Man builds models of ships from wood


April 12, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

That feeling came over Walter Clubb often as he perched on the living room couch, Exacto knife in hand, box of wood strips by his side.

It was as if he knew intimately every inch of the tall wooden vessel he was re-creating in miniature -- every plank, every porthole, every mast, every bucket. He felt, if only for a minute, as though he'd been there, back in the 1800s when the great ship braved the seas.

But the past would soon drift away, leaving him in his Brooklyn Park rowhouse, in a living room overrun by ship models. The Italian Victory, with 110 tiny cannons, sits on an organ. The paddle boat King of the Mississippi preens from a display case. The Baltimore Clipper, Emma, serves as a coffee table centerpiece.

For 15 years, the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland maintenance worker has methodically handcrafted one model ship after another, laboring over the smallest details, the brass fittings, the intricately knotted rigging. He even paneled the interior of a tiny ship stateroom.

Mr. Clubb, 42, spent three months building one ship, three years on another, cutting and gluing wood strips to a frame on his coffee table.

When C & P sent him to a weeklong seminar in Virginia, Mr. Clubb took his box of wood strips and built a boat on the hotel bed. He crafted a model of a cargo ship in memory of his sister-in-law and her son, both killed 10 years ago by a drunken driver, and named the ship T. J. Galinda after them.

The boats, built according to instructions often written in Italian, range in length from 16 to 58 inches. Mr. Clubb has completed eight, has a good start on a ninth and has no plans to stop now.

"I keep wondering what he's going to do with them," says Mr. Clubb's wife, Debbie. "We'll have to buy a new house with a boat room.

"He's offered to go downstairs," she adds. "But I told him I'd never see him."

Mr. Clubb holds up a strip of wood -- he uses walnut, cherry or mahogany, no balsa, -- and proclaims it "awesome."

"Wood is fantastic," he says. "You can mess up with wood and fix it."

"And he does," Mrs. Clubb adds.

"To sit there and put the stuff together and everything falls into place, wood's awesome," he says. "Just to make the stuff and see it fit together."

It could be that since 1978, when Mr. Clubb crafted his first replica, he has been making up for lost time. As a child, he lived in orphanages and foster homes and never had time for a hobby.

Since he started this one, he has stuck with it, through a divorce and a car accident that left him out of work for a month.

Once, he inquired at a Fells Point art shop about selling three of his models. He was told they were worth as much as $1,000 apiece and would never sell.

Mr. Clubb says he'd like a permanent place to display his models. A display, he says, might discourage the blank stares he gets when he describes his hobby.

"I tell the guys at work I put boats together," he says. "But they don't understand till they see it."

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