Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Class of 70

 Hi everyone,

Jubilo left a comment on my last post - "Where have you been?"...that's a fair question.

Just five months shy of turning seventy years old I have...

gone back to college.

After retiring, I took a year off to simply loaf around and have fun - including toy soldier fun.  Then, last winter, an idea started to crystalize, and that idea was to go back to school to get a degree in visual arts, you know - drawing, painting, sculpture, art history, etc.  So, this past August I enrolled at nearby Hagerstown Community College in the two-year visual arts program.  At the same time I got a student worker job in the Student Activities Office of HCC.

It has been all I hoped for and more.

I ended my first semester this weekend, and did very well in my classes.  My job is the perfect "old retired-guy job" that I was scouting around for.  I work three hours a day Tuesday through Friday.  My work schedule accommodates my class schedule.  The job is really fun and my boss is an absolute peach.  The office positively exudes "school spirit"...it's a real kick.

That's the student center right behind me, the building where I work.

This is the Kepler Visual and Performing Arts Center - where I take most of my classes.

This is one of the pieces that I have in the winter student art show.

One of my favorite duties is updating the fourteen bulletin boards on campus.  I actually do have OCD, and it shows in the way I keep the boards.

My daughter asked me if I'm making friends among the students; the fact is, that I'm making friends among the faculty and staff, which doesn't surprise me at all.

Right now, I'm planning on stretching this collegiate experience out as long as it stays fun, that's why I'm only going half-time...instead of getting an AA degree in two years, I'm shooting for four.

Between work and classes, I've been pretty busy - at the expense of playing with, or posting about, toy soldiers.  This blog will probably be pretty slim pickings until summer, when I won't be taking classes.  That being said, I am looking forward to getting back to toy soldiering, just as I'm looking forward to getting back to school after the holiday break.

I hope you'll continue to check in from time to time.

Gaudeamus igatur, and...

soldier on!


Saturday, December 11, 2021

"The whole shebang"

A common fixture in Civil War encampments, both Union and Confederate, was an awning made of poles and foliage called a "shebang" or "she-bang".  Easy to erect from materials nearby, the shebang offered cool respite from the hot sun.

So simple and straightforward is the concept and construction that it's still 
found on the battlefields of today

I decided to make a 55mm shebang for use with my soldiers.

First I needed a base to mount it upon.

I salvaged a sheet of thin plywood from an old file cabinet that I once had. At the band saw I cut a piece roughly 6"x6".

Then it was to the belt sander to bevel the edges.

This late October day was wonderfully, and unseasonably warm as I made my way out to the lilacs with a small pruner.  I harvested all of the sticks I'd need for the
uprights and crossmembers.

Four holes were drilled in the base to receive the upright poles.

Using hot glue the framework was assembled.

A thick layer of paint went on the base and a handful of sawdust was applied for texture.

Winslow Homer is my favorite Civil War artist, and here, in "Home Sweet Home" a shebang can be seen in the background.

With lichen applied as the boughs, the finished product finds the corporal of the guard reading the morning orders.

"The Sutler's Tent" by Winslow Homer

And that's the whole shebang.

Soldier on!


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Navarone; part 1

 You may have noticed that The Battle of Guam is on hiatus...It is a big job and I had to take a break...but I've been plenty busy toy soldier-wise.

The current project that I've turned my attention to is a Marx Guns of Navarone fantasy set, that is to say I'm trying to improve on the original Marx Navarone set.

I got most of a beat-up Navarone set on ebay two years ago, and started on this project, a little at a time.

What I'm adding is a backdrop, additional soldiers, vehicles, and other accessories, and tons of terrain that I'm making from foam (pillboxes too!).

I loved the movie The Guns of Navarone as a kid, and there were some enduring images for me, including the hooded and goggled Germans, covering their ears, in DEVO-like unison.

Another scene that made an impression on my kid mind, were the images of the shattered village of Navarone at the foot of the mountain; in this post you'll see my 54mm version of that.

I am painting original and reproduction Marx terrain pieces for this fantasy set, and here is a progress report.

A test set-up of some of the components, including a modified BMC pillbox.

I've just begun painting the new backdrop on large sheets of cardboard, this will allow my original backdrop to be preserved for future battle scenarios.

Here are some of the components that I've been painting:

Marx enthusiasts will recognize these components from the various Battleground playsets, including this pillbox...top original, bottom painted.

Small sandbag emplacement.

Large sandbag emplacement.

Ruined house.  I made two of these, one with a red for and one with a blue door, I modeled them off traditional color schemes of typical Greek villages.

As with all of my toy soldier components, I go more for the look of toys rather than military miniatures.  My stuff always has a little bit of a "cartoony" look to it.

Here is my shattered Greek cafe.  It's the BMC recast of the Marx exploding house.

It is comprised of five pieces which fly apart when the front door is jostled. You can just barely see the shattered panes of glass in the window frame.

I salvaged the mousetrap-style explosion mechanism from an incomplete Marx exploding bunker.  It all needed some cutting and filing, but I've gotten it to work pretty well.


Even the venerable Blue and Gray ruined mansion has been dragooned into service for Navarone village.

I'll post more as things develop.

Until then,

Soldier on!


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Best birthday ever. The Marx Giant Blue and Gray Playset

This is a testimonial to not only a great playset, but also to great parents.

Today is my birthday.  In 1962, for my tenth birthday, my
parents got me a watershed gift - the Louis Marx Giant Blue and Gray playset.  My mother used to make birthday gifts into a treasure hunt where she would leave clues all over the property, one leading to the other, and finally to the present.  We had twenty acres, much of it wooded, so it was quite a treasure hunt.  The very last clue lead me to our front porch, and there it was in all of it's glory, unobscured by wrapping paper, a beautiful, lavishly designed box, containing the entire Civil War. something that had captivated me since I was about six years old.

