How My Grandfather Got Me Started in Miniature Gaming.

Note: Sometimes my posts are directly connected to what I’m working on or games I’m playing. This one is different and intensely personal. It’s part of my story. Maybe it’s for you and maybe it’s not. It’s something I’ve been working on for about a month. Just thought you should know, and thanks for reading.

I know I’ve told my tale of how my high school buddies turned me on to miniature gaming. Honestly, there are many I could name who have helped with my slavish love of this hobby. Dave Demick, Dave Schueler, David Sullivan (all the Daves) and so many more have had a role in this.

I always had interest in military history. I was a not-very-good model builder, but I built them anyway. I used to play these sort of proto-games with my neighbor Ray Powers, who was a couple years older than I and a really good model-builder, and we’d fly our planes and bomb stuff in each others yard, quite randomly.

By the time I was twelve or thirteen two things had captured my attention. I purchased the Strombecker miniature set of George Washington bombarding Yorktown. There were four 54mmish figures and a cannon for three bucks. Three dollars was a lot of money for me, but I carefully painted the figures using basic Testors and Pactra enamels I could buy at my local dime store. I don’t think I primed them. I loved it.

My friend Greg bought a different Strombecker set from WWI–the bombardment of Verdun or something like that. But when I went to the hobby shop in the Northgate Bon Marche–a going concern in 1968-I discovered something even better. The Bon had the complete range of Monogram Merite 54mm figures. I drooled. Also three bucks. For. One. Figure. I bought the French Horse Artillery of the Guard Figure. Of course I did. Why? Because my grandfather was in the artillery of course. I didn’t know French Napoleonics. Didn’t know the Guard. It could have been the Lunar Guard Horse Artillery for all I knew. The Pactras and Testors came out and I carefully made a mess of the un-primed mini. Of course Greg thought I was crazy. Three bucks for one figure when I could get four and an artifact for the same price?

Yes, this really does belong to me. Fresh from my miniatures pile of doom.

Note: To give an idea of just how immersed in nostalgia I am, I have since re-acquired the Monogram Horse Artillery of the Guard figure as well as the Monogram Berdan’s Sharpshooter figure. They remain very nice miniatures, though they cost me somewhat more (but not ridiculously more) than three bucks each. I have yet to paint either one, said every miniature wargamer ever.

By 1968 painting figures was in my blood, even if I wasn’t very good at it and used the crudest of tools.

The gateway drug into historical miniature gaming was sort of historical board games. I’d love to tell you I was an early adopter of Tactics II and Blitzkrieg, but that would be a lie. When those games came out I was like eight years old. No, my path forward was definitely Milton Bradley’s American Heritage games. I loved Broadside and Dogfight, but I also played Battle Cry and Hit the Beach. The mechanics were simple. It was move/counter-move and easy to learn. Mostly I got clobbered and learned how to be a good loser, but it was fun and I had a blast.

By the time I was eleven or twelve (1966-68ish) interesting games began popping up at my local Frederick and Nelson department store at Aurora Village. Frederick’s wasn’t as interesting as The Bon, but they had sort of a book department and they had interesting adult-style games. They had the 3M bookshelf games, but these famous World War II battles began showing up: Midway, Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad and others by Avalon Hill appeared. I was really interested, but the $12.00 price tag was well beyond my reach. I began reading a little bit about them too, and they sure seemed cool. Unfortunately other things like records and plastic models competed for my tiny allowance dollars at a time when a monaural record was less than three bucks and a quality Revell model was fifty cents. Pleas to my parents went unheard, and my entry into hex-based wargames was . . . delayed.

I moved on. My grandparents moved to Edmonds from San Francisco. They were in their seventies and my mother and her sister worried about them being so far away. They convinced them to move back to the Seattle area where family would be able to help them a bit. They managed an apartment complex just a couple of blocks from my cousins who lived close to the wonderful downtown area.

My grandparents Ann and Jerry Casey 1969 for the Golden Wedding anniversary, about the time I acquired Jutland.

I was blessed with two amazing sets of grandparents. They were always happy to see me, always kind. My two grandfathers were similar but different. My mother’s father, Jerry Casey was older than my father’s father, Jim Smyth. Both were terrific story tellers. Jim, born in Tacoma in 1907 never hesitated to tell about the family, was embarrassingly proud of the family. Jerry, born in 1894 in Ireland, orphaned at age three, was vague, elusive, almost silent about his youth and his family. They were both incredibly good to me, and there isn’t a day I don’t think about them. And I don’t mean to undersell the importance of my two grandmothers Ann Casey and Margaret (Mike) Smyth, who were sweet and supportive, and somehow didn’t wring the necks of their spouses who could be insufferable–much like me.

I would occasionally spend the night with my Edmonds Bentler cousins, and once in a while with my grandparents. Though Jerry was closed-mouthed about his childhood, he spoke often and freely of his experience in the British army. He joined at age 16 as a boy soldier. Originally he served in the infantry, 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers. But as the Great War approached he changed branches of service and served with the 47th Battery, 44th Brigade of the Royal Artillery. My grandfather was a proud Old-Contemptible and went to France with Sir John French in 1914, and served in France and became an instructor at the artillery school at Woolwich throughout the war. He was discharged in 1920.

At Grandpa’s house we’d often talk about his war experiences and other things. We might listen to a Sir Harry Lauder record or Irish/American pub classics by Ruby Murray Grandma would fix an awesome dinner and sometimes Grandpa would pull out a bottle of Guinness Stout and pour me a half a juice glass. At age 12, it tasted nasty, a position I’ve only recently managed to recant. He watched the evening news about the war in Vietnam. He wasn’t afraid to call politicians “Bums.” He read westerns by Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.

My grandfather never drove as long as I knew him. He was a terrific walker until the day he died at age 89. Whether it was in San Francisco, Edmonds or the foot of Queen Anne Hill, where ever he lived, if I was going to visit with my Grandpa Casey I was going to walk.

And that was fine. We had great talks. My favorite memory was walking in Seattle in 1969. He was remembering his experience as an infantryman and said, “Kevin, if you couldn’t shoot, you weren’t worth shit.” I was shocked. I was barely beginning to experiment with interesting language and here was my grandfather just blurting it out. God, I loved him.

Often we would walk in Edmonds which had some wonderful shops including a hobby shop and toy store. Sometimes I would come home with treasures my Grandfather bought me. My mother would fuss at me and tell me I shouldn’t let my grandpa buy me ANYTHING.

One sunny spring day we’d gone for a walk and the local hobby store had its doors open. However, just inside in a rack, instead of the latest Tamiya models of Japanese dive bombers, there was a rack of Avalon Hill games. The sign on the rack said 50% off. Midway, Guadalcanal, Bismark, D-Day and others were there for six bucks. My grandfather looked at me. Then he looked at me looking at the games with all the interest of a hungry dog staring in a butcher’s window, and he asked if I would like one. My jaw dropped. I remembered, but then rapidly forgot my mother’s admonition. It was like a tiny bit of code being wiped from my hard drive.

Of course I said yes, and I thanked him very much. The real problem wasn’t getting to yes, it was choosing from the pile. Midway was intriguing, but I think I made the right choice in Jutland. In the end, Jutland is the Avalon Hill game most like miniatures. I didn’t know a lot about the battle, but I had heard of it and loved the box art.

The story could end here, but it doesn’t. Grandfather buys 12 year old grandson Avalon Hill game, he goes on to greater gaming glory. No, I took the game back to my grandparents’ apartment and immediately began looking it over. The basic rules. Ugh.

All those fleet organizations and search rules. Yikes.

My grandfather saw me poring over all this and pretty much said screw it, let’s just put some ships on the floor and have at it. So we lay out equal numbers of cardboard counters representing German and British battleships and shot at each other using the basic rules. It was easy and fun, not so unlike the Milton Bradley games I’d been playing.

