When I was 14, a ninth grader and living in Shoreline, my Dad came home from work with news. It was November of 1969. I was looking forward to the second season of the Seattle Pilots, I’d taken the bus to Seattle to buy The Beatles’ Abbey Road. I’d attended my first and only IPMS meeting. I played Avalon Hill Games and painted (badly) 54mm figures. But my Dad’s news overruled all of that. We were moving to the Bay Area after the school year was over. He’d gotten a promotion, and he would be working in South San Francisco.
My entire life to that point was lived near Seattle. My friends lived here. My family, except for my mother’s parents lived in Seattle or Edmonds. I spent my time between Shoreline, Seattle and Vashon Island. That was really the extent of my universe.
This was a big opportunity for my Dad. My parents married young, and though they didn’t have kids right away, they had few skills. My father worked hard, often juggling two jobs to keep my mother at home with the my sister and I. Dad became a milkman, and though he was good at his job, it just barely paid the bills. He decided that if he was going to get ahead, he’d have to go back to school. He learned how to run the room-filling, tube burning, had to be air-conditioned computers that have less computing power than your smartphone, and gradually he rose through the ranks to manage the San Francisco branch of an industrial laundry. This story doesn’t have a happy ending, but we won’t go into that.
We finished out the school year, endured the agony of the Kent State shooting as the neighboring high school campus exploded in protest. Six weeks later we were on the road to the Bay Area. Our new home was not quite ready for us. While we spent a week in a motel waiting to move in, the ROTC building on the Stanford campus was bombed. It was an interesting time to move to Northern California.
It was tough to be the new kid. I literally knew nobody, and hung around the house for a few weeks, but by the middle of July I had enough. I went up to the nearby middle school to see if anything was happening. Sure enough, there were guys playing baseball and I asked if I could play. This became my semi-regular activity, when one of the players, Russell Fung, told me about a group of his friends who played games with tanks. Games with tanks!!! Count me in!!!
Within a couple of weeks I found myself in a Belmont basement with Russell and surrounded by guys who would be my friends throughout high school and beyond. Wes Kuwano had piles of RoCo Minitanks. We were blasting away Germans against Russians, rolling a dice using home-grown rules that considered penetration, armor and ballistic armor slope. Not bad for a bunch of 15-year old kids in 1970. It was fun, it was addictive. I was a historical miniature wargamer.
A few more armor games ensued, and I was introduced to 1/1250th naval games. We somehow were able to play on an elementary school gymnasium floor. That would be impossible today without paying for the custodian’s time. We estimated ranges to tiny ships some 40 plus feet away, something I was incredibly bad at. The rules were based on Fletcher Pratt.
For my remaining three years of high school Wes and Russell, Bill Cranor and Andrei Austin, Jose Iglesias and Don Arnett would form my game posse. We mostly stuck to armor and ships, with some SPI board games and the odd Risk afternoon thrown in. I was distracted with sports and a girlfriend. They were distracted with doing really well in school. They went off to Berkeley and Stanford. I went off to College of San Mateo.
For the next couple of years, our meetings were few and far between. By 1974 I was gaming regularly at The Outpost, a store I’d learned of in San Carlos and I was making new friends in the hobby. Oddly, some of the guys who stepped into the Outpost are fellows I still know.
This story could go on and on. But there are a few important points I want to make. The first is this: although I’ve done lots of things over the intervening fifty years-finished college, married a wonderful woman, raised two fantastic sons, had as good a career as a teacher could wish. I’ve participated in elections, played sports and explored other interests. At the end of the day, I’m a historical miniature gamer. I love it, I truly do.
The other thing I’d like to add is what is really important about the hobby to me. There are many things I love about it. I like the history-I’ve always got my nose in some book that supports my interest. There is room to game any subject. The usual subjects like WWII, the Napoleonic Wars, wars of the Roman Empire. But I’ve done, almost everything: hydroplane and air racing, baseball, buffalo hunting, the Burr Conspiracy, along with those more traditional topics. Painting figures. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t paint figures. Yes they are a means to creating armies and playing games, but god help me if I couldn’t paint my life would be a lot emptier.
But the most important part of the hobby is the people. I could make a huge list of people I have gamed with or that I still game with. Some live close by, others are farther away. The hardest part about shelter-in-place or closing Enfilade for the year is not seeing them. Games and lunch with my buddies, Saturday night beer with my Canadian friends at Enfilade, I miss all of it.
And I confess, I wish I could talk to the old Belmont crew. I know they don’t game any more, but it is such an important part of who I am, that I wish I could thank them for a life well spent on something worth doing, something I love.