Monday, June 29, 2009

The Sorrel Fighting Stallion - FOUND!

This is a post about the importance of using original source materials, not copies.

There are a number of models from the 1960s that came in the Five-Gaiter’s unique "Sorrel" color palette: the Family Arabians, the Western Prancing Horse, the "Bay" version of the original Donkey, and most notoriously, the Fighting Stallion. Some hobbyists assumed that these models were a rare and/or unknown special run or special order of some type.

I speculated, in an article I wrote several years ago for one of my Samplers, that these models were just a color variation of the Bay: in fact, the majority of "Bay" Western Prancing Horses are in this peculiar shade (one that I sometimes refer to as "Chocolate Milk Sorrel.") It’s only at the very end of the Bay WPH’s run where they actually start looking more Bay-like (but he never becomes true "Breyer Bay": he keeps his gray hooves!)

(Oh, the irony: the "Bay" version of the Bay Western Prancing Horse is actually the variation!)

While scanning the picture for the previous post from the 1968 Collector’s Manual, I took a closer look at the Fighting Stallion’s picture. Even though the picture is small, and in printed in sepiatones, the photo is obviously of the Sorrel version. He has the gray hooves typical of the Five-Gaiter’s Sorrel paint job!

For comparison, here’s a photo of the Bay Rearing Stallion from the same catalog. His hooves are quite obviously black.

The hooves are the main characteristic used to distinguish the Bay from the Sorrel. The body and mane/tail color may vary greatly and can be almost indistinguishable from Bay, but the Sorrel always has light gray hooves. Always.

The photographs used in the 1968 catalog are the same ones used in the 1966 through 1968 price lists; I don’t know if they were used anywhere else. The various incarnations of the Dealer’s Catalogs from 1966 through 1969 depict the Alabaster, not the Bay. The 1965 Dealer’s Catalog does use a sepiatone version of what appears to be a Bay Fighting Stallion to depict the Rearing Stallion (who was new for that year.) Unfortunately, I don't have a very good copy, so I really can’t make any judgments from it one way or another.

And that’s what the issue was here. I didn’t notice the gray hooves in the 1966-1968 pricelist pictures because they weren’t originals: they were multi-generational copies. I couldn’t tell that the hooves weren’t black - they were too small, and too blurred, for me to tell. My 1968 Collector’s Manual is an original, with the original contrasts and tones preserved.

It doesn’t just happen in black and white copies, either: color shifts occur in color copies and photographs, too. It’s particularly a problem with digital pictures on the Internet; most people don’t change the settings on their cameras, which are often set to make automatic color corrections. Whites get whiter, darks get darker, and colors shift from warmer tones to cooler ones, depending on the light source.

This is why I am loathe to make judgments about things such as color variations, Chalkies and Pearlies based on photographs on the Internet. Photographs can lie - or at least, not tell the whole truth. There’s enough bad data out there to overcome - we shouldn’t generate more based on poor quality copies and hastily-taken photographs!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Idocus and the Replacement Theory

Wow. I won a Valiant - third Connoisseur in the last six tries, and with just one subscription, too! Wish that kind of luck would rub off on the rest of my life.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the Idocus resin I saw at BreyerFest last year - he was pleasant enough, but seemed a little stiff looking. I finally got a look at a plastic one in person a few months ago, and changed my mind: being molded in plastic actually improved him. (Though I know some sculptors will never, ever admit that’s the case.)

He’s like the Trakehner mold’s sexier brother with a better haircut. Mon-el to Superboy, in comic book geek-speak. (With Smallville renewed for two seasons, there better darn well be at least one Mon-el episode in the works. But I digress…)

With the Idocus, though, I am reminded of something I call my "Replacement Theory": every so often, Breyer either consciously or unconsciously "upgrades" a model with an entirely new, but strikingly similar one.

The first "replacement" mold was the Western Prancing Horse: he "replaced" the Fury-Prancer. The Fury-Prancers were discontinued in 1961, and the WPH came out in 1962. They’re similarly posed, have molded on tack and removable saddles - and even their names are similar!

The second "replacement" mold was Man o’ War: he "replaced" the Race Horse. The Race Horse was discontinued in 1966, and the Man o’ War debuted in 1967. They’re both standing chestnut Thoroughbreds with molded on halters, neatly groomed manes and long tails. And the Man o’ War’s original name: Race Horse ("Man o’ War"). Here's a scan from the 1968 Collector's Manual:

Cue the spooky music!

See where I’m going with this? Is Idocus the "replacement" mold for the Trakehner?

Probably not, only because I don’t think the original Trakehner mold is going to disappear down the memory hole like the Fury and Race Horse mold did when they were replaced. (The Fury mold did continue on its own for a few years after - but only as the Fury, and that may have been a contractual thing.)

The original Trakehner mold, as far as I know, is just fine - physically, and aesthetically. What’s going on here is that Reeves is just adding another standing Warmblood to their repertoire - something in a sleeker, more modern style, much like the Rejoice was sort of an updated and more modern looking Saddlebred-like horse to complement the Five-Gaiter, who certainly hasn’t disappeared. (Hello, Gala!)

