Bob Letterman

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(06) Legacies Both Versions

September 2nd, 2012 by admin

When I entered “The Winds of War” in competition in July, 1982, at the IPMS Nationals in St. Louis, Missouri, it created a stir that I could never have expected. Within a few months, there were articles in model magazines throughout Europe, Asia and America. Of course, I was really excited that many people liked my work. However, there were those that thought I could only build quantity, but not quality. That was always an underlying criticism at the time. It was assumed that by building such huge dioramas, there was no way to achieve the quality of those taking an entire year to build a single tank.

The FSM magazine cover with the Winds of War on the cover.

I set out to prove that wrong. During the following year, I abandoned dioramas and built 52 models, in every possible category. Aircraft, cars, civilian trucks, armor, large scale figures, ships and so on. I entered all of them in the Phoenix, Arizona I.P.M.S. Nationals. I won several best of categories, many first place awards, but every single model at least placed a third place or better!

I told an interviewer at the time that if that was what I had to do in my hobby, I’d rather drive a truck. I went back to my passion, dioramas. I had learned so very much in that year, summer of 1982 to the summer of 1983. Techniques in building, super detailing, scratch building and especially in painting and weathering. I decided to do a smaller version of the “Winds of War” which was 4 feet by 8 feet. I decided to do one exactly half that size and truly focus on quality. It took a little over a year to complete. I worked harder on that one than I had ever done up to that point. There was another reason for building it. The fledgling Fine Scale Modeler had made me an offer to publish a book based on that one diorama. They also wanted to do articles on vehicles I had built. They had published an article in their second issue on the Winds of War, featuring it on the cover. So, I was in a rush to complete it.

I had started Warwinds International, a mail order company, in my basement in late 1983. By 1985, it had grown to the point, the basement no longer had sufficient space, and I began looking for a building. I had hooked up with Verlinden and Stok at the Atlanta Nationals in ‘84. I was distributing to all of America, Canada and South America. Then Fine Scale had some problems and cancelled all contracts to print books. In July, ‘85, I met Verlinden at the 1985 Indianapolis Nationals. He returned to St. Louis with me and spent a couple of weeks there. During that time, he had seen the progress on “Legacies”, I had told him about FSM canceling the book and he immediately asked me if Verlinden Publications could publish it. He had, up to this time, published the first three Verlinden Way books. I agreed and we set a deadline of December first, ‘85.

I had taken some in progress photos that would become lost over time, but here are the few I have left.

Check out that young 40 year old sitting there with an Optivisor on his head. You can see the base and the stone wall had been started. My little dog ate that wall a couple of weeks later when I had left the dio on the floor. Just one of those little setbacks we all know and love.

Click on image to enlarge.

In this B/W shot, some of the buildings are coming along and taking shape. The first version was set in Metz, France with George Patton was crossing the bridge canal in his custom M-20 armored car, and German P.O.W.s being marched to the rear lines. There was significant battle damage to the buildings and bridges.

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This is a shot of the base with the buildings removed.

This is the beginning of the Bakery/Pub bi-level building. The next three photos show the SBS.

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Here it is a little further along. Click on image to enlarge.

And this is the finished Patisserie on the upper floor and “Le Coq Hardi”, a French pub on the lower floor.

Here is the facade in progress of the cafe, “Cafe de la Paix”. Click on image to enlarge.

As I was building this diorama, I had been taking a lot of step by step pics as I built models to later put together a book. They were all taken in black & white as magazines back then only printed in black and white! (Hard to believe, isn’t it?). FSM had made me an offer to do other articles and to publish a book. A few months later, they had some internal problems. They contacted me and said that corporate had blocked all books for the next year. Not much later, I met my future partner and he suggested I let him do the book instead. I agreed and the result was “Superdioramas”. Verlinden was one of the first, if not the first, to print every page of a modeling book or magazine in full color, so, I had hundreds of unpublished B&W step by step photographs that have been in a box for over a quarter century. I thought using some of these unpublished photographs would add some nostalgia to the thread. I’ll begin with the giant stone railroad bridge.

The bridge is in 1/35th scale, but in real size, it stands almost two feet high, (610 mm). I built this in a similar process as I build most of my structures. I begin with a corrugated cardboard shape constructed with white glue. I buy my own 4 X 8 sheets today, but, back then, I used boxes found at the rear of most supermarkets. BTW, with all materials involved, I probably spent less than $20 on this. That might make a down payment on a layaway plan for a 1/35th tank today! It is still a very inexpensive way to build buildings even today.

Here is the shape I created. I always make the base first, then lay out the streets/sidewalks and alleys. That gives me the dimensions for the buildings.

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Then I add the other shapes I want using wood, balsa or bass, and white glue. I also give it a veneer of matt board, available in art stores. This gives the structure a strength that is remarkable. I have built these things as early as 1971 and they still look today as they did back then. They are far more sturdy than any plastic model.

This photo shows how the “stones” are made. I take Hydrastone plaster and mix it with water to the texture of thick paint. Other guys have tried this and took a shortcut and left out the matt board. Corrugated cardboard with collapse from the wet plaster. The matt board keeps the cardboard dry! Then i draw horizontal lines on the mattboard to keep the stones level, and begin “painting” the stones. Some I give three coats, others four and five coats. That creates a realistic texture. I have began to make the RR track base on top. With this and the river wall and the new stone pillar in the Legacies II diorama, there are over 9000 stones! Multiply times 3-5 coats each, I was really tired of making stones! Click on image to enlarge.

See another angle here. As you can see the arch stones have been added using Miliput epoxy putty shaped and then carved to simulate the texture of stones.

