Rays Rant #4

Building Models from Wood:

I have wondered where to start on this subject. If you are to understand where I am coming from, I need to go back to my introduction to Balsa wood and models.

The introduction came in the summer of 1938, when a relative bought a solid model for my older brother, and one for me. I was seven years old at the time, and my brother was a year and a half older. For a nickel, you could buy a solid model kit, that contained a balsa block to carve the fuselage from, and a sheet of parts that contained the wings, tail section and wheels, and a plan and a small glass vial of glue. Most young boys of my generation carried a pocket knife which we used to whittle a stick into a whistle, and also to play games with other friends, so this is what we used to carve the fuselage.

This is a picture of a solid model my youngest daughter made as a school project, a long time ago  It is larger than what we used to buy and make.

IMG_1022As young boys, we saw shows and read about the air battles of WW 1, and of course most of the airplanes were biplanes. Also, there were bush planes flying from our lakefront, which we always stopped to watch as they flew over.

To make the fuse, we traced the side view on the balsa block, and cut the outline out. Then we would trace the top view on the block, and then shape the block to look like the body of the plane. Then all the parts were cut from the sheet, and glued on the fuselage, and we had our plane. It never got painted, or decals put on, but we could run around and make noises like an airplane, pretending we were the pilots. My first introduction to balsa impressed me to how light it was, and how much easier it was to carve than our normal wood. From this beginning, we moved up to more complicated models. My second model was of a flying boat from the late 30’s, and it was cut and shaped from spruce already, so we just had to assemble the parts. I think the cost was 25 cents or so. Doesn’t sound like much money, but these were the depression years, and there wasn’t much money around.

I am still amazed at how closely the models followed the construction of the full sized airplanes. The first airplanes were made of wood, then they advanced to making the fuse from steel tubing, along with the tail feathers. The wings were still made with a wooden spar, and wooden wing ribs. The next step was to make metal spars and ribs. Then aluminum came into service, and another construction change came about. About the mid thirties came the Boeing 247 all metal stressed skin airliner, closely followed by the DC series that has been used up until lately. Now changes are being made again, as new materials are available to take the place of the aluminum that are lighter and stronger in some ways to the older aluminum planes. Most of the early model kits we could buy and build followed the construction of the metal tubing style of building, and used rubber power to fly them. This allowed for a strong light fuselage, and the wings and tail feathers followed the same construction as their bigger brothers. Some larger models were around that used a gas engine in them, and they were hand launched and set to fly in circles, so that they would stay close to the modeler. In case of a fly away, a name plate was always attached to the model, with the owners name, address, and phone number, so any lost planes could hopefully be returned. This process actually was still followed up into the 1960’s, as radio gear was unreliable, and fly aways were not uncommon. Most models were free flight models, modified with elevators and a rudder, and sometimes an engine control, and a loss of radio signal meant the plane could travel quite a distance. We had two incidents when flying from the hill above what are now the soccer fields. One plane ended up just south of the jail, where it punctured a person’s roof. The second one was found in Bigstone Bay, and was returned to the modeler. But into the early forties, most models were powered with rubber, as the larger models were out of most modeler’s price range. To earn money for our budding hobby, most of us had a paper route, which allowed us to save up for a project.   It took me five weeks to earn the one dollar to buy an Easybuilt Rainbow kit from the North End store. (a grocery store). It was the first plane I had any success in getting it to fly. Unfortunately, the elastic motor broke, and we never did find it.

By this time the war was on, and many things were rationed, such as rubber. So we used the plane as a glider, launched from a six foot wall, and it would glide about 100’. These small success’s wetted our appetite for more building, but eventually even balsa wood was not available, and bass wood was substituted. It, of course, was heavier, and the models we liked were of the WW 2 warplanes, so we didn’t fly them, and painted them with house paint whenever we could. However, we rode our bikes around town looking to find any models that might still be available from the earlier times. Even bike rides to Keewatin, and Horwood’s store proved successful while his stock lasted.

To be continued