Bob Letterman

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(08) The Winds of War

August 29th, 2012 by admin

Explanation; SD indicates Superdiorama.

Back in the late 60s, early 70s, I had been modeling for more than 30 years, mostly airplanes and model cars. Then I discovered Tamiya armor in a Ben Franklin store. The store manager was a modeler and convinced me to try one. At the time, most kits were 99 cents and one of the Tamiya kits was $5.00 That was a lot of money when as a cop, I was making $10K a year. I did and the rest is history.

In this photo taken in the late 70s, you can see the planes on the table, but if you look behind me on the shelves, there is all that Tamiya armor.

Anyway, I started to build a diorama. I had never seen one in person, but I had seen a few in Military Models, the now defunct California magazine. I built a desert scene of the Afrika korps, and a Russian village, both were crude. Then I built a German village. I had spent time there in the army and on subsequent trips there with my wife Susan. A non=modeler friend came by one day and seemed amazed at the buildings I had made from cardboard, I decided I would build a “large” diorama of a Bavarian city. It was a major undertaking as there simply wasn’t that much military models and figures available.

Then I decided it would be 8 feet X 4 feet in size. (I never knew that wasn’t ordinary). So much had to be scratched and I used a lot of 1/32nd scale cars and figures. In January, 1985, I was in a hobby shop in St. Louis and a clerk there asked what I was building as I was buying a lot of kits. I explained it to him and he seemed amazed at it’s size. I invited him out to see it, we became great friends and Wes Bradley told me I should enter it in competition, especially as the International Plastic Modeler’s Association was having a convention in St. Louis the following summer just by coincidence.

Long story short, I entered it, won and all the newspapers and TV stations in St. Louis covered the show. A guy I later came to know well, Shep Paine, was the head judge. There were 1500 entries and a fledgeling publisher, Fine Scale Modeler, was planning to publish it’s first issue and the Editor, Bob Hayden was there and asked to publish an article on my diorama that I called “The Winds of War”. I agreed.

There was also another man I would become close friends with, Lewis Pruneau, had entered a scratch railway gun and lost. He would return later with a scratch 1/35th scale Dora and blow them all away.

The FSM magazine cover.

After that, there were magazines all over the world that published articles. Japan, Germany, Italy, England and France. After modeling all those years, I had suddenly became a well known modeler in even foreign countries. I didn’t grasp the gravity at first, but then it came to me. I began competing in Europe and I decided to start a company selling models and I could write off the expenses of our travel! I named it “Warwinds Militaria and Hobby Limited”. Hey, I had big plans! :-)

Warwinds eventually became The VLS Corporation and became one of the most famous model companies in the world. I digressed, back to that diorama. I had collectors wanting to buy it from me but I refused. Then, in 1989 I sold the first diorama I ever built. After that, I made a practice to never sell my work again and have never regretted it. The collector simply bugged me for so many years I finally gave in. I still regret it because it meant so much to me and Susan. Back then, the amount of money he offered me was extremely hard to resist. Seriously, The diorama was not very good at all, (Remember your first project), but it was significant in so many ways. At the time I remember being really excited about it. It made the covers of model magazines all over the world, what magazines there were at the time. It was on display for years at the Soldier’s Memorial Museum in St. Louis.

Although the quality is embarrassingly poor by today’s standards, it was built in the early seventies and when finally publicly shown, there had never been anything like it in size. Also, back in those days, there was only one how to book, no PE, no resin, I had never heard of drybrushing or washes. The hobby at that time was practically a barren desert. The only figures available back then were Tamiya very poor quality plastic figures and some Monogram race car figures that I converted. All vehicles except an Opel Blitz, Kubelwagen and motorcycles were model cars in 1/32nd scale. Compared to today, it was like doing brain surgery with stone knives and bear claws!

I started building this 40 years ago!

The collector had recently read about my finding all those old photographs and I had told him long ago I had absolutely no photos of my first diorama. He sent these to me today. Don’t laugh, just remember your first attempts at this or that. The dio is 8 feet X 4 feet in size. All the rooms in all the windows had little vignettes goin on, some very risque!

The period was in 1938, just prior to the war. I know about the Book and TV movie of the same name, but, honestly, the book was probably out and the movie wasn’t until several years later. The name was just a coincidence. Also, At the first show I took it to, a few people thought I was some kind of Neo-nazi! I was simply recreating history in miniature.

The huge building at the rear was loosely based on the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, (Main train station). OMG, check out the lychen on both the tree and as grass. Nobody had ever heard of static grass back then! I did make a clear resin pond. Absolutely cutting edge technology back then. Little did I know then that soon resin products would become a major part of my life.

I connected with a very old friend recently who had these pictures she took back in 1981. As I no longer have the diorama or many pictures, I’ll post these. I started this long before any aftermarket products were available. Pretty crude by today’s standards, but the modeling world’s reaction to it back then changed my life forever.

I remember I didn’t know what dry brushing or washes meant back then. I achieved the weathered look by using furniture antiquing stain.

A doctor’s office. There was a hot babe coming out of the shower in another window, but she took the one with the dude.

The Party Headquarters with all the Hitler associates on the landing.

The Government building with the Nazi flags flying. There were three hundred miniature grain of wheat bulbs that lighted it in the dark.

The Train Station.

The Tunnel under the river.

And, that’s the story of how I got involved in the modeling world after building a single diorama! :-).