St. Chamond Build Log Pt. II: Suspension and Track Links

A wonderfully appealing quality of this kit is that it provides for the construction of a complete and accurate undercarriage; a terrifying, nauseating quality of this kit is that it provides for the construction of a complete and accurate undercarriage.  With all seriousness, this is by far the most finicky and daunting phase of the build, but the quality of part construction and (thank goodness) small-subassembly breakdown of the instructions make it manageable indeed,

Takom has the builder invert their perspective for the next several steps and work from the tank’s underside up (in reality, you’re working down – you just don’t know that yet).  I-beams are aligned and attached before individual suspension mounts are brought to bear.  Keep in mind that locater pins for these mounts are provided – they’re just very subtle.  Be careful to not remove them when sanding or cleaning up, because aligning without them would be an absolute chore.

After adding sprockets and a floating suspension, the look of the tank starts to become apparent:

Phase one: complete

Phase One: Complete

Takom actually allows the modeler to leave the drive sprockets loose, but after doing so I had absolutely no faith in the mounting crossbeam’s ability to stay aligned on its own.  I opted for glue instead – a good call but one that would ultimately create moderate difficulty when mounting track links.

The bogeys come next, and boy are there a lot of them – 32 in all.  Again, these can be left loose, but I had little confidence in their ability to stand up to basic stresses on their own.  It should be mentioned here that is a trend on this model: re-creating a realistic-looking suspension lends itself well to making a fantastic model, but the lack of actual bolts and welds on the plastic kit means that making a model that actually functions like the prototype is (at least in this case at least) a less than realistic goal.  At least for this modeler.

So...much...detail...

So…much…detail…

The springs finish the undercarriage off; theoretically one could model an active floating suspension, but that would require positioning all of the spring supports in advance, something that I had no desire to tackle (what with this being my second-ever attempt at armor).  Still, for the more advanced armor modeler it’s a nice touch that could be used to set off your vignette from all the others.  As I said, however, I opted for a more level terrain approach.

Yes, it's a busy as it looks

Yes, it’s as busy as it looks

From here, it’s simply a matter of mounting the lower hull and undercarriage to the already-assembled upper hull.  Takom has provided two sturdy and precisely machined locator pins for this purpose, ensuring strength and stability once everything is closed up.  Just another example of great engineering on their part.

Now then…tracks.  My other stab at armor featured two lengths of vinyl track.  These were easy enough to work with, if not entirely accurate.  Takom has provided individual, workable track links for their St. Chamond kits, and the result is an excellent-looking and realistically functioning track system.  The downside?  36 links per side, each link being composed of three pieces.  Don’t want to do the math?  That’s 72 tracks, with a total of 216 pieces.

I admit that I stared at this for a few days before finally  getting up the gumption to tackle it.

I admit that I stared at this for a few days before finally getting the gumption to tackle it.

Much to my pleasant surprise, I found that Takom’s track system is fairly intuitive once you get the hang of it.  Attaching one (male) track link to each track pad before going back behind and attaching the opposite (female) side’s linkage.  If you get into a groove, you can knock it out in an hour or two.  Give the track time to dry (for the love of Pete use CA glue instead of thin cement.  Don’t ask why I know that) and you’ve got a fully functioning track system!

Glue, snap, glue glue snap

Glue, snap, glue glue snap

If you opted to leave the drive sprockets loose back when you attached them, you have the option of mounting the track fairly easily, snapping them into the grooves of the sprocket and rotating the track around the suspension components.  It’s worth noting that the fit of the tracks is very tight, so while actually attaching the tracks to the drive assembly was awkward, I’m glad that I opted to glue the movable parts in place, because I’m honestly skeptical that it would have held together.  I can imagine the whole thing falling apart when the tracks were joined; I’m pretty sure that would have killed the whole project then and there.  Fortunately, chaos did not reign this day.

It's finally time to put away the glue

It’s finally time to put away the glue

The build phase of this kit was fairly involved – more so than most armor kits (or so I’m led to believe).  The intricate suspension will help give the modeler a fantastically detailed project, so long as he or she can get through it without tearing their OptiVisor into a dozen pieces out of frustration.  Despite the need for delicacy, it ultimately comes together well in a sturdy, stable form.

So then, where do we go from here?  Part III of this series will look at what is arguably the most enjoyable phase of WWI armor building – painting and weathering.  In addition, I’ll cover the trials, tribulations, and ultimate victories that go into making a display base from scratch.  Trust me, it’s going to be a fun ride.

Until then my friends, as always, happy modeling.

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