Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Revolutionary War Soldiers - some thoughts

I live less than two miles from the place where the Battle of Monmouth was fought. In fact. Main Street here in Freehold had been plundered by British troops. The British behaved so badly that even the Hessians were appalled.* 

Hessians, indeed. One bunch of Hessians were actually Brunswickers. They were part of Burgoyne’s army that came out of Canada. The Brunswick general, von Riedesel, brought his wife and family along on the campaign. They were all captured at the Battle of Saratoga. Baroness von Riedesel, a typical German noble, did not know what to make of the Americans. She was baffled by everything here. Among her remarks was that our troops wore no uniforms. They fought in civilian clothes. Yet every one of them had a very military bearing.

Snobby German trophy-wives aside, few of our troops had genuine uniforms. Most wore work clothes or hunting attire. In fact, Washington felt that hunting shirts were ideal. These were usually homespun shirts with fringes, all in a whitish color. A few units made uniforms by having everyone’s hunting shirts dyed the same color.
Rifleman and Militiaman on left, soldier and dragoon on right

The cut of hunting clothes was hardly discernable form buckskins.

American riflemen wore buckskins or hunting clothes. The stereotypical rifleman of the time was a crude rustic who was usually illiterate. True bumpkins, many came from the Carolinas, Vermont, New Hampshire, the New Jersey Pine Barrens and., of course Pennsylvania.

When I reviewed the Tim Mee Frontiersmen, I was pleased to note that they are all easily painted to be American militia and riflemen in hunting shirts of buckskins. The rub in all this is turning them in to regular militia in hunting shirts. The heads with raccoon hats can be replaced by heads with tricornes harvested from BMC and other large Revolutionary War figures.

Men in hunting clothes on the right, regular milita on the left.
They may be big and crude, but I like the BMC figures. They are big and robust. For Revolutionary War games in large scale, the BMC figures give you plenty with which to work. The price is right and you get a nice assortment of poses. Plus, there are excellent little redoubts and both cannons and mortars. You can do your own version of Yorktown or the Siege of Charleston.

The Tim Mee Frontiersmen are as much a charm today as they were what I was a little boy. Back then, I mixed them with cowboys and Indians. These days, they make an excellent frontier militia for the Revolution and War of 1812,. They are also great for the Alamo as Tennesseans with Davy Crockett. The frontiersmen can also be the Mountain Men who hunted out in the Rockies in the 1830s and 1840s.

Lafayette's Light Infantry
The best Revolutionary War figures from the old days were by Marx. Those by MPC were better than Lido, whose set was mediocre at best.

Many make the same mistake with the Revolution that they do with the Civil War. They think it is strictly a two-tone conflict. And just as Blue and Gray were not the only Civil War uniform colors, so the Revolution was not limited to Blue and Red. The British Red coats were supplemented by green-coated American Tories, Blue coated Hessians, white-uniformed Anhalt Germans and Indians in every shade of attire imaginable. Along with civilian clothes and hunting shirts, those American Patriot units that had uniforms might be any shade of blue, green., white, brown, or even red. Our French allies might wear white or shades of blue.

Uniformed infantry
With the Revolution ,there is plenty of lot of variety to keep the miniature modeler, collector and wargamer happy. There are several good books on uniforms, too. I like the Blandford book Uniforms of the American Revolution, The Company of Military Historian’s book The Era of the American Revolution published by Presidio Press, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Uniforms from 1775 to 1873 The American Revolutionary War from Lorenz Books. There are a few details that are disputed, but these are useful guides to the troops and uniforms. Don Troiaini’s Soldiers in America by Stackpole Books has a smaller selection of beautiful illustrations for the French and Indian War to the Civil War, with nice images of Revolutionary War troops. Also, The American Soldier: US Armies in Uniform, 1775 to the Present has a well-illustrated section on the Revolution, as well as the Army and Marines on up to the late 1980s. It was published by The Military Press. Many of its illustrations were originally in Osprey publications.

One problem: at this time, only the Lorenz "Encyclopedia" is in print. The others have to be hunted down, and the trick is to wait until you find a copy at a price you are willing to pay.


*When British troops came to Norway at the end of World War II, they behaved quite badly in comparison to the regular German troops who had occupied the country since 1940.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tim Mee "Atomic Family" "People at Play."

