A child’s dream of a world to come

Searching for a couple of needed replacement parts for Blackbird on EBay

Model cars blog
Model car kits built by the author in 1959 and 1960

this week failed to yield the desired results, but it did inspire me to research another long forgotten topic from a long time ago. Model cars.

An adult’s vision begins with the dream of a child and model kits are in many ways one of those visions.

While searching for real world car parts needed for my classic ’57 Thunderbird last week was less than fruitful, the number of model car kits and parts for sale online was an eye-opener. To clarify, we’re talking about plastic model car kits that were produced and sold on store shelves when Blackbird was still a very young chick on America’s highways. The model kits allowed youngsters like me to build, customize and dream about cars that we were not yet old enough to own or drive.

The surprise to me was learning these glue together kits are now collectible and fetching much more than the $1.29 they sold for at the five-and-dime stores in Mount Pleasant, Texas when I was buying them prior to reaching teenage years. Some of the like-new kits (unassembled model car kit, all the parts and instructions still in the box) were on EBay at asking prices of $30-$50 or more. Even assembled cars, or partially assembled cars, were bringing bids of $20-$30.

What great memories the thought of building model cars conjured. Quickly forgetting Black Bird’s needs, I was lured into a memory land of kits I gazed at though the eyes of a 10-year old on a 25-cents a week allowance for taking out the garbage and pulling weeds from my mother’s flower beds. Models I had not seen or thought of in half a century.

At the peak of my model car building days, my bedroom was garage to some 100 assembled and painted model cars displayed on shelves. Most of the them were customized to some degree: lowered, smoothed bodies, custom painted, fashioned after real cars of the era.

The popular scale was 1/25th and the preferred brand, at least In my circle, was the AMT “three-in-one” kits. Build ‘em stock, custom or in racing trim. Monogram and 1/24-scale boulevard cruisers and hot rods were a close second. Opening the box exposed the builder to all of the parts needed that were molded, most in white plastic, on “runners” or “trees” to facilitate manufacturing of the kit. Removal of each part from the tree was required by gently twisting them to snap off. After that, each part had to be painted the correct or desired color, depending on individual preference for stock appearance or a customized version. Bumpers, grilles and wheels were typically chrome plated as were some engine parts on custom cars. So, each kit also required the purchase of Testor’s paints and plastic glue. Then an X-Acto knife, sandpaper and other tools were required. Before long, I had a model car custom workshop in my parent’s garage on Redbud Street turning out what I was certain would be the finest scale versions of the cars. Models that looked exaclty like the cars I saw in the hot rod magazines sneaked into history classes at school.

Moore’s Discount Center on the west side of the square in Mount Pleasant staged a handful of model car contests in the very early 60s. The pride for winning came not only in the trophy awarded, but for also having your winning custom car on display in the store window for a week.

Scale model cars were soon exchanged for the real thing as attaining driver’s ed age rolled around. The models collected dust as spending money on kits, glue and paint escalated into buying gas, oil and tires for the real thing.

Years had passed when one day my mother called some 20 or more years ago to deliver an ultimatum. “I’ve cleaned out closets and the attic,” she said, “and there’s several boxes of things you may want to keep. If not, I’m throwing them away.”

Much to my surprise, one of the boxes contained a half dozen or so of the model cars I had built and displayed in my bedroom circa 1960 or so. They were suffering a little from box wear and maybe some attic heat, but these were the model cars I had built. As I looked at each one, blowing the dust away and pushing on parts that were turning loose, the memories flowed faster than model plastic glue on my mom’s dining room table on a summer afternoon.

I’ve saved them, sometimes placing them on display for not only my own enjoyment, but to share memories with others. Learning recently these icons of an era and a part of my past were becoming collectible caused me to find them in the closet this week and get them out one more time. Maybe I’ll put them on a shelf in the garage to take their respective place among my automotive culture alongside Black Bird, Miss Vicky and Liz.

If you are acquainted with her, and possibly concerned about my mention of shopping for parts for the ’57 Ford Thunderbird in my garage dubbed and affectionately referred to as Blackbird, she’s fine. I was simply seeking to upgrade some of her carburetor linkage. Cars knocking on the door of 60 years old tend to acquire incorrect parts over the years and other parts tend to wear out. Not unlike me, now that I think about it.

But not to worry, Black Bird and I can always sit in the garage and gaze on the model car survivors, the dreams of a child from an era long, long ago.

—Leon Aldridge





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