• Jef V

The molecular structure of steel

Many of my modeling stories originate from a time when I wore knee-high socks and home-made shorts, painstakingly stitched together by my mother and fabricated out of 1960’s striped Terlenka cloth. In my younger years, I had a constant appetite for models. Didn’t matter what it was, as long as I could glue and paint something, I was a happy boy!

Tamiya kits were always a top priority on my list but because of the price, hard to land for a chronically cash-poor juvenile.

Nevertheless, on few occasions, after delivering enough Hail Mary’s every night before I crawled into bed, the Holy Virgin smiled upon me. Then, I found myself bicycling to the hobby store. After driving the proprietor a step closer to a brain aneurysm not knowing what to pick, I backtracked home, smiling all the way.

On one of those trips, I secured a Tamiya Panther tank.

Back in the day, some Tamiya 1/35th scale tanks came with a little electric motor and a drive mechanism, which I didn’t care for. To make things more “complicated”, the instructions were solely in Japanese! I had some experience under my 10-year-old belt, so building kits was not a big deal and work usually progressed very rapidly. At the end of the day, I was ready to paint. Out came the Humbrol and brushes.

Three hours later and leaving a German-desert-yellow paint spot on my mother’s heirloom table cloth, the panzer looked spiffy. Except for the antenna. I must have missed that step during construction. I looked in the box but could not find anything that resembled an aerial. The instructions did not make me any wiser. Other than the cartoonesque drawing, portraying a Japanese-speaking German, yelling something in a text balloon while leaning out of a turret, there was not much to go by. However, there was an illustration of a lit candle with two sets of fingers, melting and stretching something. Not knowing any better I retrieved the only part left, a small .06” metal rod, from the box. To the infantile mind, it made sense. Antennas were made from brass.

I lit a small candle and held the rod over the flame. Guess what? Since metal is the perfect conductor for heat, 4 fingertips got singed simultaneously and I am not proud to say it but a silent tear ran down my cheek from withheld agony. I was quite confident that the Japanese knew what they were talking about in the drawing so I tried it again with, yes, the same outcome. Meanwhile my dad stepped into the room and looked at his red-faced youngster with compassion and decided to help. He didn’t get any more cognizant than me, staring at Japonic jargon. The same scenario was prepared with similar painful results at my father’s expense and soon the air in the living room was filled with a bouquet of burned flesh.

The metal rod on the other hand, stayed the same length! Things became more serious and pliers were thrown into the mix. Me and poor old dad, determined to make an antenna, gripped both ends of the rod. We managed it once again over the candle, held by my mother, who for her part had donned her readers in a last desperate but valiant act, to decipher the Asian symbols. While both were tugging with super human strength, I was dragged by my father from one end of the room to the other. Although dad had removed his dentures to get a better “bite” while pulling, the rod held its ground! Damnit!!

Now it was really on! Outside to the shed and the last resort; a vise and a torch! Long story short, the Panther garnished the small bookshelf in my bedroom for many years to come… without antenna! It was only years later and English instructions that I mastered the art of turning plastic rods into stretched-sprue whiskers!

And as far as the Japanese language is concerned? Still Chinese to me!


Jef V.


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