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My Fleet of Ships

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William Sturgeon

Few people who have retired from the elevator industry can claim to have a fleet of sailing ships. I can, and I have created them over the years. My fleet started when my oldest daughter decided I had time on my hands. I did not have much interest in watching TV and needed something to do. She presented me with a kit of a model sailing ship, Phantom, a schooner used as a pilot ship in New York harbor during the 1800s. The result resides in her living room in Rhode Island and was the beginning of a fascination that would keep me busy for the next 20 years.

That model inspired me to try another, and, working with Elevator World, Inc. at the time, led me to a model of a riverboat, which I decided to make as a gift for William C. Sturgeon, my boss, as it was reminiscent of the paddlewheel steamers that traveled Mobile Bay during the 1870s. The result, aptly named the William Sturgeon, presently resides at Elevator World’s offices in Mobile, Alabama. It was an adventure carrying it on an airplane from Long Island, New York, to Mobile to be a Christmas gift. I must have impressed Sturgeon, for, a month or two later, he sent me a massive kit of the riverboat Robert E. Lee. That one took me more than a year and, probably, 300 hrs. to finish. It presently adorns the living room of my third daughter in Pennsylvania.

I could not neglect my second daughter, so she got a model of a colonial schooner, The Swift, which is now in her home in Rhode Island. The next project was the French brigantine The Toulonaisse, which is designated for my fourth daughter, who will get it when she has room. (Her small apartment in Brooklyn, New York, is unable to accommodate it.)

Addicted, I ordered a kit of a model of Captain James Cook’s flagship, HMS Endeavour, which is big. More than 40 in. long and 36 in. high, it was a challenge and intricate enough to be totally absorbing. The rigging alone took endless hours and involved, I estimate, about a thousand knots. Alongside the original small model of Phantom, and again in the living room of my oldest daughter, it is massive. Interestingly, the full-sized Endeavour replica was in New York City, and I was fortunate to be a volunteer guide during its visit, which gave me the opportunity to compare my model with the real thing. Aside from a few details, the model was very accurate.

Since my fingers were still nimble enough and since one of the girls had two models, I promised to provide the others one more each. The next project was the Mayflower, designated for my second daughter in Rhode Island. It was fitting, since she was now a New Englander, and nearby its historical landing site in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I could not neglect girl number three, so the next job was the sailing yacht America, which won the America’s Cup international sailing trophy for the U.S. in 1851. That is currently in Pennsylvania.

The total of finished ships is now eight, and I need one more to complete the fleet and fulfill my promise. For the finale, I have chosen the SS Sirius, the first paddlewheel steamer to cross the Atlantic, although it mostly used sail. It was a historical breakthrough at the time and was followed by the SS Savannah, which did the crossing totally under steam. That model is taking me a long time, since rigging has become more difficult, and I need tweezers to help me tie knots. I will get it done, though, and can rightly assume the role of “commodore” of my fleet. I still love to build things, and, since tying knots has become difficult, have looked to other endeavors. At a local model-train show, I got hooked on N-scale railroading. I am having a great time building my railroad, finishing my ship and running my trains. My daughters need not worry about my having something to do – I have not only found that, but also that there are not enough hours in a day.

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