In September 2012 I held two phone interviews with William Blackmore, owner, operator, factory foreman and chief-bottle-washer of Cottage Industry Models in South Carolina. These came about because of my interests in the Civil War and modeling. Having spent a number of years in the Navy, part of it working on submarines, and part of that in Charleston, South Carolina, I was familiar with the story of the Confederate submarine Hunley. A few years ago, I picked up some books on the Hunley and became even more interested in the boat, it’s fate and subsequent discovery and recovery. I began looking for a good model of the boat and quickly discovered that the only accurate model was made by a small company out of South Carolina, Cottage Industry Models. After researching CMI’s models I became very interested and acquired of of their 1:72 scale Hunley kits. Although I had not built a multi-media kit before that, the result was outstanding and I began to look closer at CMI and it’s founder and owner, William Blackmore. I learned enough to want to find out more from the source, Mr. Blackmore himself, so I called him and asked to interview him. Being the gracious gentleman he is, he readily agreed to be subjected to two long phone conversations which comprise the body of the interview below.
As you will read, CMI has relocated from Charlestown to Greenwood, South Carolina but is still a cottage industry in all senses of the words, a one-man, one-woman outfit, run from home and focusing on a small market of modelers who demand quality, accuracy and details. You can see for yourself by visiting William’s CMI website at:
Me: I’ll start with the obvious question, how did you get started in your own modeling business?
It was a complete accident. I was working in a hobby shop in Mt. Pleasant, , charleston, that was 1995 and they had just found the Hunley. I was talking to an employee there with me and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if someone made a model of the Hunley.” Then I thought to myself about two seconds afterwards, ‘hey, stupid, you know how to do that.” I sort of ran the plans around in my head for a couple of days then went home and started carving on the hull. Doing some research and trying to figure out exactly what was going on and I said, wait a minute, I’m not doing this right. I started reading more and more about what the divers had actually found. I started over making a new Hunley plug, then I made a mold, then I started making up these resin kits.
My boss who owned the hobby shop said, yeah, all right, put ‘em on the shelf and sell ‘em and I’ll split it with you. I made, I think, ten kits and put them on the shelf and they were gone the first day. I made some more, and that was February of ’96 when I released the first Hunley kit. By March I was making so many kits I had to figure out whether I was going to stay working at the hobby shop or go int business for myself. Guess which one won?
Had they raised the Hunley when you started building your kits of it?
No, that was a couple of years down the road. But it wasn’t long after that when I started getting phone calls from people in the Hunley Commission and I got involved with the project [raising the Hunley] itself. About eight months or so before they actually raised the Hunley the commissioned me to build a working model, that could be buried in sand, they could take out on the site. It had the truss over it from which they were actually going to use to raise the boat. The idea was to take this thing, the model I built, out to the divers so they could show them where to dig, and the divers could show them the progress they had made on any particular day. I did that and my friend George and I delivered it to the Park Service and they took us out to the March Tide and I was one of maybe a dozen people in the world that got to hold this part in their hands.
What it was, was the bolt that actually held the torpedo spar onto the boat itself. After all this time, they had to take the spar off the boat before they raised it, they were talking about cutting it off or something but they ended up just backing it off with their hand, just unscrewed it. There was this big to-do in the Charleston Courier newspaper about how they did it. At this point the whole Hunley thing was getting sort of political and I got out of it.
I read a couple of books, —–, and got interested in the boat. I got your model because I discovered it was the most accurate model of the boat. I spent some time in Charleston while in the Navy and I remember the old mockup of the Hunley on the Battery. Is it still there?
Yep, still there.
Someday perhaps I can get back there. I’d love to see the Hunley.
I miss Charleston.
How far are you from Charleston these days?
About three hours. We moved to Greenwood in 2002. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but the kind of business I’m in, I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, but getting away from Charleston got me away from all my connections and all the news that was going on in the world. Things that mattered in terms of Naval history, especially Civil War naval history.