Let me preface this article by stating that I do not remember this set of figures. Of course, I was not looking for these kind of figures back in the old days. My interest was soldiers, from ancient times to modern. The only civilian figures I wanted were 1/48 scale to go with my Lionel and Marx trains. And the Atomic Family is more than twice that size.

The "People at Play" set includes twenty-four figures in six poses: two adults, two teenagers and two children. The attire and hairstyle are of the 1960s. The give-away is the teenage boy’s hair. Anything earlier would have been short and possibly greased back with a handful of Brylcreem. The teenage daughter’s very short skirt also betokens the 1960s. And from here, the ancient principle of HoKee is in effect.

First, the father is casually dressed,. In his right hand he holds a pipe, and a claw hammer in his left. Most tasks involving a claw hammer are WORK, not PLAY. And for whom are hammers playthings? What, or whom, does he plan to hit with that hammer?

The mother is standing, wearing slacks and a loose blouse. He hands are gloved, and in her left she holds a flower pot and a gardening shovel. The shovel and pot look a bit too small.

The son looks like an average jock with his football and varsity-style sweater. He holds a football as if he is going to casually throw it. The teenage daughter is a typical cheerleader with mini-skirt and pop poms. By pom-poms I mean the things in her hands. As to that other set of pom-poms, both Mom and Sis are members of the Itty-Bitty-Titty-Committee.

The children are typical. The little girl is skipping rope and her kitty-cat sits nearby. That cat must be a statue because anyone jumping nearby would send a feline running. The girl is very well sculpted, by the way. The animation in her pose, from the hair to her feet, is good.

Little brother is about to throw a ball while his little dog awaits. The dog looks like a Ca-Ca-Spaniel. The boy has a baseball glove on his left hand. Who ever wore a baseball glove to play "fetch" with the dog? Does he think the dog will toss the ball back to him?

The children are proportionate. The teenagers and adults are tall and very skinny. Somalia skinny. This is why some enterprising toy soldier hobbyists are converting them into Zombies. And yes, this little set of 24 figures will give you at least 16 really good, skinny zombies.

A creative Large Scale model railroader would be able to convert the adults and teens into trackside figures for 1/29 and 1/30 scale trains.

Overall, the six figures have excellent sculpting insofar as detail, which is clear and crisp.. The children’s poses and the cheerleader are well-animated. The other three poses are standing still. They wear casual attire suitable from the mid-60s to the present. The hairstyles are nondescript enough that they could fit into a diorama from 1965 to the present. That is a good 50 years of being relevant.

My wife took a look at the figures and she liked them. Audrey has a good eye for things. The idea of a family at play appealed to her, as did the sculpting of the miniatures.

The Atomic "Family at Play" is molded in green and tan.

The Atomic Family figures are similar to other plastic families packed with the tin-litho dollhouses in the 1960s. The dollhouses by Marx, Wolverine and others featured colorful lithography. They came packed with plastic furniture and a few plastic family figures. Both people and furniture had minimal or no paint. The people tended to be stiffly posed and stereotypical of the 1950s and early 1960s. Apparently, the "Atomic family" were meant to supplement dollhouse figures or replace missing ones. They are sized well to complement the Marx sets.

How do I know this? After all, what would I have wanted with a dollhouse in the old days? It was not me. And I did not have an older sister. The person with the dollhouse was my younger so-called brother. (We were adopted. I came from Pennsylvania, a pretty normal state if you don't count the numerous bumpkins. He came from Ireland.) Yes, folks, I was the boy in the neighborhood who had the "sissy kid" as a brother.

My mother - also adoptive - thought he was wonderful. Me? Just the opposite. She did not want a normal boy. She wanted a "nice" boy. To her thinking, the kid who liked army men and trucks and trains was "bad." The one who loved dollhouses and play kitchens and toy ironing boards was "good." And to make it worse, I had to let him play with me. If he wanted to play with my friends and I, and we left him out, I would catch hell.

This was the kid who got the cardboard play kitchen in bright coral pink. He had the Dale Evans jeep and referred to it as his "surrey with a fringe on top." He had to have the Hartland "Dale Evans and Buttermilk" horse and rider. And he got a big Marx dollhouse with furniture and its hokey plastic family. Mom thought he was just the most wonderful, sweetest boy....

