So, at heart, I’m a big geek/nerd whatever term you deem appropriate (shock and horror across the faces of anyone who knows me at that revelation). I’m also, unfortunately, someone who grew up mostly in the 1980’s, which is when most of my childhood memories are from. So this is the point where I say if you aren’t interested in my non-train ramblings, you should look away at some other corner of the internets for a bit.
My favourite Christmas present as a kid was Christmas 1985, when I got Optimus Prime, the leader of the Heroic Autobots from the cartoon The Transformers. He was cool, he was a big rig that transformed into a Robot, and had a repair station and scout in his trailer to help him out. He was also one of the hot toys that Christmas, and a lot of my friends didn’t get an Optimus Prime under the tree, which made me feel special.
Not a Train Part 3 in the back, and my G1 Optimus Prime from 1985 (though not really mine, I let mine be sold in a yard sale when i wasn’t interested in toys in my early teens, and eventually regretting it spent a fair bit of money re-acquiring one)
So, every summer, I attend TFCon in Mississauga with friends, it’s a fan run convention for Transformers fans. Along with several of my close friends, we collect Transformers toys still and read the ongoing Comic Book series. Last year at TFCon, I helped one of my friends who was liquidating his collection, as he’d realized he had bought stuff without any focus, so he got a dealer table and cleared out a ton of stuff to better homes to help him focus his collection. I used it as an opportunity to thin the herd and get rid of some duplicates or figures I had decided I didn’t want.
At the show last year, I was looking at the Art Contest Entries, and was thinking to myself, I could do well enough to compete in this. And I say that as someone who generally hates having their work judged, or even thinking that someone might judge their work if you take it out or let them see it.
After the show in July, a long time thought about building a really nice model of Optimus Prime that I’ve had over the years returned to me. By luck, in August 2016, I came across the AMT Retro kit of a 1970’s White Freightliner Cabover, the same style of truck that was used for the animation and toys that would become Optimus Prime. I duly acquired one from my regular source at Wheels and Wings here in Toronto, and set to work (The trailer kit and Italian Military Personnel Carrier were also bought here to support my local, the Hasegawa Kit from Japan was ordered through Ebay as by the time I’d settled on it, timing precluded W&W being sure they could get it into stock).
1/25th Scale AMT White Freightliner Cab Kit, with customization for Optimus Prime
The injection moulded parts are showing the age of the tooling in some spaces, especially in their fit and finish. The cab in particular is moulded in three pieces, the front, a “U’ shaped middle, and the back wall. Once they were aligned, they took a lot of filling to hide the ugly seam on the roof, while sanding and fileing to not lose the rivet detail. Some parts of the kit were also, frankly, just garbage looking and the chrome was so thick on the chromed parts it shattered leaving ugly marks whenever you removed a part from the sprue. To improve the look with a minimum of effort, I focused on replacing a few key parts to get the look right. I chose to replace the exhaust stacks, horns, roof lights and rearview mirrors. The turned aluminum horns and exhausts in the above photos are from MCA Model Accessories in England. The new mirrors and roof light castings are pewter/white metal from American Industrial Truck Models in New Jersey. I had never built a big rig model in my youth when I built a lot of plastic kits, so it was a new experience, but as with most things, I have discovered there is a huge community of enthusiasts manufacturing aftermarket parts and details to improve the starting point of a commercial kit. I didn’t want to go crazy, as I also wanted to achieve a somewhat toylike look for the model, but also do enough to get the kit to look better than its age.
In a move that I know will cause horror for some, all my painting on the truck and trailer were done using Testors Enamel Rattle Cans (bought using the convenient Michaels 50% One Item Coupons, yeah, I’m cheap too!!). This paint isn’t the greatest in the world for colour match, or achieving an even coat, but it hit the price point I wanted. It also does work so long as you are super careful in your application to not put too much on, which is very easy with the cans. I used a Bright Gloss Red and Metallic Blue for the Cab, and Graphite Grey Metallic and Flat Black for the exterior of the trailer. The trailer interior was left in Grey Primer. The diamond plate was painted flat black, then covered with Testors Chrome spray (again from the rattle can). On the exterior of the cab, I used Bare Metal Foil for the silver stripe, and to chrome the front bumper steps, handrails, and fuel tanks. There is also a bit of foil on the rear mudflaps.
The trailer graphics are vinyl material, meant for a Cricut machine or similar. I sketched up in CAD the shapes I needed, printed out templates, traced the shapes onto the material and cut the material by hand to apply in two stages. The first level was the silver base, then the blue stripes. The Autobot head logo is a pre-cut vinyl decal from Reprolabels. For the Autobot Symbols and license plates, a variety of 2D and 3D stickers from Toyhax/Reprolabels were used. They make replacement labels for 1980’s vintage Transformers, and add-on sets for newer toys. The 3D labels were applied in a variety of places including on the fenders and mud flaps, back of the trailer chassis, and engine air intake before painting, then primed and painted over to become subtle hints that this truck was “more than meets the eye”.
Italeri 1/24 Scale Refrigerated Trailer Kit, modified to have a folding down rear ramp as the Toy has, and showing the interior modifications for the Battle Station/Repair Bay, Roller (the scout car) and to hold weapons for Optimus.