We try to go down here as much as we can. I have friends in the IPMS club there.
We have something in common. I got back into modeling while living in California. Made a lot of modeling friends, went to shows and so forth, but I have no modeling friends here in southern Colorado where we live now.
There are a lot of things going on in Charleston and a lot of different people live or go through there. Greenwood is isolated. You can’t get there from here. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s fifty miles from anything. People here don’t build models. There is no hobby shop here. You can’t run down to the store and buy paint. I have to drive fifty miles to Greenville to get it or buy it on the internet. The unfortunate side is that not many people here understand what I do. I don’t have any friends here. We’ve been here ten years.
I am in the same boat as you. I don’t have a home modeling business like you, but no one understands my modeling interests. Guys around here look at me like I’m nuts. “You build plastic models?” Well, yeah. I don’t have any friends here either.
You have to understand, Judy and I have been married for twenty five years. Happiest couple in the world, because she does what I do. She’s part of everything I do. With that in mind, my whole house is dedicated to modeling. Specifically Naval interests, but other things too. We have this living room and this den, where we do our daily stuff. We don’t have much use for a living room so we turned it into a museum. One of the things I’m really big into is large scale, radio controlled warships. So I have a 1:96 scale radio controlled USS Arizona and I totally scratch build a USS Langley. These two ships are in cases, sitting side by side in my living room, taking up most of the floor space. It’s really interesting when I have a contractor come into the living room to do some work. They just stop. They don’t know what to say.
How long is the 1:96 scale Arizona?
Seventy-eight inches. The Langely is about five feet something.
The Langely was built off a cruiser hull or something?
It was build off an old collier. They stripped off all the coaling stuff and built the flight deck. I have to say it is the world’s first accurate model of the Langley. As far as I know a builder’s model does not exist. I was working for the South Carolina State Port Police back in ’89 to about 93, and about that time I was looking for other things to do. I started writing a book on the Langley. I wanted to write a technical history of the Langley. I started going to the Smithsonian, the Washington Navy Yard, places like that looking for every bit of information I could find. I have boxes of information. I haven’t finished writing the book. I did find that all the information is scattered, but I’ve managed to collect it all in one place.
One of the other things I was going to do is use my model of the Langley in order to correct the erroneous information you see in your research and to make it a matter of record. Now there are some nice models out there of the Langley, like the one in Pensacola Naval Aviation museum. It got a lot of hullabaloo at the time but when you look at it in detail you realize how much was simplified or just left off. In addition to it being radio controlled, which was a bear, I started getting deeper and deeper. I made all these little corrections I kept finding. It got to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to purchase fittings because they were not quite right for it.
My wife would call you “OCD”.
Well, it kinda was, but it was the one project I had to work on three years ago when Judy was sick. So it helped me to keep my sanity.
I had not built a multi-media kit before I bought your little Hunley. It was easier to build than I expected, and even more, it was fun. It came out really nice. I was impressed with that and with the accuracy you put into the model. I’ve done a great deal of research into Civil War ship models, resin and multi-media specifically, and your stuff always comes out on top in terms of quality and accuracy. So, tell me about your philosophy on accuracy in the kits you design and build for sale.
It goes back to the beginning. Like when I built the Hunley, I knew I was going on old information, like the recollections of Alexander [Hunley designer and one of the builders] but that got me started. I never intended to start Cottage Industry Models as a business, as a career. I was working at the hobby shop and built the Hunley to supplement my income. The fortune of business took me in another direction. As far as that aspect goes, I knew that was sort of guess work on my part, but when I started getting specific first-hand access…, for example, with the commission from the Hunley people came along to do that working model, in lieu of payment I wanted access to the boat. I said, “When you bring it up and get it into the museum, I want access.” They knew I intended to build this model, the world’s only accurate mode. So when they got it in there and were pulling the plates off and digging through the mud, I was there watching, looking into the boat, with Maria Jacobson there digging into the mud. I took careful mental notes. At that point I was able to go back and build that large scale cutaway version. I promised everyone that as more information came available I would continue to make the model more accurate.
