect and to move track around the layout plan. Accessing track sections is made easier thanks to a pull-down menu. In the other systems it involved scrolling up and down a long line of illustrated sections. RR-Track is the software of choice for track and layout planning. I have designed hundreds of track plans with RR Track, by the way. Most are posted on the All Gauge Model Railroading Page at www.thortrains.net 

Look at my work and see what you can do for yourself with RR-Track.





And so...

I recommend RR-Track. I love using it and have found the results gratifying. The few small issues do not detratc from its ease of use , accuracy and great results. Keep in mind that I have drawn hundreds of track plans and continue to use it. I enjoy using RR-Track.

Here is the link to the RR-Track website:



Some considerations and advice

* I have found that in order to render a drawing  in 3D, it helps to first go to Terrain Vew. Click Action on the bar, then go to “new base”. Choose “rect”. Use the drawing tool to draw a green screen over the layout. When you go back to Plain View, the field will be a very light green. This green field is essential for viewing in 3D. This step was not necessary in earlier versions.

**3D view did not work on my computer. A work-around was to click Action, and the click Print View. The images appeared there, though not on the regular 3D screen. After looking, I would delete the Print View screen and make adjustments on the blank screen. Then I popped up the Print Screen image again to see if I got the desired result. If so, I deleted the Print Screen image and went to Action again. This time, I clicked Save View.  Images are saved in BMP format.
3D Print View

***I have tried to redraw the layouts that Lionel included in its catalogs and accessories. The track and accessories in RR_Track are accurate. The old Lionel artists were not. Some things that made it into the old drawn layouts from catalogs and manuals will not work in real life. To see examples of RR-track versus the old artwork, click here: http://www.thortrains.net/Liolay1/Lionel-classsic-index.html

Save often.  Old and new versions of RR-Track can get overloaded and crash after a while. This is not frequent, but it does happen. Save, save ,save!

I think it would be useful for RR-Track to add the Bachmann Plasticville HO and N structures to the HO and N accessory libraries.

RR-Track has other applications. I have used it for plotting maps for wargaming and battle games. With the addition of a few features. a version for wargamers would be a hit. Add trench lines, redoubts, bunkers, barbed wire fences and various fortresses. The folks at RR-track should consider making a mapping version for wargaming and other tabletop hobbies.They would find a whole new clientele beyond the railroad hobby..

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Review Part II - BMC D-Day Soldiers











Now we come to the second part of this review:

The BMC D-Day Playset comes with plenty of soldiers representing three armies: USA in olive drab, Germany in gray,  and Great Britain in light tan. Figures are in the 54mm to 60mm range. I first came across these figures about 20 years ago when I bought the original D-Day Playset at Toys R Us.

Here are the troops by country:

24 American Infantrymen with Gen. Teddy Roosevelt Junior

22 Germans (with Rommel figure)

12 British including a Scot playing bagpipes

That is a total of 58 figures. Indeed, a good amount of men for a playset this size. Troops also have enough heavy weapons. The Germans have two mortar crews and a couple of machine-gun teams. US forces have a couple of heavy machine-guns, bazookas. flamethrowers, BARs and mortar men. Granted, the bazooka man is lying down dead. The British have a BAR gunner
US Soldiers: Machine Gunner, BAR gunner, grenade thrower


One thing about the current batch of soldiers is that the plastic is a bit stiff. I am surprised only one rifle was broken in transit.

There is a good assortment of poses. One glaring problem stands outs. The sculpting ranges from mediocre to poor
US GIs: bazooka man (dead?_, kneeling BAR gunner. kneeling rifleman


Rifleman, casualty, mortar and mortar man, officer

General Teddy Roosevelt Junior pointing with stick, machine-gun loader, flamethrower operator (prone)
Generic mortars for US and German crews

I have had or seen most Army Men since Ajax and Plasticraft. Only a few feet from where I sit are bags of Tim Mee M16 troops, Lido World War II type infantry and a bag of the BMC Iwo Jima Marines and Japanese. To be honest, the D-Day troops are some of the most awkward sculpts I have ever seen. Immediately noticeable are the ill-fitting helmets.
German rifleman, grenade thrower, kneeling with submachine gun

German mortar men
German casualty, General Rommel (resembles like the Matchbox figure - best sculpt in the set)
German casualty, machine gunner and loader


Some of the figures could be improved by a head-swap. There is a real mixed bag when it comes ot quality among these figures.

Jeff Imel, BMC’s current owner, told me he will continue to produce these figures. Having new molds made would be too expensive.  Perhaps there is someway the existing molds could be altered to mitigate the worst of the sculpting. 

British Infantry: 3 riflemen and Bren gunner. Note the short rifles.


Rifleman, officer with Thompson submachine gun, Scot with bagpipes. 




You can get the D-Day playset through Amazon.com or BMC Toys' website. If the set is temporarily out of stock, you can usually by components of it separately.

