Nerdy nostalgia

OK, I’ve got to put up something light just to relieve my stress. Years ago, long before video games, before Dungeons & Dragons, what did stereotypical young male nerds do? One acceptable answer would be model railroading — there was a gigantic subculture of that — but I was poor and living in a family with six kids, so there was no space for the layouts. The other answer would be building model kits.

You might not know it from my current suave air, but there was a time between 12 and 18 years of age when I was building and painting all kinds of models: model planes, model rockets, model movie monsters, all that stuff. I also branched into balsa wood models in high school. I had these things hanging from my bedroom ceiling, on my dresser, on the floor. Because of the aforementioned lack of space, I did a lot of the crafting in my grandparents’ attic, which had the dual benefit of a large amount of storage room, and that my grandmother would come up every once in a while with cookies and milk.

So it was nice to stumble across this video summary of the various model companies that dominated the 60s and 70s. I swear, I recognized half the models shown and remembered building them.

You might ask what happened to my vast cluttered collection after high school. I abandoned them. They were left piled up in my grandmother’s attic, and then she died while I was living far, far away, and the house was sold and the old memorabilia had to be cleared away, and some of my relatives asked if they could blow them up with firecrackers and set them on fire. I said yes. Sometimes you just have to let go of childish things.

I do wish they’d at least made video recordings of the carnage. Those big old balsa models in particular would have been spectacular in their fiery demise.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    Nostolga? I’m 45 and I still play D&D and build the occasional Estes model rocket!

  2. zoniedude says

    I took my models and “army men” and emplaced them in defensive positions on a hillside behind my house. I then stood off and bombarded them with large dirt clods that I threw in a high arc. After that, I moved in with my BB gun and attacked their defensive positions. Did a lot of damage, but I was surprised how many survived the bombardment and attack. Soon afterward I went into the Marines.

  3. marylinmagdalene says

    You just brought back a huge rush of memories for me, P.Z. My father and I used to build model cars together: mostly hot rods, but occasionally we would do a classic. He still displays them on the living room bookshelves, much to the chagrin of my stepmother.

    I also had a cousin who built airplanes and ships. To be allowed to see his room was a great honor, as the WWII Battle of the Pacific hung overhead.
    Thanks for the pleasant memories.

  4. says

    I really need to start building flying models again. I can afford radio control gear now.
    Bought a Guillows Rumpler V kit from someone on a facebook group.

  5. davidc1 says

    Hi Doc ,hope the bruises turning a nice colour ? I know you don’t post on Facebook any more ,but i still do .
    Someone calling himself Billy Connolly repied to one of my posts about britshit .I have posted it below ,could you take a quick look at it and see if i have achieved the proper amount of sarcasm

    Bugger ,and there was I getting all excited thinking that the big Yin himself had answered one of my comments .You cannot begin to understand how i feel to discover it is just a brain dead, knuckle dragging ,bible bashing ,gun hugging ,racist ,twat of an American .My mother has passed on ,and if i used language like that in front of her ,i would have lived to regret it .
    Why are you concerning yourself with grown up stuff ,should not you be off coal rolling ,or shooting yourself in the foot while hugging your assault rifle ?
    How has three years of life under the snatch snatcher worked out for you ? Pity he has not got them pesky Mexicans to pay for the wall ,or bring all them jobs back from China ,or replaced the ACA ,which is the same as Obamacare ,i know that confuses a lot of you Americans .
    Always a treat to talk to a son of the soil .
    Micky taking aside ,i have been to America three times ,and i am glad to said i have never met a person like you .
    PS ,don’t you see the irony in a true amurican have a rebel flag on his facebook site ?

    Wot yer think ? I know it is off topic ,but you might get a laugh out of it .

  6. blf says

    Memories here too… Built model kits (aerocraft, &tc), flew model rockets, built and flew wired-controlled aerocraft, and, in a somewhat similar vein, built my own ham radio kit. Didn’t build my telescope (or microscope), but did build my own solar back-projection unit (and used it watch at least one eclipse). Oh yeah, and with a neighborhood friend, built a telegraph line between our respective bedrooms…

  7. says

    As a tween, I loved my Matchbox cars, using Lego to build neighborhoods or using the old FP toys for it. I was always a gearhead, growing up with Bugs, Datsun 240Zs and Mercury Capris on the roads.

  8. davidc1 says

    Wow ,wow ,wow ,would never have pegged you for a model maker Doc ,i used to make them until 1975 .
    Started again in 2011 ,it had all changed ,the kits are more detailed ,you can get different transfers ,or decals as they are known now. Photo Etched stuff as well as resin .And the prices .Airfix and Frog were the main brand of kits ,made in England ,with a few Revell .Frog bit the dust years ago .Airfix is still going ,but it’s parent company keeps going bust ,then someone else takes them over ..A lot of the Luftwaffe models don’t have Swastika markings ,or they are in two parts ,so you have to buy them elsewhere .
    Starting to ramble now so i will stop .

