We band of brothers

Some ambitious fellows had arranged for a modelling weekend at the Swedish Military Vehicle Museum. I haven't built an armour model for surely 35 years, but a weekend devoted to modelling is to be cherished.

I carefully packed my kit on Friday evening, so that I wouldn’t have to panic-pack in the morning. I decided to take along Italeri’s Sd.Kfz. 234/2 Puma, Airfix’ R.A.F. Refuelling set, and Tamiya’s Porsche 911 GT2. (The latter aren’t exactly armour, but at least surface vehicles.)

I got to the train just in time and as the early Saturday tour was quite uncrowded I managed to get a nice seat on the top floor. With Svealandsbanan, the trip to Strängnäs doesn’t even take an hour, but I’d have to wait about as long again for the bus to take me the last bit to the museum. At least it was sunny. I had but sat down at the bus stop as I heard an ”Oi!” from behind. There was Olle in his car. “I thought I’d find you here, let’s go.” An anonymous sign pointed at the “VEHICLE MUSEUM”, a functional-looking barn. We were greeted by the guys who’d arrived the day before and had already laid out the tables, lights, compressors and such on the mezzanine floor, with an excellent view of the exhibits.

The museum had a very special smell of oil and metal, many of the exhibits are kept in running shape, so now and then the public are given the full experience of 50 Mg chunks of roaring, clanking, smoking (though not firing) metal rolling about on the meadow outside the museum.

More modellers arrived from all corners of Sweden, until we were some 20+, laying out our models and gear on the tables. Ordinary museum visitors also turned up, some curiously asking us about our esoteric activities, and receiving enthusiastic explanations.

I started on the Puma, though didn’t get that far before it was seminar time.

Later in the afternoon we were invited to a private showing of the museum exhibits. After a while the curator got a bit concerned we wouldn’t get through them all before nightfall, what with the constant barrage of questions and comments from both people with deep knowledge about the subject and the rest of us, while not very knowledgeable, still intensely interested. We weren’t in any hurry, though and the curator indulged us. I have discussed the authenticity of preserved aircraft before, and the curator was happy to point out that many of the exhibits were not in original shape, having been modified, and then possibly unmodified again, repainted in whatever paints had been around at various points in their history, and that some simply were one-shot test examples that were unrepresentive of their type. “Photographs show what things looked like at one point, but there’s no telling what happened ten minutes before, or ten minutes after.”

When we had gone through the exhibition, now long after closing time, a question was timidly put forward: “Could I sit in the Trabant, just for a bit?” “Uh well, OK, but don’t hurt yourself.” The dams broke: People scattered like dropped marbles and were soon crawling all over the vehicles, cameras clicking away; everywhere was happy laughter and smiling heads poking out of hatches, guns were traversed and every bolt, pin, and attachment point scrutinised and documented. Most congregated around the celebrities: T-34, Marder, Sherman, but some connoiseurs preferred to explore Soviet amphibians or, as noted, East German bucket cars. (You will notice that I haven’t made any mention of Swedish vehicles so far—they tend to be fairly uncharismatic, possibly with the exception of the ”S” tank, and were accordingly mostly ignored.) The curator watched the proceedings with a beatific smile, most pleased with visitors who really appreciated the museum.

A view from the mezzanine onto early WWII Swedish armour.

Some armour of my own.

Down the hatch!

The driver’s seat in a Universal Carrier. A particularly nice touch is the bolt in the middle of the steering wheel—just made for crushing your sternum. Note also the footprint on the shelf where I stepped to get into the vehicle.

Finally I felt that I, too, had to try something and clambered into the driver’s seat of a Universal Carrier. I found it utterly lacking in any comfort or human factors thinking. The steering wheel was mere centimetres from my sternum, the brake pedal was located where it was quite convenient for the passenger to reach, I found a set of instruments on a panel by my right shoulder where my aging eyes couldn’t even focus on them and the front armour extended just to my eyebrows. I presume any road accident would have lead to instant death or major injury.

Eventually people felt that it started to get late and we profusely thanked the museum staff for their forebearance. Then a car convoy took off for Strängnäs and the pizza place that had been recommended as the most priceworthy by the locals. The quiet Saturday evening was suddenly shattered by laughing, talking, and hungry modellers. After dinner we continued to the youth hostel where some of us were staying the night. Others decided to keep us company for a while before they returned to their sleeping places. I realised I was but an amateur as everybody else pulled out modelling gear and started working in the kitchen. For my part I loaded a documentary on strategic bombing in my laptop. So the evening proceeded in happy intercourse. I decided to withdraw to bed before midnight and feel contentedly asleep to the sound of peals of laughter in the kitchen.

Next morning. An early rise and quick ablutions before we returned to the museum from where a new convoy took off and soon turned onto a small gravel road, at the end of which was the former mobilisation stores where the museum now kept the items they did not have on current display. ”Some 3–400 vehicles, depending on how you count.” Obviously we could not study them all, but we got extensive samples. The sheds were packed with armour, trucks, engines, guns, bicycles, but also more unexpectedly cradles, looms, sleds and a mysterious object that looked like a huge champagne cork in fabric. As densely as they were stored, it was soon obvious that the easiest way of moving about was to mount a tank and then proceed stepping from one to the next. The air was filled with joyous laughter as discoveries were made and people tried to seat themselves in the vehicles. My attempts confirmed that tanks evidently are made for short, very short, and thin people, and even they should expect to have their craniums banged about by various corners and edges. I dare not imagine the noise from shooting with large-calibre guns in those enclosed spaces.

A nondescript façade.
More camouflagey things to crawl about on.

The thing with amphibious vehicles is that you can only get in at the top and for some reason they never have ladders.

A very realistically weathered lorry.

Eventually we returned to the museum for more seminars, or should I say, intensely interactive discussions between skilled modellers. Towards the end of the day I set up for painting some Porsche parts. The Humbrol metallic colours are pretty temperamental when airbrushed and have a tendency to clog the nozzle. High pressure is indicated. This was really my only opportunity for aggravation during the entire weekend.

Cleaning up was quickly done with all hands on deck and then we all went our separate ways with happy smiles, new friendships having been forged and promises of future events exchanged.

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