So let’s get this straight, my grandfather bought me this mysterious game, sees me struggling with the rules, excises the hard, and to the 12-year old, difficult parts, adopts some simple house rules and then gets his 75-year old knees on the floor and helps me give them a try. Today I’m ten years younger than he was, and I’m not sure how good I’d be at crawling around on the floor with my grandson (if I had one, sigh.)

I do still own a copy of Jutland, but it’s not my original game. Wish I still had it. Would love to play it.

Jutland was my first Avalon Hill game. Later that summer my father’s cousin would gift me a copy of Afrika Korps. For Christmas my parents gave me a copy of Bismark. I was on my way. We played the heck out of Jutland, with all its search intricacies and we played the advanced rules. . Greg got a copy of Gettysburg, which I always seemed to lose. But it was that spring gift from my grandfather that really set me on the road to becoming a miniature wargamer.

By the following year, my grandparents were on their way back to the Bay Area. We would be close behind them. Jerry was an active and proud member and several times Commander of his American and Canadian Legion posts. He was one of the few remaining members of the The Old Contemptible Association which commemorated those surviving veterans of the 1914 campaign. My grandmother passed away in 1974. Jerry continued on until 1982 when he died at the age of 89. they are much appreciated and much missed.

David and Kevin do Ironclads for Miniatures.


David Sullivan and I were attracted to ACW naval miniatures when we first met back in the early nineties.  We drove north to The Sentry Box hobbies in Vancouver B.C. and picked up some of the Richard Houston 1/1200 miniatures and were off to the races.  We were immediately attracted to the old Yaquinto rules.  We played the rules right out of the box and bought some hex mats for movement and fire.

Of course we could never get hex mats large enough, and it seemed silly to play miniatures on a board game board.  We tried other rules as well.  Age of Iron, Hammering Iron, and Smoke On the Water are a few of the titles we tried.  I hated ‘em all. Though Ironclads is a rule set firmly rooted in its 1970’s origins, David and I just love ‘em.

When Toby Barrett and his 1/600 Thoroughbred miniatures appeared on the scene in the later 90’s we were immediately hooked. But it was clear that the hex mats had to go. Ships now took up two hexes minimum, some were three or more.  The only way to make it work was if we went hex free and made the required adaptations necessary to make Ironclads a true miniatures game. I sold my hundred or so 1/1200 ships and concentrated what has grown to about a hundred 1/600 vessels.  I’ve never regretted the change. 

Just to be clear, Toby purchased the rights to the Yaquinto rules some time ago.  It was his intent to take the original board game rules and make them a miniature game.  It didn’t happen.  My hope is that it could still happen some day.  I’d buy it in a heartbeat. These rules are a stopgap, a set of house-rules we have inflicted on our friends for decades, and we’re happy to share them with you if and until the worthy Mr. Barrett comes up with something better. And look, they are yours for free.  Enjoy them, or not.


You cannot play these rules without the original Ironclads game.  The game was published by Yaquinto in 1979.  It was republished by Excalibur games in 1993.  In order to play our hex-free game you must have the rules, ship cards and charts.  We are simply providing a means of abandoning the hex-grid and making Ironclads a true miniatures game.

Ironclads. You can never have too many copies

The big changes:

The biggest changes in the game are to speed, gun ranges and turning because in the original game rules, these are determined by hexes. 

Speed:  We agreed that speed would be represented as they were in the rules. One point of speed would be represented by one inch of movement.

Fire:  This was a really tricky one.  Our problem had to do with scale and the size of the ships we were playing with. Some vessels with lighter guns, say  the naval 32pdr, would have difficulty firing the length of their ship, if we stuck with one hex=one inch rule. We agreed to double the gun range.  Yes, that gave some ships with really big rifles an advantage, but if we designed interesting scenarios  we could avoid exacerbating this problem

Firing procedure

  • Our house practice is to measure from the gun to closest part of the target.  Your house rule could be different-maybe that’s stack to stack, or bridge to bridge, but using a generic firing point messes with ranges in our estimation. 
  • We also use the firing templates provided in the game by the gun if there is a question.  Again, the scale of the models makes it a challenge to use a generic interpretation of what can fire and what can’t.  A gun by gun determination works best.
  • To determine the range and penetration factor on the ship card, just run the tape measure out from the firing gun to the nearest point of the target.  Get an accurate measure.  If your tape reads 24” that will be equal to 12”  on your ships card.  If it is more than 24”, say 24 ¼ “ you’ll have to round up

Calculate penetration factors normally, just keep track of the range changes, and play on normally. 

Example: Remember the 11” Dahlgren now has a maximum range of 36” with changes in penetration at 24” and 12”.  The 7 “ 2B Brooke rifle now has a maximum range of 102”, with changes in penetration at 28” and 14”

Turning:  In many respects turning is the most difficult of the changes.  We all know the Union ships tended to have better engines and turning gear than the Confederate ships, but that was certainly not uniformly the case.  In the game that is reflected by the number of hexsides a ship is allowed to turn at a certain rate of speed.  I would argue these ratings are fairly subjective. 

David suggested using turning circles for ships, and he created these on a scale of A to I.  The smaller the circle, the nimbler the ship.  “A” would be a tug or other small ship.  I would be the Virginia with her balky engines and bad turning gear.  Remember, in the rules and on the ship cards, the faster a ships goes, the slower it is to turn, so as you’re writing up your ship, be careful to take a look at the movement line, where the turning changes are and rate your ships accordingly.  Do your best to make a good faith effort and your partners will be fine.

Following Up

As I have said many times in many other places, Ironclads is my most played set of rules.  I love the period and I love the game.  Many complain about the charts, that it’s quite fiddly and mired in its 1970’s roots.  I love it because it respects the period and this small-fry naval war so different than what was happening in the rest of the world in the 1860’s.

It doesn’t always get everything right.  That’s the risk one runs of trying to rate every aspect of every ship from engine capacity to rear armor to each and every gun.  If you run across an error, fix it.  Plenty of words and photographs are shed on the American Civil War at sea, don’t hesitate to use them.  However, if I had a choice I’d choose The Old Steam Navy, volumes 1 and 2, by Donald S. Canney, which covers most of the Union navy leading up to the war.  It does leave out sailing vessels such as the Cumberland. For the Confederates, I’d go back to Canney for The Confederate Steam Navy.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some fine sets of rules out there.  If I was doing a really large game, like Mobile or New Orleans, I would use David Manley’s fine Iron and Fire rules.  I’ve also played a dozen or so games of Sail and Steam Navies and there is a lot to recommend them.  But in the end, I just enjoy Ironclads more, and so do my friends—that’s what counts.


I’ve provided links to two useful items.  The first is a file for David’s turning circles.  It’s a four page .pdf document.  Print ‘em on cardstock and they’ll last forever. 

In addition I provided a blank log sheet.  If your hand-writing is as wretched as mine and either can’t fit it in the space provided or you can’t tell your “4” from a “9” this is really handy.  It’s in Word and easily edited.  I also have taken to scanning the ship configuration from the ship cards and replacing the outline on this form because honestly, who draws?

If you give it a try, I hope you have fun with it. Let me know how it goes.

The March Accounting

Everybody needs one. Gringo 40’s Viet Cong “sniper in a tree.” Seems to be shooting at quail Or maybe a helicopter.

Let me just say March was a great month for getting stuff done, especially if you were a Spaniard serving in America between 1797-1810, or if you happened to find yourself fighting in Vietnam in 1968.

I made a couple of orders to Gringo 40’s and the Hue buildings arrived, but not many new purchases, which was a good thing.

Oh, and I played in one of my few miniatures games since December. David Sullivan and I got together, hauled out our Vietnam figures and played a game of Ganesha’ Flying Lead. It was much fun–even if we did it wrong. You can read David’s account here.

But, as with most Covid months, March was about painting. I don’t know what it was, but I did my best to dedicate myself to getting stuff done. One thing at the top of my priorities is finishing a project, and that is my America Rampant stuff. I finished the Americans before Christmas. I started working on my leftover Woodland Indians and wrapped up the last of them this month. I’m nearing the end with my Spanish infantry.

