Roanoke resident’s approach to modeling has changed big time

Dan Drake, of Roanoke, stands beside a cabinet at his home where his model tank dioramas are on display. Drake made models in his youth and decided to pick it back up as a serious hobby a few years ago.
Dan Drake, of Roanoke, stands beside a cabinet at his home where his model tank dioramas are on display. Drake made models in his youth and decided to pick it back up as a serious hobby a few years ago. Photo by Steve Clark.

Originally published Dec. 13, 2012.

Dan Drake's approach to model making has changed considerably since his youth.

"When you were a kid, you would glue the parts together as fast as you could and sit it on the shelf and then, eventually, it would die by firecracker," he says.

Today, it's not uncommon for Drake, a Roanoke resident, to spend four to six months working on a model, striving to make sure it looks as authentic as possible and communicates a message.

Despite making models in his youth, Drake didn't pick it back up as a hobby again until recently.

"It's been about three and a half years ago that I decided I wanted to get into modeling armor and get serious about it," he says.

Armor is a category of modeling that consists of armored fighting vehicles.

Drake models tanks and chalks his passion for doing so up to being a "gearhead."

"The bigger the machine, the badder the machine, the more I love it," he says.

Drake starts a project by drawing up a storyboard, as compared to actually working on a model, and it's because of how he prefers to present his final products.

"I lean more towards doing what they call a diorama, where you're actually showing a scene or conveying some type of thought," he says.

One of Drake's dioramas, for instance, titled "Forgotten Warrior," showcases a rusted Japanese tank sitting in the sands of Iwo Jima 20 years after the World War II battle.

The tank, meticulously detailed and weathered realistically, is a good example of the eye for detail Drake brings to his models.

"You strive to be historically and physically accurate," he says. "The kits are close, but they're not necessarily right.

"So, depending on how in depth you want to get, you could spend a good deal of time researching for it."

Drake's current model calls for him to apply a "winter whitewash" to it.

"During the wintertime (military personnel) would literally take whitewash, and they may use mops or brooms, and they paint (tanks) white to match the snow," he says.

Drake has been using a special spray to try to help him create the right look.

"It's basically a clear spray that you then spray white over and then immediately run it under tap water with a brush and remove some of the white so you get the effect, because the whitewash wasn't permanent," he says.

In Drake's first attempt, the whitewash didn't come off. This led him to repaint the entire tank - which is multiple colors - and try again.

His second attempt was successful. However, when Drake went to apply the chemical that lets him start using oils on the tank so he can create weathering effects, there was an unintended consequence.

"You literally watched the white just dissolve," he says.
Drake says the tank doesn't look horrible, but he speculates he'll end up repainting it for a second time, trying to get the look just right.

This past spring, Drake entered some of his models into a contest for the first time. The contest, held at the Victory Museum, in Auburn, and sponsored by the Armor Modeling and Preservation Society (AMPS), was a positive experience for Drake, as all three of his models medaled - two achieving gold and one bronze - at the basic level.
Drake, a member of Fort Wayne's AMPS chapter, credits his fellow members with encouraging him to enter.

"We're a source of support and information for one another," he says.

Drake's success at the contest bumped him up to the intermediate level of competition. He says he already has his next four projects planned.

One of those projects was inspired by the dilapidated state of a tank at a park in Cromwell.

"I'm going to highlight what you see: it's sitting on a cracked slab of pavement; the paint's all faded out; the glass is broken. Nobody really pays any attention," Drake says.

He hopes the project poses the question: Is this really preservation?

For the modeler who once looked at models as something to be opened up by firecrackers into a dozen pieces, it's a way of coming full-circle for him to now use them to open up peoples' minds.

"That's why I like doing the dioramas," Drake says, "because you can actually tell a story."