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History of a Model Builder

July 22, 2021

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Squadron Kits Wright FlyerAirfield Models ( people say they do not have the patience or the steady hands required to build models.  Neither do I.  Nearly 10 years passed before I had the skill to build models that I could be proud of.  Even then my work was only marginally acceptable to me.

I've come a long way since then which is why it frustrates me when people tell me that they don't have my talent.   Talent is not something I was born with.  It has taken over 30 years of hard work to acquire the building skills I have now and I still have a long way to go.

My main interest has always been aviation and modeling anything having to do with flight - especially R/C and plastic aircraft models.  I also build models of different genres such as plastic armor and wooden display pieces as the mood strikes me.

Approximately three-fourths of the R/C models I have built were from my plans or using "make it up as I go along" technology.  Many models were built on commission for local flyers and hobby shops.

I have also carved several masters (plugs) for molds. In addition to this are stick and tissue, rubber-powered free-flight models and dozens of control-line models.  I have no idea how many plastic models I have built, but it is approximately a lot.  My first love is anything that flies - most specifically R/C aircraft.

Wooden Old Time (Big Wheel) Bicycle ModelIn the "other" category, I have built several original static display pieces such as the wooden train and "big wheel" bicycle shown on this page.  I have also built a small number of kites such as the Wright Flyer.  This kite and many others are kitted by Squadron Kites.  Army movers destroyed mine, but I saw one in the local hobby shop and I may just treat myself to a new one.

In the beginning, Paul created a puddle of molten plastic.  It was good.

I began building plastic models when I was very young - probably age six or seven.  Too much glue was used, no paint at all and there were glue fingerprints all over the models.

The entire decal sheet was tossed into a bowl of water to soak until the decals soaked off the backing and were floating loose in the water.  I did not understand why the decals fell off my models, but the models were still fun to play with.  I began painting my plastic models around age 9.

Around that same time I began ruining perfectly good kits of a variety of types.  I built my first balsa aircraft, model rockets, and plastic car, aircraft and armor.  I also started painting my plastic cowboy and army soldier figures.

My interest in rocketry faded quickly due to the cost of engines and the long searches for the rockets after they blew down wind.  I did get better at estimating the launch angle, but where I lived there wasn't a lot of room for error.  On one side of the only available lot I could launch from was a lake.  On the other side was a forest.  Neither was a great site for splash down.

The balsa models I built were kitted by Guillow or Comet and available in the local dime store.  I had never even heard of a hobby shop at that point.  The Guillow's kits enticed me by the artwork on the box.  Most of these models were never completed because of my lack of patience and skill.

A lot of kids would have given up, but model-building was something I really wanted to do.  Although my family saw it as a passing fancy, they continually provided me with new kits as gifts for various occasions.  If they had only known how obsessed I was to become, they probably would gave given me GI Joes instead.  It was a very happy day for me when I was able to complete one of these models and fly it.

Dragon Models Borgward IV Ausf B

Borgward IV Ausf B

A year or two later I received a Cox PT-19 Flight Trainer control line model for Christmas.  My dad and I spent the better part of Christmas day freezing our butts off trying to get the engine running.  Eventually we were successful, but then  I crashed the plane repeatedly because I kept over-controlling it.

After replacing the broken wing several times, an older kid in the neighborhood happened to see me having troubles with the model.  He flew control-line models and taught me how to fly my PT-19.  He also taught me how to use my wood-burning iron to melt the wings back together using leftover sprue from plastic models instead of buying new wings with every crash.

In the mean time, I was actually starting to make progress with the balsa kits.  I still couldn't build one skillfully enough to fly well, but I actually completed one or two of them and they did not look bad to me.  In fact, I continued to build Guillow's kits throughout my childhood and I still build one every once in a while.

By the time I was twelve, I had built a fair number of control line and free flight models.  I have always enjoyed watching my models fly, but I like having control of them more than just tossing them into the air, so I was primarily drawn to building control line models.  I can not recall how many I built, but I built kits from a variety of manufacturers including Sig, Carl Goldberg, Sterling and a few others.

My favorite control line model was a Carl Goldberg Lil Satan combat aircraft that was wickedly fast and maneuverable with a Cox Black Widow engine.  At this point, I stopped building plastic kits altogether.  I had the attitude that they were inferior because they couldn't fly.  I came back around to plastic kits with a new respect for them about ten years later and continue to build them.

I can not recall how old I was when I attempted my first designs for control-line and free flight.  Some of my early designs flew respectably and others were dismal failures.  The successes kept me going.  Since those days, I have continued to design models even when I wasn't able to actively participate in the hobby or build models due to whatever my current circumstance was.

There have been a few long periods when my modeling was limited to sketching designs because I did not have space to build (living in Army barracks, for example).  I have drawers and notebooks full of sketches and plans I have drawn.

Eventually I learned about radio control.  At age 13 I built my first R/C model, an Airtronics Q-Tee.  The kit was easier to build than any other kit I would built to that point.  Unfortunately, the guy who was supposed to teach me to fly disapproved of my choice of trainer and kept telling me to get a "real" trainer.  I never learned to fly that plane because it crashed due to dead batteries when my instructor was flying it.

At the age of fourteen I built a Carl Goldberg Falcon 56.  I went all out on this model.  It was covered with silk and dope and then painted red, white and blue using Perfect or Chevron polyurethane paints.  I was really impressed with my efforts in finishing that plane and wish I had some photos of it.  My dad enjoyed electronics projects and built an Ace R/C seven-channel radio for me to put in the Falcon.  I do not know what became of that radio, but it never failed and I wish I still had it for memorabilia.

Wooden Model Choo-Choo TrainA man named Dana, who worked at Phil's Hobby Shop in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, was a great help to me while I was building my Falcon.  He guided me through numerous problems and stumbling blocks I encountered while building it.  He even went so far as to drive to my home to help me on a couple occasions.  Then he would pick me up and take me to the flying field and give me flight instruction.  I soloed after about two weeks.

I flew that plane every day during the summer until it ended up dead stick one day and I crashed it on top of the school where I was flying.  It was shattered and I was too.  By that time I was hooked though and I have been ever since.

In the mean time, I still build plastic models and other types of models when the mood strikes me.  Although I primarily build R/C aircraft, I do not call myself an "R/Cer" because that is too limiting.  I simply consider myself to be a model builder.



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Gallery of Radio Control and Display Models Built by Paul K. Johnson

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