The Second Fleet

Written by Dan Carlson@minutiaeman

Published June 4, 2021

One of my oldest hobbies has been building miniature models. It all started when I got a model train set for Christmas when I was eight, for which my dad and I assembled and painted a few kit buildings to populate the area. We later expanded our work into making the landscape from scratch, too. Around the same time, I got a styrene model kit of the Space Shuttle. It came out about as well as you’d expect for an eight-year-old gluing and painting with his dad’s help: although all of the components were in the right place, there were slight gaps in the alignment of various pieces, there were a couple glue-preserved fingerprints, the paint lines were smudged and uneven, and the decals were skewed. But it was fun!

Naturally, my love for Star Trek was a great impetus for continuing with model building a few years later. I built close to a dozen models in my middle school and high school years, gradually improving my skills throughout that time. Most of those models have been lost to time, though four of them still decorate rooms in my house today.

I didn’t really have the time, space, or money to build models once I got to college. I’d made some halfhearted attempts at newer models, but I never really stuck with it. (And many of those models look hilariously dark, all because I’d used too dark a shade of gray on the Enterprise-E based on the very dark promotional photos back in the day.) So the few models that I’d kept remained as decorations, but I didn’t really consider building any more for close to a decade.

But then I was stuck at home for three months in 2020. I was extraordinarily fortunate in that I still had a paying job, though the kind and amount of work I could do from home was certainly different. As the weeks wore on, there were only so many funny memes that I could could make. Then I remembered my old model building hobby.

Three models in various stages of completion, each with a different shade of gray for the base hull color.
My own exploration of different shades of gray was almost as bad as the episode “Shades of Gray”.

I dug out an old unassembled kit of Masao Okazaki’s D6 class that I’d had in storage, and ordered a couple more kits from Federation Models: the Akira and the Steamrunner. Once I got the models, I was ready to go… and I discovered that I didn’t have the right shade of spray paint for the base hull color. I’d picked a couple versions of aircraft gray off the shelf at the hobby store, but it turned out that light aircraft gray was too light for Voyager-era ships, and dark aircraft gray looked way too reddish and sandy. (I’d used Euro I gray on my old Enterprise-E, and that was way too dark.) So I had to go pore over multiple color charts to try to find the closest color. Because even though I had reference numbers, there were FS colors, Pantone colors, RGB values, and the trade names used by different manufacturers. And it was especially tedious because all the stores were closed (this was April-May 2020, in the middle of the Great Shutdown), so I was ordering paint for delivery, waiting up to a week, only to discover that it was the wrong color and I’d need to try again. It took about three tries before I finally settled on light ghost gray from Tamiya—not to be confused with light ghost gray from Testors, which is a different shade (argh!).

But once I had the right color paint, I got going and rarely stopped. I finished the Steamrunner and Akira in about a month, then picked up a newer Enterprise-E and the Saber in the fall. The Enterprise took the longest, because the model quality wasn’t quite as good as the others that I’d bought. Although the model accuracy was closer to the on-screen ship as compared to the old AMT model I’d assembled 22-odd years ago, the quality of the model was relatively poor. One of the nacelle pylons was a bit misshapen, and the windows were were not recessed shapes, but rather just carved grooves. This was very discouraging to work with, and no matter how thin a paint brush I tried, I always ended up with uneven smudges on the windows. I finally just decided to accept imperfection and keep going. This spring I added the Nova, and just last week finished the Prometheus.

So now, after about a year of off-and-on work, I’ve finished seven models, and I think I can officially call it a fleet. Even though I’m back to working my regular job again, I’ve had enough fun doing these models that I’ll probably keep going and build a few more. We’ll see what the future brings for my new fleet…