The Butcher's Bill

'What was the butcher's bill?' he asked.

'Tolerably severe for so short an action,' said Stephen. 'We have no dead, but there are three abdominal wounds I do not like at all, and Mr. Bentley was cruelly bruised when he tripped over a bucket and fell down the main hatchway; while there were many kicked or bitten by the horses, an unreasonable number, for a naval engagement.
(Chapter 7, Letter of Marque, Patrick O’Brian, 1988)

The "Butcher's Bill" is a sardonic way to account for, and deflect the horrible reality of, the numbers of dead and injured in a battle.  The phrase appears to have been in common use for so long that even Google doesn't know who started it.  It is frequently seen in Patrick O'Brian's extended series of novels about life aboard the Royal Navy's ships in the Napoleonic era.  It appears so commonly, in fact, that among O'Brian's rabid fan base, the accounting of all the casualties described in the 20-volume series has been summarized in a Wiki-like compilation called "The Butcher's Bill".

A majority of my model building involves military subjects, but I never expected them to actually go into battle.  I obviously didn't train them for that.  I especially didn't adequately anticipate them in conflict with an Axis of Evil composed of Humidity, Gravity, and Rigidity.  They never had a chance...

Boldly they [stood] and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
                                                 (-with apologies to Tennyson)

And so it was, at 3:07pm on Friday June 1, 2018, that the battle was engaged. The news was transmitted within a minute by text message from the only witness, my daughter, as follows:
         "Out of nowhere"
          "Disaster has happened"
          "Ahhh it's literally like a war zone!! Plane parts everywhere!"

In retrospect, it was clear that preparations for the destruction had been secretly underway for days as Tropical Storm Alberto engorged Central Alabama's air with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.  This allowed softening of the precise but shallow-drilled holes used to mount hard steel shelf-support pins in the wood risers of the display bookcase.  The softened holes deformed just enough to begin to lose their grip on the pins.  Meanwhile several hundred pounds of aviation and railroad reference books happily absorbed their own share of the atmosphere's hydrologic bounty after a winter and (for us Alabamans) long cold* spring of dry forced-air heat.  The forces of Humidity had prepared the battle space.  

What caused Gravity to choose that specific moment to engage is unclear, but a pin on right end the 3rd shelf up (Reconnaissance, Maritime Patrol, and Naval Aviation references) was the first to let go. Now, there was only one pin at that end, and it soon felt the pressure to follow its comrade.  Suddenly a full blown charge materialized as Shelf #3 landed on the ranks of 30 or so railroad reference books who had previously been thought to be a neutral party.  They graciously dived out of the fray (and not without injury), but not in time to avoid transmitting the plunging mass from above onto the 2nd level shelf and pins, which could not resist the sudden load.  

Then, with Gravity as its impetus, Rigidity swung into action.  Model airplanes are hollow shells of polystyrene, a plastic known for its desirable blend of flexibility and resilience. This is in contrast to well-aged furniture-grade wood, which - especially when 3/4" thick - is quite rigid.  And, that rigid wood shelving was pre-positioned for a pincer attack from above and below.

Sadly, I had previously recognized the risk for this assault after some prior collapses of book-heavy shelves on the other side of the same wall unit.  I had purchased the wood to make struts to replace the little steel pins and their fragile mounting holes.  My repair designs had been drawn and were waiting for implementation.  There were many valid work and family reasons for the delay, and other less valid ones, like "building models is more fun than rebuilding shelves."  In the end, plans notwithstanding, the repairs had not been made.  Thus, like in so many battles of years past, the losses were largely avoidable.   Mea Culpa.

So, as O'Brian's Aubrey asks, what was the butcher's bill?
  •    11 combat jets
  •    12 propeller driven aircraft
  •    1 helicopter
  •    2 jet airliners (1 complete, 1 in progress)
In reconstructing the events, the Alabama Air National Guard RF-4C Phantom was first to go, followed almost immediately by the Virginia Air Guard's F-16 with recce pod.  All their landing gear legs snapped at their attachment points, underwing weapons were sheared off and stabilizers broken.  

The first victims: Hasegawa's F-16 and RF-4C after stripping reusable parts for salvage

The order of events gets muddy after that, but the outcomes become more certain.  The themed collections on the bottom shelf - Corsairs and Spitfires - took the brunt of the accumulated momentum and, as the lowest shelf was fixed in place, had nowhere to go.  A sense of the forces involved is best illustrated with examples from these groups.  (Those with tender hearts and weak stomachs may wish to look away.  Content may be too graphic for some viewers).

The old movie title was "Two mules for Sister Sarah."  This version is "Two shelves on one Corsair"

"That's gonna leave a mark"

What had been "Spitfires over Europe" is now "Spitfires pancaked into Europe"
The force and suddenness of the impact actually wedged the plastic propeller from the pink Spitfire PR.IG into the undersurface of the oncoming shelf.

Many of the older models, not on current display because of limited space, were thrown out storage buckets to the floor from the significant heights of the collapsing shelves.  They tore apart from high velocity tumbling trauma upon impact rather than sustaining the crushing events that occurred on the display shelves themselves.
Resin cast RVHP Grumman AF-2W Guardian, a veteran of Military Aircraft Monthly magazine Volume 9, Issue 1 (January 2010)

Remains of the Siga Martin Mauler AM-1Q that once appeared in IPMS Journal, Volume 21, Issue 5. (September/October 2009)

Included among the the losses are all my models that have appeared in magazines: RVHP Grumman AF-2W Guardian, Siga Martin AM-1 Mauler, Revell Hawker Hunter FR.10, along with my Fujimi Vertol HH-46 helicopter that had been shown in Finescale Modeler's web galleries 

Only a few survivors were triaged as suitable for repair, with my very old Hasegawa Hawker Hurricane FR.II and the newer Eduard Hellcat FR.II coming through least scathed.  (The Hurricane was my first published hobby piece, on Modeling Madness,  back in the 1990s).  As might be expected, propellers and antennae were most vulnerable.
Survivors, awaiting surgery and repair

So, how might one recover from such loss?  First, I take solace that several of my more recent kits and award winners were safely residing in another cabinet (with closed doors for dust mitigation).  Second, as I stripped potentially reusable parts from the victims, I saw ways of building the same subject with more skill and finesse, or with a more modern kit than the first time around.  And, finally, at least for one total loss that was not yet complete, a fresh start on a replacement version same model kit seemed worthwhile.  As an added bonus for those who remember the missing parts adventure on my second-hand Airfix kit of the Hawker Siddeley Trident jetliner, my new copy of the Trident came with all of its parts
The rather egregious injuries on my old work-in-progress Airfix H.S. Trident.  It is safe to say that progress stopped for good on a Friday afternoon in June.
And here, fresh, from eBay is my new work-in-progress Airfix H.S. Trident.  The lessons learned from the first kit should make this build easier, and turn out better.  [That's what we tell ourselves.  Every Time]. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering: All that new bracing for the model side of the shelving unit is now firmly mounted.   I'm just thinking that I probably could have done with a little less dramatic means of encouragement to complete the job...

* Yankees may laugh here


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