ITC (Ideal Toy Company) Model Kit History and Cam-A-Matic Action (Used in the Halibut, USS Enterprise, Thor, Mercer, Duesenburg and Battling Betsy)

by Alan Bussie

Every article starts with inspiration.  In this case, I wish to thank Dusty Rhodes.  He located critical information, the wonderful advertisement/article in Boy’s Life that is reproduced here and valued insight as well. 

Almost every die-hard kit collector has heard of the ITC Thor Missile Base and Halibut Submarine models.  The Thor is among (or is) the most valuable of all collectable models and the Halibut and other ITC Cam-A-Matic action kits are close behind.   Both kits have fantastic action features.  The Thor is automatically removed from the shelter, taken over the launcher, raised into position then fired!  The Halibut dives, surfaces then removes a Regulus II missile from the hanger and fires it!  They were (and still are) the most complicated operating plastic model kits ever created.  But how did Ideal Toy Company come into being, and what was Cam-A-Matic action?

itc-thor-small-for-top.jpg  itc-halibut-small-for-top.jpg

(Thor restored box art courtesy of 

Penny Candy and Teddy Bears

Ideal Toy Company was founded by Morris and Rose Michtom.  Both were Jewish-Russian immigrants.  Morris came to New York in the 1897/99 time period and Rose came over in 1899.  He was penniless and soon married Rose.  They were a hard-working and very enterprising couple; soon had a store at 404 Tompkins Avenue in Brooklyn, NY that sold candy, notions and other penny items.  Rose was also a seamstress, and to help make ends meet, she sewed plush toys that were also sold in the store.  They both became American citizens in 1902.

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Vintage Modeling – ITC’s Stinson Tri-motor Model U

By Dennis Sparks

(additional kit photos by Alan Bussie)

This is one of several small articles on vintage plastic modeling, focusing primarily on the models that my father built between about 1955 and 1970.

Dad was born in 1930, and like many boys of that era, he built balsa wood flying models. During WWII, he also assembled and painted kits of solid wood scale model aeroplanes as school projects.   These were intended to be used as identification aids in the war effort, but they were later supplanted by the better known mass-produced black solid rubber models.

hawk-p-61-solid.JPG comet-m3-b-29-solid.JPG hawk57dvii-solid.JPG maircraft-h-12-p-80-solid.JPG veron-meteor-solid.JPG

megow-sd-2-p-51-wcontents-solid.jpg master-mo-f4u-1-solid.JPG maircraft-x-2-dc-3mar-solid.JPG

A variety of early solid wood scale model kits, including the rarest of them all – the Maircraft DC-3 in 1/48 scale (lower right)

(click on any to enlarge) 

As an adult, he turned to building and flying control-line aircraft that were powered by glow-ignition engines.  But living in a small mobile home with a wife and three children placed severe storage limits for his flying models in addition to curtailing his hobby budget.  And so by about 1955 he had returned to scale modeling, starting with the “mixed media” kits of the era – solid balsa models with a few injection molded plastic detail parts.  He continued with some of the earliest all-plastic models as they became available.

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Vintage Modeling- Revell’s Regulus II (Vought SSM-N-9/RGM-15)

By Dennis Sparks

(Box photos courtesy of Alan Bussie at

The History

Chance Vought’s Regulus was one of the forerunners of the modern cruise missile.  Its airframe was a simple cylindrical fuselage with only small swept wings and a single vertical tail surface.  Powered by an Allison J-33 jet engine of 4600 lbs. thrust and with a pair of strap-on RATO units that provided 33,000 lbs. thrust each for 2.2 seconds, the Regulus was designed to be launched from a ramp mounted on the deck of either a surfaced submarine or a larger warship.  Armed with the 40-50 kiloton W5 or the 1-2 megaton W27 nuclear warhead and with a range of about 500 miles, the subsonic Regulus was ultimately deployed on five US Navy submarines, four cruisers and five aircraft carriers, serving from 1955 until 1964.   One of the few surviving Regulus missiles can be seen on board the submarine USS Growler, which is now on display alongside the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid museum in New York.


Restored Regulus I Missile (courtesy of weaponsman) 

With the rapid advances being made in aerodynamics at the time, development of the more advanced version was already well underway by the time the Regulus had reached operational status.  Powered by the much larger GE J-79 engine, the Regulus II was designed to fly at speeds greater than Mach 2, at altitudes of up to 70,000 feet, and to have a longer range.