(No nattering about how neither one is a good representative of a Saddlebred - work with me here, people! We’re talking a matter of type, not quality!)

This isn’t my only silly Breyer theory. Most aren’t worth talking about, though, or even have much relevance to discussions of history. Though I might get around to discussing the "15 Year Rule" eventually, since the flea market season is in full swing…

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Charcoal Palomino?

I was reviewing some of my earlier material the other day - the stuff from that nebulous, lightly documented period of 1961/2 - and again found myself wondering about the origins and history of the color Charcoal.

The color Charcoal didn’t make its debut on a Breyer model until ca. 1961, when it first appears on the Mustang. On the duotone insert sheet, he’s simply listed as "Charcoal." (Interestingly, Charcoal is not listed as an available color for the Fighting Stallion, which means he might have been a later, or last-minute addition to the lineup.) Charcoal is the term used to describe this color in all known Breyer catalogs and price lists (except in the rare instances where an exceptionally dark Smoke model that could pass for Charcoal was represented. Those were still called "Smoke.")

However, in a couple of early mail-order fliers - both from Red Bird Sales, and Mission Supply House - the term used to describe the same color is "Charcoal Palomino." The fact that both of these mail order companies used this rather idiosyncratic way to describe this color suggests that they took it from the same source: presumably, from a still-missing wholesale price list from that era (1961, I'm guessing.)

Here’s a little snippet from the ca. 1961 Mission Supply House flier. I was going to include clips from the ca. 1961 Red Bird Sales flier, but they’re really poor quality multigenerational copies and rather unsightly. This is straight from an original.

That Breyer used one term to describe a color in the catalog, and quite another on their wholesale price lists, is something we covered briefly just a couple days ago. It’s not a surprise. Or a really big deal, to be honest, though it does suggest an interesting research topic.

What if Charcoals were actually based on an actual photograph of an especially Dark Palomino? Or maybe it was a photograph that labeled this color "Charcoal Palomino"? If so, it could be possible to track down the photograph that actually inspired the color.

Were other oddball colors - like the Gray Appaloosas, and "Honey Sorrel" also taken from similar photographic inspirations? Hmm.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Mysteries of Breyer Bay

I picked up a really nice Bay Missouri Fox Trotter yesterday - the No. 768 with green and gold ribbons. Nothing rare or fancy, but I’m a softie for both Missouri Fox Trotters and for a well-shaded Bay paint job, and the price was right. I haven’t bought many models strictly for me this year, and I really needed one right now.

Breyer has an … interesting history when it comes to the color Bay. They really didn’t start rendering the color "correctly" until the mid-1960s. What came before then - and for a long time afterwards - was a color I’ve come to call, for lack of a better term, "Breyer Bay."

Breyer Bay describes a red-brown base coat with a black mane, tail and hooves, four white stockings, and usually some manner of facial markings. What it lacks is the black legs or points that would make it a true "Bay." Some real-life horses do exist in this color as Breyer painted it, sorta, but I’m getting ahead of the discussion here.

Even Breyer couldn’t keep this version of the color straight in their minds: early catalogs refer to the Running Mare and Foal in this color as "Chestnut" while at the same time calling the Family Arabians and QH Gelding in this very same color "Bay." (All the while calling the distinctly chestnutty #36 Racehorse "Bay.")

And adding to the confusion, Running Mare and Foal were labeled as Chestnut through 1970 in the Dealer Price Lists, but they continued to be called Chestnut in the Collector’s Manuals through 1975! (Yes, this pretty girl is a semi-gloss with eyewhites. NFS!)


The existence of Breyer Bay has been an ongoing problem in my research. You wouldn’t think it the case, but one of the hardest parts of my research is writing correct and accurate color descriptions of all known Breyer releases. Some colors aren’t difficult to describe - like Black, or even many of the Decorator colors.

Sometimes it gets a little dicey when you’re trying to explain a color on a model that shouldn’t legally exist in the breed it’s meant to represent - the whole Palomino Arabian conundrum comes immediately to mind. But that’s more of a showing or breeding issue than a descriptive one. You can explain away your Palomino Arabian as a crossbred or an extremely pale chestnut to not get it disqualified from the ring, but visually, it looks like Palomino, and that’s how I describe it.

Now, in the showring, a model with a "Breyer Bay" paint job can be explained away as Chestnut, or Primitive Bay, Baby Bay, or some sort of roany or sabino type thing. But it’s still the same color, regardless of the way you explain it. When I began writing my descriptions, I realized that what I needed was a simple, concise way to describe it on paper with a minimum of confusion.

Because the last thing the world the model horse hobby needs is more color confusion. (Quite a few nonexistent SRs and variations can be chalked up to a seller’s - or potential buyer’s - poor choice of words. But that’s another discussion.)

