The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Ronald D. Remsberg

Added to museum: 10/28/2010

World Famous Structures Reproduced Using Matchsticks

Ronald Remsberg displays two of his matchstick sculptures—the Eiffel Tower and a semi truck. We thank Ron for donating nine of these models to the Craftsmanship Museum for our visitors to enjoy. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

A Former aerospace engineer finds relaxation in matchstick structures

Ronald Remsberg was trained as an aerospace engineer and worked in the industry for 10 years before going into business for himself. He started with Convair in San Diego in 1960 and later moved over to the General Dynamics division where he worked until 1970. Jobs he worked on included the F-102 fighter with Convair and later as a research engineer on projects like one called “BAMBI”, which stood for Balastic Anti-Missile Boost Intercept—a program to shoot down Russian ballistic missiles by means of missiles stationed on satellites in orbit. It was mostly conceptual work, and he rarely if ever saw any actual concrete results from his daily labor. Many projects never got off the drawing board—or even TO the drawing board for that matter. For that reason he liked to build things in his spare time. It was satisfying to see a project go from a beginning all the way to completion.

In 1970, the boredom finally got to him and he decided to quit his job as an engineer and go out on his own. He tried sales first and from 1970 to 1978 worked in the insurance industry and then sold products for Pitney-Bowes and then for a business forms company. He eventually found that, like engineering, sales was not for him either and wanted to get into a business that actually produced a product. In about 1980 he got into the printing business and started Royal Instant Printing in San Marcos, CA. Within a few years he found that the wholesale business card market was a lucrative one, and his company went from 2 or 3 employees to over 40. In 2006 he finally retired and turned the business over to his children who now run it.

An early interest in free-flight model airplanes builds skills in working with wood

From his youth Ron was interested in flying models and over the years built many free-flight gas engine powered airplanes. He liked working with the balsa, tissue, model airplane cement and the “dope” used to stiffen the paper and silk wing coverings. However, as kids learned that the volatile chemicals in model airplane glue could produce a “high” if inhaled in big doses, the glue companies eventually had to change the formula of their glue, which also reduced its effectiveness for model making. (It wasn’t called “dope” for nothing…) Ron just never liked how the new glues or paints worked, and his interest in the hobby eventually faded.

A challenging start with matchsticks—The Taj Mahal

Ron's first matchstick project wasn't a simple one. This miniature Taj Mahal measure about 24" square around the base. (Click on photo to view larger image.)

At some point he can’t quite recall, he got interested in making models from matchsticks. It gave the kind of satisfaction he had gotten from building airplanes, took up less working space and you could use simple materials and Elmer’s glue. Elmer’s is a water-based glue that works great on wood and doesn’t have the possible harmful effects of stronger, more volatile glues. He found a company in Canada that supplies matchsticks to the match industry and was able to purchase the raw sticks in quantities of 2000 per plastic bag. He was also able to locate plans for models to be built from matchsticks, and his first project was an ambitious one—the Taj Mahal. Since then he has built over one dozen such structures.

Unlike the lack of satisfaction he got from his engineering and sales jobs, building wooden models meant that at the end of each session he could see real progress in what he was working on. Most of his matchstick projects take about three months to complete working several hours each night, but since Ron is not a television watcher that was fine with him. He says that if he works more than one and a half to two hours at a time he starts making mistakes, so he doesn’t get carried away with putting in long hours on them at one time. Even with an eye injury that caused him to lose the sight in his right eye, he is able to eventually cut and glue the thousands of pieces required to build these complicated structures. Because it is done for enjoyment, time is no object, so it takes "as long as it takes."

Working with matchsticks

When the matchsticks are received, many are not very straight. Like a clarinet or sax player culling a package of reeds for the few good ones that play well, Ron will go through the thousands of sticks and reject the curved ones first. (As he buys them, the sticks have not yet been made into matches, so the flammable match heads do not need to be cut off.) Long structural members are all made up of the shorter matchsticks glued end-to-end, so they must be straight. For strength, several lengths of sticks are glued side-by-side with overlapping joints, so despite what it may look like, no single long pieces of wood are used. All are built up from these standard, short matchsticks. Many of the parts he builds have a large number of identically sized cross-pieces. He designed and built a cut-off tool that, with the help of an adjustable fixture designed by his friend Paul Elsmore, allows him to quickly cut pieces of identical length using a razor blade. We were recently able to supply him with a compact adjustable cutter designed by Ralph Cooney under the Fourmost Products name (http://www.fourmost.com/) that will allow accurate angle cuts as well as straight ones.

Evening relaxation that doesn't include time for watching television

In addition to the projects donated to the Craftsmanship Museum, Ron has built several others including a train about three feet long and a large hook and ladder fire engine. He and his wife are currently in the process of downsizing a large home and a vacation home in Big Bear Lake, CA into one smaller residence, so his tools and materials are boxed up and unavailable, but Ron looks forward to finishing the move and getting back to work on his matchstick models. With a lot less display space than they used to have, Ron has been kind enough to give away several of his models to his children and has donated nine of them tot he Craftsmanship Museum.

