Thursday, April 25, 2024

John Vandevender, in memoriam

     My freind John passed away at home in January of this year, just shy of age 80. He had developed Lymphoma in 2023, and while he battled it successfully for a while, it turned out that it was was one opponent he was not going to defeat. We met back circa 2017, with John just living one town away, in Brookfield CT. He retired form Praxair about 10 years before that, where he worked as a communications manager.  John was a regular participant in the wargames at my home thereafter. John specially enjoyed games with To the Strongest! and For King and Parliament. Perhaps my fondest memory of my time with John was the game we played outdoors, masks on the whole time, on a warm mid October day, when the worst of the COVID-19 onslaught had passed

John commanding the Macedonian successors... who completely crushed my Republican Romans that day!

John told me that he had written some fantasy novels, and had some medieval type wargames figures. t I couldn't find a listing of  any books, but.... a sense of John's dry sense of humor can be had from this piece of his that I found on line:

Flying Toilets, by John Vandevender

Things happened to Nick. All sorts of things. Funny things. Sad things. Nick resembled that Al Capp cartoon character with a black thundercloud over his head. The only real difference between the cartoon character and Nick was that no matter what happened, Nick remained cheerful and optimistic. Everybody liked Nick and wanted to be his friend.

When our company president found out Nick and I would be flying together to visit a client, he advised me, “Don’t sit next to him.” That was before Nick worked for me. Naturally I asked why he would say a thing like that. “You’ll see,” he said. My seat was three rows back so I kept a curious eye on Nick.

When the plane hit a pocket of air, the flight attendant spilled a container of hot coffee all over Nick and his seat-mate. An hour later, we hit another air pocket and the overhead bin above Nick opened and dumped four tennis racquets on his head. The attendant spent the rest of the flight applying mercurochrome and band-aides to Nick’s scratches while Nick told funny stories about his other misadventures.

We had a profitable visit with our client and after we got up to leave, Nick said how much he admired the client’s wooden rocking chair. The client invited Nick to try the chair. “This is great,” Nick said. “And it’s amazingly quiet. Where can I buy one like this?”

As luck would have it, the store was only a block away and they still had one chair—the display model—assembled and sitting in the front window. Nick really wanted the chair so I said to the clerk, “Please give us some rope so we can tie it in the trunk. We have a plane to catch.” Naturally the airline charged us extra freight, but Nick was happy and our flight home was uneventful.

At our destination we dragged the chair into the parking garage. I helped Nick tie the chair to the roof of his sports car. At the exit Nick discovered the ceiling was too low for the chair to pass through. We borrowed a screwdriver from the parking attendant and working in the cold, dark garage we took the chair apart and threw the pieces in Nick’s back seat.

A few days later I ran into Nick at work. “So how’s the rocker?” I asked. “Well, it’s fine,” he replied. “Except, you know, it squeaks. I oiled it. Took it apart again, but. . .”

A few months later I visited Nick and his family and tried out his rocking chair. It still squeaked.

When Nick was assigned to my work group, I was happy to have him. He always exceeded quota and I began to look forward to the amusing stories of things that happened to him during his travels. I noticed that during our annual sales meeting, Nick always had a little story explaining why if only something had not gone wrong, he might have been awarded the salesperson of the year bonus. After a few years of this, the company president gave every attendee a box of Kleenex tissues to mop up after Nick’s sad stories.

And then there was Nick’s greatest sad story of all: the flying toilets. One day Nick called to say he was submitting an invoice for $2000 in damages to his company car. “New windshield, hood and a headlight,” he said. “But I think I need a new car.”

That was a lot of money but the car could be fixed. Why did he need a new one? “You know how the Smithfield Street bridge has so many potholes that you have to drive across really slow?” he began his tale. “Well, I followed this truck full of porto-potties. He speeded up, hit a pothole and the chain holding the potties broke. Potties went everywhere. Some flew into the river. Two went sideways. Two came for me. And the worst part”—here he hesitated— “was that the potties were not empty so the inside of the car doesn’t smell too good.”

