This story begins way back in 1945, 71 years ago. I was born four years earlier, before Pearl Harbor. My father, as so many of his generation, joined the army immediately after Pearl Harbor, and was sent to the Pacific. He saw action in all the major land battles of the Pacific War. His first two experiences in combat were at the age of 17. In May, 1945, Dad and a Filipino scout were going door to door in Leyte, The Philippines, searching for Japanese. At one house, a Filipino woman was hiding a Japanese Colonel in a trap door under the floor. After searching and finding nothing, they were walking out the front door when the officer came up through the trap door and shot Dad in the back. The Filipino scout killed the colonel with a blast from his Thompson submachine gun. Dad was taken to Hawaii and subsequently back to O’Reilly general hospital in his home town of Springfield, Missouri. He stayed there recovering from his wounds until July when he was released.
001a. Dad and his buddy who saved his life, a Filipino Army Scout. I never knew his name.
He was then given leave. I lived with my mother and I distinctly remember her picking me up in the back yard where I was playing, took me inside and cleaned me up. She dropped me off at my maternal grandparents where Dad was to pick me up.
Soon, a Yellow cab pulled up in front and out stepped the tallest man I had ever seen. (I was only 8 months old when Dad went to the Pacific, so I had no recollection of him whatsoever). He was in his khaki summer uniform, lots of ribbons and aviator’s sunglasses and three stripes up and three down, a master sergeant! He was 6′ 3″ tall at a time when the average American soldier was 5′ 7″. I went home with him to my paternal grandmother’s restaurant she owned and lived above in an apartment, never to return to my mother. They divorced shortly after and Dad was given custody. As, at the time, he had decided to be a professional soldier, I spent my youth with my grandmother and grandfather.
What has all this to do with models and a museum?
That same summer, Dad took me in tow and walked about a city block to my first hobby shop. I was mesmerized when we entered. So many cool things, I couldn’t focus. He bought a 1/8th scale balsa and tissue model Grumman F4F Wildcat, plus glue, airplane dope and some silk which he preferred over tissue paper. For weeks after, I sat in a chair beside him and watched the plane come to life. It was then and there i became addicted to a hobby that, now at age 75, I still love as much as I did then. I soon started building on my own and continued throughout my life, with only a brief intermission during my teen years after discovering the babes were good for more interesting things than just pulling their pigtails. I even built models during my stint in the army, and switched into high gear after being discharged in 1962.
Until I was in my late 20s, I had only entered one competition when I was a kid. There was an adult model airplane event in a large tent on the outskirts of town in the summer of 1950. My grandmother heard about it, took me there as she had no doubts I would win. (She was a typical Jewish mother except she wasn’t Jewish and she was my grandmother)! I’ll never know how it happened, but I won the grand prize. My little 1/48th scale Aurora MIG-15, built as poorly as any 9 year old you would have imagined, I strongly suspect my win was simply due to the graciousness of the other adult contestants. As a result, I was interviewed on television, KTTS TV, in glorious black and white and on a screen so tiny, it made an I-pad look like a 60 incher. It was taped and shown later. We had to go to some friend’s house as we didn’t have a TV at the time. The segment was full of static, but, hey! I was on TV, Dude!!! A really big deal back then!!
As I was an avid custom car and hot rod teenager, my passion in the early 60s was model cars. I was always a closet modeler, my friends never understanding why I preferred to sit at home and “play” with what they perceived as toys, rather than other activities. I married Susan in January, 1966, and we moved to St. Louis. I have so many memories of modeling on our kitchen table, covered with newspapers to avoid Susan’s dread of my paints and glue. I did it strictly because I loved doing it! Then, F.W. Woolworth’s, (The WalMart of those days), held a national model car contest in 1967 and Susan, (My new Jewish Mom), talked me into entering. I entered two 1/25th scale model cars, there were more than a hundred thousand entries in that contest nationwide! I kept moving up from local to regional to national and finally, I won first and third place. The grand prize was a new 1967 Yamaha motorcycle and hundreds of dollars in kits among other things. I couldn’t believe it! We were pretty poor back then, I sold it and we were able to keep our heads above water for months with that cash!
