In spite of
the countless new releases in the modeling industry these days, some subjects
seem doomed to be built from old kits forever. The M5 artillery tractor is an
interesting armored vehicle used in all theaters during WWII. Yet, there is no
modern injected kit of it in any scale. In 1/72 scale, the only choice is the
Hasegawa offering from 1975, but we show how these little models can be much
improved with a few modifications.
tractor was a well-known tracked vehicle used by the US Army to tow artillery guns.
International Harvester produced the original M5 version between 1943 and 1944
and it saw extensive service in all fronts during WWII, as well as during the
As is my usual practice during diorama
construction, I start with the vehicles that will compose the scene. If the
diorama does not materialize, at least I have some new models for my display.
The Hasegawa kit represents a mid-production M5 with the cage canvas cover for
the driver and the open roof for the .50 cal machine gun. It
is incredibly well molded for its age and the parts’ fit challenges some modern
ones. Of course, the kit shows its age in some details and the terrible (for
today’s standards) rubber tracks.
Overall it is
a little gem, cheap, and easily found. I wanted to depict a vehicle in the
Pacific, with the canvas cover removed, so my first step was to cut off
Hasegawa’s typical canvas-textured area from the roof and detail the remaining
part. More in-scale rods replaced the columns that support the rigid roof.
Metal pins made the roof removable for easy painting. Hasegawa
made the windscreen, which was foldable in the real vehicle, integrated with
the front hull (part #3) in the up position. I sawed it off to mount it folded
down later on. My German office tested the system.
driver`s cage meant I had to scratchbuild a new one sans the canvas (well, not
necessarily since it is a removable structure in the real thing). One of my
main reference photos showed the M5 in action with the cage in place, and it
adds a lot of character to the vehicle. So I made a cage using 0.5 mm rods by
bending the main beams over the heat of an incense stick and gluing the
straight ones. And because the driver`s cabin would be more
visible, I improved the pedals and replaced the control rods with brass wires. Next, the suspension was assembled and it literally clicked in place,
so good is the fit. However, the sprocket wheels were deceptively bad as the
tracks… I had to do something.
had other unconvincing details of the kit to worry about, like the engine
grilles. I partially sanded down the texture Hasegawa used to simulate them and
glued rectangles cut off a decoration tape I found in my `one day I will use
this-box. That tape has a very fine woven screen that no PE
detail can. I then boxed the screens with thin plastic stripes.
Then everything was dry-fitted in place, and it was time to find
a replacement for the tracks.
I also improved the driving lights on the side and back of the hull by gluing
rings made of stretched sprue over them. After painting the model I would fill
them with transparent red and orange paint.
The solution for the tracks’ problem came in the
form of resin replacement sets from OKB Grigorov. I used the T36E6 tracks for the M3/M5 family and the sprocket
for the M3. I think the T36E6 tracks are a more interesting variation than the T55
and T16 types, and more rare in 1/72 kits as well. Anyway, the level of detail
in these sets is unbelievable, and they fitted very well in the kit wheels. They looked more in-scale,
too. The sprocket wheel is equally a vast improvement over
the kit parts, and before someone asks me, yes, the open-teeth type was used in
The major difficulty with OKB tracks is that they must be heat formed to
conform to the running gear. I used a heat gun and a dowel to make the turn
around the sprocket wheel, and gently produced the
sags between the return rollers’ positions. The tracks do not
need to close perfectly, just enough to be comfortably glued in place later on. One modification was necessary to
accept the tracks, however: the axles of the return rollers had to be replaced
with thinner ones, as they were interfering with the OKB teeth.
military support vehicles, the M5 family had tie-down loops everywhere.
Hasegawa molded them as raised details and they are too small to replace. But the grab handles are too visible to
ignore. The usual method of changing them for wire replacements, which requires
drilling holes etc., is too painful. I opted to replace them with plastic ones,
so I could glue them with regular cement. The idea is to cut thin slices from a
U-shaped Evergreen beam and used them as handles. It worked very well, but next time I will round off the beam
suspension assembly was glued to the sides of the hull, as well as the huge
tubular bumper in the front and the winch accessories. I removed the winch’s cable
spool, though, as it had an unconvincing representation of the cable coiled in
there. I cemented a piece of plastic tubing in place. Then I had an empty spool
to accept a ‘real’ cable later on.