The five completed companies of the Luisisana Battalion. Hibernians are still under construction but close to done. Gotta lower that flag a little bit so it fits in the box.

I had painted a bunch of the Spanish infantry but was kind of scatter-shot with their organization. First of all, I did these before the adoption of Rebels and Patriots as the rules of choice for the period. My units were ten figures to the company and R & P demands 12. So there were figures ordered and stands reorganized and it was kind of a mess. Previously I had two battalions organized into myriad companies. (For me a unit is a company.) Now it is two battalions, the Luisiana Battalion, and The Hibernia Battalion. Each has a grenadier company and four fusilier companies. This feels a lot better.

The figures are old RSM figures I order from Dayton Painting Company. Don’t tell anybody but there was some re-painting involved so everything more or less matches. Pretty basic block painting too, because that’s how the originals were painted.

I also painted my quota of Vietnam figures. There were 13 Marine figures, six Viet Cong, and five NVA figures. My painted collection of ‘Nam figures is now 47, and I received another order ten or so days ago. Finishing these will be a priority in April.

The Smyth Shipyard shows the Thorneycroft destroyer (in black) and the Elcano to be complete. The Yale (middle) is about half done. The Princesa de Asturias (left) is nearly finished. I’m running out of ships to paint in this scale.

Anyway, on to the monthly totals

1/300 airplanes: 6/150. No changes. Nothing new here. I’m starting to feel embarrassed.

1/1250 scale ships: 21/50. I’m claiming five adds for the month. First, I completed the three coastal fortifications on March 1, just to get thing started right. I’ve been working on the ships I received in my wayward WTJ order. I hoped to have them finished, but they aren’t all quite done. I finished the little Spanish gunboat Elcano, and the generic Thorneycroft type destroyer that seemed to serve in everyone’s navy. Nearly complete is the armored cruiser Princesa de Asturias, which will be the final add to the Spanish navy. About 50% complete is the American auxiliary cruiser USS Yale. Yes, I know, I already did that ship, but I’m painting a second version in its livery in the American Line. The Yale hadn’t adopted wartime gray when it steamed into San Juan harbor and shot it out with some small ships. I think I need this, don’t you? Another excuse to do a cool ship miniature.

As the Spanish-American war naval miniatures wrap up I’m considering another 1/1250 project and I’m considering the Japanese to go with John Gee’s Russian Pacific squadron. Because you just can’t have too much fun.

28mm figures: 166/400. No lie, this was a big month for 28mm figures. There were 12 woodland Indians and 47 Spanish fusiliers for the America Rampant project. There were 24 Vietnam figures. I got a lot done and enjoyed every minute of it. I doubled the number of painted 28mm figure in one month.

Lots on the plate for April in the 28mm department. I’m painting some Spanish-American war figures for John complete with rayadillo. The big goal, however is to wrap up the America Rampant guys and finish the Gringo 40’s figures I have left to paint which is about 18. That should keep me pretty busy.

Finally, no more 54mm figures to report, because the Hue building order came in and that will suck up any extra time I have. To date I’ve completed one building and there are about ten more to do, including some big pieces and then there are all the walls too. It’s a priority to move this rapidly forward, but the 28’s will take priority.

So the month of March ends strong

1/1250 ships 5

28mm figures 83

28mm buildings 1

March totals: 89 figures.

The Hue Buildings

My box o’ Hue buildings from Vulcan printing

The Vietnam project has continued throughout the month of March. I’ve gotten even more figures from Gringo 40’s. I think I’m up to about 46 or so painted figures for the Marines, the Viet Cong and NVA. What’s nice is that several of my friends-David Sullivan, Dave Schueler, Bill Stewart, and perhaps others have joined in the army-building-and I think the pressure is off to paint up large quantities of figures. In fact, I would suggest there may not be an April order while I paint the fairly sizable order I granted myself with my tax return.

However, one of the areas I have felt the I’ve mentioned before, probably many times, the impetus for my Vietnam project is Mark Bowden’s book Hue 1968. The hard part is recreating the city-fight that was Hue. I’d seen some excellent buildings for Hue on The Miniatures Page and made some inquiries. It turns out there was an entire range of Hue buildings designed as STL files for 3D printing by a British designer whose company is called WOW. It was a Kickstarter project and the files could be licensed and printed for sale.

Unfortunately it wasn’t quite like making an order from 4Ground or Hovels. I don’t own a 3D printer, and I won’t. It’s just one of those new rabbit holes in the hobby that I cannot go down. I’m happy to paint and base and do research, but I just can’t do this.

But I will pay others to do so.

It turns out that a small shop in Virginia, Vulcan Printing, owned the license to the Vietnam buildings. Their name was passed along to me by WOW. I contacted them about doing the Hue Town Centre. They offered to print to 28mm all eight houses, all the walls, the large fortified church and the roads for $300. I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a lot of money to spend all at once on a big project. However, I want to be clear: never once did I believe it was over-priced at all, it was just a lot for me to spend on gaming all at once. I consulted with Lorri and she was okay with the purchase. I ordered and they thought they could have it printed and ship in a couple of weeks.

It took longer. The big East Coast snowstorm delayed supplies. There was an illness, a printer breakdown (there’s always a printer breakdown,) but eventually my order arrived in a big box. I was thrilled.

The houses are all two stories and come in separate pieces, with a third piece the roof. The roofs are all tile, many of them showing battle damage, and are quite nice. The building stories are also nice. some show damage. Some have broken windows. Some have open windows that were printed over and will need some work to be ready to paint. the photo is of the first and only building I’ve painted, but there will be many more.

I was excited to get started. I wanted to do a nice job. I don’t have a ton of buildings in my various collections and this was definitely something different for me. I could have painted them just white with red roofs and been done with it, but I was intrigued with the damage and weathering in the Osprey illustration.

I immediately grabbed the first building primed it white and then painted it an overall gray thinking I would dry brush more white paint over the top and that would weather the building. Wrong. printed buildings are printed with bands of plastic and the bands show, like geologic soil layers. After doing some research with how best to deal with the bands, I developed a plan of action I can easily live with. I sand with 100 grit sand paper, carefully blow the residue off, and paint the entire structure with Varathane polyurethane. The polyurethane dries quickly and fills in many of the spaces between the plastic bands. From there it’s prime and paint.

There’s nothing fancy about these buildings. Hue was a center of the French colonial government and it had many very sturdy buildings that could be amply defended by the NVA. These were painted white. I primed them white and then made sure to go over them with your basic el cheapo craft white. The next steps were related to weathering. I took some Ceramcoat Sand Dune, a useful tan/gray color, and dry brushed it around the base of the first floor, under the roof eaves of the top floor and around the doors and windows of both floors. I did the same to create some “in need of maintenance” areas on the main walls. Step three was some thinned Vallejo black wash.

I opted to paint the doors and window frames Ceramcoat Barn Red. Weathered those with a little dry brush with Vallejo Sky Grey.

Some of the buildings have windows and doors that look like this. It’s part of the printing process, but it’s a bit of an aerobic activity to remove them.

Matt-coated them and bingo, they’re done.

Not perfect, but they’ll do.

I’ve moved on to building #2. Many of the buildings have their doors and windows covered by something that looks like it should be easy to cut through. Wrong. This is part of the printing process and they are hidden by a cover that has to be removed. I can only describe it as a horrendous pain in the ass. I broke a couple of X-acto blades, am wearing a couple of Band-Aids from sticking myself. The most useful tools were an old steak knife and an all-in-one tool. Savage stuff. But I do think I’ve learned something for the next building.

Hue Building #2 awaits my attention.

My goal is to finish one of these each week.

War Times Journal Coastal Fortifications

About November, when we were discussing playing the Manila Bay game from our campaign, John raised a great question: does anyone have any coastal fortifications? He was interested in 1/1000 scale forts because that was the scale of the game we were going to play. But it sent off an alarm bell in my head. Hey what about 1/1250 fortifications? I hadn’t see any, couldn’t find any.

