Remember the days when things were simpler?

Remember the days when things were … well … simpler? Baby boomer Joe Nolan of Hohokus, New Jersey, does, and his recent flight at an air show on a vintage aircraft — a B-17 bomber called the Yankee Lady — reminded him of what he’s missing… what we’re all missing. What Joe found is, everything reminds him of something else.

From an early age, I was interested in building scale models, usually of battleships and airplanes, including the B-17. I haven’t bought a model in a long time, but I suspect the plastic parts still look like this:

Plastic model of a B-17 bomber.

Plastic model of a B-17 bomber.

The first thing you do is break the pieces out of the runner system and then glue them together. I was about six when I built my first model — which was an aircraft carrier — and one of the first things I learned (the hard way) is that too much glue is far worse than not enough.

For a memory that’s more than fifty years old, I can still almost see the special cement oozing from the seam between two parts of the assembly when pressed together. My father would try to wipe the excess away, but it was nearly impossible because the chemicals in the glue partially dissolved the plastic, which discoloredand distorted it.

The plastic pieces for a B-17 model.

The plastic pieces for a B-17 model.

Each kit usually had some special components, either clear plastic that was used for windows, or in the case of automobile models, red plastic that was used for taillights. These pieces were especially ruined by over-application of glue, because it would fog up their transparency.

Special paints were offered in little glass bottles with metal screw caps, which you had to apply with fine point brushes. I was content to just put the pieces together, butI always applied the decals that came with the models. They were printed on clear plastic and mounted on wax paper that you dunked in water until you could slide them off the paper and onto the model. Getting these things into position was not the easiest thing in the world.

An actual World War 2 era B-17 bomber that's still flying.

An actual World War 2 era B-17 bomber that’s still flying.

Another thing I remember was the smell of the special glue, and warnings that it was never to be used in an unventilated area. I wasn’t told this then, but it was meant to keep me from getting high on the fumes.

It’s astonishing to me that airplane glue still contains dangerous chemicals that merit very serious package warnings. Just about anybody of any age can go into the store and purchase these products. I would’ve thought that in all this time, safer replacements would have been found, but apparently not.

As we’ve moved to a virtual world, fewer and fewer young kids are building models — which is too bad. There is something about holding the physical pieces and assembling them that no virtual reality— no matter how sophisticated— can replace.

The business is still alive, primarily driven by adult enthusiasts who are making some pretty sophisticated models. Building one sounds like it might be kind of fun.

[Editor’s note: Joe recently got the thrill of a ride in an old B-17. Here is a video he put together.]

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