1999 Hasbro GI Joe Convention Diorama Entry

The following pictures are of our diorama entry for the 1999 Hasbro GI Joe Convention held in Washington, DC.  The convention was a FANTASTIC chance to meet all the people and businesses I have been working with for the last few years.  Thanks for putting on a great show MasterCollector!  

The theme of the diorama was a US excursion into a Viet Cong Tunnel.  The title of the diorama pretty much says it all: Tunnel Rats: Searchers of the Elusive Enemy. The write-up text (you might find rather educational - we certainly did while we did the research and construction!) is included after the pictures.

The Potomac River B-Team Members

We call ourselves the B-Team (sorry, just weren't going to use A-Team.)  We came from the far reaches of Maryland to some remote areas of Virginia. But we had a LOT of fun building and displaying the diorama!

Tim - Team leader, engineer, and construction-techniques teacher

Front Views


Here you see the entire diorama from a front and pointing up view. Tim made the box (he was gracious enough to let us use his place to construct this) plus he did most of the tunnel rough up and construction and ground cover (he is an experienced model railroader and home builder!  We learned a LOT from him - thanks again Tim!)  The trees were real trees with lichen applied.  The dirt was, well, dirt (from Tim's wife's flower garden!)  You can see the third place ribbon in the photos.  In the foliage to the left of the RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) is the trophy (it is hiding!)

The fire-team figures were from Peter.  He used a variety of GI Joes (including a vintage - go Joe!) to create the team.  The outfits are (of course!) 21st Century Toys Vietnam outfits.  He did one heck of a job on the figures ... authentically labeled grenades, canteens, etc.  Very nice job!

Everyone chipped in to do the landscaping (it would have taken months if not) - all of us spent many an hour on the landscaping.  The plaque is from Rob with some information I found in a book about the Tunnels of Cu Chi (aptly titled, The Tunnels of Cu Chi).


Notice the foliage.  All handmade - we spent a LOT of time making these trees and underbrush.  But it was worth it!  It came out looking pretty real!  

The African-American tunnel rat has found a trip wire grenade.  Kevin supplied the grenade - it even had a real arming pin on it!  The tunnel rat figure itself will be covered in the Kitbashing/Customization section at some point.  He is fairly easy to build.


Kevin and I supplied the Asian figures.  The closest figure  in the right picture is a Bruce Lee figure.  Kevin did a few alterations to the uniform and: Viola! Instant Viet Cong soldier.  The other VC soldiers are Cotsworld VC figures.  It is hard to see, but there is a VC soldier climbing the ladder in the background. You can see him peaking out from his hole in the left picture.  The brush next to his head is really a camouflaged trap door.  Many people at the show missed him and had to have him pointed out - he was so well hidden.  All the VC soldiers have handmade scarfs I created to reflect the scarfs the VC wore - black and white checkered (instead of the off tan Cotsworld ships with their VC figures.)

Tim hand-built the table (plus all the crates you see in the back and side views), I built the ladder.  The corrugated aluminum ceiling is really that cardboard that has a corrugated section sandwiched between two flat pieces of cardboard.  I soaked off one side, we let it dry (the glue residue dried to make the whole thing very solid) and Tim painted it.

A lot of the supplies (VC flag, rice bags, lamps) were supplied by Tim.  I built the map on the table by printing one out and then weathering it (crumple it up a few thousand times and then rub dirt on it.)  The white straw bowls (they look like inverted hats on the table and floor) have real, pulverized rice in them.  Just put the rice in a baggie, get out your trusty hammer, and go to it!

Around the entrance to the tunnel are "Bouncing Betty" mines (see the Write-up From Plaque On Front Of Diorama below for a description of Bouncing Bettys.)

Here we see the other Tunnel Rat moving his way down a tunnel.  Notice the snake booby trap above him.  These were nasty little surprises the VC would leave in the tunnels - they would tether a snake inside a hanging bamboo stick.  A Tunnel Rat would go under it, jostle it, and the snake would emerge and either bite the soldier (and yes, they were poisonous) or strangle them (if it was a constrictor-family snake.)  This Tunnel Rat will be described in the Kitbashing/Customization section at some point.

Back Views



The crates were all handmade by Tim (this fellow does GREAT work!)  Notice the captured American arms (M-50 and M-16 machine guns.)  At one point, US Tunnel Rats actually discovered a fully working 105mm howitzer stored away in the tunnels!  The VC would dismantle it, take it to the surface, fire a few rounds, dismantle it, and then take it to a different spot in the tunnel system.  The next evening, the whole cycle would start again.

The soda bottle and soda cans with fuses (also seen in the Front Views), were home-made grenades the VC created. They would scavenge our garbage and then use it against us.  That is why it soon became policy to police up all the trash - who knows WHAT could be made into a weapon!  Kevin supplied the other items (rice bags, etc.)

