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My First Model Ships

Most, if not all of you probably already know that I've been building model ships for over 30 years now. I've always loved making things. When I was just a young kid living in Winchester, Virginia I would walk to a local hobby shop 2 blocks away in downtown Winchester and buy balsa wood model planes with my allowance. These were the paper covered type planes that used a rubber band to wind a propeller so they could actually fly.

When I grew older, we moved to Norfolk, Virginia. As a teenager, I took up building plastic models. One year my parents gave me a huge plastic model of the Constitution. It wasn't an easy model to build but I completed it including the thin thread rigging.

As an adult, my model building became less frequent. I got married right after I returned from Vietnam. We had 2 kids over the 14 years of my first marriage, so that left little time for hobbies. I spent 7 of those years in the Army, joining 7 years after I got back from Vietnam. We spent 5 of the 7 years in Germany.

When I returned from German in 1984, my first wife and I divorced. She had met someone else while we were in Germany and deserted me and the two kids, which left me responsible for raising them. That took up a lot of my time as well - still no real hobby.

In 1987, my oldest daughter turned 14 and my youngest daughter, who was 11 at the time, went to visit her mother for the summer. That's when I decided to get back to building plastic models. I worked for a bank in downtown Winchester where I had returned after my divorce. There was a hobby shop just a few doors down from the bank, so I visited it every day at lunchtime. The owner was really into WWII planes, especially German planes so I took an interest in them as well and began building various kits of Focke-Wulf planes and Messerschmitt's.

That went on for months until my enthusiasm dwindled. I was looking for a new subject matter when I came across an ad in Fine Scale Modeler for model ships made of wood. The advertiser was Model Expo. I got really interested in trying my hand at one, and talked to the hobby shop owner about it. He was very discouraging saying that I could never build one of those kits. They were too difficult, especially the planking. That just made me want to build one even more.

I called the telephone number in the ad and asked them to send me a catalog. I remember when the catalog arrived, I was like a kid in a candy shop. I wanted them all, but my income was rather low and I only had one credit card. After pouring over the catalog many times, I came up with a list of kits I thought would be fun and challenging to build.

So I sent in an order for 5 different kits which maxed out my credit card after adding various tools and supplies to the order. The kits I ordered were the Mantua HMS Victory, the Mantua Wasa, the Mantua Golden Hind, the Mamoli Half Moon, and the Model Shipways Fair American. I also saw an ad in the Fine Scale Modeler magazine for Ships in Scale magazine so I ordered a subscription to that magazine as well.

The kits and the first issue of the magazine arrived at about the same time. I must have read every article in that magazine twice. I was thirsting for knowledge on building model ships. I learned that many modelers used treenails to simulate the wooden pegs used to hold planks to the hull and decks. I wanted that on my models.

After much deliberation, I decided that the first model ship kit I would build would be the HMS Victory kit. Some may think I was crazy to start with one of the most difficult model ships you can build, but I've always been one to dive right into something starting at the top and working my way down.

I didn't take many photos of the early stages of construction, but here is a photo of that first model ship as I began to rig it.

The treenails were actually broom straw. By the time I had treenailed this model, I had to go buy a new broom!

None of the rigging was seized. I hadn't even heard of seizing at the time so I just tied knots to attach each of the lines. I also had not learned that the standing rigging was black so it all had a rather monochrome look because the rigging line in the kit was a greenish gray color. Here are a few more photos of that Victory model.

After I completed the model, I brought it to work and sat it on my credenza. I was working as a loan officer in the main building of the bank so I sat in the lobby and was in contact with lots of customers each day, but it was actually another loan officer who approached me about buying the model. I won't say how much I got for it but I should have held out for more. Anyway, I figured I'd probably want to build another Victory model and do a better job the next time, so I sold it to him and held onto the money to buy more kits.

The second model ship I built was the Golden Hind. That was a pretty neat kit. It came with pre-painted plywood exterior sides. It was a lot smaller than the Victory and much easier to build. Here are some photos of that model.

As you can see, I had by now learned that the standing rigging was black. I didn't treenail this model because it was much smaller and I was learning about scaling details. I thought that treenails might look out of scale on such a small model.

After the Golden Hind, I built the Half Moon. Here is a photo of that model.

I was really getting the hang of it by now so I turned my attention to the Wasa next. I had read an article in the SIS magazine about the history of the Wasa, so I wrote to the museum in Sweden and asked for photos of the ship. About a month later I received some nice black and white photos which I referred to as I built that kit. Here are photos of that kit.

I showed the model to my friend at the Hobby Shop and he said he could help me sell it for top dollar if I gave him 10%. I agreed and he put the model in his shop window. By the next day he had sold it and gave me the cash. I immediately ordered more kits including the larger Mantua/Panart kit, HMS Victory and another Wasa kit.

The last kit of my first batch was the Fair American. Here are some photos of that model.

By the time I had finished those first 5 models, I was hooked for life, and the rest is just history. I hate to admit it but I think those first kits were some of my best work. Of course, I was a bit younger back then than I am today. My eyesight was better too. But I think the thing that changed me was going into business in 2003. I think the need to finish models and write practicums for them created an effect I call the tail wagging the dog.

After building those kits, I also took an interest in learning how to build Plank on Frame models from scratch. I found out about Father William Romero in a SIS magazine article. He had a club in Florida and had written an extensive practicum on how to build the USF Confederacy from Harold Hahn's plans. So I bought some poplar boards at Lowes and set out to build the Confederacy.

Unfortunately it was a complete flop. I made the frames out of basswood and I followed Hahn's instructions in one of his books that said he would install a frame, install the keel until the glue dried, then removed the keel and installed another frame. Well, that didn't work for me. The framework went to hell in a handbasket and I ended up throwing the entire model in the trash.

The next scratchbuilt model I tried was the Rattlesnake, again using Hahn's plans but this time I had an idea on how to clamp the keel to the jig so that the frames could be glued to the keel and the jig at the same time. The idea worked and the Rattlesnake became my first successful POF model. Here are some photos of that model.

Unfortunately, I never finished the model because a doctor friend I had made at the bank ended up buying the model before it was even finished. The doctor liked my models so much he asked me to teach him how to build one which I did. He completed his first and only model ship several months later. It was a model called the Harvey. He later went on to buy my Fair American model and another Victory model I completed in 1995. That was the fourth HMS Victory model I had built and I wrote an article that appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of SIS on its construction. Here is a photo of that model.

So now you know and can see what got me started in model shipbuilding. I can't believe it has now been over 30 years since I built that first HMS Victory model.

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