  9. davidc1 says

    Just a small PS ,my brother ,the village Policeman’s son and myself staged a mini Battle of Britain in a shed in the village church grounds ,setting the models alight and trying not to get any on our hands .

    Somehow we burnt the shed down .lol.

  10. ripplerock says

    I never got much into video games and never played D&D, but I always loved building models. Still do and I’m a lifelong model railroader. Trains are more interesting to me than cars or airplanes, and I really love to scratchbuild unique structures. I find manipulating real objects by hand very therapeutic and more satisfying than looking at a screen.

  11. brightmoon says

    I remember being jealous of one of my cousins because as a girl with a pathological misogynistic father I wasn’t allowed to do “ boy stuff” . I still have no idea how I managed to get a science degree under his nose

  12. says

    Same here. Started building the from age 11. Mostly Airfix kits and very few American made models. Mostly planes and some warships. I remember making the Bismarck and the Hood. Tried a couple of Japanese models of tanks because they came with electric motors. That led me to balsa models making boats I could play with in the local pond. Tried my hand at a few rubber band powered planes with limited success so didn’t progress into gas powered models. A brief flirtation with model rocketry ended when I got into trouble doing garage chemistry making my own rocket fuel. It was illegal back then and I suspect anything other than an Estes model draws unwelcome attention in these days of terrorist paranoia. I still have a few kits I plan to make when I get some space to work.

  13. billseymour says

    For me it was Lincoln Logs around age 7 or so.

    Later, it was American Plastic Bricks. I’d build pyramids, mostly solid structures, but with secret chambers and walkways inside. Joseph wouldn’t have been able to store any grain in them. 8-)

    By the time I was in high school, I was into electronics, and it was Heathkits.

  14. nomdeplume says

    Oh that is sad PZ. I similarly lost some left behind in my grandmother’s house when she died. I have a couple but badly damaged after 60 years of moving! You will not be surprised to learn that there are thriving youtube communities making and reviewing models. I recently came across some wonderful vintage airplane models from a UK company called microaces. I was tempted to try to relive my childhood by building a Sopwith Camel, but the models are for people with nimbler figures and better eyes than I have now. Still, the three 21 year olds inhabiting your body could do it PZ. Something to wile away the long days of student-free isolation?

  15. dorght says

    Same old corporate story. Once the originators, with their drive and passion for the product, are replaced by the MBAs it all goes to shit.

  16. stroppy says

    Models weren’t considered so nerdy back in the day, at least in my neck of the woods.
    BTW I think I saw somewhere that there are still model builders out there, and competitions.

    Then there was the glue…

    Oh, and did somebody say Theremin kit? There’s a cat for that:

  17. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    Memories, memories! I was 15 years old, physically underdeveloped, honour roll, etc. My great interest was horror.
    In my basement bedroom, on every horizontal space available were my models of the movies’ greatest monsters.
    Frankenstein. (He glowed in the dark, and was kind of my reverse-nighlight.)
    An 18-inch high model of Godzilla
    An 18-inch high model of King Kong
    The Old Witch.
    Vampirella (How I loved painting on her ?costume? ?body-thong?)
    The Tirpitz, with electric motors to turn the turrets
    An 18-inch long motorized model T.
    And, my pride and joy, a working (!) guillotine, complete with a pony-tailed aristocrat, a moving platform for the body, a blade which slid down neatly and would chop off the (detachable) royal head. All lovingly painted, particularly the blood!
    Now, one might think from this that I was a little screwed up, and you’d be right. As a minister’s son, I couldn’t swear, smoke, talk back, or fight, so I painted my id onto these little pieces of plastic, and very therapeutic it was.

    When we had to move my parents suggested I give them away as we couldn’t take them with us.

    So I set them up against the basement door and methodically blasted them to thousands of brightly flying shards.

    Yes, I was upset about moving.

  18. whheydt says

    I went from plastic models as a kid to built up balsa kits (with engine for control line flying) in college.

    Re: Akira @ #1:
    At 71, I help run a D&D convention (see

    Re: robertbaden @ #4:
    I built one of those.

  19. hemidactylus says

    I was into model cars, warships and planes, but never very good at it. Impatience and sloppiness were my modus operandi. I got more cement and paint on myself than the model. I was smitten by Black Sheep Squadron and Midway and my dad found a model of a Japanese warplane (maybe a Zero) which I though was cool except instructions were in some character based language (maybe Japanese) and I sucked at following instructions in English.

    I loved flipping through Estes catalogs. I daydreamed about sending my pet mice and hamsters on missions to space. Thankfully I never followed through on those ambitions as I sucked at model rockets. I remember trying to send one up and kept burning the ignition thingy attached to to engine.

    I did anticipate drones in my fantasies though Space:1999 Eagles played a role. I really mucked up an Eagle model.

