Rebuilding a 28mm Wilderness Fortification

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The construction of 17th and 18th-century European fortifications were revolutionized by the writing of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the French military engineer and author of A Manual of Siegecraft and Fortification. His formal star-shaped forts of the era defined military and city defensive architecture throughout Europe and in overseas colonies.

North American wilderness warfare of the French and Indian War often called for more hastily-built backcountry defenses. A paper by Military Architecture of the American Frontier, made available online by the National Park Service, provides an overview of how Vauban’s and other writings of the period influenced fort building in a very different environment. Blockhouses and stockades were common, and some reconstructed examples like Fort Necessity and Fort Ligonier can be visited today. Given even less time and planning, dirt, plentiful trees, and woven gabions filled with rocks could be used to create a somewhat formidable defensive position by throwing the strong backs of soldiers and hired civilians into the effort. While some Vauban-style grand forts of the period like Fort Niagara and Fort Ticonderoga still stand centuries later in the United States, countless small, temporary fortifications have been long lost to time.

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A plan of Fort Ligonier, Pennsylvania from “A Set of Plans and Forts in America. Reduced from Actual Surveys” by John Rocque (c. 1750)

My local club Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY has hundreds of pieces of terrain in multiple scales spanning many historical eras. Some of these pieces are decades old, once belonging to members who have long since moved on. They reflect different wargaming modeling techniques of the past and some bear the markings of manufacturers long gone.

I’ve taken it upon myself recently to rebuild and refresh some of these pieces, particularly a number of 28mm buildings and scratch built terrain models appropriate to 18th-century scenarios of the French and Indian War era. With this in mind, a large, banged-up and dusty wilderness fortress piece recently caught my eye on the club’s shelf and I set to work making it usable again.

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A decades-old scratchbuilt piece of terrain in need of repair

Mounted on a piece of quarter-inch plywood measuring about 8″ x 18″, this hefty model features three canon positions on a plaster raised earth mound surrounded by resin-cast wicker gabions and sharpened wooden stakes. The years had not been kind to the model. Original trees had snapped off long ago, several breaks in the plaster were evident, grass had worn off, fences were broken and overall, the whole model had taken on a drab appearance.

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Some initial repairs and a fresh coat of paint

The first step was to clean the model of the layers of dust accumulated over the years, remove remnants of broken trees and trim off flaking and broken bits of plaster. Next, I filled cracks and missing areas of plaster with lightweight wood filler. All the earthen areas then received a fresh coat of dark brown paint over which I dry brushed varying layers of browns and gray paints.

With the base repainted, I made small glued repairs to broken fencing. I also added a few spare sticks and a barrel to bring some detail to the model as if repairs were an ongoing part of the fortification’s use. From there, the logs, fence, sharpened stakes and gabions were repainted and weathered using more dry brushed coats of browns and grays.

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New trees are glued to the model

With most of the new painting done, I turned to adding new trees. I drilled and glued nails into the trunks of pre-made trees from Woodland Scenics which were then glued into holes in the base at the rear along the fence. The trees added textural and vertical interest to an otherwise flat model and also provided some additional color to the overall earthiness of the terrain.

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A layer of new groundcover is applied over the model

Further texture and color was added with my favorite Adirondack Blend from Scenic Express. This material contains grass of varying color and texture along with other larger bits of scattered twigs and wood chips which give a highly detailed look that reflects the ground of the North American wilderness. To attach, I heavily brushed white glue on a section at a time all around the base of the fortification and then shook a thick layer of the grass over the glue. Some areas around the logs also received a bit of grass to break up the sameness of the main battery area. Once dry, I lightly tapped the excess grass off the model, carefully scooping up the extra for use again. Finally, a couple small bits of clump foliage were glued around the trees and in random areas along the model’s base. With everything dry, the model got a matte spray coat to hold on the grass and seal the new paint.