Today, those gun sets I used to accurize the Revell Kearsarge and Alabama kits, I’ve been working on the instructions today because the sets I had in those gun sets suck on ice. If there’s one big flaw it is in under estimating markets. Like these guns sets, I thought, it’ll be cool, I can accurize those kits, sell a few, make people happy and make some money. I was besieged at first. I didn’t realize so many people would be interested in them that I didn’t have the time to make the directions they way they should have been done. I kind of rushed them out there. Recently, because of the economy being slow, I have taken the time to go back and really re-vamp the instructions. The benefits are that all of my ironclads use the same kinds of guns and they can be used to update and improve those kits because all of the guns are the same. It’s going to save me a ton of time and give a product that is ten times better.
I have gone back to the Palmetto State, for example, which was the fourth model I ever released, and it was a basic kit but it was new, something people had not seen before, a large scale resin ironclad kit with a cut-away. Wow, that was cool. I sold a ton of these things at the IPMS Nationals in Ohio. Later, as I learned more and more, and knowledge is a two-edge sword. Knowledge about the subject, and knowledge of how to cast and produce said article I have been able to revamp the Palmetto State. I made the interior much more detailed, and much more accuracy. I upgraded the guns and added much more detail to them.
Going back to knowledge of how to produce these things. A lot of this comes from the fact that when I started I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Literally, I was learning on the fly. I was capable of building good models, but was I capable of building good kits for other people to build them? I figured it out very quickly you build and design the individual parts and how to cast them on a sprue. I then looked at it as a modeler asking, is this what I want to see? Then I was able to add more and more detail and learn better ways to cast the parts. In every kit I put in a notice that if something is bad, broken or missing, then give me a call. There are no perfect kits. I want you to be happy, so when you need a part, or I screw up, I will provide that for free.
So as you learned you craft and the technical aspects of how to produce your kits you are better able to make your vision of what your models should be like?
Yes, and it pushed me into learning things I had never considered before. For example, starting out up until about 2002 after I moved to Greenwood I had never done anything in metal. And, I had always wanted to do parts in metal. Some parts don’t reproduce well in resin. They may be weak or have some other problem. At some point I started considering the idea of doing a sailing ship in resin. Nobody had ever done one before. People said, nah, you can’t do that and besides, no one would buy it. I said, nah, don’t tell me I can’t, so I produced a sailing ship in resin, knowing full well that on a sailing ship there are a lot of parts that need to be done in metal. Now, I’ve always run my business on a shoe string. I could not buy a spin casting machine, so I built one. It took me six months to a year before I could learn to do metal. When I designed the Alexander Hamilton, the sailing ship, I was buying a lot of my parts from Bluejacket, the metal parts. For example, I was going to buy rope, a hand made rope for rigging. By the time I had priced everything out the Hamilton was going to be a five or six hundred dollar kit, for a little old two-masted schooner which not too many people were going to buy at that price.
So, I learned how to do the mold casting and started making those parts. Then there was the matter of rigging. Most sailing ship kits give you cheap thread and I didn’t want to go that way. I wanted something different. That has been the key word in everything I’ve done over the years. I want to be different. That’s why I tend to go in different directions, business wise as well as with what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. The Alexander Hamilton was a test bed. Can a sailing ship kit be done in resin? Yes. Can it be done at a reasonable price? Yes, but you have to do all the work yourself. I couldn’t get a reasonable enough price break on rope, so now I’ve learned how to make hand-made sailing ship rigging rope. I made a rope making machine, which I have today. It is twenty four feet long and makes the most beautiful hand made rope in the world for ship modeling. I’d put my hand-made rope up against anybody’s in the world.
I’m looking at the Alexander Hamilton right now on your website. There are a vast number of different sizes and colors of line involved in the ship, from hawsers down to lanyards.