At this point, the model was almost ready for paint, but I still had
to address some details. The pioneer tools, which come molded with the hull,
were removed earlier to be replaced by individual items, which adds a lot of
realism. The new tools were 3D printed or scrounged from my box of spares.
.50 cal machine gun of the kit was also scrapped,
and a new one was assembled from Aires, Reskit, and leftover parts. I
also prepared several small items like ammo boxes, oil cans, wooden
boxes, fuel drums etc. to be used in a future diorama, but some of them
will find their place inside the little tractor later on. These items
came from spares' box or were 3D printed.
The last item
to be done in the cabin was the driver’s control panel. The kit provides it in
the form of a decal. It is not bad for the 1970s, but I preferred to scratch
built a new one. After
painting it I applied individual instrument decals and finished off with a drop
of UV resin on top of each instrument to simulate the glasses. The final part
is much more interesting.
I mixed my
own Olive Drab from Gunze acrylics because I wanted a more greenish color than
the usual modeling paint brands offer. Ah… the tranquility of a single-color
project. The decals came from my spares, and the registration number came from
an old dry transfer sheet.
Later I reproduced something I saw in period photos: the lateral stars were
usually overpainted with a dark color to avoid the enemy using them as aiming
points. I also simulated some fading by airbrushing a lighter tone of the base
color on the areas of the hull that would be more subjected to the sunlight.
These little things that you do before the weathering stage end up counting to
the final aspect of the model.
Next came the
most enjoyable step of the project (for me at least): weathering. Except for the
engine compartment, I have not used paint washes on this model at all. All
weathering was done exclusively using oil paints. The idea was to simulate the
effects of sand, coral dust, and light earth that these vehicles found in the
Pacific. In essence, the technique is based on applying the oils over a flat
finish (so the model was airbrushed with a flat varnish before) and spreading/smudging/fading
the pigment to accumulate it in corners and recesses and leave the pattern you
see in the photos. At the same time progressively add streakings, crew marks, and
all sorts of dirt accumulation. I usually start with a lighter color and then I come back with
earth color tones in places. Evidently dark brown or black was used near
lubricated parts, exhausts, etc.
The tracks were actually assembled at this
point, after the weathering treatment, as it would be difficult to paint and
weather the suspension system with them in place. Glue marks were concealed
with more weathering. All the preparation pre-forming and test fitting the
tracks before paid-off here. They almost clicked in place. All I had to do was
a small adjustment to the curvature of the tracks over the idler wheel. I used
CA glue drops to secure the tracks in contact with the wheels:
cover of the crew seats was painted with a very dark gray color and the whole
area received the oil treatment as well, particularly the floor. The driver’s
console was also glued in place.
In the rear area, I dirtied up the engine panels and abused of paint speckling
to simulate oil/fuel stains. I reasoned this area should look darker to
contrast with the rest of the vehicle, which was substantially lightened with
the weathering. The pioneer tools were painted, dirtied to look used, and glued
in place. I would add their
lights were covered with UV resin. Warning lights also received a touch of
Tamiya transparent red color. Now the vehicle was almost done and I could start to add the
final details. I made a glass for the windscreen and airbrushed the wiper marks
on it (on the outer side, of course), but I let the wiper out following several
photos. The winch cable was made from a synthetic sewing thread which was
painted dark grey. Graphite powder was then rubbed over it to look like a metal
cable. The eyelet came from my spares. I literally reeled the cable in the
winch, fixing it in place with PVA glue. And since I was at it, a piece of chain was similarly treated and
thrown over the transmission box.
On the back,
I added the tools’ straps made of lead stripes. The roof was fitted in place,
and an ammunition box and a small toolbox were also placed laying over the
engine hatches. An exhaust pipe was inserted in a hole previously drilled atop
the engine grille.
Finally, the machine gun was painted and installed on its ring. The ammunition
belt came from an old PE set, and I also made the straps that I think are to
tie the machine gun tripod on the top of the roof.
I have not
glued the roof and cage structures, as I probably will add a driver one day.
So, here are some photos of the finished model:
This model proved again to me that sometimes it is better to put some basic
skills to good use on an old kit than wait for a modern release. After all, it
may never quite happen.
I hope you liked this model. See you in the next one.