In less than a couple hours work, the whole model popped back to life after sitting unused for years. The fortress also has a look more consistent with some of my other terrain pieces, allowing for a more unified look on the table. The project has inspired me to have a look at rebuilding other long-ignored pieces of terrain at the club, bringing them into a new century of miniature wargaming for hopefully years to come.

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American Civil War: Converting O Scale Buildings

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I recently scored a few free pre-assembled O scale plastic buildings made by Model Power. The houses are meant to be used in model railroad layouts and look very modern, plastic and toy like. I looked at them and thought that with a little work they might be made suitable for use for in American Civil War wargaming. I started my project with the “Kennedy’s House” model.

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Primed flat black

O scale structures are a little on the big side for 28mm, so the first thing I did was to remove the foundation and steps from the building. To make the house a little less grand, I also also removed the decorative front porch. After I re-glued a few loose windows and shutters, the whole model got a coat of flat black primer to knock the sheen off the plastic.

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First dry brush of off white on the siding

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Second dry brush coat in white on the siding

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Two coats of dry brush complete on the siding

Once the primer had set, I dry brushed all the siding, doors and windows with some off white paint. Over the first coat, I built up an additional layer of dry brushed white paint. The final effect I was building up to was a weathered look on the entire exterior.

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Shutters are dry brushed in green and roof gets dark brown base coat

With the siding complete, the shutters on the building’s facade were dry brushed in a dark green. Again, allowing the layers of paint beneath to show throw added to the lived-in and weathered look to the building.

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Roof is built up with alternating dry brush coats of grays and browns

The roof’s look very modern, so I likewise built up coats of paint to make them look more like wood shake shingles. A base coat of dark brown then received two layers of dark and lighter grays, followed by some lighter brown highlights. The chimneys also got a couple coats of dry brush grays and off white to replicate a irregular stone construction. When done, the completed roof looked very much more like something found in the 19th-century.

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Completed conversion of the Model Power farmhouse

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American Civil War Union soldiers standing guard at the newly completed house

Along with the Model Power buildings, I also picked up some free Woodland Scenics trees which I’ve based individually for my gaming. The trees and rehabbed farmhouse are perhaps a little on the large size for my Perry Miniatures soldiers but considering I’ve received all this terrain at no cost it will all work just fine on the table battlefield.

A Gamer’s Guide to Manhattan’s Hobby Shops

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I’ve mentioned here more than once that my childhood was full of hobbies including model rocketry, model railroading, plastic kit building, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books and miniatures wargaming. Like generations before me, hobby stores and the now-vanished hobby areas of large department stores and five-and-dimes were where I felt at home from an early age.

I moved to New York City in the mid-1990s when much of Old New York started breathing its last gasps. Along with the closings of many storied NYC bars, restaurants, clubs, book stores, comic shops and movie theaters, hobby shops of all types are becoming more and more a thing of the past here in the Five Boroughs. The causes of the decline of hobby shops in the city are many, including rising rents, loss of customer interest, the growth of online hobby retail and many owners simply retiring or passing away.

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The New York Times recently did a great little story on Rudy’s Hobby and Art in Astoria, Queens, and I’ve also become a semi-frequent visitor to Trainworld just a few subway stops away from my apartment in Brooklyn. These outposts in the outer boroughs hold on, but many of the classic shops in Manhattan have not. At the top of many city hobbyist memories is Polk’s Hobby Department Store which once occupied five floors at 314 5th Avenue. Like many businesses, Polk’s was a family-run affair headed up by two brothers beginning in the 1930s. The iconic store carried radio controlled boats and planes, slot cars, plastic model kits, trains and all matter hobby supplies which fueled the imaginations for generations of kids and adults. For the observant nostalgic, a quick glimpse of Polk’s survives in a scene from 1972’s The Godfather (photo at top).