Many model ship kits will throw in two or three sizes of thread for rigging and call it enough. I provide all the necessary sizes and colors to do all the rigging on the Hamilton. And do all that at a reasonable price.
I returned to modeling about fifteen years ago and now I have more disposable income, money I didn’t have before as a kid. The prices have gone up on some kits and some modelers complain about this, but I think there are modelers who will pay for a quality, highly detailed model of a subject they are interested in. Price is not that big of an object these days. There may be some price ceilings you know about that I don’t, but it appears that many modelers are willing to pay more for better kits.
I can’t say I know where the ceiling is. I sort of feel it. Like the Hamilton. I can sell that kit at $250 because people are getting a lot of stuff in that kit for their money. But, at $400, there’s no way. I don’t know why but I can feel that out.
Circling back around on our conversation, I don’t know why modelers get interested in certain kits or areas, but in the back of my mind for a long time I’ve been interested in a detailed Civil War Ironclad. That’s initially why I bought your little Hunley, to try this area out. Then I looked at, for example, your Palmetto State which interests me because of it’s history and the fact that I used to live in Charleston, but then I see $250 price tag. At first it’s a bit of a shock, then you consider what you are getting and, especially, what you’ll end up with and that puts the price into perspective. You told me earlier that the Tennessee was going to be more expensive than the other ironclads. Does this still hold true?
Yes. It’s a physically bigger model than the others. It’s 27” or 29” long, I don’t remember which. It’s huge. It’s heavy resin. It is very detailed. There is a lot to it inside. I spent time going back and re-doing the guns. This model of the Tennessee actually started out as a commission from one of the Confederate museums down in Alabama. I was hired early 2011 to do this, and this was the height of when Judy was going back and forth between Greenwood and Charleston dealing with her medical issues. So I was dealing with that, and heavens knows I needed the money. This was a model I had never done before and I thought it would be stupid not to pull some molds off of it and turn it into a kit later on. These molds came off that particular commission. The model that was delivered to Alabama, in fact the model on the Cottage Industry Models website is the one pictured. It was a chore, but I think it is the best ironclad I’ve ever done.
I would agree with that. I went to your site a few weeks ago intending to check out the Palmetto State and the Monitor but that came up on the home page and I said, ‘what the heck is that?’ It is a magnificently done model and really captures the essence of the ironclad. I like it a lot and I can tell from some of the remarks left on your site that there are plenty of other people who do too.
Yes, I have a call list. I have had well over a dozen people email me telling they want to be on the first call list when I release it. I know I’ll have to make at least a dozen of them. It’s not as big as the Mondanock which I think is the biggest resin model out there. The shipping weight on that thing was seventeen pounds. It went out the door in a box that was three feet long six inches deep and twenty-four inches wide. It was like $35 to ship it first class to some place like Ohio.
[At this point, conversation drifted off to model shows and contests and the IPMS Nationals…]
My best year was in 1997 at the IPMS Nationals and I had the big version of David Bushnell’s Turtle, and that thing won big.
That’s an big model, and you look at it and say, “what’s that?”
They couldn’t believe it was all resin. David Merryman told me you’ll never sell fifty kits, and I sold every one I had on the table. To this day, every now and then, on eBay, one of those Turtle kits will pop up. It will still be sealed. I have a label that I glued on the box and I signed and numbered every one of them.
I can’t leave a model unbuilt. Some modelers collect, but for me it’s just going to get built at some point.
About your business. It appears you are rejuvenating some of your kits and parts. Do you have a plan to bring CIM back where it should be, back into the notice of the modeling world. You make nice stuff, and you’ve been, unfortunately, absent for a while.
And I’ve been operating on a shoe string. How I am in business to this point is just beyond me. A miracle, in my opinion. Coming back starts with new stuff. One of the coolest things about what I’m doing is the modeling. You get these certain number of people who think what you do is cool and they buy one of everything you make. You always hear from these people and they are the core. They are the ones who drive what I decide to do.