So I took the lazy route, and just decided to go with the term "Breyer Bay" to cover it. Maybe it’ll catch on, and maybe it won’t. It does make my job a little bit easier, though.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I see there was a little bit of confusion about the whole issue of masking, so I will clarify.

Until recently, Breyer masks (also called templates, stencils, or some combination thereof) were made out of metal. They were physically clamped to the model prior to painting. The base coat would be spray painted over this mask. The model would then be unclamped from the mask once the paint was dry (which, believe it or not, reputedly took less than ten seconds to dry.) Additional details and colors would then be applied, to finish.

Here’s a nice photo of a paint mask being used on Stud Spider. This is from page 11 Marney Walerius’s book, Breyer Models. (I wanted to show off and tell you which one of the Stud Spider masks it was - there’s more than one version - but the angle of the photograph isn’t helping.)

Since models would vary slightly in size and shape as a result of the molding process, the fit on these masks was always a problem. You’d get paint under the mask wherever the mask didn’t fit snugly: that’s what we call overspray. Sometimes you’d get lucky and get someone with clean masking - either the fit was good, or the painter was. But more often than not, you’d find yourself rationalizing the overspray on an otherwise showable model as mapping or haloes.

The laser-cut adhesive stencils used today are a relatively new phenomenon - brought to us via the increasing affordability of this technology, collector demand for more and better detail, and from the competition (Peter Stone) implementing it first, to good effect.

Breyer and Reeves did experiment with adhesive masking before, but it tended to be limited either to test colors, preproduction models, or early orders on new releases where the metal masking wasn’t ready yet (like the Polled Hereford Bull.) And they used plain old masking tape and (if we were lucky!) an X-acto blade.

The laser-cut masks are not foolproof. They are still subject to painter error, especially if they are very intricate, hastily applied, or designed for a model who is not as sedately or smoothly sculpted as a Stud Spider. All of those problems probably contributed to the painting problems on the Traditional Hidalgo Silvers.

I’m not one of those anal-retentive types who’ll freak out over every flaw. I grew up in the era of fuzzy gray stockings and overspray: back then, a cleanly marked model was a privilege, not a right. I’ll forgive a small flaw or two. Especially when the effect - such as my semi-Decorator Connoisseur Kennebec Count - is so darn amazing. We've come a long way since the era of Stud Spider.

(But I love my Spiders, too.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

BreyerFest. And Stuff.

Don't get used to me posting every day, guys and gals. As I said ... I have lots of unexpected free time on my hands this week. I'll take this post to wrap up some loose ends. Some personal, some model horsey. A regular-type history post is on deck for tomorrow.

There are no plans to put my collection online, yet. I'm trying to finish up various other creative projects first before I tackle something that intimidating. Like getting Marney Walerius's album online: I have scanned and prepped all of the photos, but I haven't had the time or energy to design and upload the site.

Me being a full-time writer (of the model horse or non-model horse type) has been suggested to me several times before, but I'm the kind of person who really, really needs a regular schedule to accomplish anything. And what I mean by a regular schedule is a full-time job with predictable hours. (Preferably one that includes a desk and a chair.)

Currently freaking out about my BreyerFest situation, making phone calls, dealing with all the drama that comes with being me is enough to keep me motivated in the short term, but I really, really do need a regular, full-time job with semi-regular hours before I can make any measurable, long-term progress in my creative endeavors.

Speaking of BreyerFest ... as some of you know, I have roommate problems. I always have roommate problems. Because of all the nonsense that's been going on, I haven't yet made the effort to find one. (There's a possibility my brother could fill in if necessary - he's fully Breyer and BreyerFest-trained - but part of the reason to go to Kentucky is to get away from my family.)

(And because I know some of you might be wondering, yes, he's single, available and he likes girls. But he's also a bit of a cheapskate. And opinionated. He could really use a makeover, too.)

Originally I was thinking I wouldn't even need a roommate if the job thing was going to last a few weeks longer, but that didn't happen. Now I have to make every dollar count! I'll make the formal announcement of need tomorrow (Friday) in all the usual places, but since we're all friends here, I'll let y'all know about it first. Especially since you of all people would know what you're getting into, right?

All of the usual requirements apply: nonsmoker, no kids or pets unless they're potty-trained and semi-independent, no drama, no spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend issues, no sneaking out and trying to leave me with the bill, etc. I'm at the HIN, allegedly the first floor, but you know how that is. I'll be selling stuff, gossiping and distributing my Samplers, so you gotta be okay with that. (I really am a bit of a diva!)

I'm also okay with anyone who wants to rent sales space for a night or two. I may have one person coming in for one night of that already.

And of the Samplers - I will try to have back issues available to those folks who missed out on last year's issue. As well as copies of some older back issues I found in my files. The back issues you'll have to ask for separately - I won't have every issue, and I won't have enough to go around for everybody.

The horse licking stuff? Yeah, I know, weird. My inherent weirdness probably contributed to the demise of that retail job. That place was a little too culturally conservative to contain my personality.

