Through the Years ...
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At age 6 Johnís love
for firefighting was his mother of invention. He had decided that
the die-cast model fire truck he had needed some fire fighters. But
all he had was miniature army soldiers. Once he re-purposed his
soldiers (new paint and sculpting riffles into fire nozzles) he
realized they were not the correct scale for the die-cast model. So,
with his dadís help and encouragement, John decided to make his own
fire truck that would be a better fit for his new firefighting crew.
Johnís dad had dabbled in making model airplanes so he suggested
that John and he could make a miniature fire engine closer to the
scale of his firefighters. They primarily used cardboard and various
goodies from around the house. Since this model was also going to
function as a toy, it was imperative that it be engineered well
enough to hold up for the fires that it would be rolling too. Of
course, workable hose was required and modeling clay rolled into
various lengths and sizes served well. The die-cast model was nearly
identical to one of the two actual trucks at the local volunteer
fire company, thus it was kept as an integral part of Johnís
family moved to Los Angeles when he was 11 and his very first model
survived that and subsequent moves. This picture is how the model
along with his firefighting crew looks today.
In High School,
during the early 1960ís, while most fellows were making model kit
hot rods and customizing, John thought it would be fun to try his
hand at some scratch building using balsa wood. These turned out
better than his first model but lacked the precision that John was
seeking. It was in 1964 that John learned of a local fire apparatus
model maker, Phil Da Costa, who also worked from scratch. He was
able to meet with Phil who became his first mentor. With Philís
assistance John made his first scale piece of fire apparatus, a
Water Tower, in his senior year of High School. Phil was
instrumental in teaching John how to work with basswood and artistís
Strathemore and Bristol Board.
(Johnís senior year in high school) a model magazine
presented an in-depth article on the work of Tom Showers
who also lived in California. He and John initially
corresponded by mail and finally in mid-1966 they were
able to meet at Tomís home for John to see his amazing
collection. It was the beginning of a great friendship
that continued until Tom passed away in 1996.
Johnís early fire model efforts depicted mythical
volunteer fire departments. After the Water Tower
project in 1965, the next group of models done in 1966
were for his mythical fire department of Sandy Hook New
Jersey (not the real Sandy Hook National Park.) Johnís
station is based on what real apparatus would be
necessary if Sandy Hook was a real town.
military service for the US Army, 1966-1969, John had an
opportunity to travel as well as find some downtime to
make a couple new models. When he was attending training
classes at Sandia Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, John
was able to measure and document an aerial ladder truck
that served the city of Albuquerque in 1922. Later at
Johnís first duty station in Edison New Jersey he was
able to visit a variety of museums and fire departments
and meet collectors of fire memorabilia. After
concluding his military service in Heilbronn Germany,
John and his wife settled in New Jersey where John setup
a more permanent workspace in the living room of their
early 1980ís a few fire modelers who worked in 1:32
scale embarked on developing individual mythical fire
departments within a mythical county. Tom Showers led
the way with his Luna Beach fire department and John
followed with the Los Cincos fire department for which
he made four stations and subsequent apparatus. The
respective mythical cities were based on real life
target hazards and the apparatus (which were modeled
after actual equipment) in turn reflected what would be
required to handle these target hazards. The Los Cincos
fire department stations and apparatus are currently on
display at the Phenix Technology facility in Riverside
CA. (yes, they spell it Phenix.)
the modeling effort is doing the necessary research for
an actual piece of apparatus one wants to replicate and
then the journey of engineering how to actually
construct the model. Obtaining enough information to do
make a replica as accurate and culturally correct as
possible can be quite a challenge. Too often, plans
and/or an actual rig are no longer available. Then it
becomes a necessary to view as many photographs as
possible and literally deduce the actual measurements.
For John, the research efforts include visiting fire
departments, fire and non-fire specific museums and
meeting an amazing array of people.
Johnís most significant replica is that of the New York
City Fire Department (FDNY) 1965 Super Pumper. Done in
1:16 scale, everything was made from scratch. Being of a
larger scale, whatever could be seen in a photo needed
to be recreated in miniature. The plans used was the
body layout that lacked good information for the large
Napier-Deltic locomotive engine that drove the high
capacity De Laval pump. Fortunately, one of the last
firefighter/engineers that operated the Super Pumper was
able to provide the pump plans.
friend in England checked with the Napier-Deltic
historical society seeking information and plans without
success. On a visit to the Miniature Engineering
Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, California John
happened to meet a craftsman who had made a working
model of the engine. When asked about plans, he laughed:
ďYou get to back into making it with the outline on your
plans and many photographs.Ē
necessary for John to create his own tooling and
fixtures along the way. At times those were separate
projects all to themselves. Materials used were sheet
and block Styrene plastic, brass and aluminum. A mold
for the wheels was made from scratch and the tires were
from an old Doepke toy crane (one of Johnís toys from
the late 1950ís.) Somehow John knew he needed to save
the tires but pitched the body years before. From these
the wheels and tires were cast. The Super Pumpers decals
were professionally printed from Johnís specifications.
After more than 4 years, the 1965 Super Pumper was
completed. The model is currently in a private museum in
Manhattan, New York.
years, John has had the privilege to meet and work with
mentors and others who helped him improve and enjoy a
rewarding life of modeling. In addition to his dad, Phil
Da Costa and Tom Showers, John had the opportunity to
learn from other models in other specialties.