Side Views


The left side view shows another of Tim's weapons crates smuggled in from China.  In the right picture you can see the captured VC soldier on his knees with the heavy machine gunner standing watch (notice the Challenge at Hawk River hawk standing guard on the very top of the left-most tree!)

Top Views


The burned bamboo is the remnants of a hut the fire team destroyed.  We built a mockup, partial hut out of bamboo and then Tim went to work with his blow torch (you know, he DID seem to really enjoy burning that hut ......)  Once burned down, the hut exposed another Viet Cong tunnel system that our Tunnel Rats had to explore.

Kind of hard to see in the right hand picture is (in the far back right hand corner) a figure sitting on the rim of the tunnel entrance.  This figure represents a Kit Carson Scout - a South Vietnamese soldier used as an advisor and aide.  The figure is a Hideo Nomo SLU baseball figure (see, you CAN do something with that thing!)

The Awards


Write-Up From Plaque On Front Of Diorama

        Tunnel Rats: Searchers of the Elusive Enemy

This diorama takes place in 1968. A US Army patrol discovers and explores a tunnel network while conducting a sweep operation in a Vietnamese village in the Cu Chi district. A tunnel team consisting of US Army combat engineers (a fire support team, tunnel "rats" to investigate the tunnels, and usually a South Vietnamese interpreter - called a "Kit Carson Scout" - used to try to talk the Viet Cong out of the tunnel) is called in to reconnoiter and search for the elusive enemy. Originally called "Tunnel Runners" by the 25th Infantry Division, and "Ferrets" by the Australian Army, the term "Tunnel Rat" soon became their official, accepted name. To build "esprite de corps", the "rats" even adopted their own unit insignia, as shown on this write-up. The US Army soon realized that trying to destroy the Viet Cong's (VC's) tunnels was a short-sighted policy that wasn't going to work. Moreover this was also a loss as the underground networks could yield vital intelligence on the VC in the form of plans and documents.

Originally started during the war against the French, the tunnels were rapidly expanded upon when the Americans arrived. Villagers laboring with primitive hoes and baskets dug the tunnels in Laterite clay. This clay has a dull reddish appearance and dries rock hard during the dry season. During the wet season it is very soft and much easier to work. The tunnels were hot, dark, and claustrophobic. The Cu Chi tunnel system (the largest single tunnel complex) extended from the gates of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) in South Vietnam to the borders of Cambodia (today called Kampuchia.) Within these tunnels lay an entire world: planning areas, entertainment areas, eating and cooking areas, sleeping areas, and storage areas. The VC used to store everything imaginable in these tunnels. "Rats" even discovered two 105mm Howitzers the VC would dismantle, take to the surface, reassemble and fire, and then dismantle and take back into the tunnels again for transport and use elsewhere. The tunnel rats would often discover large caches of weapons: captured US munitions and weapons, weapons imported from sympathetic, supporting Communist countries, and even home-made munitions - such as the soda can and soda bottle grenades depicted in our diorama.

The kind of man sought for a tunnel team had to be a special breed. He had to have an even temperament, an inquisitive mind, a lot of common sense (in order to know what to touch and what not to), and have exceptionally bravery. Most of the men were volunteers, of slight build who could squeeze through the tight trap doors and narrow passages. The rats soon discovered they had to do away with their standard load. In fact, the total lack of equipment was a distinct advantage and greatly increased the rat's chances of survival. The basic tools of the tunnel rat were the knife, the pistol, and a flashlight. The rats were all agreed on one thing about their weapons - they could not use the standard US .45 Automatic - it was too loud in the tunnels (when they fired it, it would deafen them.) So, they chose their own pistols. Some chose .38 pistols (as one of our rats has), others chose more unique pistols, such as the German Luger (as our other rat has chosen.) They chose red flashlights which they would hold out of exit holes before emerging so their comrades would not shoot them thinking they were VC emerging from the tunnels.

Check around our diorama's entrances for the three pronged "Bouncing Betty" mines - a soldier would step on them, they would shoot up to about waist height, and then detonate. The VC would often "pop out" of these entrances, fire at the US troops, and disappear before anyone could locate them (as seen in our diorama.) Inside the tunnels, besides the VC-placed booby traps (check our diorama - a "rat" is about to discover a hand grenade booby trap made with a US grenade), the tunnels also held naturally occurring animals (spiders, scorpions, and snakes) which shared the dark confines of the tunnels. As depicted in our diorama, sometimes the VC would deliberately tether a snake in a tunnel to use it as a sort of natural booby trap adding to the danger of the tunnel. The rat would disturb the tube the snake was in, causing the snake to shoot out of the tube and bite the rat on the neck or head. Take a few moments to study the diorama, appreciate what these men went through, and celebrate their bravery - heroes all!

Related Web Sites

Amazon.Com - The book Tunnels of Cu Chi

MasterCollector.Com website - click on the GI Joe Information link for info on the 1999 (and other years as well) Hasbro Convention.