I need to make some new stuff. And I need to go back and revamp all of the stuff that have been the shortcomings of all the kits I’ have produced up to this point.
For example, the little 32nd scale Turtle was designed before I had a computer. Now the kit’s been modified over the years with metal parts and so forth, but I haven’t updated the instructions and they don’t relate well with the kit that is in the box. Things like the CSS Pioneer. Old, before the computer type instructions and all that stuff needs to be redone. And, I’m working hard on stuff like that.
One of the good things about Judy being home all the time is that she is really good at stuff like that. She’s been going through and cleaning up and fixing up photographs so I can use them in updated instructions. Later on, she or I will retype the instructions to match the new illustrations. We are working hard on that.
Perhaps another direction might be to revise your older kits to get them more marketable these days which would be in addition to producing new kits.
I might do that. There are some people who might be interested in the older kits and seeing that I’ve updated them would go ahead and buy them.
I was impressed when I read that you will constantly incorporate revisions and update into the kits you sell. I think that is very important and you don’t see that too much.
I want to produce what, as a modeler, I would want to see when I open the box. That’s the point at which small companies like mine and big companies like Revell part ways. You can’t get on the phone with the CEO of Revell and complain. If I have international orders, it is a lot easier to include two of everything, except for like the main hull or expensive stuff. That way if the modeler loses something or breaks a part, he has another on hand.
About your business in terms of what you do and how you go about doing it, like how one turns a modeling hobby into an actual business. What happens when you get an order for a kit?
Let’s break that down into parts. When I receive an order, and I get orders several different ways, like when someone orders via the website. They hit the “buy it now” button and the site generates an email and sends it to me. It lets me know I have the order and I print it out. Once I have the printout I take it out to the shop and see how many things I need to fill the order. I have tried for years to make an inventory, so I don’t have to go out there and physically make things for the order, but I never seem to get ahead in the ballgame. Part of the reason for that is I have a shoestring budget to work from and I can’t have my money tied up in inventory. The second part of that is I have no way of anticipating what people are going to buy and when they are going to buy it.
My old boss at the hobby shop had a philosophy which I think is true. He said you can sell one of anything. You can go to a shop in the mall, for example, and find anything.
The one time I did get a stock of inventory I got a large order from a distributor that wiped all of that out. So, I finally just gave up trying to create an inventory.
The process of filling an order is, I paste the order printout up on my clipboard and usually the first things I make are the resin parts because when the resin is mixed and poured into the molds the parts usually cure in about ten minutes. When the resin comes out of the mold, it’s what we call “green”, meaning it is still pliable for several hours. So I take them out and let them sit on the table for several hours until they are cured and solid. If it’s not a large order I can knock those resin pieces out pretty quickly, then I can go other to the other side of my shop to the spincaster where I make the metal parts. I generally have an inventory of metal parts. Of the two, resin and metal, the resin is more dependable in getting a good, intact piece out of the mold than metal is. Frankly, I had to make my own metal spin casting equipment and I don’t use vulcanized rubber like the professional spin casting machines do, I use silicon rubber formulated for high temperature. The production of metal parts with this is not as accurate or dependable as the professional machines can produce. Sometimes Murphy gets involved and it takes hours longer to produce the metal parts I need. But, sometimes I get lucky and can pull them out of a drawer.
Then I start bagging all the parts separately and take them to the assembly table where I count all the parts. I have “recipe” cards, index cards really, that show all of the parts and the numbers of them that need to go into a particular kit. I make sure I have all of the parts individually bagged, and the instructions and flags, for example, for that kit. I use literature mailers. I chose to go with the more expense, white literature mailers for my kit boxes, with a nice, full-color labels on the front. The labels are actually the CG created images by Dan Dowdy, who happens to live here in South Carolina. He works at the State museum. He’s been very kind to let me use his images. I print a full color photo of the image and paste it on the outside of the box. I have a shrink-wrap machine, and I shrink wrap it, heat seal it, so my kit can sit on the shelf of the hobby shop with some of the big boy kits and it will look professional.
