I started Cellmate Miniatures in 1999 in hopes of developing a niche market for wargaming the Boxer Rebellion. At the time I was l living in Canon City, Colorado, USA. Canon City hosts the most state prisons in the state. Later, a large federal prison was established. At the time, Cellmate made a fitting name. I anticipated moving away at some point and was hesitant to name the company Cellmate Miniatures. Still, it was a different name for a miniatures wargaming company and I figured (pun intended) that it would likely stick.
Tuan - The Foundation For Cellmate Miniatures
What made Cellmate Miniatures distinct was that the miniature line was created following a specific set of wargame rules. The rules were Tuan - Boxer Rebellion Miniatures Rules. I wrote these rules. The rules had very specific objectives. They were:
- Provide a quick and easy game that would be accomplished in about two hours.
- Keep all players actively engaged during the game.
- Require only average table space.
- Address a wide range of troop types and equipment.
- Minimal investment for the players - a total of 100 figures per game would suffice.
Tuan accomplished the first three objectives by the game scale. Each infantry figure equaled five men and they were organized in platoons and cavalry in troops. Each artillery piece or machine gun was represented by one miniature piece. The table top scale was one inch equaled 20 yards. If the game scenario had a good line of sight, conflict typically ensued the first turn making for a short game. The game rivaled a Vegas craps table with both attacker and defender rolling die to determine initiative, actions, reactions, rout, and rally. All of this was possible on a four foot by four foot table.
The fourth and fifth objectives were met by producing the line of figures guided by the rules. The Boxer Rebellion involved a lot of countries, troop types, and equipment. I had captured them in the rules and now set out to capture them in miniature. Because the playing units were small, I did not create a lot of different poses for any given country and its respective branch of service, except to some extent for the Boxers. If fact, for most European countires, the figures usually had only one pose per service type with a respective officer. I did try to capture the different types of equipment to include Nordenfelt, Gattling, and Maxim machine guns, breech and muzzle loading artillery, rockets, rifles, muskets, pistols, swords, lances, and bows and arrows. There were a fair number of European civilians involved in the conflict, so I included them as well and even some Chinese civilians.
Creating the Figures
In 1995 I was a federal employee and furloughed. There were a series of days when I had little to do. I realized that I needed to develop a business on the side. Partly to counter the income lost for future furloughs and partly to create supplemental income when I retire. I enjoyed playing wargames in miniature and liked working on intricate things with my hands. Making miniatures appealed to me. I knew nothing about making them and had no formal training in art. Suffice to say, there was a lot of trial and error. My big break came in 1997 when I visited Musket Miniatures - a father/son miniature manufacturing team consisting of Jim and Jeff McCarron, also located in Colorado. Their biggest contribution was that they explained the medium to use for sculpting (two-part plumbers putty placed on wire armatures) and taught me some sculpting techniques. Like most miniature companies, they had the standard rubber vulcanizing machine to make the molds and spin casting machine that used circular molds to cast the figures. When I explained that I was going to gravity cast in small, square molds, they had their doubts. They were not sure if I could get all the voids filled with molten white metal with gravity alone, and if I did, not sure the detail would come out. They sympathized that I wanted to start out under a $500.00 investment. Gravity casting was the only alternative. They recommended that I exaggerate the details on the figures. Also, they experienced about a 10% shrink of the figures coming from their centrifically cast molds, especially in the width. Hence they sculpted their figures thicker and longer to get a true 15mm figure. They recommended that I do the same.
I sculpted and produced my first mold - six Boxers of course. The plus was that the metal filled the mold cavities better than I anticipated. The detail was wanting. The biggest down side was the the figures shrank very little - mostly remaining 17 mm and fairly thick. I reduced the thickness somewhat on future sculpted figures. Later, I used silicon molds instead of rubber resulting in showing better detail. Still, the figures remained simple and thick. These characteristics became my artistic(?) trademark.