I had been a street cop for all those years, and between work, overtime, court time and going to college carrying 16 hours a semester, I also had a few part time security jobs to make ends meet. Obviously, Susan and I didn’t get to see a lot of each other. Then, in late 1979, my partner, Joe Mokwa, (who went on to be Chief of Police after I retired), and I were called to the Intelligence unit. There they advised us they had confirmed five contracts for considerable amounts of money on our lives from pissed off Heroin kingpins. They told us our street cop days were over! The department could no longer be responsible. We had been together for 13 years. In the press we were known as The Hippie Cops! It was very sad for both of us. Joe went to the Intelligence unit and I went to the prosecutor’s Special Investigation Unit, (SIU), investigating white collar crime. We are still like brothers and always will be. Throughout those years, St. Louis had the most crimes per capita than any other city in America. It was more like being a combat soldier than a cop. The neighborhood kids called us Starskey and Hutch!
001b. The Hippie Cops, Me, (left), and Joe on the right. 1977.
001c. Me, back in the Hippie cop days.
I hated it!!! It was a 40 hour a week desk job. We investigated things like voter fraud, which was a bi-annual activity, and business crime. Boring! A job for an accountant, not a street cop! However, it did give me a lot more time with Susan and that was great. I was also able to do a lot more modeling than I ever had. I continued on my college degrees and ended up with two Master’s degrees and later graduated Law school.
001d. Law School I.D.
My modeling continued, and again, I never knew anybody who shared this strange hobby throughout all those years. Back in 1975, I had fallen two stories from a rooftop and fractured my spine, I was off work for a couple of months. During that time, I began experimenting with cardboard buildings to use in dioramas. My cop partner had a brother who lived across the street from me named John Levan. He was the first to show any interest in those buildings. He wasn’t a modeler but he thought they looked really cool, so I continued building them and eventually started “The Wind’s of War” diorama that started it all! John is still a good friend although he now lives in Sarasota, Florida. In 1981, I met Wes Bradley who worked at THE best St. Louis hobby shop. He was a terrific salesman and we became friends, eventually best friends. Then he asked me what i was doing with all the models and accessories I bought there. I told him I was building a diorama. When I said it was 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, he, (probably laughing like hell under his breath), asked to see it. He came to the house, saw it and then proceeded to tell me that St. Louis had been chosen that year, 1982, to host the International Plastic Modeler’s Society’s National convention, (IPMS), and that I absolutely had to enter.
He took me to my first model club meeting, I became a member, and then cracked down in order to finish it in time for the competition in Late July. I called my diorama, “The Winds of War”, not having heard of the book of the same name nor the later TV Miniseries with Robert Mitchum. During that period, I met three very important people in my life. Wes Bradley as mentioned, (A current MA member), and who would become the very first VLS employee. Also, a fellow competitor, Lewis Pruneau. Lewis had entered a scratch built 1/35th German 1/35th Railway gun that was very impressive to me, Susan and Wes, but it didn’t place. It was also his first competition. We also became close friends, and he worked at VLS for several years. There was this guy that everybody seemed to regard as a celebrity. I learned he was the head judge. I had bought the book, “How to Build Dioramas” and was totally in awe of the author’s talent, but I never connected the head judge and Shep Paine, the author. until later.
My diorama, The Winds of War, to my shock, won big and a lot of publicity ensued, not only in America, but from all around the world. In hindsight, it was like fate. The more important articles that resulted were the cover of Fine Scale magazine, their second issue, and Tamiya Japan magazine and lessor publications from Italy, Germany, England and Spain. Later, I learned that my diorama had been the center of a controversy during the judging, and Shep Paine settled it by saying, “Yes, it has some flaws, but can any of you even imagine the work that went into this thing”? Had I never met Wes, and never entered that competition, and had Shep never been there, Would there have ever been a VLS or a Museum? I seriously doubt it!
001e. Susan and I during the prosecuting attorney years.
001f. (L to R). Me, Wes Bradley and Lewis Pruneau taken in 2011!
002. The Winds of War Diorama, now a 35 year old antique!
002a. Fine Scale Modeler, february, 1983.
After that, things moved rapidly. I started going to Model shows and conventions in Europe as well as America. More awards and more notoriety. The following year, I started a mail order company in my basement called “Warwinds Militaria and hobby, LTD.” Naw! That isn’t a pretentious name at all! I was importing model items I had discovered in Europe and England that had never before been imported to the states. It continued to grow. Susan, Wes and I would travel throughout the states on weekends to model shows and set up tables, (Booths), and sell our products. I would also enter the competitions. More awards and more notoriety.