I played with it endlessly.

Over the years I have been picking up, here and there, individual pieces of the Giant, with little idea of where that would lead.  The pieces were outgrowing one box after another as the modest collection grew.

Then I encountered a guy on ebay who makes beautiful replica playset boxes.  He had the Giant Blue and Gray in two sizes...I went for the big one, and I'm glad that I did.

The Giant had 330 pieces, which to my eyes was enormous, and compared to other playsets of the era, the Giant WAS enormous, especially through a kid's eyes.  Looking back on it, as an adult, I realized that for as magnificent as the Giant was, it was actually much smaller than I remembered it.  So I decided, in my recreation, to amass enough pieces to make the set match my childhood perception of what was the enormity of the set.  The result is that my recreation is at least two-thirds larger than the original. (do click on the photos for a larger view)

The original had roughly 70 yankees and an equal number of rebels.  My recreation has a little over two hundred per side.

Marx had been making Blue and Gray playsets for a few years before the Giant was released, so my Giant had the usual Marx figures, plus...

new "Centennial" figures to mark the ongoing 100th anniversary of the Civil War.  The "Centennials" included these fabulous sets of stretcher-bearers taking the wounded to...

this wonderful horse-drawn ambulance, an item exclusive to the Giant which was only available that one year and only through Montgomery Wards.  So this was truly something special.   

It had a cool three-piece exploding bunker, which, with the assistance of a mousetrap-like mechanism, blew apart when a cannonball hit the target.  These seated soldiers are about to go into orbit.

Louis Marx - dubbed "The Toy King" by TIME magazine - was a very cost-conscious businessman but he wanted to have lots and lots of pieces to demonstrate the value of this set to parents (the cost was a staggering $12.00 in 1962 dollars) so he included two sprues, one in black and one in silver, of a whole bunch of detachable accessories, swords, pistols, belts, canteens, rifles, etc. 

There were somewhere near 35 of these accessories per sprue.  As they were all injected molded onto the two sprues  the production cost was only for two pieces - the sprues - but the Toy King got to tout all of the little attached items as individual pieces in the total count.  

The set came with two seacoast mortars, a large one and a small one.  The large one actually fired mortar balls with a very powerful spring and trigger mechanism.  In later Blue and Gray sets, the new child safety laws saw all of the mortars and cannons issued without the firing mechanism. After much fruitless searching, I was finally able to find, on ebay, an operational mortar, (middle-right) still as powerful as I remembered it to be.

The original Giant came with a fabulous four-horse limber and firing cannon. As the photo indicates I went the Giant two better.

Dead center is the little three-piece folding army cot that so fascinated my mother...she was a real fan of this set too.  It was my mother that guided my interest in the upcoming Civil War Centennial by the time I was five or so.  I still have a couple of crayon drawings of Civil War battles that I did when I was in first-grade.

In the original, there were all of these cool little basket-weave pattern bags, each labeled with what was inside - "cannons", "horses", "soldiers" etc.  This is an original that contained the four Civil War luminary figures of...

Lee, Grant, Lincoln, and Jeff Davis.  I chose to add to the pantheon, the Great Man himself!

Included was this little booklet, which I pored over.

Just like Hollywood!

Note number 7...this is when some people were still burning coal; and I had many pieces from the area of what had been our coal-chute.

When Magic Marxie was around, fun was soon to follow.

 Here it is in it's splendor on the Toy solder table.   It doesn't depict any battle, it's just an array to show the scope of it.

I have four of these beautiful twelve-pounder Napoleons, two shoot, and two are post-child safety laws.

The plantation house is made of tin litho.

I was enthralled by this down-sized Burnside Bridge, and fifty years later I found myself working as a Park Ranger at Antietam National Battlefield.

(Me, with a tour group, overlooking Burnside Bridge)

The sculpting, detail, and animation of these figures is wonderful.

Of course there are some inaccuracies, such as few of the soldiers have cartridge boxes, but this detail was cheerfully lost on ten-year-old me.

Remember the Plantation house?

As a kid, I loved the dead horse.

The "falling rider" is one of Marx's most famous figures.

The original giant came with four sections of worm-rail fence, I have accumulated twenty for this recreation.

Unlike most collectors, I'm not so interested in color matching my figures, as long as they are from the Blue and Gray or Giant Blue and Gray sets.  The last iteration of the Marx Civil War line were the "Heritage" sets produced for Sears in the early 1970s.  I don't collect those as the plastic, finish, and color, are very different from the earlier sets.

The tin-litho flags are colorful and accurate.

When I was setting this up I was reminded of a childhood frustration...the dreaded "domino effect."

I think that the original set has about eight marchers on each side.

Marx made these very cool earthen redoubts with an embrasure to poke a cannon barrel through.  I have three of them for this set.

Altogether, Marx included three types of projectile-firing guns.

Today I opened a birthday present from my wife and it contained enough Marx cavalry horses so that all of these guys could ride into battle.

The bulk of the recreation project happened over the past eight months, that is when I found a guy on ebay who makes beautiful replicas of Marx playset boxes.  He makes it very clear that he doesn't sell the contents...only the boxes.  It is a real beauty and I have purchased others from him that will be detailed in later posts to this blog.

His boxes do not include the dividers, but they were simple to make.  I also aded the little finger holes on either side of the lid.

Everything fits, but with little room to spare.

Welcome to my world, and happy birthday to me.

Soldier on!