Promoting Excellence in HO Scale Vehicle Modeling

Bob Kelley

We received the sad news this week that long-time member, friend, and 1/87 collector and modeler, Bob Kelley, had passed away after a long battle with ill health. Bob was such an instrumental part of the development of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, he'll be sorely missed. If you never had the opportunity to meet Bob you really missed out on knowing a really special person who did as much as anyone for promoting our scale in vehicle modeling and collecting in North America. We're publishing a tribute from Wayne Calder below. Bob Johnson [posted 10/04/2009]

Tribute To Bob Kelley

I find it rather ironic that in the 9 years that I lived in the greater Los Angeles area, I never knew nor met Bob Kelley. My 1/87 collection back then (early to mid-'90s) consisted entirely of Herpa, Busch/Praline, Wiking (Bob taught me it was pronounced "Vi-king"), Monogram, Preiser, Rietze and Roco. That would soon change when I went from my new home in Houston back to LA to visit him.

I have many recollections of Bob, some personal stories of which I will share, not just as memories, but as a way that I hope you allow you to get to know some of who this man was.

Although I first spoke to Bob at the end of 1997 it would be the summer of 1998 before I would get to see his collection - part of it to be more accurate. He would always tell me that on my next visit he would show me the rest. Turns out it took three visits to see all of it. The last bit was spent in his garage. I sat for hours looking through boxes of 1/87 airplanes, space ships and sci-fi vehicles.

The reason it took three trips was that he had (and as far as I know still does) the biggest 1/87 collection in the USA. He had a few pieces out for display, but most were kept (in their original boxes) under his bed, in his closets, in the kitchen cabinets, in the laundry room and in dozens of other nooks and crannies. Many of us would spend hours looking through his stuff – wishing, dreaming.

Bob had a passion for our hobby (which started in the late ’40s with his dad’s interest in HO trains), but at the same time was very humble about his part in it. My experience of his passion came when he first insisted that I attend the MVU (Model Vehicles Unlimited) swap meets. It wasn't just that he was a core leader in the MVU, it was also that he wanted others to experience collecting. His passion spilled into the many photos he would send of his very unique models, with their descriptions written in his immaculate architect’s handwriting on their backs. He was also the guy we would frequently call to find out the latest scoop in the 1/87 world. He both encouraged and made things happen in the 1/87th vehicle world in his patient, unruffled manner, always in the context of his vast knowledge of the history of our hobby, the models in it and the real vehicles they represented.

Not that he didn't get upset about the things that hampered progress in this hobby. Bob, myself and Gunther (who you'll meet in the next paragraph) drove from LA to Portland for the ’99 Club Convention. We visited every model railroad store along that 975 mile trip. Bob would always notice and be very animated about the terrible attitude owners and employees would have in the majority of railroad shops. He berated the fact that he as a customer was made to feel that he was doing the owner a favor by shopping there. Drove him nuts and gave us lots to talk about as to why we thought that was so. I also learned from Bob on that trip that if you wanted to have a decent collection with hard to find models, buy it when you see it.

Let me tell you about his friends from Germany, whose acquaintance I was honored to make. There was Dietrich Vorbach (who lives in the USA and is an expert on Wiking stuff), Otto Duve (who started Praline models) and Gunther Schneidt (who has the biggest collection of taxi models and toys in the world). All with their own quirks. All with totally different personalities than Bob. That was the great thing about him, he welcomed everybody into his home and his hobby.

Look at Bob’s pieces that he has submitted to our Galleries. Start in Photo Gallery 205 and look at what he was kit bashing as a teenager. Then go to Gallery 27 and look at his Hispano Suiza roadster and you will begin to see that he was the first U.S. guy in our hobby that put the most incredible detail into his models (cars in particular). He built to immaculate standards with a very steady hand (look at the chrome strips on the Hispano Suiza). He took many 1st place awards at the annual 1/87 Vehicle Club Conventions. Bob was an architect and it showed in his models. He never used CAD-CAM in his work but still had clients that valued his work. His career showed his ability to both conceptualize what he wanted and then to realize it as he laid out every detail with the tip of his pen. When he built models the pen was replaced with an X-Acto knife and paint brush.

I had mentioned how limited in scope my collection was before I met Bob. I ascribe the diversity in my eclectic collection entirely to him. Here’s why: it was Bob who introduced me to the discovery of 1/87 vehicles in Kinder Eggs, Hallmark Christmas ornaments, and on stores' toy shelves. So too with airplanes. He would go into hobby shops and find airplane kits that were somewhat near to 1/87 and measure their wingspan and fuselage length and then using one of his many reference books would calculate their scale.

It was Bob who introduced me (and my bank account) to a whole new world of model manufacturers. Bob would frequently go to Europe. He would take suitcases filled with stuff he picked up here that was hard to get there, sell it (to pay for the trip over), attend the European 1/87 swap meets and come back with loads of plastic injection molded and resin "candy" to sell here - to pay for the trip back and the models he’d keep for himself. He made meticulous lists of what he had purchased and mail them to those who were interested. It was thus that he introduced many of us to models from Miber, US Models, IMSE, Lion and Evrat to name a few.

Often those toys, trinkets and ornaments, that just happened to be 1/87 would be cast by him to make resin models that he could tinker around with. On more than one occasion he would kitbash stuff, get what he wanted and then as he was about to start his casting would find out that one of the 87th scale companies was going to produce it! His most ambitious project was making a resin Porsche 917/10 CanAm race car which, along with decals he hoped to sell. It bothered him that the length wasn't quite right, but it was an awesome model. Just a handful were made. He was also involved in the making of a White 3000 gas tanker with some connections in the Czech Republic.

Just as many of us dreamt about owning some of the pieces Bob had, he too had a particular piece he longed to have – a Porsche 911. Not a model, but the real thing. It never happened on a 1:1 scale, but he sure had a boat-load of them in his collection!

In these past few years Bob gradually got more and more ill and was less able to be as involved in our hobby as he wanted to be. Burbank House of Hobbies is eBaying most of his collection. Look into it as not only will you get some very unique pieces should you win, you will also know that they came from a very unique person.

He achieved much in a quiet way. It is only as we look back on his life that we begin to realize his influence in a world of small models that satisfies desires to collect, allows expressions of creativity in building and fellowship in talking about them. Thanks for that Bob! Wayne Calder [posted 10/04/2009]