Like Polk’s, most of Manhattan’s other hobby stores, like Carmen Webster’s on 45th Street and America’s Hobby Center on West 22nd Street, have likewise vanished from the city’s streets in recent years. At the same time, Brooklyn has seen a surge in gaming-specific stores and play spaces such as Kings Games, Brooklyn Game Lab, Twenty-Sided Store, The Brooklyn Strategist and Nu Brand Gaming. In Greenwich Village, The Uncommons now sits along the old “Chess Row” south of Washington Square, and a Games Workshop can be found a few blocks away well stocked with Warhammer and 40K players on any given weekend.

For the dedicated scale model hobbyist and gaming enthusiast, a few remnants of the traditional densely stocked hobby store of the past still live on in Manhattan. In almost all cases, online suppliers are a more economical option than purchasing from a local hobby or gaming brick-and-mortar store. However, it’s still hard to beat the experience of browsing a shop in person and having conversations with fellow customers and proprietors who share a passion for a hobby. I recently spent a sunny late summer day poking around in a few of my favorite NYC hobby shops that tap into that unique experience that still lives on.


Jan’s Hobby Shop

1435 Lexington Avenue

(212) 987-4765

IMG_4284Way up on Lexington Avenue in the East 90s,  Jan’s Hobby Shop is just the kind of store that fired my youthful imagination. Plastic soldiers, model kits, model rockets, paints, brushes, videos, books and hobby magazines are stacked floor to ceiling in the tight space of this classic hobbyist’s paradise. Kits from hundreds of manufacturers from around the world, from the common to the obscure, cover all eras, skill levels, scales and price ranges. Ships from the Age of Sail sit across from Star Wars X-Wings, ancient siege weapons are just down the aisle from Cold War artillery and all manner of cars, tanks, ships and planes fill every bit of space between. For the more advanced scale modeller, a handy selection of balsa, plastic styrene, brass tubing and specialized glues and construction materials sit at the ready.

IMG_4286Plastic soldiers from a variety of manufacturers, eras and scales at Jan’s

IMG_4287Paints and plastic model kits line the walls at Jan’s

IMG_4285Fred Hutchins’s WWII era experimental aircraft models

At the heart of the store on any given morning, store manager Fred Hutchins sits behind his workbench working away on his latest project. In my short visit with Fred, I learned of his lifelong love and work in aeronautical engineering. His ongoing project, at the rate of 30-50 models per year, is to build to scale every experimental aircraft built during World War II. In the cases nearby, much of Fred’s exquisite work is on display, and if you are a polite and patient visitor, he is more than happy to engage in a brief history lesson. Conversation with Fred, modeller-to-modeller, is just the kind of experience only found in a hobby shop and makes a visit to Jan’s worth the trip.


The Red Caboose

23 West 45th Street

(212) 575-0155

www.theredcaboose.com

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For a hobbyist like me, basements are portals to secret worlds of play hidden away from the normal world above. That’s where you’ll find The Red Caboose, tucked at the end of an easy-to-miss entry hall and then down some narrow stairs to a subterranean hobby wonderland. Focused largely on N and HO scale model railroading, The Red Caboose is lined with glass cases of rolling stock and engines from the steam era to today. Tourists may also find their way here to buy up some authentic scale New York MTA subway cars which may be special ordered to reflect specific routes past or present.

IMG_4283Cases of trains and row upon row of model kits at The Red Caboose

The Red Caboose is a place beyond trains, too.  Rows of shelves are devoted to kits for all sorts of buildings, bridges, industrial complexes and natural scenery, some of which have made their way to my wargaming tables over the years. Rotating racks of scale scratch building plastic, metal and wood parts, along with paints, brushes and other supplies provide a solid inventory for miniature modellers. A decent selection of military and civilian plastic kits and pre-built die-cast scale models can likewise by found, making a stop at The Red Caboose about much more than just trains.