But it also stems, partly, from my training as an Art Historian. I had a wonderfully engaging Art History professor in college who constantly reminded us that the only way to fully appreciate a work of art was to explore it with all your senses, and not just the visual. "Don't just look at it, explore it! Walk around it. Touch it, smell it, lick it if you can get away with it!"

Hence the lack of hesitation when it comes to Breyer tasting. It's just a part of the research process, folks.

Puppy situation: not happening. Right now anyway. (More crazy drama? You bet!)

Job situation: I'm back to the job I had before, which I had the common sense to not formally quit in the first place (the life I live needs lots of backup plans. And backups to the backups.) Not thrilled by it (hours not regular, lots of travel) but at least they're happy to see me, and I know that I'm wanted. Worked today and I'm working tomorrow, in fact.

And since I have to get up extra early in the morning for that, I bid y'all adieu.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Appaloosa

As I was compiling my BreyerFest saleslist yesterday, I discovered that I had three different Appaloosa Yearlings. I didn't realize they were all that popular around here: the Thoroughbreds and Adioses I find I understand (I live in an area that used to have a small but thriving horse racing industry.) But Appaloosa Yearlings? Go figure.

I have a disproportionately large collection of Appaloosa Yearlings in my own private collection, but that's because it seems to be one of those models – like the Black Stretch Morgan, or the Chestnut Saddlebred Weanling – that comes in endless variations. My post today, however, is about only one of those Yearlings. This one:

I purchased her several years ago at BreyerFest. Even in the low light endemic to the host hotel, she stood out: she was one weird girl. Nearly gray, with pale yellow spots. I had to have her! For comparison, here's a relatively normal/average Appaloosa Yearling:

And believe it or not, it's a variation that actually comes with an explanation: my gray girl is a Shrinky!

I almost totally missed out on the Shrinky phenomenon originally: most of the Shrinkies collectors discover or seek out nowadays date to the late 1980s or early 1990s, a period in which I wasn't really buying all that many new horses. (There's a long, interesting story about how I ended that hobby “hiatus,” but another time, sweeties, another time.) The only ones I recall having were the BHR SR Indian Ponies: my Bay one was particularly … oozy. And at the time, I attributed it to something else entirely.

I don't know what precisely causes the shrinking: something is slightly off in the composition of the Tenite, or in the molding process, that causes models to shrink, warp, crack and (sometimes) ooze. I haven't put any time into discovering what the precise problem is – it is again, another consequence of a lack of time and way too many topics to cover.

Just because some of your models are slightly taller or shorter than others of the same mold doesn't automatically make them Shrinkies, however. Tenite is a semi-synthetic material that's subject to environmental factors, and you're going to have some minor variations in size and shape as a result.

There are several other indicators of a models status as a true Shrinky, and this very pale girl of mine taught me that.

A while back I took a picture of this girl as an avatar on Blab. She was a bit dusty in spots, so I gave her a quick lick in lieu of walking over to the nearest sink and rinsing her off. I wasn't expecting her to taste so … nasty! I had to run to the sink anyway and rinse out my mouth!

I had licked some of my Breyers before in similar situations and had not experienced that before. Sometimes I'd feel a bit of a tingle, but nothing quite so dramatically wrong. What on Earth was going on?

I compared her to my other Appaloosa Yearlings and noticed that she was somewhat shorter than the rest – not dramatically, but noticeably. I then recalled a Spanish-Barb Buckshot I had in my collection that was slightly smaller than average, and of a somewhat unusual color – more pink than chestnut. So I pulled her out of storage, and gave him the lick test too.

Same result. Grossness! And out of that grossness came an epiphany (of sorts.)

I had noticed on eBay and elsewhere a number of unusual looking chestnuts – ones that were more pale, peachy pink than actual chestnut. Most of theme were on models from the late 1980s or early 1990s. They were pretty distinctive: why hadn't I noticed these guys before, when they came out? Was it another case of me being insufficiently observant?

No, it was probably because the paint finish hadn't yet started reacting to the messed up chemical composition of the Shrinky plastic. It took a few years before Chestnuts turned pink … and Bays turned gray!

My Appaloosa Yearling was not a variation, in the strictest sense. She was a Shrinky.

Shrinkies do still occur from time to time: last year at BreyerFest, my friend Bernie showed me a smallish, slightly off looking Diamondot Buccaneer who, one lick test later, revealed his true nature. And he was made several years after that first, now notorious batch.

I'm not advocating a wholesale licking of your collection to root out your potential Shrinkies – there are some that definitely don't need that test. (Especially if they're oozing!) But if you're curious, and have nothing better to do in the privacy of your own home ….

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Personal Stuff: Drama, Pt. 2

Add "getting fired" to that list of personal drama issues.

It wasn't completely unexpected - I was sort of expecting it not to happen until shortly before BreyerFest, though. (I won't discuss the name of the store, but those of you who live in the area may be able to guess.)