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A History Of Renwal Aeroskin Kits

By Brad Hansen


PART 1:  Pre-War 2-in-1 Sets

Renwal had established an extensive line of kits by 1966.  They had come out with a unique line of modern armor and military equipment, visible anatomical models, visible V-8s and chassis, nuclear submarines with detailed (if a bit fanciful) interiors and an older line of naval warships.  They had introduced a large line of “Collectors Showcase” 1/48th scale cars, started a series of seven modern iterations of classic car designs (Renwal Revivals) plus a super-detailed 1/12 scale Mercedes Benz Gullwing and Ferrari.

Selected Renwal Kits (click any to enlarge) 

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renwal-6300-usnavcomb.JPG renwal-809-1495-wasp-exc.JPG renwal-800-598-vismangd.JPG renwal-811-1600-wanksld.JPG renwal-553-atomiccan.JPG

renwal-154-99-benzmp.JPG  renwal-603-king.JPG  renwal-610-dewey.JPG  renwal-651-298-gwashf.JPG  renwal-653-349-tomjeffexaa.JPG


Notable by their absence up to then were kits of aircraft.  This changed in January of 1966 when Renwal issued their first series of model planes kits.

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Ray Gaedke –Lindberg Line Box Top Illustrator, Artist, Twirler and Entrepreneur

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By Alan Bussie    Google+ profile

I wish to thank artist Mike Boss for locating Gayle Yarnall, who is one of Ray Gaedke’s daughters.  Gayle, I thank you and Bernice for the main biography body.  Without you this article would not exist.  Rae, thank you for locating and scanning all the photographs.  To all three daughters – Rae, Peggy and Gayle – thank you for your timeless memories of your father.

Please visit Gayle’s blog at 


Plastic model kits were off to a shaky start in the post-war United States.  The first US kits came out in 1946, and the hobby shops did not know what to do with these colorful little gems.  As a result, they put them on the ‘high shelf’ or another secondary location.  Current model builders, the skilled craftsman who were used to the wooden ‘solid’ or stick and tissue kits, had no interest at all and were critical of such prefabrication.  The handful of manufactures feared this was a product with no audience.

 The target audience was present but had simply not been identified.  Once plastic kits were marketed in a few mainstream stores, plastic models began to sell very quickly to younger children and adults who were tired or scared off by time-and-talent consuming wooden kits.  But success created a new problem.   Kits in mainstream stores had to compete with highly established toys, games and other products.  To attract the buyer’s attention, they needed ‘visual shelf appeal,’ which translated to eye-popping box artwork.  Raymond Gaedke was one of the pioneers of this ‘modern’ model box artwork.


Ray’s incredible Winnie Mae (late 1950s)

 It is difficult to say who did the first popular series of full color box art in the USA.  The current candidates are Ray Gaedke or Jim Cox from Aurora.  

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The Kits of Pyro Plastic Company – An Illustrated Guide

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

Many thanks to Carlton Shanks, John Burns and all the KCCers for their extensive research and documentation

Pyro is unique in plastic models because the subjects for kits were not selected by popularity.  Pyro was a very successful company without model kits.  Since the production of molds was subsidized by other profit centers, Pyro did not feel the extreme financial pressure that Revell and Monogram did.  The later had to produce kits that would sell immediately and in quantity so they could make loan payments and recoup their tooling expenses.

We do not know how Pyro chose their kits; perhaps Bill even had input into the process!  All we really know is that subjects were chosen based on historical significance and not sales potential.  That is why Pyro kit subjects are so unique and in so many cases are the only kit very made (or even envisioned) of such a subject.

 It appears that Pyro used popular reference books and sometimes existing wooden kits in the design process.  This was not an unusual industry practice.  As Pyro started making more detailed kits for more advanced modelers, they began to study the actual subjects when available – especially for automobile kits.  This yielded some excellent models for that time.


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Nathan Lester & William (Bill) Morris Lester – The Origins Of Modern Injection Molding And Pyro Plastics Company

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

Second Edition Notes

In the first edition, credit was given to one man for the first modern injection molding machine.  This may or may not be true; evidence gathered over the last 3 years paints a more complicated picture. This revision is not an effort to take credit away from anyone but to give it where due.