Turns out I wasn’t looking hard enough, because War Times Journal, bless ’em have four different coastal fortifications. My very tardy order from WTJ arrived last week with three of these to add to the one I already had. I’ve painted them up, so let’s take a look.

This is Shore Battery #1. Intended to be secondary strength guns, Definitely a more modern, i.e. early 20th century feel to it. Nice. Love the trench and the observation post

Shore Battery #2 is my favorite. These are larger cannon, 10-12 inches. Again mice detail. What makes this cool is that there is a gun that is extended for firing and one retracted for loading, like the guns on “disappearing carriages” at Fort Casey on Whidbey Island or from the forts on Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Shore Battery #3 takes us back to smaller cannon. The WTJ description claims it’s an earthwork. I’m not seeing it because it’s all straight lines. I didn’t paint it as an earthwork. It appears to have some damage, which I like.

Shore Battery #4 is a late 19th century battery, and that I can see. All medium to light guns. Again some nice details.

These are all nicely printed in plastic. They need to be soaked in detergent to remove the impurities before printing and priming. My paint jobs are pretty basic. Base coat of Vallejo Light Gray, dry-brushed with Vallejo Sky Gray. Dirt areas are Ceramcoat Burnt Umber dry-brushed with Ceramcoat Trail Tan. Gun barrels are all Ceramcoat Charcoal. Add judicious amounts of flock and life is good.

Each of these miniature are nice models. They range from about two inches in length to about three and a half inches. They have some clever detail, including staircases, trenches, observation posts, and decent gun detail for something so small.

As with all of WTJ’s plastic printed miniatures, they are not cheap. They range in price from $20.25 for Shore Battery #4 to $29.25 for Shore Battery #1. However, they do seem indispensable for the Pre-Dreadnaught era

February Wrap

Gringo 40’s Marines on the painting table. They’re about 30% done and definitely a March focus of attention.

February was a terrific month for me. I started working down a path that will start a business. A few months ago I became a notary public in Washington state. I’ve taken some training, and I’m getting ready to be a notary signing agent or NSA that will let me be one of those folks who come to your house and help you sign all the closing docs when buying a new house or doing a re-fi. I’m not trying to make a bunch of money, just looking to make sure I can keep that steady stream of miniatures coming as needed.

I managed to sneak in the one miniatures games with Michael and George. I wrapped up the Splendid Little War campaign with Dave and John. Both show there is hope for a game some time in the future.

It was a decent month for painting. I also acquired some figures, which will probably be the case many months. Not quite so many new figures as January, which I also expect to be the case. I made two relatively small orders to Gringo 40’s for Vietnam figures, and altogether picked up 30 figures. They were pretty equally divided between Marines, NVA and Viet Cong. When I receive my tax return, I’ll make another order that is mostly focused on heavy weapons and multi person sets, such as mortars and command bits.

1/1250 coastal fortifications by War Times Journal. Should be done by tomorrow.l

What did my month look like?

1/300 Airplanes: 6/150 Nothing new here to report. Not sure there will be for March either, but maybe if something grabs me.

1/1250 ships: 16/50 I did wrap up a few things from my very small pile as a Shapeways order arrived mid-month. I painted the Spanish auxiliary cruiser Rapido and the little gunboat Destructor for the Spanish Navy. I also added cruisers to the American navy. The ancient and fully masted Newark joined the fleet. I also added Cincinnati and Albany in their 1898 navy gray. A week ago my missing War Times Journal order arrived, so there will be a few more items completed in March.

28mm figures: 83/400: It was a pretty good month for 28’s. I finished those 8 NVA figures that were almost, but not quite, wrapped up for January. I also finished a handful of Viet Cong figures. Nice miniatures. I received more of each last week. So they’ll be in the to-do pile for March. But most of the figures I worked on in February was my stash of Old Glory Woodland Indians. I finished 36 figures, and they join my completed America Rampant pile. It also wraps up what I have which is nice.

54mm figures: 1 This is a bonus figure. Each month I generally set goals for myself and if I achieve those, I take on something different, dare I say fun. I have a stash of the “Big Boys” as Doug Hamm likes to call them. Many figures from 54mm-90mm. I’m not very good at painting them very well, but I like to pretend. I painted Imrie Risley’s David G. Farragut figure and he turned out okay. Face needs work, but I don’t feel like I had a lot to work with. Next up will be an old Monogram Berdan’s Sharpshooter. Not sure when I’ll get to it.

The really poor lighting doesn’t to much to show of the shading and highlighting of the Imrie-Risley figure of David Farragut. It was something different and much fun to paint.

March, I’ll continue to work on my Gringo 40’s figures. I have about 24 to work on. In between batches I’ll continue working on wrapping up my America Rampant troops. I just have Spanish left, some 36 foot figures and one unit’s worth of Cuera mounted militia. They are both fun to paint and shouldn’t take too long to paint. Would love to have all the work on these guys done by the end of the month, but April for sure.

Pandemic Relief: The Spanish American War Campaign.

This is a tale that goes back a bit, at the end of the summer as we knew the Dave Schueler front yard tent series was coming to an end. John Gee and I both purchased David Manley’s set of campaign rules for the Spanish American War. I was accumulating 1/1250 ships for both sides and John had an ample collection of the 1/1000 scale Houston’s Ships models for the period. As summer turned into fall we made noises about doing the campaign game. We asked Dave if he’d be willing to moderate, he said yes and we were on.

We wrapped up the campaign on Sunday February 21st. The Americans won. That’s me. But that isn’t really the story. The story is really about what we did during the pandemic to bring some rationality to what is a truly challenging situation for the socially deprived miniature wargamer.

We began the campaign at the end of October, just as Dave’s summer game series was coming to a close. The weather had turned so gaming outside in his tent was no longer an option. Sharp increases in the rate of infection in our state, counties and the United States in general made an in-door gaming event or series of events impossible. Add to that John, who lives in the Sound-side city of Bellingham lives 122 miles from my South Hill home at the foot of Mount Rainier.

Throughout the summer we chatted up rules and campaigns, and we played some games from the pre-dreadnaught era on the table. We took a look at a couple of David Manley’s naval campaign rule sets from Long Face Games. We settled on Splendid Little War, Manley’s game for the Spanish American War. There were some good reasons for choosing that over a different campaign, like White Bear Red Sun, again by David Manley on the Russo-Japanese War. John had piles of the old Houston’s Ships range for the conflict in 1/1000 scale ready to go, so if we could get together so be it. Honestly, I think John was desperate to play something, so he volunteered to be Spanish-a gift of unimaginable generosity.

One of two campaign maps for Splendid Little War. The other is of the Asia theater. But most of the action happened here.

Let me chat up the rules for just a minute. If you’re interested in a campaign for this period, Splendid Little War is up your alley. There are maps and ship lists, a time line and reinforcements, coastal defense details and repair schedules, mission and combat details. David really has thought it through well. The campaign also includes the Broadside and Salvo miniatures rules. We agreed to stick with Manley’s Fire When Ready (yes, we’re Manley Men in the Pacific Northwest.) We agreed they were easy to play and and had a nice mix of cumulative and critical damage that just spoke to us. Some rules are simply punishment to play, and these do not fit that description.

Dave agreed to GM the show, I took the Americans. The show must go on.

Anyone who knows anything about the Spanish-American War, even as little as yours truly, knows after the declaration of war, the American Asiatic Fleet under Commodore Dewey descended on the antiquated Spanish fleet under Admiral Patricio Montojo in Manila Bay and like a cloud of hungry locusts literally chewed his wooden ships down to the water line. Never one to dispute greatness, I attempted to do the same in turn one.

