Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thistle trees - getting there

A bit more progress with the trees today. Several squirts of expanding foam and half an hour with the hot glue gun later...

The next stage will be to give them a squirt or two with light green, red and yellow spray paint and do the ground work on the bases.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tree trials

Experiments with ways to create the teasel trees continue. The last time I made a batch of trees I had problems with finding a good strong adhesive to keep the flock stuck to the teasel. Spray adhesive was used, PVA was painted on, the things were even dunked in household latex paint, all to variable results. Mulling over the problem I decided to try expanding foam.
This stuff is for interior decorating and is used to fill cracks and gaps. Squirted into the crevice or cavity it expands to fill it within a few minutes. It is extremely sticky, sets quickly and reasonably hard. Note: Water kills the chemical reaction that causes the expansion, so keep the area dry when using this. I had bought a can to fill some gaps in our attic insulation, and tried it out on a teasel.

Squirting the stuff in lines up and down the teasel, I immediately rolled it on a flat dry surface until the spikes were entirely covered then rolled it again through dried tealeaves for the foliage. It was then left to one side to set. The results are not bad.

The foam filled the spaces between the spikes and hardened, rendering them less prickly. Once they're based and given a dose of yellow and red spray paint they'll look a treat.

Another experiment I'm trying is with the Woodland Scenics colored foam. I bought a pack of their Early Fall product years ago with this kind of project in mind. It survived years in storage and a house-move and I'm only now using it.

A note: If using teasels, bang the things repeatedly on a flat surface covered with newspaper or into an old Styrofoam tray like I did to get the seeds out. Do this for a few minutes, turning the teasel all the times. Do you think you have all the seeds out? Yes? Wrong. Do it again for another few minutes. Now do you think all the seeds are out? Yes? Wrong. Do it again. Okay, now the teasel's probably empty. Yes, there are that many seeds in the average thistle head.

If this stage is skipped, the seeds can germinate, resulting in odd, pale tendrils appearing out of your pristine model tree. This kind of thing might work well for games with a horror theme, but I'm not doing those...

The foam comes in a sheet form, is rather crumbly, but works when wrapped around a teasel. I applied PVA glue to the ends of the spikes and this should hold it all on without trouble.

The result looks... rather blah to be honest, but I think a judicious touch of a craft knife and red and yellow ink in places will spruce it up (pun not intended). More on the project later.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Of Books & Thistles

If I can beg the indulgence of the wargame blogging world for a few moments, I'm pleased to announce Olivia's Escape, the first of a series of YA novels co-authored by my Better Half and I is now available at Amazon.

Cool steampunk cover by the excellent Gwen Pfifer.

Olivia's Escape.

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Brown is abducted on her way home from a night out and wakes up to find herself imprisoned by a vampiric race in a dark city bathed in eternal night. Hernando, a handsome half-human slave, reveals what is intended for her – they want her blood for the upcoming festival. Together they escape, and find friends and allies in unexpected places.

Joining a resistance cell, they help plot a revolution and fall in love. Their group plans to take control of the Portal, a teleportation device that links Earth with the world of BloodDark. Getting into the City of Night is a challenge. A narrow window of opportunity opens - but what awaits them in the caverns located deep beneath the city?

Will Olivia and Hernando survive the battle? If she returns to Earth, will Olivia ever see him again?

* * * *

On to gaming...

Some time ago I planted thistles in our back garden. They have a triple advantage. The florets attract pollenating insects, the dried and chopped-up canes serve as refuges for useful insects to hibernate in over winter - and the teasels form the basis for N-scale trees. Good for a gamer on a budget.

I made a number of these in the past two years after harvesting the teasels, all in full summer leaf versions. Now this years' harvest is in and dried, I plan to make a new batch of trees in Autumn colours.

Dry teasels - some forty-odd, enough for a good size wood.

The seeds have to be shaken out. This can take some time as each teasel hold zillions of the buggers. Once emptied, I'll trim them down and put them on bases.

The general effect. A 10mm Parliamentarian cavalry troop shows the scale of the thing.

The photo above shows the kind of thing I'm aiming for, but picture it in the glorious colours of Fall. More photos as I make progress...

Monday, August 22, 2016

"Goodbye, my love, hello, Vietnam..."

My wife and I took a day trip over to Fort Jennings, Ohio this Sunday. The town is celebrating a bicentenary this year, and held 'Fort Fest' military display in a local park. The main theme was the Vietnam War, and a few veterans both human and mechanical showed up for the three day event.

First up we encountered a classic Jeep with a 75mm Pack Howitzer in tow.

Interesting enough, but my eye was immediately drawn to the Huey resting on the grass a short distance away.