 I would like to thank artist and friend Michael Boss, Peter van Lune, Marsha Frantisak and the “Industry Watch” article cited below.  Without these sources this article would not be possible.  Marsha is niece of William Lester and granddaughter of Nathan Lester.  Please note that any photos without credits are from the internet.  If you did not receive credit or if any of these photos are copyrighted, please contact me for credit or removal.  Thank you-AB


Pyro is not the most famous of the US plastic model companies.  Die-hard collectors know the name well, but even fewer are aware that Pyro’s founder, William Lester, was an entrepreneur, innovator and inventor.  Furthermore, William learned molding from his father, Nathan Lester.  Both of these men had a hand in inventing the modern plastic injection molding machine, which completely revolutionized American plastics manufacturing.  Some details are lost to history but enough is known to create a rough portrait.


Modern Injection Molding Machine (courtesy Western Kentucky Plastics)


William’s father, Nathan Lester, was born in 1884 in Minsk, Russia and immigrated in 1905.  Bill’s mother, Mrs. Gussie Lester, was also born in Russia in 1884.  We do not know much else about his youth, but Nathan was a brilliant man and entrepreneur who reached the top of his industry.  He owned Lester Die & Machine Company of Cleveland (1920s to ?, referred to as ‘Lester Tool’ later), Lester-Phoenix Die Casting Machines in Cleveland (30s/40s+), one of the leading die-cast companies in the USA.  At least one trade catalog (dated 1941) of Lester-Phoenix Die has survived.  He also owned Lester Engineering and held numerous patents.  This is a small sample:

  • Pneumatic die-casting machine filed as early as 1926
  • Plastic Casting Machine filed April 15, 1938 and granted June 3, 1941 by the Patent Office
  • Link mechanism for pressure casting machines filed as early as 1939
  • Injection molding control apparatus filed in 1943
  • Injection molding machine spreader filed in 1944

In the book “The Story of New Jersey(1945),” Nathan is credited as being one of the “leading die casters in the United States” and heading a company (identified later as Lester-Phoenix) which “…builds die casting machines and different types of plastic moulding machines.”   Paul Orban, the second engineer hired by Lester Engineering (and later chief engineer) said that “He was a pleasant man to work with, a chain smoker, and he paced like a lion in a cage in the engineering department.  He was cordial and honest. Nathan was originally a tool-and-die maker. He worked for Reed before starting his own company.”

Nathan’s son, William Morris Lester, was born in Brooklyn, New York on Jan. 14, 1908. He attended Brooklyn public schools and graduated high school in Worchester, MA in 1904.  His father’s business impacted him early; William was still in school when he started designing molds and casting machines.  After high school he enrolled in Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  He graduated in 1928 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and extensive background experience in die casting machines and mold design.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

His first job was Developmental Engineer for Precision Castings Co., Syracuse, NY.   After almost three years, his entrepreneurial spirit prompted him to leave in 1930/31.  Bill went to his father’s shop, Lester Tool and Die Company, and Bill’s first job was Chief Engineer. Bill did own stock in Lester Tool, but it is unknown if he bought the stock before or after he became an employee.  Bill designed molds and die casting machines for Lester, and Reed-Prentice Company manufactured the machines under license.  Bill increased the efficiency of mold making through numerous improvements and attachments for tool- room equipment.  He received several patents for these innovations in pressure and die casting equipment.  Given the early dates (from the 1920) of Nathan’s patents and his leadership in the field, his son certainly learned the practical engineering and the business sides from his father.  Bill worked about four years at Lester Tool.   As we will see, he was a very fast study.

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A Biography of James (Jim) Pettit Cox – The Father of Modern Model Box Artwork

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

My sincere thanks to Art Cox.  Without him this biography would not have been possible.

Box artwork is a major part of model kit collecting.  In many cases, the illustration is more important than the contents!  The most colorful and desirable kits are from 1953 to the early 1960s, which is considered the ‘Golden Age’ of model kit artwork.  During this time, easy-to-assemble kits with dramatic box tops swept aside all pastimes and became the #1 hobby of teenage boys in America until the 1970s.