Game on. But how and where would we get it done? The infection rates skyrocketed. I offered to host the game at my place. The garage had recently been cleaned out and it would be easy to host a Manila Bay game on a 7’6″ X 6′ table. We set a date. We’d play in my garage with the door closed on November 12th. As the date approached and the infection rates climbed we canceled. I agreed to open the garage door. No problem, the weather was mild but moist. We should be good. December 12th. Ugh. I gave details here. The upshot was the Americans again flogged the Spanish. But not so fast. John didn’t Montojo. He sheltered his fleet under Manila’s significant batteries. He lost his fleet, but it cost me the gunboat Concord, which is one of my favorites and has ties to the Seattle area. Gah!!

Turn one also included the blockade of Havana. The USS Oregon began her long journey around the Pacific coast to the Caribbean. Admiral Sampson took the other American battleships and cruisers on a tour of southern Cuba and laid waste the port facilities at Cienfuegos.

Turn two was mostly fencing, as the Spanish continued to ready their fleet for combat. The Spanish navy begins largely unprepared for war and they’re required to take some time to scrub the bilges and scrape off the barnacles. (Actually a problem because so much their fleet is wooden-hulled.) Arguably their best ship, Cristobal Colon, built in Italy, arrived without its main armament installed. Bad news

For the Americans, however, time is money. The Havana blockade was reinforced. An American fleet bombarded the coastal defenses of Santiago, Cuba. Batteries there had the temerity to damage the Iowa, but things were left pretty sloppy in the port. A second American fleet bombarded Guantanamo Bay. More ships left San Francisco for the Philippines, and the Oregon continued its long southward journey.

Turn 3 found the Americans beginning to get nervous. The Philippines were secure, but there was an understanding that soon there could be a pile of fairly decent Spanish ships arriving in the Caribbean from Spain. When would they show up. I had to keep the Atlantic coast free from marauding Spaniards. Victory conditions demanded I act aggressively against potential targets. I sent out a fleet with a convoy of troops to attack Puerto Rico and bombard the forts guarding San Juan. Convoys pop up on the game’s reinforcement track on specific turns. I could hold them and let them molder away in Tampa, or I could send them to Puerto Rico to plant the Stars N’ Stripes. Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile, American ships patrolling the area south of Florida made a an encounter with a Spanish ship. Unfortunately, it got away. It was the wooden cruiser Reina Mercedes and would have been matchwood in an engagement, but it was faster than my slow gunboats.

Turn 4 got really interesting as the Spanish armored cruiser squadron showed up in the Grand Bahama Banks. We each took a closer look. The Spanish ships were Cevera’s armored cruisers: Vizcaya, Infanta Maria Teresa, Cristobal Colon, Carlos V, and Almirante Oquendo accompanied by a torpedo boat flotilla. My ships were battleships Massachusetts and Iowa, almost a battleship Texas, armored cruisers New York and Brooklyn, protected cruiser New Orleans, gunboats Helena and Dolphin also trailed by a torpedo boat flotilla. The Spanish are large and imposing, but most importantly they’re fast. The American orders are always “We’ll shoot it out here,” but the Spanish survival instinct kicked in before shots could be exchanged and they disappeared into the mist.

But wait, there’s more. There were two further incidents that didn’t turn out as well for the Spanish on the blockade lines. One of our problems was knowing that if there was an encounter that turned into a battle, hence a game opportunity, we didn’t know quite how we’d work it out. Distance and the height of the pandemic in January made it all really difficult. Dave just kind of worked it out. What were the ships involved? What were our intentions? Were we going to fight or run? What were chances of pursuit? He basically walked through Fire When Ready and kept us updated through a series of PowerPoints. I’ll share the PowerPoints as things go along here.

At San Juan, the Spanish sortied and attacked the very small American blockading force. the result was some damage to the American cruiser Minneapolis, but the merchant cruiser Patriota and the gunboat Concha were sunk, the cruiser Isabel II was badly damaged, but the merchant cruiser Rapido escaped unharmed.

Another action occurred on the blockade line at Havana. Spanish cruisers Alfonso XII , Venadito and Isla de Ensenada, accompanied by gunboat Alvarado and two flotillas of torpedo boats attacked the American blockading force. This consisted of battleship Indiana, cruisers Cincinnati, Detroit, Columbia, Marblehead, a torpedo boat flotilla and the monitor Terror. This time, though outnumbered and out-gunned, the Spanish inflicted some serious damage on the cruisers Detroit and Cincinnati, though the outcome was not exactly a Spanish victory.

Turn 4 secured San Juan and Havana from attacks from the harbor, at least in the short term. But both blockades would require reinforcement. Now that Cervera was loose in the Caribbean, the game, for me at least, became a cat and mouse game. The five armored cruisers were a game changer. They could attack the Atlantic seaboard. They could threaten either of the blockades. Though I’d been pretty cautious about deploying the Navy’s pile o’ monitors outside of harbor defense, they had taken station on the blockade line during the historical conflict, so they were pushed out to help with keeping a lid on things. Terror had already shown its mettle in sinking gunboat Alvarado in Havana.

Meanwhile, I divided the fleet into a Task Force Sampson and a Task Force Schley named for the two American Admirals available to me. For turn 5 I did my best to screen the Havana blockade to the west and perhaps sail to Cienfuegos to catch Cervera. Schley’s job was to watch approaches to Tampa, Miami and the Atlantic Coast to the East. The San Juan blockade, furthest out on the proverbial limb, was strengthened with more cruisers and the addition of monitors Puritan and Miantanomah, and the dynamite cruiser Vesuvius. Indiana joined Task Force Sampson, but was replaced on the Havana blockade line by the monitor Amphitrite and the gunboat Annapolis.

Turn 5 had only one encounter. Task Force Sampson and Cervera had a tete a tete in the North Yucatan Passage (NYP.) Cervera had his force of five armored cruisers, but Sampson had battleships Indiana, Massachusetts, Iowa and armored cruisers New York and Brooklyn and a couple of gunboats. What ensued was a wild chase southward as the Spanish tried to escape to a friendly port. Sampson turned loose his armored cruisers and a bruising brawl followed Cervera south.

This was a tricky action for Dave to conduct because it included multiple phases and Dave had to be in contacted with each player after each five turn increment. Did we want to continue, did we want to break off, did we want to change our fire? Though heavily outnumbered, the two American ships had some distinct advantages. Speed was equal, but armament was not. The Spanish ships could muster a main armament of ten guns if they turned to face the Yanquis. Except for the Colon, they weren’t really good guns and they had Poor Spanish crews. Firing at long range, that’s a double penalty. The American also had pretty lousy main guns, but they had ten of them firing forward. A hit from the Brooklyn could be devastating. Carlos V suffered a devastating fire. Vizcaya was wrecked by shellfire. Both American cruisers were damaged and would make their way to port for a week of repairs.

Turn 6, though Cervera was weakened, the cat and mouse game continued. The troop convoy headed for the Philippines arrived in Manila Bay with additional naval units. Ships were sent from the Philippines to Guam to demand the surrender of that isolated island post. The Oregon, having reached Key West at the end of turn 5, strengthened Task Force Schley. In Tampa things were made ready for the first troop convoy to Cuba that would set sail in Turn 7. Depleted, Sampson played defense in the North Yucatan Passage while Schley kept an eye on things in the Grand Bahama Banks. President McKinley, deciphering some handwriting that may be emerging, offered peace terms to the Spanish. Prime Minister Mateo Sagasta y Escolar declined.

Cervera struck, not entirely unexpectedly, the San Juan blockade. It was the most distant, and vulnerable, American target. Cristobal Colon, Infante Maria Teresa and Almirante Oquendo were able to take advantage of conditions and descend on the blockaders in somewhat disordered formation at medium range. The American fleet consisted of the original American cruiser Atlanta, protected cruiser San Francisco, barely-a-cruiser Montgomery, not-even-a-cruiser Vesuvius, and the two monitors Puritan and Miantonomoh. However the blockaders once again had the preponderance of heavy guns. Together, the Spanish could muster six. The monitors, while not intended for a sea fight, were nasty. The Puritan, with its heavy armor and main battery of four 12-inch guns was a challenge. While not as formidable, as Puritan, Miantonomoh had four 10-inch guns, and Atlanta could throw in two 8-inch guns. In secondary guns it was a much closer contest, but the Americans could offer 16 four to six inch guns, to Cervera’s 15. The American fleet was brittle, but it would be no walk in the park.

