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The Model Citizen: The Birth of a Model

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


The Model Citizen: The Birth of a Model

"Hey, sometimes these things just happen!"

Tom Geiger
August 1998

People are always asking me, "Where did you get the great idea for this or that model???" I wish I had a profound answer for them, but I don't. They always look at me with a distrustful stare when I tell them, "Hey, sometimes these things just happen!"

To regain the trust of my fellow hobbyists, let's take a little spin down the path of creation.

As a modeler, when I first read the new and reissued kit announcements, a shiver goes down my spine while reading about the re-release of great old kits I have stashed away. The announcement of the impending re-release of the 1961 Ford Ranchero kit was one of those moments. My first reaction was joy for the anticipated supply of cheap pseudo-classic re-pops to cut up and experiment with.

Then I thought about the Falcon box in the bottom of my hobby closet. Contained therein were two of the original release, old built-ups that I had carefully stripped of awful paint jobs and tucked away for a rainy day. Also in the box was a 1960 Falcon promotional model that had died a cruel and unusual death. Some kid, now in his 40's, had lopped off the roof and burned some serious holes in both the hood and fenders. This piece was rendered so useless that a vendor had included it for free with the purchase of one of the Rancheros.

With the re-release looming over me, I thought it was time to make something out of the box contents. But what? One of the Rancheros was in decent shape, so I envisioned creating a police vehicle. Wanting to create a classic black and white, I went to my copy of "Police Cars: A Photographic History", by Monty McCord as published by Krause Publications for inspiration.

No, there weren't any Falcon Ranchero police cars in the book. I did find that the Los Angeles, California police force used the typical scheme of black car with white doors that I wanted to do. Most important, the decals I needed were in the Johan 1968 Plymouth Police car kit. A match made in heaven after God knows how many hours of research. Now you know why my finished models are far between.

Right about now everyone is asking, "Hey, I don't remember that model!" And rightfully so. I was right on target. I completed the chassis and interior. I polished out the one piece of glass that could be salvaged, found a complete set of taillights from the three cars, and stole all the police goodies from the Johan 1960 Plymouth Wagon Police Car kit. You know, the cherry top, siren, radio and spotlights all drilled into the body and ready to install. I even drew up "Police Line- Do Not Cross" decals to go on the saw horse barriers that would fill the bed.

Using my recent experience with automotive paints, I started the car with Duplicolor DS39 primer. I like the Plastikote finishes, so I sprayed the whole car in white, masked off the doors with Baremetal foil, and then sprayed everything else black. So far, so good. I added the LAPD decals and did a mockup on the chassis with all the police gear sitting in place. It looked so neat!

Then you know what happened. I decided to add a clear coat to seal in the decals. I coated it, it looked glossy wet as usual, then IT happened... all the paint on the left quarter panel lifted off the model and wrinkled. Don't know why. Don't want to know why. Nearly cried. I couldn't even finish a curbside. Threw the whole mess in my strip tank and went about life, minus one Ranchero.

Once this episode was forgotten, I again looked in the box. The second Ranchero was a disappointment from the moment I received it. Ordered through the mail, it came sporting an awful orange brush job and another kid had sanded off the door handles and all the trim. Once completed, it looked like it saw serious play since the body had many gouges, the bumper ends were broken off, the glass broken, nearly the entire left drip rail was chewed off and it carried about thirty years worth of dust. Not a serious candidate for restoration, which banished it to the box from the start, but never with the promise of fresh re-pop bodies for $8.00 apiece.

Then, as it often happens, I began to fiddle with the body. I decided that the drip rail restoration would be practice for the same step on rarer kits. Starting with the smallest piece of Evergreen round stock, I managed to recreate this detail. I filled a bunch of the gouges with putty and sprayed the body with primer. It didn't look half bad. And in primer…

The idea came together. This was going to be some kid's little hotrod. Primer gray, red oxide over the rust repairs and all the chrome off. This baby is ready for a paint job! I drilled out holes representative of where the chrome should be and added the red primer in the spots that the Ranchero was prone to rust.

Since the paint job was the last thing to be done on a real resto job, we would need wheels, tires and an interior. Period wheels, Keystone Classics, detailed with valve stems, came out of '57 Chevy kit. Going through my parts box, I found that the back half of the '66 Thunderbird interior tub fit into the Ranchero like it belonged there, giving us a really neat custom interior. I finished this off by using the Ranchero dash. I sanded the gauges off, replacing them with a photoetched unit by Detailmaster. A custom steering wheel and shifter came from the parts bin. Evergreen ribbed sheet stock created a matching headliner, while the '69 Dodge Dart kit gave up it's visors and interior mirror. Everything was sprayed burgundy and completed with carpet by Ken's Funny Fur.

Prior to my finishing the model, the re-release happened (any surprise?). I looked though the new kit and this only fueled my need to finish the project. The new kit was a re-pop of the last release of the Ranchero from the 1970s. That included a Chevy V8, a dual exhaust chassis and one piece chrome taillights. My original release was a one piece body curbside with fixed hood, the chassis had single exhaust detail, was screw mounted and had two piece tail lights (two good examples from my three Falcons), so it would stand out as an original.

I also noticed that the spotlights, a period accessory, were missing from the re-release. I had a real nice pair, so of course, the proper holes were drilled to include them. Remember the ruined promo? Keeping with our theme of a car under restoration, the promo's damaged grill and bumper worked right in, giving our model a real distinction from the release. Our Ranchero suddenly became a 1960.

The re-release helped a bit also. All of my original glass was messy with overspray and yellowed with age. We stole the fresh set. Also, I didn't have the bed cover, which I sprayed the same burgundy as the interior. This really completes the model, and it's a secret that the model's bed was ruined from accessories originally glued therein.

Final details include door handles pirated from the 1969 Dart kit, carefully pinned in place. New Jersey license plates I created on the computer ages ago were mounted. Ironically, the plate number, WTH-318, was my first set of license plates. The NJ inspection sticker is courtesy of Avenel Hobbies and comes with their later issue Jersey plates.

While simple in concept, I got a great deal of pleasure from the Ranchero project. With my limited hobby time due to both work and family pressures, I got to complete a model that fits in well on my shelf of interesting pickups. It represents a distinct type of vehicle that everyone has seen in real life, and many of us have owned.

It also allowed me to give a model that, destroyed almost immediately upon issue, but had somehow survived 35 years, a new lease on life. The Ranchero is really akin to the 1:1 cars that we lovingly bring back from the bone yard. Used, abused, tossed aside and somehow resurrected to be more than it ever was.

Like I said that the beginning of this article, "Hey, sometimes these things just happen!" Such is fate! May this survivor live another 35 years on my shelf.

Copyright 1998 by Tom Geiger, All Rights Reserved, Used with permission.

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