A shelf queen sees her day!

1956 Mack Pumper - Surf City (NJ) Fire Dept.

​​Tim Bongard

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Model Specifics

     In December of 2019, this grand old lady won Model of the Year at the Moonlight Modeler's annual club contest in Arizona and it's taken a number of other awards as well, including Best New Jersey Subject at MosquitoCon 32 in New Jersey in 2023. It's a model I still enjoy looking at after all this time, so it's definitely one of my favorites. But finishing it wasn't easy. I started it in the mid-1980s soon after I photographed it at the firehouse in Surf City and things were very different back then. There wasn't a lot of stuff available to apparatus builders at the time and this was, at least when I started, one of the first major scratch building projects I had ever done. At the time, the cab was cast in a type of polyester resin that was brittle and hard to work with, but it was a B model Mack, and that's all that mattered.

     My inexperience quickly caught up with me and there were several challenges I didn't see when I dove in with both feet. Getting the cabinetwork right was one problem. I had the right dimensions but built the first cabinets out of sheet stock that was too thin and glued together with liberal amounts of Super Glue. All looked good at first, but over the course of a couple of weeks, the panels puckered badly and the doors - glued on with equally liberal amounts of liquid plastic cement - also looked twisted and gnarled as the cement from below continued to melt the plastic above. I was in over my head and deeply disappointed, so in frustration, I shelved it.

     Time passed and after a few other models where I learned to use heavier sheet plastic for larger areas and build stronger and more stable model (read: Ditch the Super Glue and use Liquid Cement on main joints,and use non-invasive 5-minute epoxy on doors), I came back to the model and tried the cabinetwork again. That was a success, but then I over-reached again trying to open up the front grill. I wanted to open the vanes and between the thickness of the original casting and not really knowing how to make a set of realistic looking vanes (something I realized after I cut the center of the grill out...)  I once again got frustrated and banished the model to the Shelf of Queens.

    Time passed again and I finally dug the model out again and figured I'd give it another try. It's important to understand that I am a klutz. No two ways about it, I'm about as clumsy as they get and dropping stuff for me is normal. I've almost taken to building models on the floor because I drop so many parts. Well, you guessed it, I dropped the cab. The brittle resin broke in several places. The roof came off and the bottom nose crosspiece broke out. I was able to glue it back together and with a fair amount of gap filler and putty, she was as good as new - thick as a brick, but fixed. Again discouraged, back on the shelf she went so I could focus on less embarrassing modeling adventures.

​     The next time off the shelf I did something with the paint that forced me to strip the paint - the old resin didn't like that very much and I finally gave up on that cab and called A.I.M. and asked if they still had cabs. Yes, they did, was the reply, but now made of thinner, modern resin (Praise God!). This time I was able to get the model primed and painted before crashing headlong into needing Gold Decals. UGH!!  Not back on the Queen Shelf, but banished to the back of my workbench, I tried finding decal solutions to no avail. I finally decided to hunt for an ALPS printer when a modeling buddy offered me his because he wasn't using it. It needed a computer to drive it and that is problematic because only something like Windows 95, Vista, or XP will work to drive the thing, but eventually I found a guy who could make it work and I was suddenly in business. By then, I had moved seven times, carried it across a dozen states, and had grown - no joke - 30-plus years older. 

     Obviously, I finished it and I'm pretty proud of it, despite all the ups and downs off the Queen shelf this model took. I'm very glad I just didn't heave it, though I was sorely tempted several times, and heart-broken over it or it's ability to show me I wasn't up to the task several more times. But oh, what I learned!! It taught me that I have limits, but those limits can expand, that I can grow into a project or skill, it just takes time sometimes. And that visions of what we want often are things we need to grow into and that I don't have to look at shelving a model (or anything else for that matter) as a failure - they are just potential successes waiting for something or several somethings that need to happen, be it an acquired skill, a new technology, a new tool, a fresher way of looking at things, or some God-driven lesson I need to learn to make it all click.

​     The Queen Shelf (the one for my models and the virtual ones for other things in my life) are not forms of purgatory anymore. They are my shelves of hope. And that makes a difference.

         Back when I first started scratchbuilding models of fire apparatus, I found a truck on Long Beach Island, New Jersey in Surf City to looked like a great candidate. Their 1956 Mack was the oldest of their active trucks when I first photographed her and I dove into the project with a tone of youthful enthusiasm and reckless abandon. That was somewhere around 1985 or so. There was a Mack cab available from American Industrial Models cast in polyester resin, a brittle, orangey and thick thing that was actually a darn fine casting at the time. The rest of the truck would have to be entirely scratchbuilt and it wasn't very long before I realized that I was in entirely over my head.  ​(More below...)


Model: 1956 Mack Pumper, Surf City (NJ) Fire Department

Scale:  1/25th Scale

​Kit(s):  American Industrial Models Resin Cab, Modified AMT Mack chassis, the rest is all scratch built

Highlights:  All the cabinetwork is scratch built and the hose bed is filled with folded elastic ribbon, then covered with lead foil as the tarp. Decals are printed on an ALPS printer. The license plate is the actual number on the truck and created in PowerPoint and printed on photographic paper. The fire extinguishers are turned aluminum cans with homemade decals to detail them. I added the inspection tag and pull ring when a buddy protested that They originally were missing. He says the same thing about Valve Stems.

Reason for building it:  Several. Always liked the "B" model Macks and this one is from my birth year. It was a working engine when I first saw it and thought it would make a great project. I tend to build models of apparatus from places I have lived or stayed and this one was on Long Beach Island where I've stayed on numerous occasions.

Never give up on a model, even if you have to lay it down for a while...