It was explained up front as a "seasonal" position, with the potential to turn into a permanent one. A retail establishment opening a new store in the area: we were hired to build it, stock it, and open it. Everyone was going to get trained in all aspects of the store, blah blah blah, etc. No decisions on who was staying, for at least a month.

I was fine with the arrangement, until the rosters were announced for the store opening. I was dumped in the cashiering pool. Where my talents were ... least effective. I won't get into the details here, but I have a lot of experience with the products the store sells, and I brought in evidence of that. In the rare moments where I was allowed to work in the rest of the store, other employees - and customers - remarked on my talents and expertise.

It was pretty clear that, although promises had been made to rotate people throughout the store, and to train everyone equally, that was not the case. In fact, almost no one in the cashiering pool was getting much of any training anywhere else. We were the folks who, by sheer accident, didn't happen to have developed a close personal relationship with any of the other managers brought in to help build the store.

We were doomed before we even opened.

I bravely battled my fate: I repeatedly requested for more training, more rotation within the store, to work in areas that needed help. I was told that the decision to place people where they were was one of expedience, that no one should be comfortable in the positions they were, and once the grand opening was done, the actual training and placing would begin.

The next schedule came out. It was quite obvious that I was still in the cashiering pool. The "grand opening" cashiers weren't really being rotated into the rest of the store. Other people in other departments were getting more training in the areas they weren't supposed to be "getting comfortable with." And not only that, almost everyone in the cashiering pool had their hours cut.

It was pretty obvious, despite their reassurances to the contrary, what was happening. Decisions had already been made.

I shouldn't be this upset, but I am. I worked hard, I fought for myself, I kept trying to get the message out about my talents, but it was all for naught: my fate was determined almost purely and literally where I was standing the day before the store opened. Luck beat hard work and talent, again. And I've never had luck on my side, ever.

Story of my life, it seems.

Fresh, model-horsey post first thing tomorrow, after a not-so-good night's sleep.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Seeing Stars

Sorry about that. My life suffered a temporary overdose of drama.

I had to deal with a death in the family, a divorce, major surgery, a grand opening, and a rescue puppy. (Not in that particular order, either of importance or happenstance.) The normal state of my existence is already at barely organized chaos: mix in all of the above, and it shouldn't be any surprise that the past couple of days have ended with me collapsing into the nearest available comfy chair.

And falling asleep.

This kind of simultaneously occurring weirdness happens to me from time to time, which probably explains my general avoidance of soap operas and reality shows. They all pale in comparison to what I have to deal with on a daily basis. I won't go into further details, except to say that I consider my hobby activities to be among my more “mundane” aspects of my life. And a very welcome one, at that.

I'll make up for it right quick. I have some unexpected free time this week.

I did manage to wake up in time Sunday morning to have a reasonably good day at the flea market – something I sorely needed. Neither my work schedule nor the weather had been especially cooperative in the past month, and before that, I had an unpleasant … incident with another collector that had mildly soured me on the whole experience. (No grabby hands while someone else is perusing the box of horses! Bad flea market etiquette, ladies, bad! Grr.)

While cleaning up some of the newest acquisitions for BreyerFest, I ran across another one of those “how could I have not seen that before” observations. Take a look at these two handsome boys: a nice, if run-of-the-mill Appaloosa Gelding, and a darker than average El Pastor. Notice something peculiar?

Yep, same star, used on completely different molds. For comparison, here's the star on the Chalky El Pastor I also happened to pick up Sunday morning (yes, ladies, he'll also be on the saleslist):

Almost all Breyer models show some variation in their masking, and several Breyers from the 1970s and 1980s are notable for their facial marking variations: the original releases of both the Yearling and the Saddlebred Weanling are actually quite notorious for it. (At least four known for the Yearling, and about …. a kajillion for the Weanling.) But I hadn't thought they actually reused painting masks on completely different molds. I always thought they were uniquely designed for each mold.

On Traditionals, anyway. Now, I had known for quite some time that Breyer had reused some of the star and blaze masks on the Classic molds, particularly the Racehorses, but I chalked that up to (a) mold confusion among the painters at the factory, and (b) the fact that the molds share enough similarities in size, shape and style that any minor inconsistencies in the fit could be compensated for. It never occurred to me that Breyer considered the facial masks on the Traditionals interchangeable as well.

But I just happened to have these guys standing next to each other in the bath assembly line, and there was the evidence, staring me right in the face.

It makes sense, though: those small masks could be easily lost or damaged, and it's cheaper to reuse what you have on hand than create another one. Faces are also relatively “flat:” issues of fit and overspray would be relatively minor. (Though minimizing overspray back then wasn't high on Breyer's list of priorities, either.)

This is one of those backburner research projects I'll have to get back to at another time (cf. “chaos,” above). I'll still have to work out attributions and chronologies: in layman's English, which masks originally belonged to which mold, and when they were used.

Programming Note: Since I am dreadfully behind on my BreyerFest preparations, a lot upcoming posts may be BreyerFest related, in whole or in part.

