- Written by Mark Krumrey
I often hear about "the good old days" or "the golden age of modeling" in reference to either the distant past or the past of our youth when we couldn't wait to get an allowance and go to the local "dime store", get a model, build it and play with it. I grew up in the Nokomis area of South Minneapolis and there were a number of Hobby Shops that were both near and far; Rings on 39th and Cedar in South Minneapolis, Woodcraft on Lake and Bryant, and Gagers are some of the ones that come to mind in addition to the local drug store, hardware store, grocery store, and the above mentioned "dime store". There was also one called "Joes Hobby Shop" on 38th and Chicago. Joe's specialized in plastic; no RC, trains or wooden boat kits at Joe's, only plastic and all the stuff you needed to help you out. That is the one I went to when I wanted to find a specific plastic kit. Joe was unique, kind of a nerdy guy, but for every dollar spent you got a coupon worth ten cents. If you bought a bottle of pop and it had a dot on it, you got something of equal value for free. So it was always fun to go to Joe's. I had to take the bus to get there, but I always enjoyed the trip as there was always an air of expectation. As with any enterprise, Joe's finally went away as the population aged, demographics changed etc. When I was fresh back from Vietnam in 1970 or 1971, I went to a place called "Custom Model Hobby" on 35th and Cedar avenue south. The guy behind the counter looked familiar, but I couldn't place him. I bought my model and he gave me a couple of coupons, and then I knew; it was Joe! Joe Bennet was his name and he was back with a vengeance, albeit short. He ended up selling the place to Mae Schroeder who increased the line of kits, offered a line of decals by Microscale and Scale Master, magazines and guys were hanging out there. She ended up moving the place to 44th and Minnehaha where Custom Model Hobby became the premier plastic model hobby shop in the Twin Cities and probably the five state area. In addition to a vast array of your Garden Variety Monogram, Aurora and Revell, Custom offered Tamiya, Fujimi, Hasegawa, Otaki, Airfix, Frog, Matchbox, Heller, MPC, Vacu-forms, more decals than "Carter has Pills", sheet plastic, square and round tubes of every imaginable size of plastic, a variety of cement, every possible model magazine imaginable to please the most discriminating modeler; a showcase full of quality and not so quality built models, contest winners, guys that knew the hobby and how to build, and the star of the show, Bernie Fletcher with his side kicks, Steve Ericson and Mark Copeland. What better way to spend a late Saturday morning and afternoon than by going to Custom. If the shop didn't have it, Bernie could get it, if not; you didn't need it. People came from as far away as Alaska to listen to Bernie pontificate on the state of modeling, offering up his take on the latest and greatest with such comments as "nice surface detail", "it's about time", and "if it wasn't for me I doubt Monogram would have produced the B-36!" Custom also spawned the Wednesday night Bernies Club meetings at the Air Guard base, where modelers of every stripe would come and work on kits and share techniques and ideas. One of those that came was Paul Murphy. Paul saw the need for a quality plastics only, local mail order shop that could also bring the kits to the modeler, and formed "Battle Hobbies". Sadly, in 1982 Custom ended up being sold by Mae as she didn't want to run the business any more and there were no takers from the modelers to buy it. The inventory was sold off, much of it going to Doug Gardner's fledgling "Scale Model Supplies" in St. Paul. Meanwhile, the Wednesday night meetings continued on and Paul Murphy's business grew; there was no place to go hang out any more and modelers wanted their kits and the latest and greatest plastic modeling had to offer and Paul delivered. Along with models one needs reference material and Axel Kornfurher supplied all the books and written word that would dazzle the most ardent modeler and historian, all brought to the modeler.
Nothing stays the same and the Air Guard base was no exception. With a ton of money from the Fed, the old WWII era buildings were slowly demolished, new ones were built and security intensified which meant the Wednesday group had to go. Bernie passed away in 1984 from cancer and the Wednesday group was no more. As time went on, Paul sold the business to John Roll of Roll Models.
The Twin Cities Aero Historians were always around and many of the folks at Bernie's Wednesday group were members of the TCAH. Soon John Roll and others were bringing models and books to the TCAH meetings for the members. Other online hobby shops also sprang up, Wings-n-Treads, and DRAW Decals for the most discriminating Air Line Modelers. As the demographics shifted, more and more shops went out of business, and these people, bringing kits and supplies to the meetings took on a greater importance. Now, as we near the close of the first decade of the 21st Century, we can truly say that these are the good old days and we are in the golden age of modeling. Where else can you have models and supplies brought to you the modeler? Who in their wildest dreams would have ever thought to see the myriad of aftermarket decals, accessories, books and kits that are available today, and the stuff just keeps on coming. So, the next time someone rues about the "Good Old Days" remind them of the old saying, "If Mohammed can't go to the Mountains, then the Mountains have to go to Mohammed" and here we are, the Stuff comes to the Modeler.
So friends, as a curmudgeonly modeler once admonished me, "shut up and build".