By March, 1984, we were attending shows everywhere. We started a convention in St. Louis at the Kiel Opera center. It was the largest model show I have ever seen in America. Called Hobby Expo 1984, it was hosted by Me, Wes Bradley and two other guys. We had the scale model people, The model RR people, The RC airplane, car and boat people, The Dollhouse people, we had re-enactors, it was really something. Thousands attended. We used a percentage of the proceeds to buy model kits, paint and glue for the patients of the Veteran’s Administration hospital!
003. Hobby Expo ’84. A portion of the massive vendor room. It was 30, 000 square feet in size and it was packed with vendors!
Lewis had been busy as well and he scratch built a 1/35th scale model of the German giant Rail gun, Dora. That was 25 years before it was released as a $1000 dollar kit. It also made the cover of FSM.
In July, 1984 Susan and I, with Wes and some other guys to help with the tables including Lewis, (By then, we were always the largest vendor at the shows we attended), at the Atlanta IPMS Nationals, and i met François Verlinden and Jos Stok. They were looking for an American distributor for Verlinden’s plaster buildings and his tiny book line. We already had a trip planned the following week to Europe and scheduled a stop in Lier, Belgium to talk terms with my prospective business partners. We met, created a temporary agreement, and less then a year later, we all became business partners. The VLS corporation was formed for Verlinden, Letterman and Stok. We had moved into our very first commercial facility three months earlier.
003a. Susan and I in 1984.
004. The first VLS commercial space. No. 17 Cross Keys center.
005. The second VLS Building. No. 25 Cross Keys center, The original seven employees. left to right, Lewis Pruneau, me, Wes Bradley, Tom Gerringer, Judy Baggett, Don Wardlaw, and Jerry Schulte. Judy Baggett and I were exactly the same age. Born on the same date the same year. She worked for VLS for 4 years. She passed away two years ago.
005a. Some of the VLS crew at our booth at the IPMS Nationals in Washington D.C. clowning around. Damn, everybody looked so young!
005b. Lewis at #25 Cross Keys center with his “Riverine: and U-505″ dioramas.
In 1984, Susan, Wes and i went to Europe to find new products. At that time, vacuum-formed aircraft and even armor were very popular. You have to remember, the models produced in plastic then were not anything near the variety of today. In all, VLS eventually acquired 23 lines of vacu-form kits, the vast majority of which are no longer in business today. One of our stops was in the small village in Germany of Albstadt, to visit Richard Frank, of Frank-Modelbau. We came home with an exclusive import agreement, and Wes, to the complete surprise of Susan and I, had found true love! Richard’s Daughter Gabi, had caught Wes’s eye. She later came to visit and shortly after that, Wes moved to Germany. It, unfortunately, didn’t last long and he was back home in a few months.
005c. Frank-Modelbau Hobby shop.
005d. Wes and Gabi in Albstadt, Germany.
Also, in 1984, I entered the competition at The Model Engineer exhibition in Wembley Conference Center, Wembley, England. Then the largest model show in the world. A week long show, hundreds of thousands of visitors attended annually. I won a Gold medal, becoming only the second American to do so, and was presented the award by Lord Romsey, the 8th Baron Brabourne and best friend of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. It was quite an honor.
006. Left to right. Baron Brabourne, Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Baroness Brabourne.
The Prosecuting attorney of St. Louis, George Peach and I, had became good friends as my last assignment with the St. Louis P.D. was the S.I.U., Special Investigation Unit, out of his office. We had travelled to Europe with our wives and he knew the curator of The St. Louis Soldier’s Museum. The next thing I knew the curator asked to see the diorama, and afterwards asked me to let him display it in the east wing of the museum. It stayed there an entire year.
All the events above were reported in St. Louis newspapers and TV channels. I knew Vince Schoemehl, the mayor of St. Louis and he proposed a project. The city would provide a brand new building on Laclede’s Landing, a tourist district adjacent to the Gateway Arch, if I would acquire the needed displays for a miniature museum and manage it. At that time, I had a few dioramas and models, but nothing even near what would be required. I was still a detective for the SLPD, as well as running the fledgeling VLS. After a great deal of thought, I finally told him I really appreciated the offer, but just couldn’t handle it at that time. Things like this were happening more and more and I could tell that I would have to retire shortly in order to handle what was coming.
Many things happened in 1984. I finished up Legacies, Lewis finished The Paris Gun and Verlinden Publications published Superdioramas”!
006a. The cover of Superdioramas.
006c. The “Three Musketeers”. 1985.