It was a nail-biter. Dave communicated effectively over the course of two days with John and I. In my mind, it was a Waterloo moment, a near run thing in which “Night or the Prussians must come.” It was a Taffy 3 instance in which a smaller force was tasked with doing something desperate. But in the end it came down to Puritan, Miantonomoh, San Francisco and Atlanta dishing out more than the Spanish could take. Little Montgomery was sunk and San Francisco nearly so, but Cervera was wrecked and the blockade preserved. There would be monitors in the American navy for another 50 years.

With Cuba about to be invaded, the Philippines and Guam secured, John called it good. He still had a few decent ships in Cadiz, but he had some fairly obsolete vessels as well. Best to head to the negotiating table before stronger neighbors decided to take advantage of Spain’s weakness.

In retrospect, yes the Americans won. Decisively, wasn’t close. The naval battles of the Spanish American War were mostly the same, though there were some smaller ones in San Juan and elsewhere that nobody ever heard of between small vessels that were much tighter and very interesting. However, it’s important to be fair. In this campaign John did quite well. At Manila he sank the Yorktown and significantly damaged the cruiser Raleigh. At first San Juan, he damaged the Minneapolis and forced it into port for a week of repairs. At Havana, he damaged Cincinnati and nearly sank Detroit. At Yucatan Pass he tossed New York AND Brooklyn in the shop for repairs, two very important ships. At second San Juan, he sank Montgomery and was within a gnat’s eyelash of taking down San Francisco. So however the campaign ended, John guided the forlorn Spanish through a miserable situation and outperformed history.

While I would much rather have played the games on the tabletop, the campaign was absorbing and interesting. It was fun to set up the tables in my garage and set up all the ships. It wasn’t until after Second San Juan I felt I could breathe easier. Thanks to John and Dave for the fun, and thanks to you reader for following along. Photos good, bad and indifferent are mine. Thanks to Dave Schueler for allowing me to use his PowerPoint slides. Thanks to David Manley for permission to use the cover of Splendid Little War.

When it’s Better to be Lucky than Good

Lorri is gone for the day and I’m stuck in my notary studies, so it’s a good day to listen to Laura Nyro and write about yesterday’s big adventure.

What adventure, you ask? Well, a game of course. What is a bigger risk-taking in the middle of a pandemic than getting together with friends. No, I don’t mean to be flippant about it. I survived my second vaccine, barely, on Wednesday. Michael had his first vaccine a while back, and I think George is giving up vaccines for Lent, but everyone is careful.

George’s pristine table in the Kettler bunker. The land and bar mark the entry and exit for Raleigh and Hampton. The fighting will take place on that end of the table.

We actually planned to get together a week ago, but the Puget Sound region was blanketed with snow for the only time in 2021 and we postponed. But I promised to head out to George’s bunker in Steilacoom. When I woke up with a terrible case of nausea, dizziness, headaches and fever, early Thursday morning, all I could think of was uh-oh, they’re really going to think I’m avoiding this. But by Thursday afternoon and after a good night’s sleep I was ready to go for it.

Turn two. Raleigh and Hampton make their way on to the table and fire introductory volleys. “Hello Miami. How are you? Got something I want to share with you.” Michael’s Housatonic and Massasoit maneuver for position in the background. George does a super job of gussying up stuff for the camera.

I’d planned for a small, simple Ironclads scenario I’d had perking away for a while we could easily do with three players, or add a fourth commander if one was available. It was loosely based on the adventures of the ironclad Raleigh and its challenge to the federal blockade off the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Fort Fisher in North Carolina. I didn’t want to include the fort. The actual incident occurred at night, but I wasn’t hot to do a night battle–more complications.

Raleigh and Miami size each other up on turn 2. The Raleigh is the excellent Richmond class model by Thoroughbred. The Miami is Stephen Taylor’s fine model from Bay Area Yards.
Three shots, three waterline penetrations leaves Miami barely afloat, but keeps her bow 100 pdr. Parrot as a persistent source of annoyance to the Raleigh

I gave Raleigh a very small consort, a Maury gunboatish Hampton. Their mission was to start across the bar at the mouth of the river, ready to make a mess of members of the Federal blockade and be back across the bar by the end of turn 12. At the end of that turn the ebbing tide would be too shallow and the Raleigh would either have to face a dangerously reinforced Union foe, or risk grounding on the bar. Historically, that’s exactly what happened. Raleigh stuck on the bar and as the tide ebbed the weight of her armor crushed her wooden decks and broke her back according to historian Donald Canney.

Hampton thunders all the defiance its pair of eight inch navies can muster. Housatonic and Massassaoit fire back with similar ineptitude. It won’t remain quite so safe for long. Hampton is a Throughbred Maury gunboat. Massasoit is also an aged and in need of upgrade Tbred Sassacus class double-ender. Housatonic is George’s brilliant rendering of another Stephen Taylor model. Really special model.

I created two Union commands, each with two wooden ships. One had a pair of double end gunboats, a Miami class with a 100-pdr. bow pivot I thought might be useful. The other was a Sassacus-class with its plethora of useful but not super effective guns. . The second command had another Sassacus class, plus a Housatonic class loop, with more useful guns including an 11-inch Dahlgren which is always handy. Except for the Miami, however, all the Union vessels had broadside guns, which meant lining up a shot, which was always a bit of a challenge.

With Miami barely making way, George introduces a new phase of the game with Sassacus moving into range.
Sassacus is actually George’s terrific Bay model of Conemaugh. George is a master at his craft.

The set-up was simple. Raleigh and Hampton began just across the bar with me in command. George was immediately across from me with Miami and Sassacus. Michael was closer to the middle of the table with Housatonic and we’ll call it Massasoit. The battle would be fought at pretty close range over half the 8′ X 5.5′ table. Doubled range for the Raleigh‘s four 7″ Brooke double banded rifles. I would only fire shell.

The first turn began uneventfully as I took the Raleigh to port and managed to put myself out of arc for all my guns. Union fire was relatively desultory with a few clangs that chipped my blue paint, but nothing serious.

Housatonic and Massasoit crept toward the shoreline, driving off the Hampton with damage. Massasoit made the turn back toward the middle of the table, while Housatonic struggled to engage Raleigh with her nasty main battery.

Turn two got a bit more interesting as I was able to line up all three guns to starboard on Miami. Three shots, three waterline criticals. Flotation damage and an engine hit left the double ender scarcely making way. Hampton tried to make its way through the gap between the scrum and fired both eight inch guns at Massasoit. Flotation hit and some lesser damage. Cheers. It would be the last the little ship would have on the day.

Michael began by maneuvering his ships close to coastline but rapidly broke off his double-ender toward the middle of the half of the board we were using. Massasoit got the best shot of the day on the Raleigh, opening a seam and inflicting two points of flotation damage. Housatonic continued to creep along near the shoreline, popping off with it’s 30 pdr bow pivot. George maneuvered Sassacus into range and attitude so it too could pepper Raleigh. Little Hampton did not escape attention either. Shots by Massasoit told on the gunboat, but it would not be the last.

Turn five began with things looking up in the air for Raleigh. A new factor entered the game. Reinforcements for the Union in the form of the monitor Weehawken started on a distant border edge, but something Raleigh didn’t want to take a chance on tangling with. Maybe too far to play a role in the game except as a reminder–“don’t go there.”