  20. unclefrogy says

    I also built a few but we could not afford many. I even tried my hand at a modern abstract art sculpture out of the left over sprues by flame welding first time I smelled that smell. I still love looking at models of all kinds. saw on utube a video tour of a Chinese architectural model company that completely blew me away. lots of model makers on utube.
    I have myself have built 2 theremins one from a kit which was pretty easy and one from a schematic which included some obsolete parts which was a little more difficult ;-(
    all that has made me an expert at putting together flat pack furniture like ikea stuff.
    doing stuff with my hands and mind together is really fun!
    uncle frogy

  21. kaleberg says

    There was a time in the 1960s when glue sniffing was a problem. In response, hobby shops would only sell glue to minors if they bought a model kit That meant a lot of those model kits wound up getting dumped in the park, presumably near the good places to sniff glue though I can’t speak to that. I and my friend would collect them. We’d build some, do some mix and match, and I’m not sure what we did with the left overs. We always had a good supply. There were advantages to being a nerdy kid and not a glue sniffer.

  22. says

    There was a time in the 1960s when a very small number of kids sniffed glue, and a magazine, I think a weekly that was bundled with Sunday newspapers, decided to make a big deal out of it, and with the publicity they gave it, a lot more kids tried it. The power of publicity!

  23. hemidactylus says

    I tried to find a BSG clip to get nerdy nostalgia in an apropos manner all I can offer is when Starbuck is in a Viper and coming to terms with her life and passing Zak in basic she says to his brother Lee: “It’s the end of the world, Lee. I thought I should confess my sins.” The original was more ‘let’s eat manly steaks’ Bonanza in Space.

  24. lymie says

    I first did antique car models, Stanley Steamer ish, then Estes rockets. When we had kids and they wanted more than legos I was the one to figure out the Korean instructions for Gundam models, the next generation of Estes models, and finally, the piece de resistance, potato cannons. Fun.

  25. nomdeplume says

    @28 Hey Lymie, I still have my Stanley Steamer model, but very much the worse for wear after decades. Now, perhaps if I bought some glue…

  26. davidc1 says

    @16 Yes and there model clubs , some obsessed modellers are knowed as rivet counters .And there is something called the carpet monster ,I will let you work that out .It is now very big business ,most of the companies are in the far East and the former communist bloc in Eastern Europe , plus Russia.

  27. bassmike says

    This has resonance for me too. My Mum passed late last year and we had to clear out her house. My brother and I had accumulated a large quantity of Airfix soldiers when we were kids. My Dad had carefully packed them all – still in their boxes – into a large crate. We had no choice but to put them up for auction. They were on sale at the same auction as my Mum’s various porcelain figures and dinner services. The Airfix soldiers fetched by far the most! So, if you have the choice, don’t just throw away these things. They can be of value. My brother and I would have loved to have kept some of childhood toys, but alas it wasn’t practical. Hopefully someone will get some joy our of them now.

  28. malleefowl says

    My father told us how after WWII in England, he came across a set of moulds for toy soldiers in a secondhand shop. He bought them and for the next several years supplemented their income by scrounging lead from bombed out buildings (lead roofing) and old car batteries and making large numbers of lead soldiers. He and my mother then painted them in appropriate colours and sold them in sets. I don’t suppose that would be approved these days.
    I myself much preferred plastic model kits of old sailing ships. They were much more elaborately detailed and took a lot longer to construct.

  29. says

    I’m 66 and have been building on and off since I was 5. Models are so much more detailed today then they were back then. Aftermarket decals for markings, resin parts cast in silicone molds for cockpits and seats, all kinds of stuff. Keeps me sane and indoors!

  30. davidc1 says

    @33 And poor lol. Come on tell the truth ,how many times have you told yourself you are not going to buy any more for the stash?

  31. Rich Woods says

    I loved making Airfix models as a kid. The planes, tanks and ships were commonplace, a sort of rite that all the boys my age went through (a bit like collecting dinosaur cards or Apollo landing coin collections). Then one Xmas my dad bought me a model of a Polish lancer, one which required serious thought about the realistic painting of all that detail as well as the construction of the horse and rider. Great stuff. Then for my subsequent birthday he bought me a model of two birds on a log (bullfinches? I can’t remember now) and that was a serious painting challenge. Thanks, Dad!

  32. publicola says

    When I was a kid in the 60’s my father got me into modeling. It was a great way to earn points toward my Cub Scout Arrow Points. I built mostly ships and planes, with a few cars and sports figures. I’d go down into the cellar near the coal furnace and lay my paints and parts out on a plywood table that had 2 Lionel train layouts on it, turn on the local top 40 station and bliss out for an hour or two. My friends would take their model ships down the street to the Town Brook, put firecrackers or cherry bombs inside the hull, and float them downstream until BLAM! Boy, was that ever fun! I never blew up my ships, though–too wasteful. I kept them all in the attic where they still reside today in what is now my brother’s house, in various states of disrepair, some 40 or 50 models. Aurora was my preferred brand, I don’t know why, ( I think it was because I liked their logo better than Revell’s). But I do have one here with me on my desk, a model of the ship my father served on in WWII. Good, good memories.