"One Perfect Part at a Time"

A Model Shop Story

Maserati_T61_engine_bay_DoningtonI read a story many years ago about a small team of Italian craftsmen. I think it started as a single person but the team grew with demand. They made exact working miniatures of exotic European sports racing cars like the Maserati birdcage. The models are the size of a child’s pedal car, so they were fairly large, but nowhere near actual size. Not designed for riding within. Somewhere around a quarter actual size I assume.

As I remember they were quite exquisite, all real metal construction, completely finished, not kits. Also very expensive, like back in the day when say $10,000 or more each was a lot of money, much more than it is today. A rich man’s toy car. The design/manufacturing team made a good profit on these vehicles as a sought after collector item. I believe they had operational scale or scale-like engines too.

What made me pay attention was they claimed they had many years’ worth of back orders to fill so the business of building these cars looked very successful.

I don’t know if there are people who will spend like that today. I have to assume there are, if the product and subject is good and unusual. For the very rich, they know something like this is not likely to lose value and is far easier to own than the full size version.

I have thought of this story many times as I wonder what I could make in my small metal shop that will have such lasting value. Not so much that I would make it a business, but just knowing what I am investing time in making the best I can, will have continuing value as a finished object.

It is the justification I tell myself when I put a lot of time in effort in building a model precision machine in my shop. This provides the motivation for building a live steam scale locomotive or traction farm steam engine, or anything of like complexity.

I am recently (2016) reading in various publications that hobby of model trains is rapidly declining as the younger American generations do not have the same mechanical skills and the historic interest in model building miniature operational machines in a home workshop. Everything today is simulated in computer graphics. Perhaps the decline applies to all hands-on personal shop skills and model building.

It could signal that those of us that still do that sort of small personal workshop making-of-things are a declining USA asset. “American Made” efforts in personal workshops may be generating and preserving tangible skills and creations for using those skills that are no longer going to be widely known or available. We build models because of size and cost. But the skills are scalable.

There are certain “Maker’s Groups” that are helping buck this decline in hands-on creation and I wish them well. They are helping bring modern tools and methods to the mechanically inclined. I believe this is the sort of activity that generates real grass roots tangible creative engineering. I would have enjoyed creating such a workspace if I had the opportunity. I think it is far more productive investment of effort than a revolving door trade school. (A subject for another blog.)

I speak only for myself from a life full of construction and making of real things, experiencing real world civil construction projects to in-home hobby model building. Now in retirement, I hope to continue the making of things that will carry on the skills and tradition of hand crafted products.

2 Responses to A Model Shop Story

  • Dan,

    The idea of spending hundreds of hours building something and just putting it on the shelf has been an issue with me for years. I only have one son (40) and two granddaughters and there just is not the interest in the stuff I build…so what do I do?

    Gig harbor (where I live) has a history of building Purse Seiner (net fishing) boats and I have found a way to share my hobby. I’m currently building two Purse Seiner fishing boats; the Shenandoah (1925) and the Avalon (1929). Both will be 5/8 scale (41″ long) and built to museum quality standards.

    Now the fun part, both will be put on display to help people visually see the past. The Shenandoah will go to the Harbor Historic Muesum and the Avalon to the Gig Harbor Boat Shop.

    Retirement life is great as long as there is still meaningful goals and objectives in front of you!

    Have a great time…Bill

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