007. The first version of Legacies featured in Superdioramas.
008. The V-80 experimental U-Boot diorama by Pruneau featured in Superdioramas.
008a. The Paris Gun by Lewis.
From there, we began growing so fast, the buildings I leased would become too small within months. I leased a building in Westport Industrial center with 5000 square feet. During the three year lease, we kept adding adjacent buildings until 1990. As there were no more adjoining buildings, I decided to move and this time, I wanted my own building. We bought 3 acres in Lone Star Industrial Park, hired a contractor and built a 16,000 square foot facility. Within two years, we added a long, narrow rear section bringing it up to 26,000 square feet.
009. Westport Industrial center. VLS’ third building in Creve Coeur, Mo. with the 15 employees in front.
009a. Long shot of the Westport building.
009b. Interior shots of the Westport building and a photo of some of the ordering desks.
010. Ditto, aerial photograph.
Meanwhile, Lewis, in addition to doing commission pieces for VLS, was cranking out dioramas to enter at shows. Here are three he completed while at the Westport location. “The Guns of Corregidor”, “Carrier Deck Crash” and the famous “U-505″.
010a. Our booth at the RCHTA national Trade fair, Chicago. It was an annual event we never missed. Each year, we would take various dioramas that would eventually be part of the museum for display. The three sections of the booth shown here were Verlinden Productions, Verlinden, Letterman and Stok, inc., and Legacy Distribution.
VLS wasn’t like a business in terms of employees. We were more like family. We partied together, every year we went to different cities in America and Canada and visited our hobby shops. It was some wonderful times. Here are some of the guys at our house for dinner, then one of our annual trips was to Manhattan.
010b. At our house for dinner. Judy and Milt Baggett, Wes, taking the photo, Lewis, Tom Gerringer with a girlfriend, me and Susan in the kitchen.
010c. Times Square.
010d. Me at my desk in Westport trying to look all businesslike!.
011. The fourth, newly built and owned VLS building in Lone Star Industrial Park, O’Fallon, Mo. 1990.We now had 38 employees at this location and there were a similar number in Verlinden’s brand new building in the Ondernamerstraat Industrial Street in Lier, Belgium.
011a. Here at the groundbreaking ceremony was, left to right, Wes Bradley, Susan, Tom Gerringer, Khamini Bhatt, our in-house accounting manager, Me, Jay Steinberg, our real estate manager, The Mayor of O’Fallon, The Bank president and the Building contractor.
012. Verlinden’s facility in Belgium. 1990.
012a. I had started a buyers club in 1986 I called the “Master’s Group”. It had grown quickly and we had a membership of just under 3000 members already and they were from all over the world. In 1989, I decided to produce a convention for the members with a new twist. No judges. I had read letters from the world over about the bias in many conventions. The judges with their magnifying glasses and dental mirrors who had never built a model in their lives were a sore spot with contestants everywhere. So, among the original rules there were to be no judges and the entries would be rated by the contestants themselves. It worked and since, I have heard of other shows using that system. Mastercon is now held in Dallas Texas under a new name, “Eagle Quest” and still has some of the original guys attending. I attended in 2015 and we had a great time!
012b. Here is the head table at Mastercon III. The photo was cropped somewhere along the line, but seated, left to right was; Shep Paine, Lewis Pruneau, François Verlinden, me, Wes Bradley, Ernie Petet, the CEO of the Testor’s Corporation, A representative from Monogram, Bob Hayden, editor-in-chief of Fine Scale Modeler and several more.
012c. Mastercon was a “big Deal” in my life. The people involved, the “Old Guard” (What we called the Regulars at Mastercon), became lifelong friends.These are photos taken at Mastercons.
012d. Bob Hayden, the original editor of Fine Scale Modeler at one of the Mastercons.
012e. Gil Gonsoulin, a regular, has never missed a single Mastercon, up to and including today. Him and his wife Sydney have became close friends with Susan and I. He is seen here accepting an award from Shep paine.
012f. Don Kanaval, seen here with Susan at an early Mastercon! He rarely missed a show!
012g. François, me and Joe Mokwa, my police partner of more than a decade, who went on to be the youngest Chief of Police after I retired.
012h. Gil Godfrey, another regular. He was easy to spot as he was 6′ 10″ tall and weighed in the neighborhood of 400 pounds. He was a wonderful, gentle giant! Gill passed away at a very young age in the nineties. Afterward, each year, there was an award for the most sociable guy at each show. We called it The Gil Godfrey award.