The classic workhorse of the Vietnam War, the UH-1 served in many versions and variants, and is still flying today. This particular bird comes from the American Huey 369 Museum in Peru, Indiana. She began life as a UH-1D, serving as a medevac during the war. She had an eventful career, including having her skids shot off during one encounter with Charlie. One of the veterans told me a clever method was deployed to enable choppers suffering such damage to land safely - a deep and level stack of sandbags. The bird flopped down on the bags, the remains of the skids poked deep into the stack and the bird stayed upright, no problem.

She was later converted to a UH-1H model with the simple addition of a few pieces of equipment, went on to serve in the National Guard (Maine, I believe) before being retired then acquired by the preservation group. She's now in far better maintenance condition than at any time during the war.

One of her sisters gave air trips around the locality, taking off from the football field next door.

Coming up to speed...

A slight backward movement to gather momentum...
...then Whooosh! She was gone!
The classic whop-whop-whop sound of those big old blades biting the air filled the sky. The veteran told me it was quite something to hear forty or so Hueys spooling up for a mission. He also described the difficulties in cutting a landing place in thick jungle, the Huey having to slide down a virtual tube cut out of jungle growth with scant inches to spare - then repeat the process going back up. The ground effect works up to 20-30 feet, after that the chopper is riding on 'dead air,' reliant upon the power of its engine alone to take it up.

A couple more shots of the Huey on the ground, including that tiny cockpit.

Another Jeep, this one bearing the legend Wicklow. An Irish connection, perhaps?

Last up was a Sherman Easy Eight painted as General Creighton Abrams personal tank, Thunderbolt, which he used during WW2. This particular vehicle was one of 2,000 Shermans built at a plant in nearby Lima, Ohio.

The town also played host to the travelling version of the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Over fifty thousand names bear witness to the cost of that war. I managed to take a photo of the memorial just as the Huey flew over. Some of the men and perhaps women named on the Wall may well have flown on that very helicopter...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Gunboat - Finished!

Yes, after several weeks the gunboat has finally rolled down the slipway into African waters.

I applied an overall wash of sepia and black ink to weather her, then followed it up with a rough strip of darker green ink around the waterline to represent times when the gunboat pushes through more stagnant waters. The ink I diluted with water and Future polish for durability.

Once the wash had dried it did appear a bit too dark, but on the other hand these were the days before pollution control and smokeless coal. I'm sure the average Victorian-era steamboat looked a lot dirtier!

So here she is, a hard-working and hopefully hard-fighting vessel of the Scotch class, the epitome of Victorian engineering and Colonial Might.

Now I need to work out some rules for gaming with her...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Gunboat - Final touches

Another wet afternoon, and I took the opportunity to put the final touches to the gunboat.

At the moment she looks a bit too clean, so I might well weather her down with ink washes. The only thing to add now is a mounting tube for a flagpole on the rear deck so the nationality can be swapped with ease, and perhaps a pennant or two from the halyards.

During construction I idly mused on appropriate names for her. The Natural Environment Research Council's search for a name for their new survey ship generated a farce when Boaty McBoatface came out top of the online poll. It has subsequently been named RRS Sir David Attenborough, and quite right too!

I really didn't want to think in terms of Gunboaty McGunboatface, but that 'Mc' part of the name sprang an idea. Why not name the class for Highland Single Malt whisky? Although I'm no drinker, it's hard not to like names such as Dalwhinnie, Deanston, and Edradour, for instance. Perhaps the chap in charge of such things at the Admiralty has a 'whisky throat?'

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gunboat - on the home straight

After weeks without rain, the heavens opened early yesterday afternoon and we had a veritable deluge. It trailed off into steady rain that fell all afternoon and into the early evening. Since all outdoor activity was out of the question I happily settled to working on the gunboat.

The mast is now stepped, along with the smokestack. I reused the wheelhouse from the earlier gunboat with a few modifications. The glass panes looked far too large for the Victorian period (and would be dangerous when shot at!), so I divided them up with vertical bars. Shiny black iron bolts (Puffy Paint) decorate where the planks join the frame. A steam whistle (a length of dowel painted copper and the brass bit from an old ballpoint pen) rises from the roof to a good height. At the moment I'm not sure if I want the roof to be removable or not. There's a certain appeal to having figures inside, so the helmsman's face shows white through the wheelhouse windows.*

*Spike Milligan reference there. A Brownie Point to whomever knows which book of his memoirs it comes from.

Whilst everything was drying, I followed Paul's advice and set to work on a Hotchkiss 57mm revolving cannon. It's what I call a serious 'sod-off' weapon, although for simplicity's sake I made this version with three barrels and not the conventional five. It's a stubby little brute and should look effective once painted up.