It wasn’t like things weren’t happening. Lots of hits by Raleigh were doing some damage. On turn six however, there was a bunch of action. Housatonic took a serious critical penetration that started a level II fire and an engine hit. that would last a couple of turns. It was at a point when its broadside could have made a difference, but instead really slowed everything down. More mostly inconsequential fire at the ironclad, though a couple of armor hits were starting to chip away a bit. Penetrations, but not criticals were leaving some exposed areas to those 100 pdr. Parrots at doubled range. Weehawken let loose with an 11-inch Dahlgren at long range at Hampton and the 120 lb round struck the little ship with force. The buckets began to come out as the gunboat began to look for open sea and a way out of this mess.

Raleigh gets off a couple of shots at Housatonic setting the big sloop afire, which you can barely see.

The real wrap to the game, however, came on turn nine, when Sassacus suffered a pair of waterline criticals (after having already taken a few flotation hits.) One did five flotation hits and serious damage to the hull, and left the ship just a mess of body parts. George could run the engine and one gun. (we opted not to use morale rules.) Another shot at Housatonic dismounted both the 30 pdr pivot gun and the forward 100 pdr.

A whole bunch of bad as Sassacus suffers a series of serious hits including severe flotation damage and a fire on turn nine. The die is cast.

Turn ten Raleigh turned for the bar and home. Hampton was sunk by fire from Massasoit. A final shot at Sassacus set it ablaze without any crew to fight the fire. It was a goner. The following turn the game ended with the ram headed up-river to home.

Would love to do lots of crowing about this game, but it’s tough to shoot it out with an ironclad. I rolled reasonably well, but at that range, with those guns, it’s pretty hard to miss. With almost every hit a penetration and in most of those cases critical penetrations, it was fire, load and watch the fireworks.

Two old buddies having a good time with a really old game. Kevin (L) and Michael (R)

I had a lot of fun. I’m hoping my friends did. I was at George’s house from a little after 10AM until just after 4PM. Of the six hours probably three max were spent playing the game. The best part was just the hanging out catching up part. I love the old Ironclads rules in all their 1979 era goodness and despite the best efforts of many fine men to do better, they are by far my favorite set of ACW naval rules, or for that matter any set of rules except maybe Fire and Fury and anything by Daniel Mersey.

Thanks to Michael for being an enthusiastic Ironclads warrior. It was great to see him as always. Thanks to George for being an enthusiastic host. He has such a great space and would love to see it filled with a friendly game, which is hard during these dark times. Thanks again to George for allowing me to use a bunch of his wonderful photos. A few are mine, but the best ones are his.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++What I’m listening to. I haven’t done this in a while, but I’ll give it a shot or you can stop reading at this point.

I’ve always liked singer/songwriters. If they’re good their music gets picked up by other artists and some great covers ensue. But I’m happy to give those original creative agents the attention they deserve.

In one of my post Christmas trips to Rainy Day Records I was able to snaggle a copy of Joni Mitchell’s Clouds. The best known song on that record is the beautiful “Both Sides Now” which has been covered by-seemingly-everyone who can sing. It is a beautiful song. The album also has “Chelsea Morning” and “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” are also quite good and memorable. This record is very representative of Mitchell’s folk roots, so if you’re a folkie, you’ll love this record, even if it is 50 years old. I also picked up her follow-up Ladies of the Canyon, the second album the Canadian performer recorded at A and M studios in Los Angeles. More great songwriting that would be picked up by others. Notably, Crosby Stills Nash and Young would go on to make Mitchell’s “Woodstock” an anthem. But the idiosyncratic “Big Yellow Taxi” would be much fun and her own. Though covered by many, the album also includes “The Circle Game.”

I’ve long been a fan of Gordon’ Lightfoot’s work. I was turned on to him when I was in high school and heard “If You Could Read My Mind” on AM radio. I’ve assiduously added many of his albums to my collection. I recently watched. Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, a documentary, on Amazon Prime. It was terrific. Made in 2019 it was mostly time with the artist in his Toronto home recounting his career. Great stuff. But most importantly it shared Lightfoot was recording an album. A quick trip to Allmusic revealed he had indeed released a record of new material at the age of 81. Guess who has it? It’s actually very good. Lightfoot has lost his deep baritone and his voice is thin, but the songs are still great and they are very well arranged. Mostly Gordon with a guitar. The album is Solo, the songs are mostly nostalgic, not surprising for someone who was once declared dead on national radio when he was very much alive. Trust me, Gordon Lightfoot still has some living to do.

Unfortunately Laura Nyro is not alive. She died of ovarian cancer in 1997 at the age of 49. She was a terrific writer and I made a point today to listen to three of her albums. For those not in the know. Nyro was a lot like other artists that write some brilliant songs covered by others but don’t enjoy similar commercial success on their own releases. Lots of pop artists covered her songs, including The Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night and Barbara Streisand to name a few. Her voice was strong and soulful and her music could be joyful and passionate or deeply introspective and personal. One of her best-known records is 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, and I listened for the first time. I also listened to a much later album done after she stepped away from the business for a while, Mother’s Spiritual (1984.) I finished with New York Tendaberry, which I’ve heard many times before.

All the records are super and reflect a point in time in Nyro’s life. Eli is often considered the pinnacle of her songwriting success, is terrific with great production and lots of accompaniment. Mother’s Spiritual takes place after the birth of her child and many of the songs examine the role women in American life, children and motherhood. Both these records are great. However, for me, Tendaberry is glorious. It is dark. It is soulful. It is deeply introspective. It appeared in 1969 after the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and on the heals of the tumultuous 1968 election and following the complete unraveling of the Vietnam War. Don’t miss “Save the Country.” It was a hit for The Fifth Dimension; for Laura Nyro it is masterpiece.

While its absolutely fitting and past time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame considers inducting Carole King in 2021, Laura Nyro received her induction in 2012. Yet if one compares their legacy, Nyro remains largely unremembered. Is it because she had far less commercial success? Is it because Nyro took long breaks in her career and continued to produce music more fitting to a certain time while musical styles and trends passed her by? Is it because the success she enjoyed as a popular songwriter were for truly “pop” artists and therefore aren’t a part of the canon? I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I think it’s sad.

Painting the Gringo 40’s Marines and North Vietnamese figures.

Marines advancing with M-16’s.

I promised to share a bit of my experiences painting these excellent miniatures, just in case you were searching for a way forward.

Let’s start with the Marines. They are more challenging than the NVA because they are laden with more stuff and have more detail.

The Marines are really well sculpted figures with no major mold marks and a minimal amount of flash. Occasionally little bits of flash will accumulate where there is a crook in an arm, right under the armpit, or other enclosed spaces on the figure. It’s easily removed with a hobby knife.

I primed my figures with Army Painter primer. I had about a quarter can of the Desert Yellow. It makes a good undercoat.

RTO operator is just a treasure. Lots of great detail on this guy, including his M-1 carbine.

After painting the basic face fleshtone I worked on the helmet cover. Apparently Marines in Vietnam had helmet covers that were reversible. One side had a green base, the other side had an earth base. I chose the earth side because I had photos that could help me a bit. After painting the base Vallejo Tan Earth, I created lots of splotches that ran together using Vallejo colors Flat Brown, Green Brown, and Camouflage Olive Green.

Marine snipers with Remington rifle.

Then it was on to the basic uniform color. While I have many Vallejo Olive or Green colors suitable, it was recommended that I try Russian Uniform WWII as a base color. It really worked well and I’m pleased with the result. I used your basic Ceramcoat black for boots, however a friend asked me about jungle boots, those webbing and leather footwear the grunts wore in the Pacific and in SE Asia. After a headslap and some research, I realized my mistake. Future Marines will wear these. Finally, the last major clothing item is the flak vest. I painted these Vallejo Iraqui Sand. Buttons would later be painted Neutral Grey.

3.5″ Super Bazooka crew. Because everyone needs a really big bazooka.

All these items required some highlighting. For the basic uniform color I just drybrushed some of the lightened Russian Uniform color, but Khaki would probably work too. On the boots I used Neutral Grey which is a several steps lighter than black and gives a nice contrast. On the flak vest I lightened the Iraqui Sand and washed with Vallejo Brown Wash. They didn’t quite cancel each other out.

