Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Laying the Shelf Queen

We all have projects which we start with enthusiasm and then, for one reason or another, go cold on. Maybe we’ve done the subject matter too often, or we’re getting a bit jaded with the scale, or perhaps the kit turns out to be more of a challenge than we wanted to tackle, there are many reasons why a kit is put back in its box half-completed, and then languishes, perhaps for many years.

There must be very few modellers who completely finish one project before starting another. I can say that at this point in time, I have some 35 projects at one stage or another, and some have been lingering in hobby limbo for a long time. Grandest of these “shelf queens” would have to be the Zvezda (ex-Dragon) T-72B with ERA, which I bought on special from Squadron Mailorder in the 1990s.

Early Dragon is over-complex, with too many fiddly parts, this is a theme I have visited on a number of occasions, and while the hobby community has squared up to the Dragon challenge over the last 25 years or more, these kits can sometimes be made that extra bit more complicated for reasons that have nothing to do with the original moulds.

I remember an article in FineScale Modeler many years ago by master modeller Cookie Sewell, describing building a Dragon T-72, and it seemed to go together without undue difficulty. Perhaps it was because the moulds were newer in those days, but I think a key factor in the difficulty of building the Zvezda edition is the plastic used.

This Russian firm acquired the moulds for the Russian/Soviet subjects tooled by Dragon in its early days and rereleased them under its own branding, sometimes with a few additions, new markings and packaging, but the plastic used to mould the contents leaves a lot to be desired. This is a plastic that does not really react with superglue, and is not all that enthusiastic with liquid cements either. It’ll stick in the end but when it comes to the sort of small parts Dragon excelled at, with minimal positive location devices in the engineering, you find yourself in a situation where the baseline of “superglue and prayer,” as I call it, has decidedly fallen on deaf ears.

I started the kit in the late 90s (around 2000 at the very latest) and it progressed through various stages of completion until I encountered the issue of the tracks. They are Dragon’s link and length, but the question of how to assemble them when the brittle black plastic reacts so poorly to glue that the slightest stress causes failure, essentially reboxed the project for a long, long time. I eventually decided to transplant the vinyls from a Tamiya T-72 and replace them from a parts stockist later, and while the Tamiya track does not exactly fit the Dragon sprockets, it’s close enough to do.

I finally finished the model with Tamiya Acrylics in Russian “woodland” camouflage, using XF-81 RAF Green (2) for the dark green component, XF-59 Desert Yellow, lightened with 10% white, for the tan, and XF-69 NATO Black for the black. I faded it with a 5% solution of XF-57 Buff and did a standard fade/shade/wash/drybrush/pigments job. The spare track links were airbrushed the same mixed grey-brown as the tracks, but were vigorously scrubbed with pencil graphite powder to create a dull metal sheen.

The decals I was very unsure of, but those in Zvezda’s edition of the Dragon BTR-70, which I blogged about some years ago, had behaved well, so I tested an unnecessary decal and found it to be fine. The sheet is four sets of white stencil-style numbers, two each in two sizes, so you can compose your own three-digit operational numbers. That means applying every digit separately, but the white is fully opaque, the decals separate from the backing in less than thirty seconds in cold water, and with three applications of Micro Sol they pull down over the corrugations of the stowage bins well enough. I’ll keep the rest of the sheet, you never know when these numbers may come in handy.

The tow cables I’m not at all sure about, they look highly “iffy” for matching up with the rear hull, and there are of course no positive location devices (what a surprise.) I might see what Eurekea XXL have available for Russian armour. Maybe that’s a cop-out on the very last chore, but this grand old shelf queen has succumbed at last and it’s time to move on.

The model looks pretty good on the shelf, but an expert eye would notice it’s missing various bits. Some of its lights are absent, for instance. That is because no amount of glue will make them stick, certainly not strongly enough to survive painting and handling. The snorkel unit mounted behind the rearmost stowage bin has no positive location devices and I lost count of the number of times it simply fell off during handling. Both of the fuel drums fell off the same way.

In the end, can I say the model was worth all the effort? It’s one of the most detailed tanks I’ve ever built, and the contemporary Russian camo looks good, but it’s one of those models you daren’t breathe on in case something falls off again. It’s a challenge and I’m glad to say that although it slowed me down for about 16 years, it didn’t beat me in the end – in fact I don’t think I have ever “binned” a project. But would I do it again? A Dragon original, in a cooperative plastic, perhaps, but Zvezda I would have to think carefully about.

My next oldest shelf queen is probably a Hobbycraft F-86E to be converted to an FJ-2 Fury prototype. It would be nice to see that box disappear from my shelves as well!