Hobbyist Has the Most Toy Soldiers in This Man’s Army

Charles A. Mitchell marches off to war every other Friday night, sometimes carrying several regiments of his 5,000-man army in his briefcase.

“I go to war for two reasons,” the 48-year-old Garden Grove resident said. “First, it fulfills one part of my character, the one looking for adventure and excitement of 19th-Century warfare. The other is a chance to express my artistic talents.”

These war games, however, are played with toy soldiers on the living room floor or a table-top.

Mitchell said he also finds great joy researching military excursions from the Civil War to World War II, and using those tactics to win battles.


The artistic outlet comes from the countless hours he spends making 1/4-inch-tall lead soldiers used to fight his wars. He has to use a magnifying glass to make and paint them.

“I found that we could have more equipment and soldiers if we played the war games with the smaller scale,” said Mitchell, who claims the war games are more complicated than chess. “There are more players on a side, more human factors and more complexities in movement.”

Playing the war game, he points out, “is a matter of placing yourself in a historical situation and testing your mental capabilities, tactics and strategy against another individual or a computer.”

It’s also a time when “the natural aggression of people surfaces. And it’s a healthy way of experiencing (that) aggression during a table-top battle with little toy soldiers rather than taking it out on a friend at some other time.” Mitchell, a Costa Mesa discount store manager, said he first started collecting toy soldiers at age 6 with a box of 4-inch-tall toy soldiers.

“I’ve been collecting toy soldiers ever since,” he said. “But I didn’t really start taking care of them until I was a teen-ager. Over the years, I guess I’ve gained a reputation for making the smaller figures.”

But now, “I take the war games seriously,” said Mitchell, who also makes and paints 3/4-inch-tall and larger soldiers, horses, ships, tanks and other military armament that are stored in a windowed cabinet in his living room.

He and a group of 30 men meet in each other’s living rooms, where the war games are held on the floor or table-top, depending on the scope of the military action and armament chosen for the battle.

Mitchell said that sometimes there is no winner. “That usually happens when we run out of time,” he said. “We lose track of time and find we can’t complete the battle. We have to go to work in the morning.”

He said each war team has three or four members.

In between, he sharpens his competitive skills by playing bridge. Mitchell and his wife, Dianne, are bridge life masters.

“I would have liked to be a general during some of the great wars,” said Mitchell, 48, who was in the Army at a time when the country was not at war. “I was always fascinated with war and have researched them all.”

During the summer, he takes trips to Ft. Tejon State Historic Park near Gorman to watch simulated Civil War battles with real people.

But Mitchell also has a more modern-day fantasy. “I would like to be one of the people who fly the space shuttle.”

Eric Mowrey, 20, of Costa Mesa thought he had the winning combination in a “crazy idea” contest sponsored by Los Angeles radio station KLOS. The prize was two tickets to Super Bowl XXIII in Miami and a little spending money.

Mowrey, billing himself as a Human Bowling Unit, slid 32 feet on a plastic sheet through a mixture of mustard, ketchup and chocolate syrup and scored a strike by knocking down 10 bowling pins. He was wearing a football helmet.

But Mowrey’s wacky antics only netted him second place and a $500 prize, according to station spokeswoman Ann Cerussi.

The winners were two Los Angeles men who shaved their heads, painted their bodies like Cincinnati uniforms and played “The Star Spangled Banner” with a trumpet and cymbals.

They were also blindfolded and hanging upside down, 30 feet in the air.