Three marines with M-16’s. Lots of varieties of your average leatherneck with your average M-16.

There are lots of great detail bits. The M-16’s are nicely detailed. I try to avoid metallic bits so I painted the stocks black with charcoal highlights. The metal bits I painted neutral gray and picked out some of the nice detail with black lining. The RTO radio has batteries to detail Lots of batteries are khaki-ish, but there are photos of red ones and white ones too.

Most of the detail, however is the webbing-belts, canteens bandoliers, strapping, etc. I painted Vallejo Violet Brown, which is really a German aircraft color and a somewhat darker green. I dry-brushed with Khaki which nicely draws out the detail.

I’m very pleased with the finished product. The Gringo 40’s Marines are perhaps the nicest figures I’ve ever painted.

I also received a few of the North Vietnamese Army figures. Though the miniatures are quite nice, they are very different from the Marine figures. Anatomically, they are quite slight but well-formed. Unlike the Marines they aren’t swaddled in gear, though there is some of that. Their AK-47’s are quite nice. Painting them was a bit of a question for me. I knew absolutely nothing about NVA uniforms. I actually bought the Osprey Elite book on the NVA and Viet Cong forces and found it to be among the least helpful of any Osprey title.

NVA Colonel with female runner.

When in doubt do what the kids do: Google NVA Uniforms 1968. I learned the uniforms are generally green with tan equipment. Both would have faded with time and dirt.

NVA Infantry with AK 47’s

I hoped to use a Vallejo Game Colour–Camouflage Green and I had to order it. My paint ended up almost a chartreuse color, so I decided that wouldn’t work. I reached into my bag of tricks and used US Light Green from the Vallejo Air range. I like the color a lot, but as with all of the Air colors, it’s intended for use in an air brush and quite thin. I did three coats to get sufficient coverage. I lightened the paint with white for dry brushing.

A few more North Vietnamese regulars with AK 47’s

The equipage was a mix of Vallejo Khaki for back packs and assorted gear. I used Iraqui Sand for ammunition and grenade belts. I drybrushed over the Khaki and used Vallejo Brown Wash over the sand. This batch o’guys are all armed with AK 47’s. I’ve kind of avoided using metals on guns, so the wood parts of the rifle are Flat Brown, and I used Ceramcoat Charcoal for the barrel and magazine. They were great to work with and I enjoyed painting them a great deal.


February progress at Mid-Month

1/300 Aircraft 6/150 Zero, zilch, nada. Haven’t touched a plane since the first week of the year. Never fear, these numbers will change. Yes, for the better. Don’t be a jerk.

Ships 11/50. Yep, I finished what I have handy. I’ll post about these later. But I did paint up three WTJ American cruisers and a couple of Spanish ships by Brown Water Navy. I do have a significant order I’m waiting on from Wartimes Journal but they’re taking their sweet time getting it out to me. When these are done all my current orders for 1/1250 figures will be complete. I do have some other naval stuff to work on including some 1/600 ACW ships and some 1/1000 scale Houston’s ships.

28mm figures. 66/400. Most of my attention this year has gone to painting 28mm figures. Some of these are the Gringo 40’s guys, but the rest are Old Glory Woodland Indians. I’ve finished 48 of the 60 I have, and will wrap up the last 12 this week. These are for my America Rampant project. Not sure what I’ll pick up next, but whatever I work on will include my Gringo 40’s figures.

I have ordered a few things in February. I placed a third Gringo 40’s order last week. This was evenly split between figures needed to fill out squads of NVA and Viet Cong and adding a few missing types from my Marines, specifically NCO’s. More interestingly is I’ve ordered a set of 3D printed Hue buildings from Vulcan Printing. I hope to share more about these in my month end wrap.

Rumblings of Vietnam and a January Wrap

The best thing about the Gringo40’s Marines is their sexcellent detail and the plethora of figures with wonderful animation. They simply don’t repeat themselves.

Though I am a regular viewer of The Miniatures Page, I am not one of its biggest fans. I simply feel there was a decline in the diversity and creativity of its posters. I hesitate to account for why that is, but it’s so. I mostly go there to see the work that others are doing, and I try to stay current on new stuff.

One era that has seen a lot of activity is the Vietnam War. Several posters have shared their painted figures and it has sucked me in. I’ve always had an interest in Vietnam but mostly from the standpoint of the America’s interest in the region, its entry into the conflict and the terrible toll politically, ethically and morally the country paid for fighting it. I truly believe there is nothing good that came from the Vietnam War and everything it touched was contaminated. Without Vietnam there would have been no Watergate. Without Watergate our lives would be very different. Vietnam and Watergate so eroded our belief and trust in government that now we have people attacking the capitol seeking to bring down an elected branch of government. That’s my opinion, like it or not.

A few years ago Mark Bowden, author of Blackhawk Down, wrote another book Hue, 1968. It is unquestionably one of the five best battle histories I’ve ever read and it sucked me into learning a bit more about the military history of the conflict.

When Gringo 40’s the British manufacturer, began producing figures for Hue it got my attention. It wasn’t just that the figures were available it’s that they are just so good. To be clear Empress Miniatures and Full Metal Miniatures also produce a figure range for Vietnam that are quite nice. But the G40’s figures have that je ne c’est quoi that make them really special.

The radiomen is excellent with superb detail Just couldn’t be better. Hopefully the super long RTO antenna lives through its first action.

This is especially true of the USMC figures. There are 45 figures in the range that include lots of M-16-carrying riflemen in many highly animated poses. Lots of detail that is easy to accent. Highly paint-able. With Marines shooting over walls or ducking behind cover, they are perfect for the urban house by house fighting in Hue.

Marine infantry team 1

I’ve finished all 11 of the Marine figures I’ve received. More about my approach to painting them in a subsequent post.

Sniper team with Remington rifle

I also ordered a smaller handful of the Gringo 40’s North Vietnamese Army figures. Again, these are very well crafted figures that mostly showcase regular guys with AK-47s with traditional NVA equipage. For me, they lack some of the animation and interest the Marines have. I think there is also a shortage of machine gun options for the NVA.

Because everybody needs a 3.5″ “Super Bazooka” team

At this writing, my eight figures are about 60% finished. I’ll share more when they are done.

I have a handful more figures coming, mostly Marines and a few Viet Cong. This is a project I’m working on with David Sullivan. We’re both limiting ourselves to 100-125 figures each, so this isn’t an endless project. Mark Waddington also has many painted 28mm Vietnam figures and is interested in playing too. I don’t think we’ve firmly decided on a set of rules, but we are definitely looking at Ganesha’s Flying Lead, and in a blast from the past Giac My, a very 70’s set of skirmish rules. I’m also dickering to purchase a bunch of printed buildings modeled on those in Hue. I’ll letcha know when or if it happens.


January was a solid painting month. I don’t know if you could call it great or spectacular but some things definitely got done.

1/300 Aircraft 6/150. Let’s see, that’s about 2% of my projected production, so there’s still a ways ago. Got distracted by other stuff.

1/1250 Ships 11/50 No new progress here for the past couple of weeks. I do have five ships to finish for February, but I am a little distracted right now. Still some stuff to arrive from Wartimes Journal too.

28mm figures 35/400 The last couple of weeks have been all about the 28’s. I finished 24 Woodland Indians and the 11 Gringo 40’s Marines

I have gone and bought some stuff this month. There were the WTJ and Shapeways orders. In addition I made the second Gringo 40’s order. Lastly, but every bit as important, I ordered 36 more Spanish musketeer figures for my America Rampant army. These are to fill out units, which are under-sized for Rebels and Patriots, and maybe add a new one as well. Lots of stuff got ordered, less in the future.

Goals for February.

  1. Finish all the Gringo 40’s figures I have and may receive.
  2. Complete the five ships I currently have, in addition to any more I might receive (come on WTJ.)
  3. Continue working on Woodland Indians. 24 down 48 more to go.