Ketchikan historical museum displays model boats
KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) — Terry Richardson blends art, science and patience to create intricately accurate models of marine vessels and aircraft, of which a few specimens can be seen in the Tongass Historical Museum.
Richardson explained the history, process and materials involved in his passion for creating the models to an audience of about 25 people at a “Museum Midday” talk Thursday afternoon in the museum.
“I do enjoy doing this, what I do,” Richardson said after he was introduced by museum Senior Curator of Programs Marni Rickelmann. “I started at about five.”
His first models at that young age were crude, he said, but he could pull them around in the water and enjoy playing with them.
When he tried making bigger, more realistic scale models as he grew older, he’d been surprised to learn that they wouldn’t float upright, because they didn’t have the weight in the keel like an actual vessel.
“Then I went more to making static models,” he said.
As a teenager, he used his building skills to work on cars with friends. He came back to model building later, he explained, to de-stress during a time of working in a very stressful job.
“I could just go from my job into doing this, and it’s a whole different world in your mind,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, a lot of late nights.”
At first, he would give away extra models to friends.
Ketchikan local Snapper Carson first gave Richardson the idea to start selling the models, Richardson said.
He built a model of Carson’s fishing tender “Crane,” Richardson said, and that started a chain of requests for custom models from Sitka to California and as far flung as Pennsylvania.
“A lot of these guys, like all the rest of us, are getting older, and are not fishing them anymore, so in retirement they can see their boats in their house,” Richardson said.
Richardson then referred to a large blueprint of the F/V Quaker Maid, clipped to a board that sat on a nearby table, leaning against the wall. He explained he uses such blueprints to design his scale models.
The Whatcom Museum of History and Art in Bellingham, Washington and the The Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society in Seattle both have been excellent resources for such boat plans and other materials as he conducts research, Richardson said.
He said that each model boat requires about 10 months of focused building work, and about two weeks to a month of research.
He displayed the early stages of the fishing packer “Westward” model hull he’s been working on, using a method of building called “plank on bulkhead,” rather than the “plank on frames” method he’d been using previously, which he said he’s found to be a superior method.
Richardson said he will spend quite a bit of time “lofting” — measuring the dimensions — of a vessel to create his plan for building a model of it. He also takes about 500 photos of the vessel, minimum, during this process as well.
If the boat is in the water, that stage can be more challenging, as he has to make educated guesses as to the structure of the keel area.
The hulls of his model boats usually are planked with yellow cedar.
“Snapper Carson, when he was here, and had his little sawmill, he would get logs that had been pickled in the saltwater for however long, and he would saw them and make lumber out of them and sell them to people. I would get all the edges where he couldn’t make any kind of a board out of it,” Richardson explained.
He then would cut those scraps into thin strips, and create tiny, model-sized planks for his creations.
He displayed the scale-sized barrels, skiff buoys and the halibut schooner skiffs and seine boat skiffs he had created using a vacuum form machine. He described the process, in which he places a form that he makes with wood under a heating element that softens a sheet of plastic. When the plastic is pliable enough, it is lowered onto the form, where it creates a light, tough replica of the form.
“In order to make this boat look like — which was my whole goal in this, you could walk aboard and sail away in it, I had to do all of the stuff and put it in there,” he said.
There were seine skiff hulls and airplane wings for a model Cessna 185 on Richardson’s display table that he’d made with that process, as well as fish totes he made with a reverse vacuum process.
A realistic detail he said he puts inside his fishing vessels is tiny books, suggested by pictures that Richardson said his wife creates by shrinking down photos from magazines or life-sized books.
Richardson said that he builds the models full time now, and that he feels very lucky to have an extremely supportive wife.
With his dedication to detail, Richardson said he welcomes positive input from those knowledgeable with maritime history.
One time, he said, he used the color international orange on a pre-World War II model schooner’s flagpoles.
“An old-timer called me up and said, ‘You know what? We didn’t have international orange until after World War II,’ so I went down and repainted them to the right color of red,” Richardson said.
Another method he uses to create the small items needed for a realistic model is to use a watery plastic compound that he can pour into two-part molds he shapes to create propellers and other details like vents. The unfinished floatplane that he displayed had wings made with that process, as he said the poured process preserves the small details like the fine ridges on the wing edges.
Richardson smiled as he pointed out a little cup on one of the models of a “log bronc” boats he had on display, and said he liked to put a cup of coffee on all of his model boats.
He said the log bronc models, of which he had four in his display at Thursday’s talk, brought back memories of his many years of piloting those as a Ketchikan Pulp Company employee.
Two of the log broncs were “Canadian Sidewinders,” which he described as a little bit rounder than the second pair on his table.
“And it’s a lot of fun to drive,” he said, to audience laughter.
He then gestured to the audience.
“Mr. Hollywood, sitting in the second row there, my first day down on the log boom, put me on this boat,” he said.
He explained that the steering and prop can turn in a complete circle, giving it a unique feel.
“You can go any direction you want,” he said. “Well, I took to that boat and I wouldn’t bring it back.
“He said it was an hour, I thought it was about five minutes,” he added, laughing.
He then showed the audience the second type of log tug model he’d created — a Nelson log bronc.
He described that bronc as more stable, with twin skegs and more deck space.
He also said that he has extremely acute vision close up, and that helps him to see that every tiny detail is accurate. He also uses his sense of touch to assess the smooth perfection of his wood decking by stroking the model with his fingertips.
“It’s basically a matter of looking at something, to me, and seeing whether or not it’s right, and whether the lines on the boat are right, when you build a model.”
Attendee Catherine Sis asked Richardson what types of tools he uses to cut the wood for the models.
For the yellow cedar planks, he said he uses a portable 10-inch blade table saw. After they are cut, he runs them through a planer, then he uses a 4-inch blade table saw to cut them smaller.
He explained that the small table saw is far more expensive than the larger ones.
He also showed the “Fine Scale Modeler” magazine and the various catalogs he utilizes to find materials and tools to create his models.
When asked by attendee Ann Froeschle what his favorite type of boat is, he answered that he is especially fond of halibut schooners because of their elegant lines.
Froeschle also was curious about Richardson’s painting process.
He explained that he used to use oil paints, but the fumes became so annoying to his wife, that he’s switched to water-based paints, which he said have become much more high quality over the years.
He said he does still use two specialty paints that emit fumes, such as for the floats on his model planes, so he plans painting sessions in the garage, during the summer.
Currently, Richardson said, he is working on boat models to donate to the museum. He has donated models of local seiners Libby III and Rio Grande, as well as the tender Amelie and a model of a Grumman Goose airplane.
“I just want to see where younger people can come in and say, ’OK, that’s possible to do,” Richardson said.
“It’s just been enjoyable,” he concluded.
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com