Hotchkiss & Nordenfeldt, two weapons of Empire.
The barrels are short lengths of brass tubing glued together and set into a 1/4 inch long piece of drinking straw. Like most straws the plastic is quite shiny and slick, and I sanded it down so it'll take paint. I pushed a blob of Milliput into one end of the straw and embedded the ends of the barrels in it. The ammo feed is a rectangle of wood. The side bars are thin card glued in place then reinforced by a length of cotton thread wound about the breach. The mounting is a wooden bead to which I glued a small washer so it'll stick to the deck magnets.

The last steps for the upper deck are coming up. I need to rig the mast and fit two ventilators either side of the smokestack. I'm thinking of making a small skylight for the center of the deck. With luck and a following wind I should finish it all this week!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Gunboat - upper deck works

Its a hot and humid day, and I'm staying indoors in the cool, working on the gunboat a bit more.

So far the upper deck breastworks are finished. I opted for a green exterior with black iron bolts to give it that Victorian railway look. The bolts are again made by small dabs of black gloss Puffy Paint.

Upper deck before the bolts were applied.
This is a quick and easy method of making bolts.

I decided to use a couple of magnets to hold the upper deck in place. One is already serving as the base for the after upper deck gun. The other is fixed in place within the superstructure, and will hold the two small washers fixed to the underside of the deck.

A bit crude, but it'll do the job.
Next up will be the pilot house, smokestack, ventilators and mast.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Gunboat - a little more progress

Progress on the gunboat has been sporadic these past few weeks for one reason or another, but I've pressed on. So far I've added the decorative touches to the paddle-boxes. The paddle-wheel hubs are now in position ready for the paddles themselves.

I haven't yet decided whether to make the top deck removable or not. I'd prefer it to be so I can place figures along the lower deck and for ease of storage/transport. It's showing a slight but annoying tendency to warp in the odd dry summer we're having in this part of the world. Stiff wood sides should cure the warping. The gun-mount magnet is in place. I might use other magnets to hold the deck in place. 

Not much else is happening at the moment. I am being tempted by the recent flurry of Indian Mutiny articles and blog posts, and find myself looking through the Dixon Miniatures 15mm range, which looks quite nice and affordable. The scale of actions during the campaigns make the period ideal for Sharp Practice skirmish level games. We'll see if it's just another wargamer's passing fancy.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Gettysburg (III)

Here are the final photos of the Gettysburg battlefield. These cover the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Plum Run, Pickett's Charge and the High Water Mark.

On the second day, General Longstreet sent his 1st Corps against the Union left across this field and the nearby Peach Orchard. Fierce fighting raged all day. The Union III Corps was effectively destroyed trying to defend too big an area, but they prevented the Confederates from reaching the heights to the east.

The Peach Orchard, with the modern descendants of those trees gracing the place today.

Looking east toward the main Union positions.
Memorial to the famous NY Fire Zouaves.
Plum Run Creek.
Father William Corby, chaplain to one of the NY regiments.
The Pennsylvania Memorial.
Looking south toward the Round Tops from the viewing platform atop the memorial.

Looking west toward the Confederate lines.
Looking north toward the Seminary.
Spangler's Spring, at the southern end of Culp's Hill.
The area around the Spring, with the Indiana memorial.
Spangler's Spring turned into a cockpit during the fighting on the second day. It formed the extreme right of the Union line, the barbed end of the 'fishhook.' Although the Union retired at nightfall the Confederates had failed to gain an advantage.

The third day saw the famous charge of Picket's Divisions across the center of the battlefield toward Cemetery Ridge.

Looking from the Virginians' positions toward the Copse of Trees.
Looking back at the Confederate lines.
Longstreet wanted to lead the charge but Robert E. Lee forbade it. After a ferocious barrage from Confederate artillery 12,000 men set out from the cover of the trees above, marching across the undulating ground toward the waiting Union soldiers atop Cemetery Ridge.

Cemetery Ridge.
The Angle, and the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.

Memorials to the many Union gunners who defended the ridge.
The stone wall atop the ridge. Few rebels managed to cross it.
Lee saw the undulating ground might serve to conceal Pickett's onrushing troops from Union fire for at least part of their march. He proved wrong, and admitted it when Pickett led his battered and bloody survivors back to their lines. 

Lee rode out a little way to meet his men as they retired. "It has been all my fault," he was heard to say. The attack had cost his army 6,000 irreplaceable veterans. 
The scene of Lee's meeting with Pickett.
The next day the Army of Northern Virginia began a weary retreat, back across the mountains they'd crossed with such high hopes mere days before.
* * * *
That's all for my recent adventures on the Civil War battlefields. I'm making some progress on the steam gunboat model for Colonial gaming. More on that another time.


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