A Club Built on Camaraderie and Caring

Taking modeling kits to a whole new level of excellence

When Byron Black was a child, his parents were always searching for something that would hold his interest and allow him to focus for long periods of time. That something turned out to be putting modeling kits together.

“My dad loved wire-controlled airplanes and I used to go to the hobby store with him,” he says. “I was looking at the kits inside the case and the guy behind the counter gave it to my dad, and said, ‘Here, that's for him.’”

When Byron got home, he tore the box open, put the model together and fell in love with the process then and there. He continued to build into adulthood and some of his models have even won awards. “I build hot rods, dragsters, tanks, artillery, ships, tall mast ships, figures, and science fiction dioramas.”

After raising four children, he searched for a club where he could share his interest, enjoy some camaraderie, and learn from others. When he couldn’t find one close to his home in Topeka, he decided to start his own. In 2019, he founded the Ad Astra Modeling Club. The members meet once a month and all ages, skill levels, and genres are welcome.

One of its members is Grand Master Modeler, Bill Pettyjohn, a Navy veteran who lives in Topeka. He started building models at the age of 6 when he received some kits for his birthday. As of today, he has won over 300 awards. “I build World War I and World War II model aircraft,” he says. “It really relaxes me when I get into the detail work. I've been told that people know it's my work just from the techniques I use.”

Bill says modeling kits have come a long way. “Building is not the hobby that people remember from when they were kids; it's totally different. It used to be that you bought a model kit and just slapped it together. And, you couldn't buy much in the way of paints or glues. The hobby has gotten a lot more expensive and it's a lot more detailed. If you really want to build it up, you end up buying a lot of aftermarket materials to enhance it.”

The model kits themselves are just colored plastic or resin, but it’s the painting and the details that make them special. They are true works of art. “I use enamels, oils, watercolors, and pastels to get the finish I want,” says Bill. “It takes me about six to eight months to complete just one.”

In addition to starting the club, Byron loves to use his modeling skills to give back. Says his wife, Sharri, “I'm a therapist in private practice. Several years ago, I had a group of teenage boys who were in foster care that I thought could benefit from learning this hobby. Byron sat down with the group and helped them build models. We wanted to teach them skills and help them feel good about something they accomplished.”

Byron also has a passion for building for veterans. He takes the time to sit with and listen to them, and if they would like to commemorate a memory, such as a helicopter, tank, or aircraft, he will build it for them.                                                   

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