One day, while he was out somewhere, my friends and I found a more rational use for Weird Boy’s dollhouse. We removed the furniture and put in troops. There were snipers in the windows and on the roof. A tank’s barrel protruded from the doorway. We had our own toy soldiers battle of St. Lo cooking. And then he came home. He looked at us and screamed. You would think we destroyed the thing.

One of the things that gives me comfort is that I have no genetic connection to any of them.

And that is how I know that the Atomic Family would have been a good addition to one of the tin-litho dollhouses of the era. I used to see my brother playing with his two-story Marx house with its doorbell and such. Its dollhouse family had a man with a pipe, a woman in a long skirt, a boy, a girl and an infink. Or maybe two infinks. I do not know for sure. I checked out Toy Soldier Hq to see some of the figures. They showed the same set my brother had. I remember the woman because she reminded me of the Miss Moneypenny figure in the old Gilbert James Bond 007 play sets.

The Atomic family "People at Play" set is useful if you need civilian bystanders, Large Scale trackside figures or pieces to convert to make Zombies. Not bad for less than 50 cents per figure. And the best part is that they really paint up well. This is the kind of good detail that you do not always find in by-the-bag figures.

 To see these figures painted beautifully and how they match up with other types of similar size, check out Scott Lesch's album: Click here

To purchase these figures: Click here for Victory Buy

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tim Mee brand "Backwoods Battle" Frontiersmen

The Tim Mee "Backwoods Battle" Frontiersmen arrived here at a fortuitous time. I had been looking at some pictures of Revolutionary War soldiers. The hunting shirts were popular attire in those days. They were mostly homespun, sturdy and easy to maintain. Some units made uniforms by having their hunting shirts dyed the same color. A little paint and the Tim Mee Frontiersmen become Revolutionary War riflemen!

The Tim Mee frontiersmen were made during the 1950s, when frontiersmen such as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone were popular. The raccoon cap - almost every kid had one - were as popular as cowboy hats. Movies and serials about the Alamo and Crockett brought the historical frontiersmen to the forefront. It is no irony that the hunting clothes of the Revolutionary Era were pretty much the same cut as those of the buckskin clad frontiersman seen on television.

There is the added charm of Tim Mee’s Frontiersmen. They are in animated poses, good sculpting and enough detail to be worth painting. The set has six men on foot and three for horseback. Unfortunately, the current owners of Tim Mee do not have horse molds, so the mounts will have to be bought elsewhere. Nevertheless, this is an exciting set of figures. And perhaps it is no coincidence that several of the poses are similar to those of the early set of Cowboys and Indians.

Among the foot poses are standing and kneeling shooters, kneeling man firing flintlock pistol, man standing with eyes shaded by his hand, a man advancing with rifle at his waist, and another about to club with his rifle. Mounted figures are a man firing rifle, a man firing pistol and holding a knife, and a man holding his rifle and a powder horn. That is a pretty good assortment.

Here is where it get really nice. The outfits on the frontiersmen can be painted as buckskin or Revolutionary War hunting shirts. The fringes are all in the right places for both. The raccoon hat and wide-brimmed hat would be appropriate for both, too. If someone wanted heads with a tricorn or other hat, he can find a few among the BMC / Americana Revolutionary War figures. These frontiersmen are sized just right for use with BMC, and will also look good with 54mm and 60mm figures.

Tim Mee Frontiersmen can be used for the French & Indian War, American Revolution and the Alamo. They were made to fit Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett themes. It just so happens the weapons of the time and the frontier clothing were similar for all three eras.

The horse for these fellows were bigger than those sold with 54mm figures. When you look for horses, look for those in the 60mm to 70mm scale.

You can get the Tim Mee "Backwoods Battle" Frontiersmen from Victory Buy

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Galaxy Laser Team by Tim Mee

The reissued Tim Mee Galaxy Laser Team is a curiosity among toy soldiers sets. First released some time after the first Star Wars movie, the set is a real mixed bag of spacemen and aliens. There are five characters, two NASA Apollo type astronauts. a drone / robot and a peculiar fighter-jet with X wings tipped with air to air missiles.

The astronauts are about 50mm size. One looks to be an updated version of one of the old MPC Mercury-type astronaut from the early 1960s. The other reminds me of one of the Marx astronauts from the early 60s. The difference is that these are Apollo rather then Mercury astronauts.