012i. Lewis and Shep at one of the master cons. Shep attended four or five as a Guest of Honor!
012j. In better times, at a Mastercon, I was telling jokes with the Verlindens during a break in the activities.
012k. Finally, one of the three day shows over, I am exhausted but happy with the turnout!
Both businesses were doing well and François and I had became close friends as well as business partners..
013. Me and Verlinden on the narrowest street in Lier, Belgium.
013a. Susan, François and his wife Lilliane, Times Square. 1990.
In 1989, Susan and i went to Japan for the annual Shizouka Trade fair. We visited Verlinden production’s Japanese Distributor, Mr. Imura, (Imurasan), wined and dined him in a famous Italian restaurant no less. He sent one of his employees with us on the bullet train to Shizouka, stayed with us and brought us back. He wouldn’t allow either of us to lift a suitcase or anything else for that matter. His name was “Kato”. Here is photo taken by Kato of us with Freddie Leung, the founder of Dragon Models and CEO. Freddie owned many model companies then and even more today. Freddie is in black with his back to the camera, facing me.
It was at this time, I was contacted by a company that produced the TV series, “The Entrepreneurs”, for PBS broadcasting. They wanted to do a one hour show on VLS, the Museum and everything in general. It took days and we were all glad to get back to normal after they left. It was aired several times on PBS as well as placed in libraries in video form for rental all over the country. I heard a lot of feedback about it, all positive!
In 1990, after moving into our new building, Ralph Koebbemann, of northern Illinois, who I knew from The Chicago Figure Show, asked me to be partners with him, merge our two collections and create the world’s first scale model museum. By then, I had acquired a large collection, plus a considerable collection of uniform militaria. Ralph’s collection was incredible and huge and I finally realized a miniature museum was now a viable proposition. I played it safe and agreed as long as we could have it in the new VLS facility so I could run it without going back and forth to another location. We made room for it in the new building and it was opened to the public on Labor Day, 1993. We held the grand opening during Mastercon III, with 600 in attendance. The mayor of O’Fallon was the one chosen to pull the lanyard to fire a miniature cannon, breaking the ribbon.
014. Left to right. Ralph, The Mayor and me on the far right.
015. Ralph and Shep Paine. At the Grand Opening.
016. Shep Paine, Lewis Pruneau and François Verlinden, grand opening, 1993.
During those years, we travelled the world, dealing with manufacturers from places we had never been. We also took our employees to Canada, Las Vegas, Manhattan, Europe, Kansas City, California, even on cruises.
016a. On a cruise with Tom and Tessie Gerringer, 1990.
It remained at the VLS location for four years. Then, my Belgian partner made a decision to move to America. His proposal was that the production portion of the business produced great profits but they were irratic. They were up and down one month from the other. On the other hand, the profits from the mail order/distribution company were smaller but very steady. After much discussion, I finally agreed. Then I realized that not only would I have to move the museum but a building addition would be necessary as well. Construction on the new wing began shortly. Then, news had made it;s way to the nearby city of Str. Charles. The mayor and city council requested a tour of the museum and, afterwards, they made a proposal. There was a 160 year old building on Main street in the touristy Historic section and they would buy the building, totally gut it and restore it. The renovations eventually cost them more than a half million dollars. They brought in a museum specialist from L.A. who designed it and the lighting. The exterior was restored, but couldn’t be modernized as it was registered historic landmark.
In the meantime, three semis moved the museum artifacts, dioramas and models to an underground storage facility where the three trailers were stored for eight months while the building was being renovated. In the spring of 1996, Verlinden and family moved to O’Fallon, bought homes and then the containers from Belgium began arriving. Now the businesses were merged and the building, even with the new addition, was bulging with equipment and inventory. Verlinden was right about the move. It cut costs, allowed prices to come down and was far more efficient. Profits surged. As François was now in the same building, I talked to Ralph and we agreed to have Verlinden become a partner in the Kole Foundation, which was the legal entity that held the assets of the museum. He bought into the partnership. He had quite a collection himself albeit all his own dioramas, but that simply made the museum even more interesting.