Jim and Aurora’s longest continuously used box art – the classic Fokker D-VII from 1956

Model kits were not always popular and colorful.  From 1910 to the 1930s, boxes were usually very plain, stating the company name and perhaps a simply drawn scene in one color.  By the 1930s, producers of wood and tissue flying kits were creating hobby empires, and packaging took on more color but still lacked flair.

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The Story Behind Megow Balsa

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Anyone who knows of the Golden Age of Model Aircraft has worked with balsa wood.  This excellent article was printed in several of the Megow Company catalogs during the 1930s and 1940s.   Fred Megow got his start selling balsa and wood stock from the famous ‘Green Cabinet’ in local Philadelphia, PA hobby shops.  The kits that followed were all made of balsa as well, so Megow took the material very seriously, color coding their stock by the grade of wood; yellow (dead soft), orange (soft), red (medium), green (hard) and black (extra hard).  When World War II interfered with supplies,  balsa was hoarded for production as it as at Hawk and other manufactures.  Sadly, Fred Megow chose to close down his international hobby empire in the late 1940s.  I hope you enjoy this article, transcribed here with all of the original photos.  (Alan Bussie)  Google+ profile


Editor’s Introduction: Thousands of model airplane builders have for years used balsa wood with infinite skill and cleverness! Yet few know any more about it, other than it comes from South America. Therefore, we have asked Mr. Eger, our tropical wood expert to write the article which follow:

Well, to start with, up to this date, as far as I know, there is no literature on the Balsa Tree.  The few descriptions that have appeared in this country regarding it are short and in many instances contradictory. It has been my privilege to observe and study the flora of the tropics for a quarter of a century, and the balsa tree, due to its peculiarities, has attracted my attention especially. Thanks to these special studies, I have been called upon to manage a balsa plantation, the only plantation of this kind of tree in the world, where I had the opportunity of planting, cultivating and logging the balsa tree for a number of years.

In the following I give to our readers a condensed description of this wonderful tree, which I know will be of great interest to builders of Megow models.

The Balsa Tree belongs to the Bomacaceae (Linné), and its Latin name is Ochroma. There exist many species of Ochroma, of which the following are known to me:

  • Ochroma limonensis, found in Costa Rica and Panama.
  • Ochroma lagopus, found in Cuba, Jamaica and the other Antilles.
  • Ochroma concolor, found in Guatemala and Honduras.
  • Ochroma velutina, found on the Pacific coast of Central America.
  • Ochroma tomentosa, found on the upper Magdalena River, Colombia.
  • Ochroma obtusa, found on the lower Magdalena River, Colombia, and finally
  • Ochroma grandifolia, found in the Republic of Ecuador.

This last mentioned species interests us most, as almost 100 percent of all balsa shipped to the United States is exported from Ecuador. The reason for the predilection of Ecuadorian balsa is found in its finer texture, white color and extreme lightness of weight.


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Jack Leynnwood- Artist and Model Kit Box Art Illustrator

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By Michael Boss and Mary Ridgway

Editors Note: Michael Boss is an illustrator who was good friends with Jack Leynnwood from 1971 till Jack’s passing in 1999. This article was written by Michael and Mary in 1995. Thank you both for a superb inside look at one of the great illustrators -Alan Bussie

When you were a kid, do you remember going to the hobby shop to spend your hard-earned lawn mowing money on that plastic airplane model kit that you had your eyes on for weeks? Or perhaps you spent your time hinting to family members that if they wanted to get you a present, this particular model was just the thing? Maybe you tried to bribe (or blackmail) siblings into making a contribution toward the ultimate cool kit? Most of us had that kind of obsession for plastic model kits at some point in our youth. There was one exceptionally gifted artist whose job it was to fan the flames of our insatiable desire. His name was Jack Leynnwood, and he was responsible for many of the high-energy illustrations that made us lust for kit after kit. During his long career, he painted hundreds of model kits box wraps from the 1950s through the 1980s.


Revell Nieuport 28 C-1. This illustration was for a middle 1960s release of the 1/72 scale kit in the markings of Lt. Douglas Campbell of the Eddie Rickenbacker’s “Hat in the Ring” squadron of WWI. The original was rendered in gouache.

Jack’s artwork is an understated part of American culture. Most people Continue reading “Jack Leynnwood- Artist and Model Kit Box Art Illustrator”