Victory Ship Model - First Effort
My Dad served on several Victory-class cargo ships in World War II, which was what got me started on this quest, as it were - I became determined to build a model of not just any ship, but one of his ships. He wryly called it hero worship ... I preferred to think of it as 'historical research capturing a particular moment in time,' but he was probably closer to the truth.
The quest got serious when I discovered that there is a still-operating Victory ship in Tampa, Fla., the S.S. American Victory, and that once a year they fire her up and take her out for a cruise in Tampa Bay. That settled it - I was going to build a Victory ship and then take my Dad for a cruise on the American Victory and give him the model.
Step one was finding a model, and rapidly discovering that model kits of WW II cargo ships are few and far between. Not as glamorous as battleships or destroyers, I guess. The ones that I could find on the Internet were either huge (30-inches long!) or expensive, or both. There were a lot more choices for the Liberty ships, the first generation of wartime 'emergency' ships, but that wasn't what I wanted.
After a lot of searching and e-mails and blind alleys, I finally found a Victory ship kit that was 1) Small, 2) Affordable, and 3) Available. The Loose Cannon Productions* Victory ship (kit no. 14) is a 1/700 scale resin kit that includes a photoetched brass fret of accessory parts and brass rod.
What that means in English is this was a model molded out of a plastic resin material, with lots of tiny, delicate, thin brass parts, in a scale, or representation, where 1-inch on the model was the equivalent of 700-inches on the real thing. So for a 455-foot long ship, your model will be not quite 8-inches long. It cost $45, which seemed expensive to me until I realized that I hadn't even looked at model kits is more than three decades. What is nice about most resin ship model kits is they include everything you need to build one complete ship - no scratchbuilding or expensive aftermarket purchases are necessary.
My first reaction on opening the box was, this thing was tiny. My second reaction was that the photoetched parts were even tinier, and this was going to be a lot harder than slapping together the plastic battleships and aircraft carriers I built when I was a kid. A couple of e-mails back and forth with Dave Angelo, one of Loose Cannon's owners, reassured me and I dove in.
First stop was the local hobby shop. All I had been able to salvage from The Great Relocation was an X-acto hobby knife with one dull blade, so I had to get everything - knife blades, tweezers, cyanoacrylate glue (i.e. Super glue), brushes, paints, etc. And right then I came face to face with MISTAKE NO. 1 - Not enough research!
There were at least five shades of gray spray paint, and more than twice that number in the bottled paints ... and I had no clue which ones were the right ones for my particular ship. I dithered around so long in front of the paint racks that the owner finally came back to see if she could help, or if I had been stunned into permanent immobility. I managed to remember a couple of paint scheme names from the instructions, and with her help, exited the shop with several spray cans of gray, a few more bottles of gray, and bottles of gloss black, flat black, brown, flat red and flat green. In the process, I managed to spend more on supplies than I had on the actual model. I looked on it as an investment. Little did I know I would be returning to the hobby shop at least once a week until the model was done.
Assembly was pretty straightforward - I made a lot of mistakes and was only able to correct some of them because super glue really does stick to everything ... tenaciously. But with resin kits it's about your only choice. Those smelly tubes of highly flammable gooey glue I'd used years ago will not work with resin plastic, but it also meant I had to get things right the first time, every time. That took some getting used to. I wasn't always successful, and this kit reflects that.
I also discovered the evil Carpet Monster, that thing under the kitchen table where small plastic and metal parts fall to their doom. Still haven't found a reliable cure for that one, other than a really powerful flashlight and putting my nose an inch above the floor.
After several weeks of almost nightly effort, the hunks of resin and assorted metal bits started looking like a ship. Rigging the cargo booms was especially tricky. I found that I had to glue each set of booms to their respective deckhouses with superglue and prop them up with a stand made from a twisted paperclip while said glue dried, to get the angle I wanted. Then it was a matter of fitting the photoetched block and tackle to the end of each boom and the top of the kingpost, with results that weren't always squared-up looking.
The end result certainly looks like a generic Victory ship of about mid-1944, but I had this nagging feeling that it wasn't quite right. I could not question Dad too closely about his specific ships, since he was already wondering ...
Here are two overall photos of the finished product. Sharp eyes will note the foul ups with the forward cargo booms and kingpost stays, and a host of other small things like railings and 20mm cannon shields missing. The mast and its platforms are scratchbuilt out of brass rod and polystyrene strip because the cat made off with the original one.
And then I had to make a decision - to give this model to Dad or not? More research (which I should have done first), a few additional questions for Dad and the fact that the American Victory cruise was coming up decided me: I would wait until after I had actually seen a Victory ship to give him the model. I wanted it to be right. I wanted him to look at it and think, 'Yes, that's the way I remember it.' I wanted an awful lot!
We went on the American Victory cruise in April. It was everything I'd hoped it would be, and I got to ask Dad a lot of questions, all of which pointed to one thing.
I was going to have to do it again if I wanted to get it right. So I did.
* Sadly, Loose Cannon Productions is no longer in business, but some of its kits are still available through various modeling and reseller websites.
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This page was last updated Feb. 7, 2006.