Appreciating other miniature work enabled him to better
understand how things were done. He was always grateful
when those modelers would share their way of doing
things. Through expanding his interaction with other
modelers, John realized it was necessary to learn basic
felt it was important to be able to accurately operate a
lathe and milling machine. While he has become
proficient at operating these critical pieces of
equipment, John considers himself a hobbyist who happens
to operate machine tools. Learning how to work with
brass and associated tooling was a major advancement in
his skill set. Also crucial has been the creation of the
tooling needed to make detailed parts for his models.
Learning how to design and build dedicated tooling and
fixtures was a fascinating adventure. All this helped in
the essential engineering of each project in order to
preserve their integrity through the years.
John was interested in the world of electronics and
learned the basics of soldering at young age. This
certainly paid off when constructing scale fire stations
in order to add lighting. Having developed those
soldering skills helped as did working with brass. A
very distinct sense of realism could be achieved when
using brass. He eventually purchased a resistance
soldering machine and small torch.
important aspect of model making for John was the
understanding that a replica needed to be not only
historically accurate, but culturally accurate as well.
For example, Tom Showers not only did a very broad range
of apparatus, both domestic and foreign, but he would
also include all the necessary tools and equipment that
captured the cultural nuances associated with the fire
department it served with.
Continuing to expand his expertise, John joined the
International Association of Automotive Modelers (IAAM)
in the early 1970ís. This is a group dedicated to not
only making authentic automotive miniatures but to
knowing the history and the real company that made it.
John saw that members tended to be proficient with
lathes, mills, and artistic skills such as airbrushing.
With their encouragement and sharing of their knowledge,
John began using an airbrush instead of a paint brush.
with the experts John got to meet, there is the family
and close friends that supported his model making
passion. For their first Christmas as a married couple
in 1967, Johnís wife bought him a Unimat lathe with
money she had set aside and borrowed from her folks (at
the time John was a PFC in the US Army.) His wife
figured it was a good investment because it would be
cheaper over the long haul for John to make his own
parts rather than having to pay someone else to make
them. John still has the Unimat.
it was going along to set up a model at a fire station
for Fire Service Day, being a cheerleader when in a
slump, helping to measure and document an actual fire
truck, finding new modeling materials, taking vacations
that were also research outings, or archiving the
collections of historical artifacts, John has always
appreciated the support and encouragement of his family
and close friends.
Model making for John provides a productive use of time
and a brief escape from the real world. He is quick to
encourage others to explore and become proficient in a
hobby that can be done individually and to not wait
until they retire!
timeline of John's progression as a model maker
Some of John's models shown in the order in
which they were built
LaFrance Triple Engine
John made this 1:32 scale triple in 1966
using basswood and Bristol Board.
LaFrance City Service Ladder Truck
Built in 1966, this was Johnís first attempt at making wooden
ladders using plans and techniques of Phil DaCosta. The ladders are
made from basswood with piano wire rungs. The 1:32 scale truck was
made with basswood and Bristol Board.
LaFrance Chemical Car
While serving in the US Army in 1967 at Sandia Base NM,
John made a more detailed 1916 Chemical Car in
1:32 scale using basswood and Bristol Board.
In the Fall of 1968, now married and at his first
Duty Station in Edison, New Jersey, John made this
1:32 scale Triple with far more care and detail
using Basswood and Bristol Board.
1960 Bachert Fire
While stationed in Heilbronn, Germany in 1969, John was
encouraged by his second modeling mentor, Tom Showers, to make this
1:32 scale replica of the German apparatus. Working from
measurements of the actual rig, John created the Bachert body,
Diamler-Benz chassis, and TLF (Tank LŲsch Fahrzeug), using locally
purchased balsawood, paint and wheels.
1969 Crown Triple
In 1969, working from plans by Tom Showers,
John made this 1:32 scale basswood model
that also incorporated sheet styrene
plastic for the first time.
1914 Seagrave City
After leaving the Army and returning to the US, John made what
would be the last of the Basswood and Bristol Board models in 1970.
The ladders are basswood with wire rungs and
the gold pin stripping was cut from a larger decal.
LaFrance Aerial Truck
In 1972 John made his first ďkit-bashedĒ model fire truck.
It uses various parts from the 1:32 scale 1964 Aurora American
LaFrance model kit but the body is scratch built using styrene
plastic. The working 75í aerial ladder and ground ladders
are made of basswood strip stock. This was Johnís
first use of spaghetti noodles for rungs.
LaFrance 75 Foot Aerial Truck
This 75-foot aerial was used by the Albuquerque, NM, fire
department. John measured and drew up plans for this rig while
stationed in Albuquerque in 1967. The model was built in 1981 using
styrene plastic and basswood strip stock for the aerial ladder which
raises and extends. Some parts, such as lanterns and headlights, are
made from brass and turned aluminum. The ground ladders are made of
basswood strip stock with spaghetti rungs. 2019.32.11
1965 Van Pelt Fire
In 1982 John used a newly acquired vacuum-forming
machine to mold the 1:32 scale styrene plastic cab,
fenders and hood from his hand carved forms.
LaFrance Chemical Car
Used by the Fox Hills Studio, John built this
1:32 scale model in 1991 using sheet styrene
plastic and turned aluminum, as well as
a basswood and spaghetti ladder.
John Built this model in 2016 using sheet styrene
plastic, turned aluminum, and basswood
for the scaling ladders.
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