That’s the story of production. As to the story of creation, that’s a bit of a chore. My rule for the creation of a new kit is that it has to inspire me first. I have no fixed idea of the subjects. When I first started I did. I thought, for every Confederate subject I do, I’ll pick a Union one right after. And for a long time I did that. Anyway, when I pick a subject, it has to interest me and it has to be doable. That takes a bit of brain power. After I pick a subject I have to decide if I can do it and if I can produce it at a cost that I can sell it.
What drives your costs when you are considering that decision?
Lately, mainly materials more than anything else. A lot of people told me that I have build in something for your time, but that number is kind of subjective. You have to be able to sell your kits to distributors and hobby shops, and they have to be able to sell it. So you have to be careful not to price yourself out of the market. Very quickly that number becomes subjective, so what it really comes down to is the cost of materials.
Do you have to recast molds on a regular basis? Is a resin mold good for a large number of runs?
A lot of people in my position replace molds regularly. I will use a mold until I become uncomfortable with it, in terms of quality products. I have found that most people who are willing to buy and build the type of models I produce, understand that and understand that resin is a different animal, so they are willing to put in a reasonable amount of time in it. Is it reasonable to have a customer go through what’s necessary to fix a problem when you can fix it by fixing the mold? That’s where the cut off is.
I use a spray type of mold release that makes the life of the mold a lot longer. I try very hard to create molds that don’t have very many undercuts and difficult ways of doing it. If I can find a way to take a complex component and break it down into a number of parts and cast it sufficiently well over a long period of time, instead of casting it in one piece, I will break it down because most model builders will put in the time to do the work to make a superior piece.
If you look at modeling today, you can find anything you are interested in. If you are looking for a specific type of wooden box in resin for your 1:35 scale tank that’s specific to the US Army in WWII, they are probably out there somewhere. It’s gotten that specific and model builders will go to the ends of the earth to find these things.
You need to know what model builders will put up with and what they won’t, and you need to be a model builder to understand that. I think there are a lot of people in this cottage industry realm that are not model builders and are attempting to produce these kits in resin just to make money and many of them have been filtered out of the system.
I think the industry that has developed, the cottage industry of model kit production in the last twenty years, has had an astounding effect on the ‘big boys’. If you think about it, fifteen years ago or so, the big ones like Revell and Monogram were the only game in town and they would put out a generic fit-in-the-box model, the kids would buy it, take it home, slap it together and put some paint on it and were happy with it. But then those kids grew up and they started wanting a little more detail. But the big-boy kits didn’t change very much. But then some people started putting these resin kits out. For me, they were ship models. It was Mike Bishop, Blue Water Navy. I saw it in 1990. Didn’t know a thing about resin, but I’d been building models all of my life and my jaw hit the floor. I could not believe the level of detail. Since that time, people like Mike became kind of mainstream and it took off. I think it had an effect on the big boys. Look at the modern manufacturers, and mostly they are into astounding detail.
Look at Dragon’s Gleaves class destroyers. You’ve got 1:350 scale guys included in the kit. You’ve got 5” gun barrels that are hollow in the muzzles. So, I think the big manufacturers were forced to follow suit based on what the cottage industry manufacturers were turning out. So now, it’s an even playing field.
I think you are right about that. Thinking about how Eduard has come from being a third-rate WWI aircraft modeling company to being a leader in design and detail, making very accurate MiGs and Messerschmidts for example. An the other company is Wingnut Wings out of New Zealand. I think the main reason they are successful is that Peter Jackson is a modeler and he still is. The guys he hired to run the company were modelers. Not strictly businessmen. Now, you mentioned earlier that you had some issues with the Cottage Industry Name. Care to comment.
I thought of that name from day one, that would be a cool name for a company like this. The only issue I’ve had over the years is that other people who produce similar things from a small company point of view, is they name their companies much more specifically as to what they do. Or they’ve taken the other approach and named their companies something like “XYZ Technologies”, something that sounds professional. The criticism was that Cottage Industry Models sounds like a small company. I thought, yeah, that’s kind of the point.
