Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Stuart Phillip Frederick McDonald Part 1 of 2

Sadly - I don't have any other photos of "Our Stuart" as his Hartlepool based family used to call him, other than the one in the inset there. That's his dog Doolie.
[Note - I meant to post this on the 15 year anniversery but got it in my head it was closer to today and missed it - ah well - on to the tribute:]

Unless you are really something special, there's usually someone who helped introduce you to this wonderful hobby of ours. Stuart McDonald here was my introduction - not only into gaming but into English history, culture and comedy which I adore to this day. I won't drone on about Flashman, Doctor Who, Monty Python, and Benny Hill but all have been lifelong companions thanks to Stuart. But instead, let's talk about our early experiences with miniatures:

Oh someone brought in some brittle HO scale Airfix 8th Army figs to the elementary school in 1976, 77? and I remember setting them up in the sand box and making all the accompanying machine gun/rifle noises. 

Then someone brought in Airfaix Australians a few years later in fourth grade and those were a new generation of sculpting and looked great. I was never really sure where all these little ones came from as I was content with action figures of the Star Wars/ GI Joe variety. 

Sleep overs in those days were much more common than I remember today but, as one of his classmates, I got invited to Stuart's birthday party sleep over without about six others who had an interest in Dungeons and Dragons. We weren't particularly close - he was just the "kid from England". As the party got on,  I soon discovered the kid had thousands of Airfix figures and tanks, Britains, Atlantic Roman and Greeks, the ships that came with them. Buildings, trees, vehicles of all kinds. Yet more miniatures squirreled away in boxes. Going through it all was heaven. He couldn't have been 10 and had a collection that hoarders today would be envious of.

He told me that when they moved over from Hartlepool over half of his collection got left behind! This wasn't even half of it? We became close friends soon after that.

One of the Anchors of Arden Fair Mall
Stuart had acquired much of his new stuff from the long gone Toy Shop in Arden Fair where I bought my first pack of HO Scale Airfix for $1.25. I believe it was Prussians from the Waterloo range. What the hell was I going to do with those? Set them up in little firing line with more sounds of mouthy musketry, explosions and screaming wounded. 

Our parents were lenient and sleep overs became weekly so we could watch war movies and play mostly WW2 games as I recall it. Stuart's continued friendship brought on March or Die, Zulu, Zulu Dawn, Sand Pebbles and war films of all kinds forever after. The fuse was lit! I talked my grandmother into getting me the Naverone playset with the 54mm Germans, then a Pork Chop Hill set with three plasti-form hills and various guns and equipment. Military gaming was becoming my exclusive choice of leisure pursuits in one form or another. 

Another fateful day: I'm introduced to Viking Hobby!

Stuart and I hung out a lot as kids and Viking Hobby was a regular haunt for both of us. While the Toy Store had a little section of HO scale stuff they had very little lead - lots of Tamiya 1/35 scale kits, maybe some Ral Partha and TSR role playing figures, a handful of Ral Partha Colonials  and some military modeling magazines but nothing like what Viking had. It's a small shop but it was nearly ALL military. No doll houses, collectible horses or train stuff. All military. 

And here I was introduced to Miniature Wargames, then Wargames Illustrated, my dear companions to gaming as we know it today. Weekly, Gilder, Wargames Holiday Centre, In the Grand Manner, that's wargaming, and they all became our inspiration.  Apart from mail order to Emperor's Headquarters in Chicago or Modeler's Mart in Clearwater, Florida, Viking Hobby was it for lead/metal miniatures. We were too old for plastics - we wanted what the big boys were playing with. 

Over the years, a few places popped up and and have gone under over the years but Viking still stands. Ken and Jessica were proprietors from the beginning and still are now though I haven't seen Ken in probably 30 years. Every time I'm back in Sacramento I stop in and buy something and you should to. 

4713 El Camino Ave
Carmichael, CA 95608

Stuart loved the place so much he ended up working there up until his death.

But in the early days, Stuart's parents were the more generous with spending money so he spearheaded nearly every endeavor with me trailing behind. We had done a fair amount of home made rules - 4,5,6 hits 1,2,3 misses, - you know the kind, with unpainted plastics. We started painting blood on some here and there then got carried away with that but soon, more and more lead came into play with more and more paint. Black washing straght lead with metal meant only dotting in faces on Minifigs Wars of the Roses knights and bits of horse that showed up under the barding. Basing on old playing cards, railroad scenic decor. I still have much of them rebased and reflocked. I don't recall much priming in these days. A bed sheet over books was a standard practice; lichen and railroad trees rounded it all out.

Complete Brigadier occupied us a bit too, Wars of Malboro, Dixon 15's, Medievals got some play and even more paint, Gallia castle walls and towers, then some Napoleonics. Viking carried Napoleonettes and we started collecting those and Minifigs but we had no grasp of the uniforms or even what it was like to game the period. It was just too complex I think. No internet, no book stores as we knew them recently - the library was it and the books on this period seemed for adults. Loved it all in theory and in the magazines but pre-Sharpe, we just didn't have anything to grab on to. The paucity of simple rules for the period was another blow. At this point, unpainted miniatures were not allowed nor desired, sealing off complex Napoleonics until much later.

During this period, Stuart talked his parents into letting him set up a sand table in the garage - so one night we snuck into the local golf course and secured our sand. The Sword and the Flame and the Minifigs ranges that went with them became the rage. Primarily the Sudan but also French Foreign Legion. These games looked great -walled cities, moats, sand dunes, rivers. Stuart's cats got left in the garage at some point and it was never quite the same.

But the best was yet to come. Essex had just released a great big range of American Civil War figures Super variety of figures, cleanest sculpts ever. The rapid transition away from one sculpt regiments started with these wonderful Essex figures and was finished off forever by the new kids on the block: Old Glory. We both had jobs at this point and got into ACW deep. Johnny Reb 2 was our game of choice. By now we had a handle on making good terrain and had plenty of scenics to spread around. Stuart spent a lot of time making split rail fences and walling and coming up with ideas for fields - felt, various fabrics, courderouy, etc. Plenty of buildings too. There were pictures of these around somewhere but I don't have any of them. I recall though that we finally had some fantastic looking (non-desert) games.

Our tastes began to separate too and we both pursued stuff independently. I remained firmly in Horse & Musket periods and expanded my own FFL collection, also getting both sides of all the newest Essex French & Indian War miniatures too. It was a golden age for 15mm  - neither of us were into 25's really at all. GW opened those doors for me a few years after his death but for now it was the American Civil War. I started with the Confederates and he chose Union and the painting in earnest really took off here.

Next up: Stuart Philip Frederick McDonald Part 2- the Arms Race!