And re: the puppy. He's not here yet. If and when he finally shows up on our doorstep, y'all will be the first to know.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Profitable Pork Selection

I like to tell folks that the greatest influence on my social life was probably the mid-day lineup of a local independent television station Channel 50 (it's now our local CW affiliate.) What was in that lineup? Mr. Ed, The Adventures of Superman, and Bill Kennedy's At the Movies.

From Mr. Ed came the love of horses, and from Superman came the comic book fixation. Those two obsessions should be obvious to any long time readers here. But the movies?

Bill Kennedy was practically an institution around here – a B-movie actor and announcer who hosted his own show in the Detroit market for decades. He made me and many of my friends and family into diehard movie buffs. I even worked at a movie theatre for three years. (My family thought the free movies were the best job benefit ever.) In case you haven't noticed, an awful lot of my blog post titles have been puns or plays on the titles of movies.

I'm not real particular about the kinds of movies I see: I have silents, shorts, educational and industrial films in my video collection. One movie that I've been dying to see still eludes me, though: it's called Profitable Pork Selection.

Sound familiar? It's the movie starring Jasper, the Market Hog!

It was produced Department of Animal Sciences at Purdue University, in conjunction with the American Cyanamid Company, who purchased Jasper and donated him to Purdue after he was named “Grand Champion Barrow” of the 1969 International Livestock Exhibition in Chicago.

Purdue either doesn't have a copy of in their archives, or has misplaced it. (This is not an uncommon occurrence with educational and industrial films, alas.) I've searched high and low for a copy of this film on various online archives devoted to these kinds of films, also with no results. It's possible that American Cyanamid may have a copy lying around somewhere, but I haven't had the time – or the nerve – to pursue any leads there so far. (Ironically, their headquarters are also now in Wayne, New Jersey!)

I have been able to find the person responsible for engineering Jasper's fame, however: her name was Helen M. Maddock. Here's a brief biography of Ms. Maddock, culled from the Iowa State University web site, where there is a scholarship in Animal Science named after her:

American Cyanamid Company hired Helen in 1953, and she worked for that company until her retirement in 1986. [...] Her tasks revolved around the use of antibiotics with livestock, particularly hogs, as she fulfilled the various roles of technical writer, advertising manager, product manager, and program manager. While with Cyanamid, Helen contributed to the defense of antibiotic use at Congressional and FDA hearings. She also was responsible for using Jasper, the 1969 International Grand Champion barrow, to promote the ideal market hog via slides, a movie, a booklet, and a model. (This advertising effort was so successful that not only do her nieces and nephews all recognize Jasper when they see his sturdy plastic model, so do her grandnieces and grandnephews!) Helen's professional activities were admired by her peers throughout her thirty-eight years in the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) and culminated with her selection as an Honorary Fellow of the ASAS in 1987.

Neat, eh?

By the way, the Jasper in the photograph above is another little treasure from my collection: he was signed by Jasper's breeder Jack Rodibaugh, and purchased from Jack's sister, Mary Margaret Fox. How's that for an impeccable pedigree?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Volunteer Models

The past three weeks have been a long, hard slog though some nasty territory. I managed to come out the other side with a not-bad paycheck, and a possible gig that might get me through to BreyerFest at least. It's not paying me a lot, but it's been a halfway decent place to me so far, and having a semi-regular stream of money and work is actually quite a pleasant experience.

Don't be fooled, though: I’m not one of those people who thinks the natural state of a person is perpetual happiness or contentment. Sometimes you just gotta be grumpy, ornery or sad: these feelings are all part of spectrum of human emotion, and there's no shame in feeling or expressing them – within reason, of course. So please bear with me as I get this last bit of grumpiness out of my system.

From the prescient content of some of my posts, I know some folks must think that I am in cahoots with Reeves somehow. I am not: any speculation that gets posted here that’s confirmed by official sources elsewhere is purely coincidence. Okay, there have been a lot of coincidences lately, but really, it’s just a side effect of the research. When you get to know a subject deeply and thoroughly, you’re in a better position to make the right kind of guesses.

I am not one of the Secret Masters of the Model Horse Universe.

I won't lie: for a while there it felt like I was. When you've got folks from Reeves flying in to see your collection, and other hobbyists who confess to being your groupies, it's understandable. But it's been years since I’ve been on the Reeves comp list. They know who I am, but it’s not like I can call them up and lay down some Jedi Mind Tricks and have them do my bidding. If that were the case, I’d have a lot more test colors and stuff. I think they might still owe me a couple.

(Silver Filigree and Gloss Charcoal QH Geldings would be fabulous, BTW. You have my address on file.)

This is the Strapless that I received for my volunteer services at BreyerFest 2007. It may come as a surprise to a lot of people, but this is the only volunteer model I own. It's not that I used to own more and sold them – you should know by now I'm not that kind of person – it's that I've not been invited or asked.