This is a birds eye view showing the upper deck progressing. Click on image to enlarge.

With most of the stones complete, here is a shot of what it would look like from a human’s perspective. The trestle that has been blown was made of the PVC products Plastruct architectural shapes, a very useful product that I have used as far back as I can remember. I have used it to build factories and aircraft hangars. Click on image to enlarge.

Another birds eye view showing the upper deck progressing.

All stonework finished, here I have given it a base coat of paint. A flat medium gray. As I remember then, it was a Pactra Rebel Grey. Click on image to enlarge.

Side view. The fancy trim on the top is from a lumber store used for trimming woodwork. Just a bit of nostalgia. Note the stacks of VP products I was selling out of my basement at the time, (1983). The beginnings of The VLS Corporation.

Then, I began applying the weathering process. That starts with randomly painting the stones about five different shades of the base color. Then a raw umber “wash” using artists oils mixed with rectified turpentine to the consistency of milk. A complete coat of the mixture covers the model and then is cleaned off with a dry, clean cloth using a blotting method, leaving only the dirty color in the cracks and crevices. It also darkens and ages all five colors of paint to an extent. Then using a light gray, I painted the area that had been blown away, which replicated the fresh stone, never exposed to the weather. A touch up using the dry brush of only one shade lighter than the stones very subtly adds visual texture. Then streaks are made from various colors of artists oils to simulate rain, sun and snow over a century of use.

Another view.

Still working on the deck. In Legacies II, this deck was extended to 3.5 feet, (Around 1100 mm).

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Now with the tracks, fencing and RR signals, weathered and rusted girders added, It is finally complete.

Finally finished, I prefer the this, the human’s eye view. It has the massive appearance I was trying for. Compare the finished model to the beginning cardboard shape!

Click on image to enlarge, especially this one!

Unfortunately, the only photograph of the bridge in the diorama was taken by an FSM photographer, Paul Boyer about 8 years ago. I have lots, but they haven’t been scanned. It is somewhat visible, just follow the steel trestle till you see the stone. This is Legacies II, after it was rebuilt into an intact bridge, erasing all the damage. It was rebuilt in 1991, and at that time the trees were green. Over time, they have bleached out to an autumn shade. Hmmmmm! How’s that for having seasons in your diorama!

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This photo shows the interior of the “Metropole” hotel. The top floor being Patton’s quarters with his valet in attendance. The third floor is the “War Room”, The second is a mezzanine, and the first floor lobby. Click on image to enlarge.

An overall shot of the diorama.

This is a photo of the German P.O.W.s being marched to the rear. Remember the time frame when this was built and there were only plastic figures from Tamiya, etc., and a few metal companies that produced WW II figures, such as Belgo. If I remember correctly, I could only find four German figures that could be altered to represent P.O.W.s. I used multiples of those four and altered them to the 17 figures in the column. Lots of converting!

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Patton in his M-20. The figure was converted from a Tamiya Generals set. I converted him with a trench coat and worked with several photos to resculpt his face.

I always wanted to see a column of Shermans in miniature, and this gave me the chhance to do it! I always listen to war movies as I build and I remember at the time I came up with this idea I was listening to “A Bridge Too Far” when the theme was playing and the Shermans were going over the bridge. Click on image to enlarge.

In the summer of 1991, VLS moved to Lone Star Industrial Park to our new building I had built specifically for our needs. The movers inadvertently set the Legacies diorama on the sidewalk for about 4 hours in a 90 degree heat. The sun melted everything made of plastic, which, of course, included all the vehicles and most of the figures. It also melted the plastic used in the structures and even covering the streets.

After crying a lot I went back to work rebuilding. I added another 50% of space to it, all new vehicles and figures, rebuilt all the buildings, walls and bridges, plus added another bridge and another building. I also made a far bank on the canal with a WW I monument. I built a French river tug, sculpted a Doberman Pincher to go with the German policemen. As I rebuilt it, I backdated it from 1945 to 1940, this time with the conquering Germans instead of the Americans. I changed it to give myself a challenge. I would have been bored to simply rebuild it as it was.

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I replaced Patton with a German General in a Mercedes Staff car, also including the motorcycle escorts.

Here in this overall shot, you can see the additional 50% that was added to the previously square diorama. Click on image to enlarge.

The French Gendarmerie was converted to an employment office to recruit Frenchmen to work in the Reich. The POWs in the other version was replaced with a German infantry column ogling a French tart while being watched by a member of the SS security. The only figure to survive the nuclear holocaust was a figure I have always called “Pierre”. In the first version, I converted him from a Winston Churchill figure, added a beret, and made him a civilian. I used him in this one as well, he is on the far right, with the white coat, standing in front of the Cafe de la Paix.

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This is a shot of one of my favorite angles of the diorama. The water in the canal was made using a flat surface, painting the edges with Matt 29 earth, (Humbrol), then cloud painting with French Artillery Green, also Humbrol. When dry, I gave it a heavy coat of polyurethane clear, then, finally, took a fine brush and painted in the ripples in the water with Humbrol clear!

The interior of the hotel was also remodeled. The top floor being the commanding general’s quarters, (The general and a “Friend” are in quarters! Third floor offices, the mezzanine with added stained glass windows made using a fine magic marker and transparent colored acrylic paint.

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The “New” Legacies, called Legacies II, Twilight of the third, (French), Republic.

Bob standing beside the massive diorama Legacies II, The Twilight of the Third Republic to give the viewer an idea of the size of his Superdioramas..

Definitely click on this image to enlarge.

And that’s the story of how two dioramas called Legacies came to be.