Wednesday, February 29, 2012

29 after the 29th

The winter has been a drag – I’m glad there’s only a few weeks left. This may sound funny, but although there’s 2 or 3 feet of snow covering the yards around here, it hasn’t been a particularly hard winter as winters go. But, I do feel like I’m in a mental funk. Cabin fever maybe. Last January I tried my hand at posting 30 times in 30 days over the course of the month to see if I could do it. The posts themselves varied in quality, but I did accomplish that modest goal. Looking back, one thing it did do was help give me a little boost for taking on creative tasks, so I thought I’d give it a try again. Since the 29th of February only occurs once every four years, so this seemed like an auspicious day to start. Hopefully I’ll post every day, or maybe every two or three, in March. Last year I did my posting marathon in this blog, this time I may split it between 30Squares and retroDynamics as I’ve been thinking about a number of projects that are better suited to that blog. I eagerly await any mental kick-starting I can get to happen
I thought I’d start with John Ahern’s book, Miniature Building Construction, since it’s been sitting on my coffee table in front of the tv for a long time! Last spring I bought a copy after I’d read about Mr. Ahern’s Madder Valley model railroad in an article written by Chris Leigh in the December 2010 issue of Model Rail. He built it in the 1940s, and what made it unique was that it was one of the first, and best, examples of what became known as ‘scenic model railroads’. That is, a model railroad that has extensive, well-made, realistic scenery and trains, and mimics to some extent actual railroad operation – which is our de facto norm today. The article mentioned that Mr. Ahern was a pioneer in the design and construction of model buildings – he was the John Allen of England, or maybe John Allen was the John Ahern of the U.S The article also stated that Mr. Ahern had written a book on the subject; that being the case, I knew I had to look for a copy. Luckily, through the magic of the internet, I found one.
The book’s front matter indicates it was first reprinted in 1950, and that my version is a 1956 reprint. Stickers and stamps inside my particular copy suggest that it was acquired by the Kansas City public library for its circulating collection in 1958, and was surplussed in 1991. I bought it via Alibris, and it’s still in very good condition.
It’s quite a interesting look at how to build 4mm or 7mm scale (HO scale is 3.5mm) model buildings with 1940s technology: primarily card and wood – essentially an elaboration on the techniques presented in my grandmother’s teacher’s manual training guide I wrote about a while ago. The old photos in the book, and the colour ones of the still operational (!) Madder Valley in the Model Rail article, attest to the fact that the results are anything but crude. Certainly today’s manufactured craftsman kits are far superior detail-wise, but the skill and charm of Mr. Ahern’s builds still come through even here in the 21th century – well, maybe that’s just my own bias coming through because I admire scratch built projects made from simple raw materials. Hopefully sometime this year I’ll be able to try my hand at one of his builds, or at least try his methods on a new build.

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