A month or so after John passed, his wife, Christa contacted me and asked if I would be interested in any of John's wargames figures. I answered yes, and drove to his home to review them. It was an ecelctic collection of 70's era figures and paint jobs, on green-painted balsa wood bases; those of us of a certain age all had troops like them. After consideration, I decided to buy pretty much the whole lot as a remembrance and thanks to John, and a boost to his wife. Fortunately, John had them all carefully organized into labelled and counted plastic shoe boxes; I think there were 17 in all. Many of the figures look to me like they are small Ral Partha 25's from that era. The following are the contents of just 2 such boxes. 

Early Imperial Romans.

With some touch up, these ,ay join the ranks of my Palmyran army.

38 painted Legionaries.

Another 21 in partial paint. With my usual scheme, that would make 4 units of 12. 

Some Gaulish or Roman Auxiliary cavalry. 

It looks like John used the typical model paints that were in most hobby stores then...

 and which had few shades of brown!

Early Medieval knights/Men at Arms

Another group

These might work well for my grandsons if they become interested. in the hobby. 

Some Gauls and an eclectic mix of leaders.

It wouldn't take too much to really bring these figures to life. 

"The league of Red torch bearing gentlemen!"

I suspect Jon drafted some of his D&D characters to fill out some of the ranks!

Archers and Flail men. 

Men of Laketown?

Another eclectic mix of figures.

"Dwarves and Elves, and Thieves, oh my!"

Some revolting peasants.

Aren't peasants always revolting?

Another mixed bag.

Looks like mostly bandits and thieves there. 

More assorted characters.

Ah, a red silk girl, straight from the pages of a 1960's Gor novel! A brief search revealed that John Norman is still writing new books in the series, with the last (#38!) published in 2022. NOT recommended, LOL!

From some of John's other figures, the chap with the light green skin is a Sea Elf. 

Looks like a Troll, a crossbowman, and ...

? a Paladin for company. 

A Norman,  an Englishman, and some Saracens ride into a bar...


I suspect the Eastern types were intended as Harradim from Lord of the Rings.

A few more Gauls...

a ? Parthian Cataphract, and ???

Some Sea Elf Knights.

Not sure how Sea Elves ride horses.

Maybe they just live on the shore?

4 Sea Elf Honchos

These definitely look like Ral Partha figures to me. 

There are Sea Elves on foot to come, and much more.  I think I see a Battle of the Five Armies project coming on at some point for John's figures. 


  1. Condolences on the passing of your friend, he sounds like he was a real character. Some real gems amongst his collection too, nice that they will live to fight on.

  2. Sorry to read about your buddy Peter, 80 is on the cusp of being "young" these days - although I will be happy if I reach that age (as I am currently only 61 - my view may change in another 15 years!).

    1. I agree. One of my stock sayings to my patients is that "I view my mission as getting most of them into their mid 80's in reasonable shape; after that, it's luck, genes, and God!"

  3. Sorry to hear of the passing of a friend; happened to me a few times.
    Don't Sea Elves ride seahorses? ☺

    1. Thanks, Neil. One of the joys of getting older is losing more friends!

  4. Sorry for your loss. The time is precious with friends.

  5. Very sorry for your loss, Peter. John sounds like the kind of guy that would be instantly memorable to everyone he met. I bet his family is glad that his collection is going to a good home.

    1. Thanks, Aaron. The figures will remind me of John for years to come, and I didn't want his family wind up discarding them. They would have little idea how to proceed.

  6. Good memories of a mate. Some interesting old school figures

    1. Both are true; John has likely left me a legacy of a new project or three here!

  7. A nice memoriam to your friend Peter, and his figures look like they will be a good addition to your collection.

    1. Thanks, Lawrence. They certainly don't duplicate anything I have already!

  8. This is a wonderful tribute to your friend. It's obvious from the figures that he found joy in his hobby. Thanks also for buying his collection as a favour to his wife. Some friends and I, all of a certain age (60ish) were talking about estate sales, an increasingly common thing in the war-games hobby. A young gamer could do well just from befriending fellows of my age and just waiting a few years.
    Someone beat me to the Sea Elves and seahorses joke. :)
    Cheers, Michael

    1. Yes, that's a clever scheme for collection building.! :-)
      The purchase prompted a discussion with my wife; she would have no idea what to do with my collection! Heck, even at a bargain price of a dollar for a painted figure. that's no small amount!

  9. Wow, quite the collection of older figures there! And the car not smelling to good had me chuckling a good bit. Condolences on your loss.

  10. Lovely tribute. Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.