The Compleat Strategist

11 East 33rd Street

(212) 685-3880

www.thecompleatstrategist.com

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As a budding role playing gamer in the 70s and 80s, I was fortunate to live near a college town where the local bookstore and five-and-dime each stocked a handy selection of Dungeons & Dragons books, miniatures and magazines. Tucked in the pages of later issues of those magazines, I occasionally saw ads for The Compleat Strategist with an inventory which sounded like a dream for my hungry gaming appetite. As a resident New Yorker today, a quick visit to “The Strat” over a lunch hour or on a weekend is an amazing escape for a quick purchase or just time spent browsing the latest in gaming.

IMG_4281The Compleat Strategist is NYC’s destination for serious gamers

The store is long, narrow and deep, with shelves of games, books, miniatures and accessories piled to the ceiling. Boardgames, chess sets and puzzles occupy the rear half of the store. A massive selection of boxed historical strategy games stretch down one wall toward an inventory of paints and miniatures ranging from Games Workshop and other fantasy lines to collectible games like Heroclix. RPG books and reference materials fill out the front of the shop along with buckets of dice, stacks of collectible cards like Magic: The Gathering and two large racks of gaming periodicals. Downstairs, the Compleat Strategist also hosts mini gaming tournaments most weekends, rounding out the total experience for the city gamer looking to stay connected to a vital hobby community.


Gotham Model Trains

224 West 35th Street, 13th Floor

(212) 643-4400

www.gothammodeltrains.com

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Down a generic block just north of Penn Station, the tiny and well kept Gotham Model Trains occupies a thirteenth floor space in a building housing a jumble of small businesses and professional offices. The shop is mostly about trains, and the tight inventory offers a well-edited counterpoint to the sprawling warren of shelves at The Red Caboose. I like the nice selection of Woodland Scenics ground cover, shrubbery, trees, gravel and other scratch-building materials in plastic, metal and wood on the walls and racks.

IMG_4279The well-curated inventory of Gotham Model Trains

But trains are the thing at Gotham Model Trains, and over the years this has been my local go-to for a few pieces of track needed in getting a little circular railroad running under my Christmas tree. Multiple scales, controllers, buildings, scale figures and a small selection of railfan books round out the inventory surrounding the sweet little N scale layout greeting you at the shop’s entrance. Stopping in at Gotham Model Trains, like a visit to any of Manhattan’s surviving hobby shops, you can’t help but have the irreplaceable experience of a living breathing hobby.

Flames of War: Modelling Western European Terrain in 15mm

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I’ve had a lot of great feedback from the past year of posting after action reports for Flames of War games. Fellow players have been universally complimentary on the layout of my terrain used in my scenarios. With that, I’m increasingly being asked questions about the make of my models, where I buy them and how I achieve some of the other rerrain modelled  in my games.

Modelling terrain, like any aspect of miniatures wargaming, has to take into account the three main factors of skill, budget and time commitment. I find myself somewhere in the middle of all three categories, and I feel my level of personal investment in my terrain modelling is reflective of this. One of the many benefits of belonging to a club like Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY is the opportunity to share in our massed collections of terrain and create some pretty impressive-looking games.

As a longtime miniatures hobbyist with a passion for scale modelling, I wanted to share a quick round up of the current state of my 15mm terrain collection I use for Flames of War. To date, my FOW gaming has focused on the European Western Front, so the vast majority of my terrain focuses on buildings and other features appropriate for France, the Low Countries and Western Germany. All that said, let’s take a European tour in miniature…

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Any small town or rural tabletop Western European battlefield needs buildings — barns, houses, shops and cafes — not only for visual appeal, but to provide covering positions and even possible objectives during game play. FOW offers a fine line of pre-painted buildings but I find them to be a bit on the expensive side and toy-like. I also like to paint, so breaking up modelling little tanks and soldiers with some miniature real estate projects makes for a nice change to hobbying routine.