The characters are a mixed bag, so to speak. There is a woman standing beside a console who looks right out of the original Star Trek series. A shaggy space alien with a Neanderthal face and antennae is too much like Chewbacca to ignore. The space warrior with raised weapon may have been intended to fill in for Darth Vader, but he looks more like a Marvel Comics type character. In fact, his helmet is quite similar to that worn by Marvel’s "Magneto". A soldier with a ray gun pistol could have been inspired by Star Wars Rebel infantry or the 1970s Buck Rogers TV series.

The Drone robot may have been one of the other robots in Star Wars, and the last character’s origin is uncertain. Jerry, one of the folks who posts on my Army Men Homepage group, put up characters from an old South American comic. They were identical to the Drone / Robot and the last character, a turtle-like thing with lobster claw hands, dinosaur tail and feet like a toddler. I call it a "Turtolob." It turn out the comic itself was inspired by the Galaxy Laser Team!

Then there is the fighter that reminds me on an F4 with x wings and air-to-air missiles at the end of each wing. Maybe they tried to simulate a Star Wars X-Wing. To me, it looks like an N-scale mock-up of something the Skunk Works tried and failed.

Photo courtesy Neil Goodacre
The thing about the Galaxy Laser team is that as a set, it is an odd combination. As a set of playing pieces, it could be good for some sort of space game. I am working on one myself. However, as a source of individual pieces for various types of space gaming, it is the charm! The figures are well-sculpted and have crisp details. With very little work, they can be painted up into a spectacular group of individual space characters. With a little more skill, they could be re-posed and converted for a greater variety of characters. Neil Goodacre, another Army Men Homepage poster, put up a picture of the whole crew fully painted. They look great!

Photo Courtesy Neil Goodacre
If you are into science fiction gaming or if you just like to paint science fiction characters, the Galaxy Laser Team has the raw material. And price-wise, it is economical, too. You pay a lot less, figure for figure, than you would for the hobby figures out there. Why have a squad of hobby figures when, for the same price, you can have an army with the Galaxy Laser team?
Photo courtesy Neil Goodacre

You can read Neil Goodacre’s article for Echidna Games here: Galaxy Laser Team & Echidna

A link to the comic inspired by the Galaxy Laser team: Galaxy Laser comic

You can get the Galaxy Laser team here: Victory Buy

They are also available here: Toy Soldiers Depot

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wild West! Tim Mee Reissued Cowboys and Indians

Who are these guys?

When I saw Tim Mee’s latest reissue of Cowboys and Indians, I was baffled. Three Indians looked familiar, but not the Cowboys or the other Indians. Surprise! This set was first made in 1970 to replace the earlier sets, whose molds had seen better days. By 1970 I was into Hobby figures and was not into the Wild West genre at the time. That is why I never picked up a bag of these before.

Obviously, this is a set I am seeing for the first time.

First, these cowboys and Indians are big. They are in the 65mm to 75mm scale. Big! And they have crisper sculpting and better details than a lot of the old Western toy figures that were out there. Even the Indians I recognized seem to have been given a tune-up. They look good. Paint them up and you would have a fine set of figures. That goes for Cowboys and Indians.

For a Wild West shootout game, you have an assortment of two riflemen and four pistol-packing cowboys. One of the pistol shooters is standing but wounded. Painting would bring out the details. Also, an average toy soldier hobbyists could easily convert these figure into other poses.

The Indians have a standing and kneeling archer, two tomahawk men, a man crawling with rifle and a spearman with shield. They would also look great painted.

This set of Cowboys and Indians are sized just right to go wit h1/29 and 1/25 scale Large Scale trains. They are sized just right to fit the Western locomotives and cars made by Hartland Locomotive Works. Set some of these Cowboys and Indians up, painted of course, alongside your diamond stacked locomotive and they will look great! A little work could easily turn these figures into the folks you might find at a Western railway station back in the 1880s.

I have to admit I miss some of the old poses. The cowboy charging with rifle and the Indian standing and looking, his hand shielding his eyes, were two of my favorites way back when. However, they were nowhere as realistic as the current reissues of Tim Mee Cowboys and Indians. The old ones were fine as toys. The new ones are fine toys, too, and they would also look great in a Western diorama.

