Modeling dreams into reality
Tribune News Service
CARSON CITY, Nev. – When Dan Stockwell was a kid, his parents would take him to Lake Tahoe where he stared with envy at the beautiful brass-trimmed mahogany Chris Craft yachts roaring across the azure waters.
“All the rich people had one,” he said.
But Stockwell, now director of the Nevada Department of Information Technology, found a unique way to own not only a beautiful mahogany Chris Craft but the other wonderful machines he fell in love with over the years.
He builds models of them.
“I built everything that I couldn’t own because I didn’t have the money,” he said.
We’re not talking about little plastic models you buy at a toy store and assemble in an hour with smelly, sticky glue. We’re talking about completely accurate, highly detailed scale replicas of everything from that Chris Craft to World War II and Korean War aircraft, hot rods and even a WWII German U Boat that can submerge if he wants it to.
The models decorating the walls, shelves and ceilings of his home are completely fabricated by Stockwell and, in many cases, took years of patient hand work to build.
Not surprisingly, the 1940 Barrel Back Chris Craft is his favorite. At 281⁄2 inches long, it is made from tiny strips of African Mahogany, each hand cut and glued in place, trimmed with strips of steel only a few millimeters wide. He coated it with six coats of glass, three clear coats and hand rubbed everything until the wood literally glows.
Even the seats in the two cockpits are hand-trimmed leather.
What’s more, the boat not only floats but, with its motor, works in the water.
“It’s just like the real one,” he said. “It’s my favorite because of the colors of the wood. I didn’t realize how beautiful it was until I took it out in the sun.”
It took him more than two years to build.
The boat, however, isn’t his most time-consuming model. The World War II F8F Bearcat fighter hanging from the ceiling in his den took more than four years. With a five-foot wing span, it is detailed down to the cooling fins, spark plugs and wires on its nine-cylinder radial engine, the gauges inside the cockpit and even the trigger mechanism for firing the plane’s 20mm cannons.
“That one was a son of a gun,” he said.
More recently, he finished a replica of WWII fighter Ace Pappy Boyington’s F4U Corsair. The three-foot fighter is also detailed down to the cockpit gauges.
Also hanging from the ceiling is an even larger replica of a Nevada Air Guard F86 Sabre Jet dating to the 1950s – so detailed visitors can look in the nose intake and see the blades of its jet engine. He said cutting and fitting the individual pieces of aluminum skin on the fighter took nine months.
To fabricate the models, he said, he starts with extensive research into the dimensions, exactly what every square inch of each machine looks like and how it works. The tools he uses range from lathes, saws and carving knives to drills, some of them with bits not much thicker than a hair.
He said every project – and he has built an estimated 300 of them – is one of a kind.
“They’re all unique, all different and every one has its own problems,” he said. “Just about the time you think you’ve mastered it, something different comes up.”
While no one but Stockwell would be able to spot those mistakes, he said every model in the house has flaws.
“You never get them perfect,” he said.
He said making models is his release, his way of maintaining his sanity.
Stockwell, now in his 60s, has been building models since he was 7. He said the artistic and mechanical skills came from his parents – “very, very talented people.”
Where he was once willing to take on almost any project, he says he has made a few concessions.
“Now I calculate based on my age what to build and how many years it would take,” he said with a grin.
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