Friday, December 9, 2011

Build a Model Car

         When I was seven years old, my daycare decided to have a Secret Santa gift exchange. When it was my turn to open my gift, BJ Stoltze got really excited and started to hop on one foot.
            “You’re gonna like it,” he told me, eliminating the “secret” element. I pulled the wrapping away from the present and revealed a red plastic garage with two toy cars inside. This was surely not a Thundercat, He-man nor Transformer. “Pretty cool,” he told me. I felt like crying.
Model cars first appeared in the early 1900s as plaster or iron toys. They were designed for children and had no moving parts. In the ‘30s, popularity with the cars was at a fever pitch with military vehicle replicas. Then car companies started to build scale models that showcased their new product lines. In the 40s, banks started to give away model cars when somebody opened a new account. On the bottom, many read: “To help save for a rainy day, or to buy a new Chevrolet.”
            My lack of mechanical skills has been well chronicled on this blog, and this was one of my first memories of disinterest in manly things. I didn’t care for cars unless they turned into robots. At the time, I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up. I was more interested in memorizing the size and era that a dinosaur had come from than driving a palm-sized car around miniature landscapes or flying through the air. I do remember that my neighbor, Bill had a fairly large collection of model cars and trains lining the walls in his attic. I thought that these were interesting, not as toys, but as a miniature vehicle that he had built.
            Bill was the same age as my parents, which meant that he was my age in the 60s, the height of popularity of model cars. It was during this time that there became a divergence between model and toy cars. Companies started to market build-it-yourself models to adults. There were no licensing agreements, as companies saw these models as free advertisements. I had long thought of building a model car as something that was a manly task from bygone days. I imagined a kid sitting at home working on his model as his dad was working on assembling the real thing in a factory nearby.
            My first undertaking was to actually locate a model car. Because their popularity had peaked half a century ago, it turned out that I couldn’t actually buy them at Target or Wal-Mart. Model cars are primarily sold at hobby or craft stores. However, I found a few of them at Michael’s. The model cars came in three different levels of difficulty. The most basic requires no glue, small parts or need for paint. The second level has all of these things, but isn’t as intricate as the third level. I settled on the intermediate, as I didn’t see myself as becoming an avid enthusiast, nor having the patience to work on a model for more than a few hours.
             When I got home, I laid all of the pieces out on the kitchen table, and unfolded the directions. It seemed to me that building a model was really just putting together a three dimensional puzzle; with instructions. The building process was slow, methodical and not difficult whatsoever. When I realized that this project didn’t really require my undivided attention, I turned a movie on. By the time that the movie was over, I had a fully-assembled model car. I felt unsatisfied and mentally numb. Perhaps this is what it was like for the mechanics and factory workers that I had made this manly association with assembling products. Maybe the real connection is a stubborn persistence until something has been seen through to the end. Maybe it was just a means to provide for their families, the ultimate manly task; being a husband. A father. A provider.
            The car could roll back and forth, its trunk and hood opened and its door opened out and up, like the car from Back to the Future. I found the process of building the model to be relaxing, much like those rainy days of my childhood where the whole family would put together a jigsaw puzzle. Despite the fact that I had a fully functional toy for my kids to play with, I didn’t really feel any sense of accomplishment. Perhaps it was because I didn’t choose the most challenging car. Perhaps it was because I didn’t give it my undivided attention. Perhaps it really just was not a project for me.
            When Leigha came home, I showed her what I had built. She wasn’t impressed. At all. Then, to my own surprise, I started to defend the car.
            “It was a lot harder than it looks. There are a lot of little pieces that you can’t even tell are pieces that I glued together,” I told her.
            “How much did it cost?” she asked.
            “About twenty dollars,” I said. “But I had to buy some glue, also.”
            “Was it fun?” That was when I knew that I wasn’t going to put any more money into the project to paint the car. I can truly see why people would have fun building a model car. I think that the fact that I am not a fan of cars, I couldn’t really appreciate the final product. I don’t regret doing this project; I just think that the cost of doing it outweighed the fun. Who knows, maybe I will still pick one up if I see it at a garage sale for a few dollars, mindlessly thinking that it would be a good project for the kids.                                                                           Have you ever built a model car? Did you enjoy it? Have you ever tried to do a project that you really WANTED to like, but you didn't?


  1. Adam, the real problem with the model car was the lack of creativity. It is a hobby of assembling something someone else has created. I know you. You don't FOLLOW a reciperecipe - you INTERPRET it.

  2. I never thought about it like that, but I think that you are right.

  3. I put together models as a kid and used to watch my dad put together remote control model cars. like you i wouldn't consider myself a manly man, but i've always considered building a remote control car like he did. i think what would be more fun would be to build a robot. then the satisfaction is more than a model, but a working item!

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