Last year I discovered the cast resin terrain produced by Mark IV Miniatures. As a second-generation wargamer, the owner of Mark IV obviously invests a great deal of care to his Western and Eastern front models. All the buildings come with removable multiple stories and roofs, making their use in FOW gaming a breeze. I just acquired my second set of models from Mark IV (ordered from Musket Miniatures), giving me a number of houses, barns and shops which I set close together as a village center or spread out for use in the countryside. For my towns, I also have a set of Mark IV  walls, a cobblestone courtyard and nifty fountain monument model. At about $18-24 per model, Mark IV’s offerings are my hands-down favorite in miniature buildings.

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With so many Mark IV models on my shelf, I wanted to add in a few more commercial structures representing stores or cafes common to European towns small and large. The excellent Model Dads UK blog recently reviewed the 15mm town shop models from Games of War. Based on a shop in Caen, the GOW shops come in three different pre-painted varieties for about $24 each shipped from the UK.

The GOW buildings scale nicely with my Mark IV models, and just a little work weathering the existing paint blends them nicely into the streetscape. I also added some signage and posters to the exterior walls, bringing a bit more sense of liveliness to the townscape.

IMG_3111Painting Mark IV and Games of War buildings

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The first 15mm buildings I ever bought were from JR Miniatures. An old standby in the hobby, JR offers a wide variety of scales and themes for eveything from Ancients to Historicals to Sci Fi. I have a small, roughly-cast farmhouse and outbuildings from JR which I use as area terrain. Overall, I find JR’s buildings to be a bit less crisp in detail than those from Mark IV and GOW, and many buildings don’t open for placement of figures.

Last year, I picked up a basic JR European stone bridge at a convention for about $14. The simplicity of the model made it easy to paint with a few stone-colored dry-brushed layers of paint. The model stretches over just about every river running through my gaming tables, and I may very well pick up another bridge in a different design from them soon.

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On the higher end of the terrain options, I’ve always had a thing for the Miniature Building Authority. MBA’s extensive 15mm European line comes pre-painted with lift-off sections to place units in the buildings or model them as destroyed structures. They also carry some rather unique structures and large set-pieces like a multiple-model farm complex or full train depot set-piece.

My brother and his gaming friends have been collecting MBA buildings for years, buying a few buildings a year and sharing in their collection. Taking their gradual approach, I recently started small and ordered a couple of their shops and a large, beautiful hotel model for my collection. Over time, I hope to add more from MBA and grow toward larger, more urban scenarios.

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Laying out a gaming table almost always necessitates having roads. I bought some rubberized roads years ago at a convention which suit rural unpaved areas well. A small town or rural setting requires having paved streets, and cobblestones provide a suitable road surface for Western Europe at the time of WWII.

I experimented with stone-textured papers and looked at rubberized stone streets, but none of them provided the depth or the solidity inherent in a stone road. Finally, I’ve bitten the bullet and invested in a set of the FOW cobblestone roads  at a slight discount from a seller on eBay. With a total of more than 6-feet of pre-painted cast resin roads, the box has given me what I think to be plenty roadway for my tanks to rumble down.

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Trees are one of the standard needs for any miniatures wargaming table in any era. Several wargaming manufacturers offer boxes of pre-made tree stands and bases for around $35-40 for maybe a dozen trees. I choose to go the economic bulk route and make my own using trees, flocking and modelling details from Woodland Scenics. For about $75 I’ve been able to make more than enough to fill even the largest battlefields.

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Using two different sized trees from the WS Ready Made Trees Value Pack line, I first glued groups of 2-3 trees to cork coasters picked up at a craft store. On top of the spray-painted green coaster bases, I apply white glue and sprinkles of gravel of varying sizes in random places. After dry, another coat of glue to the remainder of the bases is then flocked with a basic green grass flocking. A few twigs and larger rocks glued here and there add some more depth to the little mini-scenes on each base.