I had one person tell me, “you should name your company Civil War Ironclads” or something to do with the Civil War Ironclads. But my point is that I didn’t want to lock myself into civil war ironclads. So I came up with Cottage Industry Models. That’s what I do. I work out of my home. It is a really small company. Good luck calling the CEO of Revell. Try it and see what kind of response you have.
My mother picked the logo. Mom did not like the logo I drew and told me it needed to be more like a Hansel and Gretel style cottage. She re-drew it for me and I have used it all these years. I like my company name. I’m proud of it and I’m not going to change it.
I agree. I like it. It’s an inspired choice, and think it speaks to you and what you do. You build models, you are a small hands-on business, a cottage industry. I think it is a great name.
I had another fellow tell me I should change it to something more professional. I had someone tell me I can’t make a resin sailing ship and sell it. Really? I’m doing it. [laughs]
You mentioned before that you and Judy work together in this business. That’s a rather unique situation, so any comments you have about that would be appreciated.
In a nutshell, I would not have this business or be where I am without Judy. She is the sunrise and sunset of my life. She is a model builder herself. She paints, sculpts, wood burns and draws. She is an incredible person. She mainly does my bookwork, which is an enormous help. I can’t even keep a checkbook. Obviously, things have gotten more complicated than they were twenty years ago.
I have a wife whom I can bounce ideas off of and she actually knows what I am talking about. When I mention 1:96 scale, she knows what I am talking about. I might be working with a mold or something, like a parting line issue, and she might say something. It could be right or wrong, but sometimes she’ll say something that I will come back to later in the day and it will take my mind off in a whole new direction. I will consider something I didn’t think of before. That where her brilliance is. It will often take me to something I didn’t see and I can solve the problem. She inspires me.
You have a real partnership.
Yes, we do. And since she’s become disabled we are together twenty-four seven in this house. And it was an absolute gift of God that I didn’t have to get up and go to a job. In the midst of her illness she wasn’t able to be left alone at any time. It was fortunate that I was able to be her nurse and take care of her and when she was sleeping I was able to come out the shop and fill my orders. It was busy certainly, but if I had to go somewhere else to work, I would not have been able to keep a job really.
One of my last questions involves current models you have on your site for sale and any upgrades to make them more up to date, and changes since you first produced them. And, any ideas you can share about where Cottage Industry Models is headed in the future. Your earliest models were the Keokuk, Palmetto State, Hunley and the Monitor. Could you talk a bit about why you liked those and what you’ve done lately to keep them current and of interest to modelers.
I am fortunate that over the years as I release things I find out new things about them. I will find new sources, new points of information and I’ll say, “that’s significant, lets do something about that”. For example, the Keokuk which was the first ironclad I ever did, I felt that it was do-able, even though it had an extremely unusual hull shape, which made it incredibly difficult to cast, especially since it is a hollow piece. When I first did it, the parts in those kits might look kind of crude next to the parts I produce today. But, that’s because I’ve learned more information about how to cast parts.
In the case of the Palmetto State, I produced a pretty good model kit. It was unique and different. Something nobody else had seen. It had a cut-away interior and it looked good. But even when I released the kit I was lacking a lot of information and I didn’t have the equipment I have today, and I didn’t have the knowledge or experience at doing the parts better than they could be done at the time. When I went back to re-do the casement parts better and more accurately, I found quickly that I can’t just do that, I have to go back and modify the main deck because now the casement is different. I made a deck piece to fit, then I could go back and fix up the interior pieces to be more accurate and better, and then I had to go back and re-write all of the instructions.
After I did that, over the course of time, you meet a lot of people at shows and other places, like Jim Houbrick and found out he is a draftsman. And a modeler. So we worked out a deal and he drew a bunch of new pictures for me, not only for the Alexander Hamilton, but for the Arkansas and the Palmetto State and the Keokuk. Once he had done those things my instructions were a hundred times better.