The Move To Florida and the Slow Death of Cellmate
In 2001 we moved to Florida. All prospects for Cellmate Miniatures looked good. For starters, there was a miniatures club in Winter Haven (nothing in Canon City). The club met at the Tactical Edge hobby store - also the producer of Outpost and Frontier Miniatures. The Tactical Edge sold miniatures over the counter and at conventions. I attended conventions and put on demo games using Tuan and Cellmate figures - often times giving complimentary Tuan rule booklets to the players at the conclusion of the game. While the games always had players and the rules were well received, neither really matured or developed a following. Later I sold Frontier Miniatures for the Tactical Edge via my Cellmate website. There was fair interest in Frontier, but ironically the line was so big that it was difficult for the Tactical Edge to coordinate casting. Plus, not all the molds were still functional and it was hit or miss on custom casting for an order. With me working full time at my Federal job, it became a logistical nightmare coordinating orders and getting castings from the Tactical Edge, so I terminated our sales agreement. At the same time, orders for Cellmate dried up to only one or two a year. I stopped attending conventions and eventually gaming all together. In 2012 I terminated my website and ended the business.
Another factor that encouraged terminating Cellmate was that I had started tying and selling flies for fishing. I had tied flies since a young teen and picked-up fly fishing again in 2005. My wife made the astute observation that fly fishermen lose flies all the time, wargamers never lose figures. She was right and I opened my online fly store in 2009. Sales have steadily increased.
Furlough 2013, Retirement 2021 and Back in Production
In 2013 I found myself furloughed again. Fortunately it was during the summer when fly sales were high. Still, I found myself idle. I had been getting inquires about Cellmate in 2013 and was informing people that I was no longer in business. Yet, I had all the equipment, a lot of white metal, functioning molds, and zero start-up costs. In fact, my fly tying business was registered with the state of Florida as light manufacturing. I could include the sales of my figures under it. What killed me in the past with Cellmate (the Tactical Edge experienced this too) was that it was simply too expensive to cast a large inventory in expectation of custom orders. So, you had to cast in response to an order. It could take several days and it always seemed like the molds got finicky in proportion to the size of order. I had considered E-Bay in the past with Cellmate, but the listing fees made it impractical. If you sold no figures, you still paid. Later E-Bay offered no listing fees. I saw this as an opportunity to offer Cellmate Miniatures again, but only with what I had in inventory. The inventory sold well and the furlough ended.
Fast forward to 2021. I retired and finally have time to dedicate to Cellmate Miniatures. I now offer the miniatures from my fly tying website on a custom cast basis.
Download Tuan For Free
Tuan: Boxer Rebellion Miniature Rules can be download for free in pdf. Click the second link below, click the Tuan tab and enter the user ID and password listed. Also, click the first link to view photos and ordering instructions for the miniatures offered for sale.
Tuan Rules Link and Miniatures Link
Tod Zechiel (author) from Florida, United States on March 04, 2016:
Yes, I have the molds. Actually, once I get back in a house I anticipate getting a website up and offering individual figures for sale on a custom cast basis. However, my guess 4-6 months before getting back into a house. I changed jobs and relocated.
Darryl Smith on March 04, 2016:
Are your Satsuma Rebellion figures going to be made available as well? Thanks!
Tod Zechiel (author) from Florida, United States on October 11, 2014:
I currently do no have figures listed on E-Bay. I am in the process of moving and anticipate getting them back on E-Bay by late October 2014.
Darryl Smith on October 11, 2014:
What is the link for your eBay shop? I cannot seem to find it just doing a search for Cellmate. Thanks!
Tod Zechiel (author) from Florida, United States on August 10, 2013:
Forbcrin - thanks for your encouragement. You are right about persistence. Also, the information age is so much better now than in 1999 when I first started.
Crin Forbes from Michigan on August 10, 2013:
Ha, ha, ha, I never understood the war games, but your story is excellent. It could be used as a case study in a management class.
Good luck to whatever you are doing. It seems that you have the touch, but of course you need luck also, and if you persist long enough it will come!