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Model military man

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Mar 22/04) - Gary Vanderkuil describes himself as a military buff. However, he has never served in the armed forces.

Instead, he expresses his fascination with the military through models -- hundreds of them.

Vanderkuil, 45, began assembling military models four or five years ago, and estimates he has put together about 300.

"I was just looking for a hobby, something different," he explains.

Vanderkuil, who is originally from Saskatchewan, has lived in Fort Smith on and off for a half-dozen years.

He says he has always been fascinated with the military, especially peacekeepers, and his models are a way of honouring them.

"You have to give them the respect they earn."

His models run the range of all military equipment and represent numerous countries -- the Soviet Union, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S., to name just a few.

There are models of just about every imaginable piece of military equipment -- tanks, planes, ships, submarines, missile launchers, cars, trucks and much more.

Vanderkuil says he has no particular preference on what models to build. "It doesn't matter as long as it's war."

Plus, he creates dioramas, which are scenes of battles complete with small soldiers.

"One of them I called 'The Blood Bath'," he says.

This particular one is of an American Sherman tank capturing a church occupied by Japanese soldiers.

Some people find such battle scenes a little disturbing, he says, "but that's what war's all about."

Vanderkuil says he recently put together an elaborate model of a German tank hauler, which came with a 37-page instruction book. "It's a huge, beautiful model."

Some of the models are so intricate they must be completed with tweezers.

"It's a lot of delicate work," Vanderkuil says, noting it requires a lot of patience and tolerance.

Not cheap

Vanderkuil estimates each model costs between $100-$160.

"I save up for it," says Vanderkuil, who works in construction. (However, he is not currently working as he awaits knee replacement surgery in Edmonton.)

Since he started his hobby, he has spent just over $3,000 at his main supplier, North Star Video, where many of his models are on display.

"Sometimes I order them special, sometimes I just get what's on the shelf," he says.

A few of Vanderkuil's friends are puzzled that he spends so much on models.

"They think it's a waste of time and money," he says. "But not to me. I am at home, instead of going out drinking and using drugs."