In late October, 1996, the building in St. Charles was finally ready to move in. Herb Rigg and Joe Porter, who worked at VLS for years, spent a full 30 days with Ralph and I at the museum beginning the 7th of November. We had a huge amount of work ahead of us. We built a beautiful shadowbox tunnel to display all the Shep Paine items plus other shadow boxes from the Chicago show that Ralph had purchased. My Napoleonic shadowbox, The Limits of Glory ,had been finished and published during this time and was also added. The trucks came and unloaded their contents. I made numerous trips in the van moving the Verlinden collection to the museum. We were finally ready to open on Pearl Harbor Day. It received rave reviews in the newspapers and TV stations. Over the following years, it was visited by people from all over the world. We had put a large map of the world in one of the hallways and a table with a visitor book to sign in, plus a box of short pins with plastic tips for visitors to place on their cities. We had visitors from almost every country in the world, even places as unlikely as Paraguay and Pakistan. We had four employees to run it and the gift shop. It was managed by Tom O’dell during the time it was in St. Charles.
017. The 160 year old building that housed the 10,000 square foot Miniature World Museum.
018. Ditto, the right hand side of the building housed the shadowbox tunnel.
019. The interior.
021. One of the three corridors of The Shadow box tunnel.
021a. The Brochure we had printed for the museum. It was much larger than illustrated and was a trifold.
The Museum stayed at the St. Charles location for some time. It received great publicity, including being certified by Triple A as a great American attraction. Meanwhile, in 1999, although Francois and I had never had any problems of significance. There were problems developing between other factions of the Verlinden Productions unit and the distribution. It grew worse and worse until I finally decided to end the partnership. At the time, I believed it was simply a cultural problem. We both lawyered up and spent a year only speaking when it was necessary. In January, 1999, I bought a new 40,000 square foot facility in Lincoln Country Industrial Park, about 20 miles from our current location. We had a final meeting at a bank conference room, with attorneys and accountants and split the company.. Joe Porter was assigned to make the transition as smooth as possible with an emphasis on as little down time as possible. We began moving on April 15th, with half the employees in the old location and the other half at the new one. That was on a thursday, and that afternoon, the first of 23 semis arrived and began loading. The new building had the warehouse floor marked with chalk and numbered corresponding to a shelf in the old location. We had crews disconnecting the shelf units at one place, the movers wrapping them in a clear plastic material, still loaded, and delivering them the same way. At the other end, another crew unwrapped them and reconnected them in place. Other crews were arranging the offices and techs were connecting the computers to the networks. By the following Sunday evening, we were operational.
Part of the separation contract included me trading my shares in the Letterman Group, the real estate holding company that owned the O’Fallon building, for Verlinden’s shares in the Kole Foundation, the legal entity that owned the Museum.
The museum was operating in the red. It was partially due to my inexperience in operating a museum and the ignorance of an idiom of which I wasn’t aware. “Locals do not go to their own attractions”. St. Charles was a tourist location, but, in Missouri, with it’s freezing winters, only attracted tourists in the summer. Beginning in late April, it would boom. We did well from then until September when school started. Then it stopped dead. We would lose money from September to April due to lack of traffic. The city had insisted we stay open year around. I tried to change their mind and let us close it down during the winter, but they were adamant. This resulted in my subsidizing it annually to the tune of about $15K. Not a lot, but, after awhile, If not for the one dollar a year rent the city charged us, it would have been much more than that. My hope, initially, was that it could pay for itself during the summer and have enough left over to cover it in the winter. That was not to be. I finally advised the City council I was closing it. InAugust of 2001, it was moved to the New VLS building. Verlinden had taken his portion in 1999, and now Ralph sent down trucks to take his part back to Rockford, Illinois. It was sad, I hated doing it, but it had became clear it simply couldn’t support itself year round in the location that was a tourist town a few months out of the year! It was sad, especially to Ralph. It had been his dream. There was simply no other way.
It was displayed in the new building in the east wing of the warehouse.
022. The new VLS Building in Lincoln County Industrial Park, preparing to construct the sign, flagpoles, security, Paving the parking lot, etc.
023. The museum was located just to the left of this photo in the VLS warehouse
At a Mastercon in 2001, I invited the Editor of the British magazine, Military Modelling, to visit the show. I had met Ken Jones at the very first Euromilitaire. He agreed and we almost instantly became good friends. In 2002, we invited Ken and his wife Sandra to take a tour of the old south in our motorhome. They agreed and we went on a two week vacation to remember. Since then they have became close friends, we have taken trips together often. In fact, this May, 2017, we are taking another one to Kemah Texas and to the Florida panhandle, with many stops between. I have contacted several modelers along the way, we’ll attend a local model show in Pensacola, and friends along the Gulf coast. We also hope to meet up with Moon Puppy and others in Atlanta as well.