It's not for a lack of effort – I've gone the conventional route and applied (several times), and I've gone the unconventional route, and had more than a few other hobbyists attempt to get me to speak or give a seminar on various topics. I've dropped hints myself – both subtle, and not so. All to little result: the powers that be aren't interested.

(And me getting in in 2007 was probably some fluke in the first place: that was the year they went begging for applications.)

On the flip side, I don't have to coordinate my tent times – or any other part of my trip – to a volunteer schedule. I can do and say what I please. I can do the early morning Ninja Pit Death March, wear inappropriate tee-shirts, wander aimlessly, and cuss whenever and wherever I want to. These are all plusses.

Still, it feels weird. I have been a loyal and faithful ambassador to the hobby for years. I write, research, publish. I should be contributing more. I want to contribute more. Other hobbyists think I'm contributing more.

I have received very little in the way of financial rewards for my efforts, and I'm okay with that: it's a hobby, not a vocation. I'm not doing it for the money, or the model. It's all about the recognition, the acknowledgment of my efforts. I don't get a lot of that in my non-horse life – and I'm not likely to – which probably explains why it bothers me a little more than it should.

I find the yearly carping and moaning about the quality, color or mold of the volunteer models perplexing: volunteer models historically haven't been uniformly mindblowing, and I'm not expecting that trend to change anytime soon. Sometimes I think that Reeves does this intentionally, to remind hobbyists that it's a gift, not payment. Or (cough, cough, ahem) an entitlement. Make the models too awesome, and you'll double the already too high resentment factor.

I wouldn't care if it was a lime green Khemosabi with hot pink points. Then again, my collection is practically a rest home for unwanted test colors and special runs.) It's a moot point for me (again) this year though.

Ah, maybe I'll get lucky and find someone special in the Ninja Pit this year.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Lying Down Foal's Pimples

Several years ago I worked at an injection molding firm; I already knew quite a bit about the injection molding process by the time I got there (the production manager was quite impressed that I actually knew was Tenite was) but I also managed to pick up quite a bit more information about injection molding – the kind that has proven quite helpful in my model horse research.

(It was car parts, not horses or toys, BTW. At one point I tried to convince this particular company that horses might help with their “cash flow” problem, but that was a nonstarter. And it is also, now, a noncompany.)

During some downtime I actually skimmed some of the reference material in the engineering and design studio, and in the process ended up solving a minor Breyer mystery: why the Traditional Lying Down Foal has “pimples.”

On most of the earlier Lying Down Foals, the pimples are fairly prominent – to the touch, if not the eye – and cover a large portion of the righthand side of the mold. Most of the more recent releases of this mold don't sport the pimples anymore, but I don't think it has anything to do with any alterations or corrections made to it: I think they're just being polished off or removed with an acetone rubdown – after assembly, but before painting. This may explain why they haven't released many Lying Down Foals recently – it requires too much prep work!

What probably happened to the mold was something called “orange peeling.” Here's a concise explanation of “orange peel” from the book Tool and Die Making Troubleshooter, by Richard M. Leeds (published by SME, 2002.)

During the polishing process, exerted pressures have a burnishing rather than a cutting effect that can be the principal cause of a localized plastic deformation known as orange peel. Orange peel is characterized by a rippled appearance, which develops when polishing pressures exceed the yield strength of the steel at its surface. Once orange peel appears, there is tendency to apply more pressure to eliminate the rippled appearance, and doing so often results in severe pitting of the steel.

Pits are small depressions that may form when small abrasive particles are torn away from the surface where polishing pressures exceed tensile strength. The appearance of pits during polishing is frequently blamed on defects in the steel, but this is often not the case. A clue to the source of pits may be their orientation. If the pits are the result of nonmetallic inclusions present in the steel, they will usually be randomly oriented and few in number. However, if pitting is the resulting of overpolishing, they will tend to be numerous and spread over most of the polished surface.

Those little depressions would turn into bumps when the parts are molded. They're numerous, and spread over most of the righthand side of the mold. It seems a reasonable assumption: the Lying Down Foal mold was overpolished. There's some evidence that the Lying Down Foal mold was extensively retooled prior to full production, so it's likely that the orange peeling and pitting occurred sometime during that phase. I know it had to have happened at least before 1971: all of my early Lying Down Foals with Blue Ribbon Stickers - including the little one at the top of my post - have pimples.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Toe to Toe

Hmm. Those Summer Solstices are nice. And me with a decent sized check coming this week. Oh, the temptation! I really need to pay off the credit card bill first, though. And fix my teeth. And get new glasses. I could use some new shoes, too, come to think of it. Darn you, life, for getting in the way!

Another short one tonight: tonight's gripe is about the whining and carping about the Proud Arabian Mare mold. To listen to the neighsayers, you'd think the poor mold was little more than a misshapen blob with a slight resemblance to a horse.