For those who look at his sculptures and say, “You have too much time on your hands,” he says, “I don’t watch TV.” There’s a lesson there for those of us who complain we never have enough time, yet we seem to find time to watch TV several hours a day. Ron’s collection shows what can be done when that time goes into building things. Also, unlike in his days as an aerospace engineer, he now has something impressive to show for his time.

Here are several examples of Ronald Remsberg's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

Big Ben Clock Tower (23-1/2" T x 5-3/4" square base). "Big Ben" is actually the name for the bell in the clock tower at the Palace of Westminister in London, England, although the entire tower is commonly called that as well. Set in motion on May 31, 1859, the clock celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009. It is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world.
The Eiffel Tower (28" T x 10-3/4" square base). The most recognizable landmark in Paris, France, the tower was built in 1889 as an entrance to the Paris World's Fair. It is 1063' (324 m) tall and the tallest structure in Paris. It was the tallest structure in the world until 1930 when the Chrysler building was completed in New York, having held that title for 41 years.
The Empire State building (17" T, Base 3" x 5"). This 102-story landmark sits at the corner of 5th avenue and West 34th Street in New York City. It is 1250' (381 m) tall and was the tallest building in the world from when it was built in 1931 until eclipsed by the World Trade Center in 1972. With the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State building is once again the tallest building in New York City.
The CN Toronto Tower (44"T x 11-1/4"W diagonally at base). The CN (Canada's National) Tower was originally named for the Canadian National Railway who built it. It is 1815' (553.3 m) tall and was the tallest structure on land in the world for 31 years until being recently surpassed by a tower in Dubai. In 1995 it was declared one of the "Modern Seven Wonders of the World" by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It has over 2 million visitors a year.
Notre Dame Cathedral (33-1/2" L x 13-38" W x 24" T). Like the original, this model is quite an ambitious project. The real gothic cathedral in Paris, France was begun in 1163 and completed in 1345, taking 182 years to complete under the guidance of numerous architects. It was the first gothic structure to use flying butresses to support the tall, thin walls.
Sidewheel Steam Riverboat (30" L x 3-1/4" W x 12-1/2" T). This flat bottomed, shallow draft riverboat is typical of the type that plied the Mississippi and other shallow rivers in the US carrying passengers and goods in the late 1700's to the late 1800's.
Semi truck (18"L x 9-3/4"T x 6-1/4" W). Typical of the over-the-road haulers used today, this one has a sleeper cab and is like a home on wheels for the long distance truck driver.
The Taj Mahal (16" T x 24" square). Usually listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World, the original structure was begun in 1632 and completed in 1653. It is located in Agra, India and is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Ron's model was the first one he built from matchsticks. In his research he had seen some very large structures built from matchsticks and figured if they could build those, he could build this much smaller model.
Dutch Windmill (26" T x 15" W Diagonally). These iconic structures for which Holland is famous where early "green" energy users, taking advantage of the winds that blow daily to turn a windmill that drove a grinding stone to grind cereals and grains. The upper structure could typically rotate to keep the sails facing into the wind.
Steam Locomotive and Passenger Car (About30" long). Ron's latest contribution to the museum in Carlsbad, CA is this 4-4-0 steam locomotive and tender pulling a single passenger car. The train sits on tracks also made from matchsticks. The final photo shows a detail of the matchstick engineer waving from the window of the cab—a nice touch.
 2012.8.1

London's Tower Bridge (71" long). Ron notes that after starting around Christmas, 2011, this model was completed at 10:07 AM, April 9th, 2012 with the placement of the 5836th and final piece. As noted in his story above, his satisfaction comes in seeing a project all the way to completion, unlike many of the projects in his aerospace career where he worked on only a part of a project, many of which were merely conceptual. There was usually nothing he could look at and say, "I built that." It took most of 5 bags (2000/bag) of matchsticks—almost 10,000—to complete. Keep in mind that in matchstick builder's parlance, a "piece" can be a sub-structure made up of more than one matchstick. It might be a small triangular brace in three segments or a strut made up of several matchsticks glued together for strength.

The two segments of the drawbridge can be raised or lowered for a moveable part of this particular sculpture. None of the other models shown have moving parts.

2012.12.1 NYFD Ladder Truck (14" long). This model incorporates more moving parts than any of Ron's previous models. The ladder can be extended and the ladder base rotated. In addition, the hydraulic braces can be extended from the side of the truck and placed on the ground to steady the rig when the ladder is raised.
2012.25.1 Victorian Home (14" long). Added August 20th, this victorian home features a full width porch in front and a sunroom in the back plus dormer windows on the second floor.
2012.34.1 Vintage Auto (12" long). The wheels actually turn on this model. While it doesn't represent any particular car, it captures the feel of a 1930's luxury convertible.

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