The Hunley was more specific than than that. When I did the big cut-away model of that, I knew that I wanted it to be the model, the go-to model that anybody who really wanted a model of the Hunley would come to. I had the information to do that and I worked hard to make that happen.
With the other kits, over time I will get the necessary parts updated and the instructions updated. It is hard to go back ten years to something you’ve done but you have to.
One thing you are doing right now is taking your new, revised guns, carriages and instructions for them and repopulating your existing kits with them.
Right. That’s where the discipline of running a business comes in, doing what you really don’t want to do, but need to do for your business.
If you look at the long haul, what are your most popular kits? What do yo sell the most of?
It comes in spurts. When I started having more than one or two kits available it varies. I’d go three or four months without selling a Keokuk, then I’d sell four in a week. that seems to be true across the board with everything I sell. But in particular the Revell artillery sets I’m doing for the USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama have been some of m most popular items. I never counted on that. I thought it would be a nice to have thing for somebody, but they have turned out to be very popular. Also popular are the 1:72 scale Hunley and David Bushnell’s 1:32 scaleTurtle. And the USS Monitor. They are my biggest sellers so far.
At time it was available the double turret monitor Monadnock was my first and only foray into photoetch – producing my own photoetch. Boy, it was a honker of a kit.
I found on the internet somewhere, a build review of that kit. It was a detailed review by an experienced ship modeler who liked the model. I was amazed at the amount of detail and the size of the thing. It’s huge.
As far as I know, at that time, it was the biggest resin ship model kit available anywhere. It was 33” long and weighed seventeen pounds, shipping weight. It would take me two days to produce that thing. It will come back. [Note: the Monadnock is currently out of production.] I’m waiting for the economy to improve because it’s got a big price tag. I wore the moulds out, but it will come back in the future.
In the future, when I produce the Virginia, it will be the largest resin ship model in the world. I calculated it out to be 35” in length.
You were talking about getting something ready for the IPMS Nationals in Hampton, Virginia in 2014.
That would be very appropriate for a Nationals in Virginia.
So, what I know is that you are gearing up to release the Tennessee sometime this year. You are also pursuing the idea of having the CSS Virginia ready in time for the 2014 Nationals. Anything else?
There is always the possibility that we will see other smaller, less expensive items coming out. I’m not trying to be secretive, I literally pull this stuff out of the air sometimes. I don’t make a long term plan, but I listen to my customers. When I get a lot of input from folks, I definitely lean in that direction. But a lot of it has to do with just what interests me. I’ve always been into Jules Verne and that kind of stuff, so things like the Hunley submarine, and Robert Fulton’s Nautilus are right up my alley. Now days, they call it steam punk and that’s right up my alley.
I think we are about done. Anything else you want to add?
I had a great time over the years. It didn’t start out to be a business; it kind of turned into a business. I love doing it and I plan to do it as long as I can and I love all the people who have bought my stuff over the years.
Back in the day, it was mail. And you wouldn’t believe all the letters I have received. And every letter sent to me, whether it was good or bad, and I’ve had a couple of bad ones over the years, all those letters are in boxes in my attic. I’ve saved all that stuff. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them because it is very satisfying to have people all over the world take the time to seek me out. I’ve not done much advertising; I’ve kept a very low profile, and it is they who have come to me, and they’ve done business with me and it is a very gratifying thing.
You make very good stuff, and you are good at what you do and your heart is into your models and it shows.
The only thing I can say is that it is the most satisfying thing I’ve been able to do in my life.
For another look at William and Cottage Industry Models by an old school mate of William’s, and for photos of many of the models and CMI shop discussed in this interview, please see:http://www.amusedtolife.com/2010/08/cottage-industry-models-background.html
Note: You are free to copy and publish or post this interview in other places and formats as long as correct attribution is given to Michael Scott and William Blackmore, copyright November, 2012.