To mimic the toy, I wanted the rear doors of the trailer to open, but they toy had a fold down ramp, so once I’d figured out how to create a single piece from the two-part rear doors, I added a tube at the bottom, and worked up clips on the trailer body to run a piece of aluminum bar through, allowing the rear doors to fold down. Inside the rear doors, I created two extension ramps as the door looked wrong folded down without an extension. The ramps slide in and out and are held in place by a combination of friction and the styrene frame around them. I also left the trailer roof separate to allow access to the interior for the other vehicles. For beneath the trailer, I added a pair of resin tool boxes with white metal handles from M&G Mouldings to look like the feet for the toy trailer.
I also did some work to improve the interior, adding a diamond plate floor, complete with a raised section with gates to hide the tracks on the Battle Station, and a weapons rack for primes laser canon when he transforms into a robot.
Roller, a 1/35 scale Trumpeter Models Italian Puma 6×6, and the Battle Station/Repair Bay, a Hasegawa 1/35 Hitachi Double Arm NEO Excavator. Both with varying degrees of modification.
For roller, I spent a lot of time looking at various options for military 6×6 vehicles that I could use. There were a lot of options out there, with very different looks. Roller, the little six wheeled car in the toy was described as a “scout”. So i wanted something that didn’t have heavy armaments or cannons, but which looked like something you could deploy to sneak about. I settled on the Trumpeter Models Italian Puma 6×6, because it was the right size and had the look of something stealthy. The only real upgrade I did was to order a set of brass radio mounts and wire whip antenna for the rear (from a random ebay seller).
For the Battle Station/Repair Bay as its variously described, I wanted something that had two arms as the toy inside the trailer had. I wasn’t worried about replicating the toys weird extending/fold out neck, as my goal on the project was to create what Optimus Prime would have looked like if he’d been a real truck in the 1980’s. I came across the Hasegawa Science World Hitachi Astro Neo Double Arm Excavator kit, and knew it was perfect. I think the only other Hasegawa kit I’ve ever built was a Sikorsky Sea King helicopter, but it was a joy to build. The parts went together so well, that even the instructions in Japanese weren’t an impediment! I only made a couple of modifications to the kit, installing two 3D printed canons on the sides, and making a radio antenna from scrap styrene, a wood dowel cap, and etched brass SD40-2 Locomotive Grills (bringing the trains back for anyone who kept reading!).
Both Roller and the Excavator were airbrushed with old stock Pollyscale C&O Enchantment Blue that I got dirt cheap at the Barrie Train Show. It has a nice matte sheen to it when sprayed over Tamiya Fine Grey primer. The claws and some of the details on the excavator were chromed with the Testors rattle cans.
TF Con 2017 3D Art Contest Entries, and the Trophies, custom-made from Transformers Toys for 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
At the show, the entries are all displayed on a table, in the 2D and 3D Art Competitions so the public can see them, and the judges can judge them. It was my first time entering a contest, other entries were more traditional TF Customs, where someone takes toys and re-paint/detail them to create other characters or unique characters. All told, there were 12 entries in the 3D Art Contest based on my looking at the table and the entry sign in sheet, so a 1 in 4 chance of coming away with something. One thing I learned, that I probably should have known, was that because they couldn’t see all sides, or move the models, details could be missed. Some of the other competitors had framed detail photos or work-in-progress info with their entries to aid the judges. In my heart, I probably knew I needed to spend some of my final prep time putting something together, but I also felt it looked so good, that it would stand well enough on its own.
So the big reveal, I won 3rd prize! I didn’t come away empty-handed from almost a years worth of work in building the model specifically to enter the contest. I received a lot of positive comments and feedback, and when I was packing it up, people pointed out that some of the details were probably missed by the judges because you just couldn’t see them until you were really close or they were pointed out. I got feedback as much from at least one person who I suspect was a judge. I was a bit disappointed if I’m perfectly honest when they announced 3rd Prize as being “Real Prime by Stephen Gardiner” in the speakers room at the convention, but then, I got past that and made my way up to collect the trophy, I realized I had achieved my goal of getting recognition and winning one of the three prizes on offer in my first attempt to do so.
My model and the 3rd Place Trophy. The Trophies were made out of Transformers Toys, painted Gold, Silver and Bronze.
I learned a lot from this, despite the fact that I generally hate contests and judging models. Fear of judgment (either in general or via a contest) has traditionally been one of the things that kept me from being more social in the Model Railroad hobby and showing off my work to others. By specifically setting out to do a project with the intention of entering it in a competition, I don’t think I did anything different to if I was doing it just for myself, but I did cross a hurdle in my own mind about letting others judge my work and being alright with the outcome. Maybe I could have gotten 1st or 2nd if I’d written this post or similar to point out the details and brought it with me, but at the end of the day, I won 3rd place and a bit of pride in my work. I can honestly say that the numbers of medals or trophies I’ve won for any competition I’ve taken part in, or sport I’ve played is small, so I’m going to revel in this for a bit, even if no one in their right mind pays attention to the outcome of the Art Contest at a Transformers Fan Convention!! Will I do a custom Transformers themed model again? Absolutely, but probably not in the next year or two. I need to decide what I would want to do, and make sure it doesn’t take away from the important business of model railroading!!