Get over yourself. It's a slightly bent leg, not a fifth one:

The degree of bend on the newer Proud Arabian Mares varies from Paso-like paddling to near perpendicularity. Here's a slightly blurry but still legible front end shot of my J.C. Penney's XMAS SR Solid Bay with stripe, ca. 1983. I bought her from a very reputable collector, so I know there was no funny business involved:

I've gotten conflicting stories as to what was wrong or missing from the original Mare's mold when they decided to bring her back. Was it half the mold, part of the mold, or just the cooling boards? I don't know.

The most common explanation I received back in the day was that the cooling board fixtures were missing. These fixtures are essentially metal "braces" that freshly molded parts are placed in to minimize warping and twisting while the plastic is cooling. You can see pictures of some of these fixtures on page 9 of Marney Walerius's Breyer Models:

This bending occurs because Tenite is a semi-synthetic plastic, and is subject to even minor changes in the environment. The heat, the humidity, the quality of the plastic, the quantity of regrind in the plastic, what the mold operator had for dinner the night before can affect the degree of warpage.

Another potential source of the problem is the original source material: the large H-R Zara. As reported in Nancy Young's classic tome Breyer Molds & Models, some Zaras also experience the toeing out phenomenon. In reworking or recasting whatever parts were necessary from the H-R original, the flaw inherent in the Zara mold as it existed back in the early 1970s may have been passed on to her descendant, the Proud Arabian Mare.

I've gotten some flack from a few hobbyists upset with the suggestion that Hagen-Renaker or Maureen Love were ever capable of mistakes - it just had to be Breyer themselves who screwed up something of incomparable beauty! (Those idiots!)

A lot of hobbyists are all too quick to attribute errors - intentional or otherwise - to malice. A mistake or flaw isn't simply a mistake or a flaw, it's just gotta be deliberate ignorance or incompetence!

Nonsense. Mistakes happen. They just do. It isn't incompetence, it's the law of averages at work. Even the most talented, most competence people in the universe make mistakes. Perfection is not achievable. And what would be the whole point of having horse shows if it was?

Monday, June 1, 2009

UP! with Summer Solstice

I see the sourpusses are out in force again, complaining about the latest Web Special Summer Solstice. So predictable.

Sourpussing isn't unique to our little hobby, you know. It's endemic to most tightly knit, mildly obsessive online communities. Here's an extremely topical one: I've always been a big animation fan, and one of my regular Internet bookmarks is the site Cartoon Research, run by Jerry Beck, a cartoon historian of some note. His blog is frequented by a lot of professional animators and people who are really, really into cartoons.

The comment threads there are infuriating, hilarious and eerily familar. The consensus there is that Pixar's glory days are in the past: they haven't made a “good” film since, oh, Toy Story 2. Ratatouille was a bore, and Wall-E a total failure. The general consensus on UP! so far is fairly positive, but there are already a few naysayers trying to suck out all of the joy. (And they'll probably succeed, since the same thing happened to Ratatouille and Wall-E.)

No, really. I'm not joking. Go check it out for yourself and see. (Cartoon Brew is the blog section.) Some of the most successful films of the past decade, written off as less-than-worthy by the “experts.” Seeing the same kind of nonsense going on in other communities sort of puts it in perspective – and explains why I can't muster more than an eyeroll and “whatever” combo anymore whenever the negativity gets rolling anywhere in the online model horse community. Criticism is one thing: balloon popping is quite another.

I wouldn't mind buying a Summer Solstice – I've been jonesing for Breyer to do a dapple black special or regular run item for a while now. It's a hard color to photograph decently, though, so I'll wait and see what they look like before I commit the money to it. I still have a lot of bills to pay, in spite of the recent influx of cash, and I'm just being cautious.

He has that whole mullet thing going on too, though his new tail is decently modeled at least. But I do love my spotless DZ Weedo, and I think Reverend Happy would like a pasture buddy. The price I paid for my Weedo versus the Summer Solstice isn't that different, and I suspect the piece counts aren't that different either, so the combination of price and quantity seems okay to me. (There's quite a funny story about the Reverend's name, but I'm not feeling particularly funny today. Another day, another day.)

The fact that they used the same blanket and spot pattern isn't a turn off, either – they all used to do it all the time, back in the day. Those pattern templates don't come cheap – even the new and improved ones. I find it refreshingly “retro.” (I know, I know, mullets are also retro, but not in a good way.)

And I haven't gotten a new something – a new anything, really – in quite a while, except for things I've needed for work (food, clothing, gasoline.) I was quite literally asleep when the Music Cities went on – and then off – sale. I logged off the Internet, went to bed for a couple of hours, woke up, logged back on, and discovered what I missed.

I know the economy is in the toilet and all that, but the crazy speculation going on with those Zippos has pretty much caused me to write off ever getting one, at least in the near future. I counted 25 Music Cities on MH$P at one point, which is insane when you consider that (a) that's out of 200 pieces, (b) that's not counting the private sales, presales, and the sales yet to be when Reeves finally ships the rest of them out, and (c) it's a mold that is allegedly not all that popular.

Whatever. Another day, another horse to complain about.