You can order the set of Cowboys and Indians from here: Victory Buy


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: Tim Mee brand M16 / Vietnam Army Men

The most enduring set of Army men ever made.

The Tim Mee soldiers known as "M16" or "Vietnam" soldiers have been around since about 1968. They represent a group of troops in the middle of the Cold War era. The uniforms, equipment and early M16 / M16A1 rifles were standard from about 1965 to the early 1980s. By 1985, the steel pot helmet had been replaced by the Kevlar helmets and new field gear supplanted the old M1956 and ALICE gear.

The first of the Tim Mee M16 soldiers were cast in olive green. Soon after, some were molded in Day-glo colors, including shocking pink. Come the 1990s and they were molded in olive green and tan to represent friendly and enemy forces. Clones and copies of these soldiers came from Asia. They were molded in various colors. For instance, a relatively recent set of Zombies and soldiers had blue copies of the Tim Mee M16 guys and caricature-type lime green zombies. Another Asian knockoff swapped torsos and legs for new poses. However, the copies do not have the same proper shape and crispness.

Our own Army Men Homepage can trace its origin to these soldiers. A friend and I were trading Army stories. His nephew remarked that his Tim Mee "M16 guys" were old fashioned soldiers. And we laughed because they represented the same kind of soldiers we were in the 1970s. That made us "old fashioned"! And that joke started the Army Men Homepage, which was supposed to be a humorous look at old toy army men and old fashioned soldiers.

Old or not, the Tim Mee M16 soldiers have remained on the scene. Tim Mee is making them again in various new colors. Asian companies have copied and cloned them and even recombined them. For any number of reasons, they have not gone out of style. Meanwhile, the "Desert Storm" plastic figures made in the late 1990s by Imperial and Fischel’s modern troops are scarce.

A few things to note. Though the Tim Mee M16 guys are rather skinny, their poses are well-animated. Their prone firing pose is almost right out of the manual, and their kneeling shooter looks very good. The rest of the men carrying M16s also look good. The flamethrower, still in inventory in 1968, has long since been replaced. However, the type shown is accurate as the M2. The bazooka man looks like his counterpart in the World War II sets, as does the radioman. Nonetheless, that radioman figure is realistic enough. The bazooka had been superseded by a 90mm recoilless rifle. The small mortar is a nice attempt at a 60mm, but lacks detail. The 60mm mortar was on the way out in the mid-1960s. The minesweeper is one of the figures that kids never really appreciate.

The major anachronism in the Tim Mee M16 guys set is the light machine gun. Is it a Bren or some similar weapon? Actually ,the Army had been experimenting with a magazine-fed version of the M60 light machine gun in the mid-1960s. It looked promising and that is doubtlessly why Tim Mee went with it. In reality, the magazine-fed M60 was not accepted. There is nothing peculiar about anachronism in a set of toy soldiers. In the 1950s, the British Army experimented with a .280 caliber bullpup assault rifle. Some even entered inventory. However, it was discontinued. By that time, a few toy companies had designed and started producing "modern" British troops with the bullpup. Among them were Herald, Lone Star, Johillco and Crescent.

No single set of soldiers has had the widespread longevity of the Tim Mee M16 infantry figures. They are still made by Tim Mee as well as foreign makers offering copies and clones. They still turn up in dollar stores and cheap bagged playsets as well as "soldier buckets". Like the original bagged army men, the Tim Mee Vietnam guys are still sold by the bag in variety and dollar stores. Compere that with Marx, Ideal and MPC, which are sold mainly as recasts through hobby dealers. Lido, last owned by Tootsietoy, has not been made in years and has not enjoyed the same widespread appeal as the Tim Mee M16 guys. And plastic soldier gamers still prefer Tim Mee’s M16 / Vietnam guys for games.

The original bags usually came with a vehicle. These were either a 1/48 sized M48 tank. a jeep, a small cannon or an armored car. By 1968, the old Staghound type armored car had been phased out in favor of a more modern vehicle.

Soon, it will be half a century of this most favored set of army men still being sold as toys rather than recast hobby items. There looks to be no end in sight for the Tim Mee M16 / Vietnam army men. In my opinion, that makes them a winner!
You can buy these soldiers in various colors here: Victory Buy