Here are some photos of Ken and Sandra Jones.
023a. In Gulfport, Mississippi, 2002.
023b. Here we are in Kansas City with modelersalliance’s own Mr. T, (Terry Barrow). 2006.
023c. Susan and Sandra, 2012.
023d. The four of us with Chris Mrosko in St. Louis county.2011.
023e. In the CRM Hobby Shop, St. Louis, with Chris Merseal, the owner, 2013.
023f. Our first get-together, 2002. in the VLS lobby.
023g. With Modelers Alliance’s own Alex De Leon in the VLS production manager’s office. 2005. Chris Mrosko took the photo and, as usual, the guns were his idea!
023h. At the Euromilitarie show with mutual friend, the late Lynn Sangster.
023i. The last of our six big diesel motorhomes we had between 1987 and 2012.
VLS and the museum remained at that location until 2007. In August of 2006, I received a call from an old friend, Chuck Harransky, then manager of MMD/Squadron in Dallas, Texas. I hadn’t heard from him in some time. I asked him how things were going at Squadron and how was Jerry Campbell doing, the owner. Chuck then told me that Mike McMahon had bought out Jerry and Jerry was living in Europe. After small talk, I mentioned how lucky Jerry had been. I told Chuck that I was 65 and was thinking of retirement. Several days later, he called back and asked if it would be OK for him and his new boss to attend Mastercon. I had a hunch he wanted to buy me out. They came, I gave them the grand tour and when we returned to my office, he said he was really excited at the prospect of buying VLS. He had been to the Lone Star building and met Verlinden, with the intention of buying both businesses, but had decided against buying VP, and never mentioned why.
Long story short, I drew up the contracts and other legal documents, his lawyers approved them and the closing date was set for January 1st, 2007. In the agreement, Susan and i would stay on for 6 months and manage VLS until it could all be moved to Texas. I put the building on the market and in June, just in time, sold it to a gigantic plumbing contractor with 30 crews.
January 1st, 2007. Me and Mike McMahon shaking hands after signing the contract ending my ownership of VLS.
024. The real estate brochure of the VLS Lincoln County Industrial building.
Suddenly, everything had worked out to perfection, when i realized, “What am I gonna do with the museum”? Squadron had purchased every asset VLS owned. The museum and everything in my workshop belonged to me. I called a friend who was a building contractor and had done work on industrial buildings for me over the years. I asked him to build a 1400 square foot “garage” in the rear of my house. We had more than an acre of land behind us so there was plenty of room. It was built, heated and air conditioned, completely finished inside by the time I had to move it out of the building. Once again, me, Susan, Wes Bradley and another ex-employee, Steve Hoard, spent a month and a half hanging everything and arranging it in that space. It was large enough to easily put 10 cars inside and we made it work. City ordinance limited us to the 1400 square feet for any detached garage.
025. The museum building behind our house.
028. The Interior.
029. The other side.
We lived in this house for 15 years from 2001 to 2016. We hosted many groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, seniors, veterans groups and a ton of modelers, both clubs and several small groups who asked for a tour, not to mention literally hundreds of single or couples. Then, in 2009, I discovered a daughter I had that I never knew existed. We grew very close over the following seven years, she lived in our old home town and, eventually, we decided to move back after 50 years in St. Louis so we could be close to her and her husband. She was 47 years old and i was 68 when i met her for the first time. We had the DNA tests and were a perfect match.
029a. My daughter Gail taken on a visit with Lewis Pruneau in Ste. Genevieve, his home town.
030. Here is a photo of me and her taken at the Springfield Japanese gardens and my Doberman, Evening Star. Gail was 52 at the time.
030a. In 2012, Susan and Gail and I met Wes and his daughter, Alexis, and Lewis Pruneau in Lewis’ hometown of Ste. Genevieve, Mo. We spent the day touring the oldest city west of the Mississippi, went to two museums where his dioramas were featured, and had lunch at “The Brick House”. a 200 year old restaurant. It was a great time
030b. One of Lewis’ dioramas he created for the state of Missouri. It is a copy of Ste. Genevieve Missouri in 1/200th scale in the 1700s in the museum there.
030c. Throughout my life, I have been involved in many endeavors, but since a kid, I have only stayed with two of them faithfully to this day. Modeling and Power lifting. This photo was taken at age 69. Susan and I still do a mile or two a day with our dogs and go to the gym at least three times a week. On my 70th Birthday, I managed a 700 pound leg press, with a large audience I’m planning an 800 pounder for my 80th! .