.....


Friday, January 26, 2018

Review BMC D-Day Playset - Part 1




Part I - Terrain, Boats and accessories

20 Years Later

I first saw the D-Day playset by BMC some 20 years ago. The set was sold at Toys R Us. I had also bought the Rough Riders set there. Both were a pretty good set, all in all. There were three pillbox bunkers with AAA guns, a bombed out Norman farmhouse, barbed wire fences and beach obstacle. The landing craft were excellent. My only complaint concerned the soldiers. The set included American, British and German figures. The sculpting was less than mediocre.

Jeff Imel, current owner of BMC, sent me his reissue of the D-Day set for review. The box art is new. Also new are stickers for the landing craft and pillboxes. Everything else is there, too: Dragon’s teeth and Czech hedgeghog beach obstacles, barbed wire fences, and rock piles are the obstacles. Three pillboxes, each sporting AAA guns, and a bombed out Norman house are the structures. The Higgins boats are excellent and sized right for 54mm to 60mm soldiers. And the soldiers themselves have not changed. There are also a dozen small sandbag piles.

1 Norman house
3 bunkers with AAA guns with stickers
2 Higgins boats with stickers
3 barbed witre sections over 12" long
12 Dragon’s teeth tank obstacles
12 Czech Hedhog obstacles
12 small Sand bag positions
3 rock piles
3 flags -US, British, German
American infantry
British Infantry
German infantry
4 mortars (2 each for US and German infantry)
Tray-type box


Includes 3 pillboxes with flak guns

The Good News

I first must admit a bias. I have had the Marx playsets as well as similar products by MPC, Tim Mee and Ideal going back to when I was a little boy. I am also an experienced model builder and figure painter going back many years. I got my “basic training” building the old Aurora monster models and painting ROCO minitanks and Airfix soldiers. I know what is good when it comes to scenery, terrain, vehicles, boats, heavy weapons and soldiers. Therefore, I am prone to err on the side of my experience. And yes, I can be fussy about authenticity and detail.
Set includes 2 Higgins Boats, and they are big


The whole tenor of World War II playsets is altered significantly by this set. Those of us who grew up with a mix of soldiers, offscale vehicles and an odd medley of terrain are in for a surprise. Everything in this set fits  scales ranging from 1/35 to 1/29 (50mm to 60mm). There are no undersized vehicles. Terrain pieces are also consistent. In place of the handful of undersized landing boats and vehicles, this set has two large, realistic landing craft. The little barbed wire fence sections common to the old Marx sets are not here. Instead, three long sections of barbed wire fencing cover at least three feet of play battlefield. There are three realistic pillbox bunkers with antiaircraft guns on the roof. And then there is the Norman farmhouse in full scale. The set also includes anti-tank and beach obstacles.
Barbed Wire pictured with my Homecast figures, 54mm - 60mm
Dragon's teeth and Czech hedgehogs

Sandbags pictured with my homecast soldiers, 54mm troops

Yes, it is a playset, but for those of us in the toy soldier hobby, this one is for the big boys.

For those doing skirmish gaming with 54mm figures, the D-Day Playset is a great asset. It provides the kind of accessories that are needed for games. They make game set-up faster, too.

I cannot stress enough how much I like these large, realistic landing craft.


The Bad News

A few concerns. The house is difficult to assemble. The plastic is too hard and the snap-joiners are awkward. Putting it together, it flew apart like the old Lionel exploding boxcar. I prefer to cut off some of the snaps and use glue.

The soldiers use a stiff plastic. I am surprised that only one arrived with a broken rifle. Sculpting is poor. Some of the US and German figures could be salvaged with head-swaps from more proportional figures.


Pillbox pictures with my painted homecast 54mm - 60mm figures

Overall assessment

The D-Day Playset by BMC offers toy soldier collectors, modelers and wargames a variety of good accessories, scenery and equipment. These is raw material for diorama-makers and lots of goodies for skirmish gamers There is also consistency insofar as scale. Granted, these are toys, but they are some of the most realistic, scale toys in the plastic soldier hobby.

The two concerns do not diminish the D-Day playsets’s value to the toy soldier hobbyist. Get while the getting is good.
Stickers for landing craft
D-Day Pillbox Stickers

Some advice

For sci-fi fans: the barbed wire can be used a laser-barriers. Paint the upright posts black or dark metallic “gunmetal”. Paint the horizontal “wires” in day-glo colors. Shades of Forbidden Planet!  A ray-beam barrier to beat the band!

For troops debarking the landing craft, the Marx 54mm Marines have a lot of running poses. Most of the BMC poses for American and German troops are soldiers in place

You can use the landing craft, barbed wire and bunkers (without AAA guns) for landings against Japanese forces. BMC’s Iwo Jima Marines and Japanese are perfect for this. Even better, add these to the BMC Iwo Jima playset.


Tomorrow- Part II: Day Playset Soldiers