Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Vancouver military man re-creates history with toys



"Steampunk Alphabet" by Nathanael Iwata.

William Hill takes toys and transforms them into history.

Like salvaging from a tiny scrap heap, the 62-year-old Vancouver man uses the contents from out-of-the-box vehicle models to create detailed recreations of military machinery. His collection ranges from WWII-era models to ones representing modern wars.

The process of using parts from commercial model kits to create something entirely unique is called kit bashing; Hill’s been doing it for years. And the Army veteran’s fascination with military

memorabilia goes back to when he was a kid growing up in Southern California. As an adult he’s even participated in many military re-enactments.

“My hobby has always been military,” he said.

After buying several Bruder-brand vehicles from Kazoodles, Hill caught the interest of Mary Sisson. She owns the toy store, 13503 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Suite B3, with husband Bob, a copy editor at The Columbian.

Hill told Mary how he uses the models as a blank canvas to create historically accurate military vehicles and equipment. Along with fresh paint and other tinkerings, he even includes tiny details like action figures and ropes to bring the models to life.

Mary asked Hill if she could feature his hobby in a window display, now viewable through Feb. 28. Hill will be on hand for questions at 11 a.m. Saturday.

“I’ve never had a display bring in so many people to ask about it,” Mary wrote in an email. “Veterans appreciate it, kids are fascinated.”

— Stover E. Harger III

Alphabet book rides punky wave

B is for balloon, a quaint form of transport. But this one is different: “The Billows Balloon was a sight to be seen/It could carry a speaker, a clock or a screen/Steam powered thrusters and hot air for lift/Would keep it in place instead of adrift.”

Such are the technical twists that Vancouver illustrator and video game designer Nathanael Iwata has brought to his new alphabet book. The book is intended for children, but it’s stuffed with a sophisticated blend of Victorian aesthetics and sci-fi wizardry that’s sure to please parents too.

Iwata’s “Steampunk Alphabet” came after the father of three realized some of the picture books he was sharing with his kids were “pretty lame.” Meanwhile, his work as a video game designer had him immersed in the stylish world of steampunk.

Which is what, exactly?

“A lot of it is imagining future technologies built with what was available in old times,” Iwata said. Take the top hats and monocles, the beards and brass, the clockwork and leather of Charles Dickens’ world and then overlay it with technological anachronisms like steam-powered computers (“analytical engines”) and coal-fueled flying machines. Some would say “Dr. Who’s” Tardis, the time-traveling telephone booth, blends the futuristic with the old-fashioned in a steampunky way.

Steampunk subculture is thriving in everything from art and literature to music and fashion. “For me, it’s the visuals,” said Iwata, who occasionally teaches animation at his alma mater, George Fox University. His book includes a four-line children’s rhyme for each letter — plus footnotes for adults. For example, we’re told the above-mentioned balloon has “six steam powered actuators” to keep it fixed in space.

You can preorder the book at and It’ll be on store shelves this spring, Iwata said.

— Scott Hewitt

Bits ‘n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email