IMG_3041Applying white glue to the tree bases before flocking

Bases are finished off with coarse clumped foliage to represent bushes and undergrowth. Mixing colors of the trees and foliage provides a realistic look. Gravel and larger rocks get hit with some brown washes to tone down the glaring brightness of the paths and piles on each base. All my work is done assembly line style in stages over an old baking sheet so excess flock and gravel shaken from the bases can go back in their containers to use again. When finished, I hit the bases with a matte spray to hold everything in place. In just a few hours time, my model forest on some 30 bases is ready to provide cover for any troops seeking concealment from enemy fire.

IMG_3156Completed homemade trees

Putting it all together, a dozen buildings, cobblestone roads, a bridge and a bunch of my homemade trees gives me more than enough terrain to present rural and town landscapes in Western Europe. Adding in some river sections, dirt roads and fields from fellow club members completes the look of just about any inland battle scenario in Normandy. Check out the pictures below of the results, and keep an eye on my after action reports for future glimpses into my tiny tabletop fields of battle.

IMG_3161Farm complex with Mark IV buildings and walls, JR Mini bridge and FOW fields and river

IMG_3159Games of War shops with added weathering and signage

IMG_3162Row of Mark IV buildings

IMG_3160Mark IV buildings and monument

IMG_3158Town set-up with terrain from Mark IV, JR Mini, FOW, Games of War and my homemade trees

IMG_3157Town set-up with terrain from Mark IV, JR Mini, FOW, Games of War and my homemade trees

A Trip to Brooklyn’s Trainworld

trainworldbknyI’ve written several times about my lifetime love for model trains which served as my gateway to the scale modelling hobby and eventually to miniatures wargaming. Walking into a model train convention or local hobby shop as a kid was like opening an alternate fantasy world of endless possibility. On occasional nights after dinner as a young hobbyist, my dad’s announcement that we were climbing into his truck to take a trip to Kurt’s Trains & Hobbies in nearby Caledonia, NY was like declaring we were about to take a journey to another universe.

So, after some 16 years living in Brooklyn, NY I recently made my first stop at Trainworld in the Kensington neighborhood just a few subway stops from my front door. Located in an light industrial stretch of McDonald Avenue right under the elevated F line, Trainworld is an old slice of Brooklyn brimming with charmingly coarse but knowledgeably helpful staff and one of the largest inventories anywhere of model railroading and related hobby supplies.

IMG_2906Trains running on the layout at Trainworld in the Kensington area of Brooklyn, NY

Trainworld and their Trainland location in Lynbrook, NY in nearby Nassau County lay claim as “America’s Largest Discount Mail Order Discount Train Store” powered by their extensive and well-built website. The retail location in Brooklyn features a main store space packed from floor to ceiling with N, HO, O, G and S scale model trains, track, buildings, scenery and supplies. A small phone staff manages customer service queries in a second space off the main store which also features a small train layout which loops and clatters around all day long. The enormous warehouse opens through a door just past the main retail counter space, granting any walk-in customer full access to the store’s massive inventory.

IMG_2904Scale scenery supplies at Trainworld

It’s been years since I’ve had my own model railroad layout, but having a place like Trainworld nearby is a huge resource for a wargamer and miniatures modeller like myself. On my recent visit, I was able to grab a few bags of various ground cover products from Woodland Scenics right off the racks stretched the entire length of one wall. When one specific color I needed wasn’t on display, a quick call to the warehouse brought a package to the counter in about five minutes.

IMG_2905Shelves of trees and natural modelling details at Trainworld

A little further down the aisle are several shelves of ready-made model trees of varying quality, size, coloring and price point, as well as other packaged details like rocks, gravel, crop fields and a flowering meadows. All these scenic materials are just the thing  I enjoy in making my various tabletop battlefields come alive, a topic I touched on in one of my earliest posts on this blog.

I’ve got a number of scenery projects on my list for the coming months, including a re-basing of my trees and scratch-building bocage hedgerows. Discovering a place like Trainworld just 10-minutes from my apartment is going to make these projects all the easier and provide fuel for more ideas for some time to come.