We have moved 19 times in our 51 years of marriage, not counting the five moves of VLS and four moves of the Miniature World Museum. Hands down, the most difficult one of our lives was the last one from a St. Louis suburb back to our home town, Springfield, Missouri. The move involved three full sized moving vans, a semi-tractor trailer unit and nine men. We downgraded to a 3,800 square foot home from our previous 6,200 square feet n St. Louis. It had became simply too much house for Susan and I to maintain and keep clean now in our 70s! Susan and I, working by ourselves in the museum, and the occasional, much needed help from Wes Bradley, who drove down from St. Louis five times, It was finally completed in November, 2016. It is now in the lower level of our home, and there it will stay.
The following images and captions are dedicated to my late friend and partner, Ralph Koebbeman, who infected me with his lifelong dream of bringing all the best models from the best model builders in the world over to one place. Although he managed to do just that, it unfortunately, never became self-sufficient for a normal year ’round enterprise, but Ralph, if you’re up there reading this, it still exists in a smaller version, it’s on the Internet and we still have group tours for seniors, clubs, and children’s organizations.
Members of modelersalliance.com, have a standing invitation to visit, several have. No admission charges. That ended when we moved it from a commercial facility. Here is a lengthy guided tour. It begins by walking down a staircase leading to the lower level of our house.
031. The dungeon stairs.
032. Entrance to the museum.
033. The Limits of Glory shadowbox. I built this in 1998. Shep Paine had been pushing me to do a Napoleonic Superdiorama for several years. He thought a huge duo with hundreds of figures and horses, carts and wagons of Napoleon’s Grand Army retreating from Moscow in the snow would be would be killer. So did I but, at that time I was running VLS and there was no way in hell I could manage that! He sent me a big box full of reference material on the Napoleonic wars and I felt obligated to do something, so this is was my compromise. He seemed to like it a lot!
034. Ditto. The shadowbox shows a scene in Napoleon’s office at the Palace of Fontainebleau one evening in 1814, when following the defeat of his armies by those of the Sixth Coalition, Russia, Prussia, Austria and Britain, the Emperor of the French was considering abdication, and was encouraged to do so by his ‘mutinous’ Marshals who had received assurances on the retention of both rank and status if they could get Napoleon to step down. Napoleon submitted his unconditional abdication in April 1814 and went into exile, courtesy of the British, on the Island of Elba. In the room in Fontainebleau Palace, I placed Napoleon conferring with General Bertrand to the left side of his desk, which is centre stage, while behind, the marshals also confer about the Emperor’s abdication – left to right they are, Ney, MacDonald, Berthier and Oudinot. Another marshal, François Joseph Lefebvre receives an aide at the
open doorway, stage right. The whole room exudes opulence, all recreated in miniature, from scratch.
035. On the opposite wall, a collage of photos illustrating the museum’s first location.
036. The second door on the left opens into this corridor, My model room/workshop is behind the door with the sign, “Enter at your own risk”. The awards on that wall are ones given to me in the political arena. (I was never a politician but I associated with many of them).
037. This is a view down the corridor to the back wall. When I laid this out, I created corridors and “rooms” using the glass cases and the larger dioramas in order to make it all fit. This was previously a very large family room on the lower level of the house. It had very few lights, so I had a total of 36 light fixtures, plus two ceiling fans installed. Most are L.E.D.s
038. This is toward the back wall, looking back to where we first came in. The biggest job was designing and arranging, it was the more than 600 items that were hung on the walls. Some are now in storage as I ran out of wall space.
039. One of the “rooms” with some larger dioramas and an octagonal glass case.
040. The other side of the room, again with a few of the larger dioramas.
041. Toward the east side of the room. This area has the diorama that I am currently building on the right, “Logistics”.
042. As mentioned, “Logistics:”!
043. Another corridor, glass cases, more dioramas and the entrance to the museum “media room”. Details later.
044. Another created room, full of glass cases and free standing dioramas.
045. Some of the cases.
048. A glass case in the corridor.
049. Looking back to the west from that corridor.
050. Doorway to the media room. The name “Mozark” came from an old movie theater that I attended a lot as a child. It was destroyed in 1950 to make way for a department store.
051. The following are photos of the media room. There are more than 4000 DVDs and Blue Ray movies. I think I have every good war movie ever made!