Saturday, October 15, 2011

COMMONWEALTH c.1908 -Fall River Line Model / Rex Stewart

                      Fall River Line Stmr. COMMONWEALTH enroute to New York c.1925

COMMONWEALTH was the last great steamboat to operate on eastern waters between New England and New York. She was known as "The Giantess of the Sound" by her contemporaries, because of her 421 staterooms and overall length of 456 feet. At the time she was the world's largest sidewheeler -holding that distinction for several years.

Her lavish interior was created by the famous Pottier and Stymus Company of New York and featured several different architectural styles. Most noteworthy, making her a ship apart from her contemporaries, was having the attractive Louis XVI Dining Room and adjoining Grill Room on the upper deck, fifty feet above the water. This was especially desirable in a steamer essentially designed for summer service.

In the Spring of 1937 the Line ceased operations due to 'sit down' strikes that plagued the industry and ultimately placing an end to COMMONWEALTH's career. When reading the history and various stories about this vessel, it was evident that a model had to be made. Many hours were invested studying the steamers' design from bow to stern. I was intrigued by the beautiful upward sweep (at the bow) that this Line carried on its vessels. This distinquished the Fall River boats from their contemporaries.

With the assistance of several SSHSA members, I was able to acquire an outboard elevation of COMMONWEALTH's starboard profile -which would eventually ease the building process and make it simplistic from my past projects.

                     COMMONWEALTH work-in-progress showing the bow's upward sweep.

My first model build was given by Reverend Paul F. McCarrick out of Fall River, MA. When visiting him at Saint Joseph's Parish, we spent several hours pouring over many photos and documents relating to the ship. I was honored to be in his presence, as I had been with many others who had a close affiliation with these vessels. Aside from these materials, the Reverend provided sharp photoprints of paintings done by famed maritime artists Antonio Jacobsen and Fred Pansing. These were to assist the colorscheme.

Since he had limited space for display, we agreed on a 30" inch model...and not just any model. Reverend McCarrick wanted a detailed model that no one else had -a miniature that carried all the detail of the actual nightboat. There was a noted builder in the region that he made mention of, Charles Fox, who displayed at Mystic Seaport. He enjoyed his work but wasn't satisfied with Mr. Fox' style of painting in the windows. I had to agree on carving out real windows or lose the commission.

This work-in-progress photo show the windows realistic representation on the miniature. The paddlewheels were also a tedious process -constructed with many small pieces of wood.

This portside view of the paddlewheel shows the complicated feathering system which had to be copied and placed on the model.

The overall time process was three days.

It took a few trials and some wood-wasting before I discovered a technique that would eventually become not only time-tested, but an application that would benefit future models in the miniature class of 1:182 scale. I realized in this process that our flaws are truly our hidden jewels for discovery.

During the building, after shaping the hull and laying the decks; I found the basswood was too thick to cut out windows for the cabins and show them effectively. So to achieve this I sanded away a millimeter of surface -by hand.

Handpainted scroll work at the stern.

Because of the bow's upward sweep, the windows had to align properly with the decking so that they would not appear angled. This was also true for the panel work around the windows which had to be carved out with a pen knife.

To achieve this I worked each cabin in sections, including the decks. This way had I flawed, correction could be made. Yet, there were occasions when this wasn't possible and I regretfully had to trash an entire build...the price paid for 'haste'.

From those experiences I learned to adjust my time so to work on highly detailed pieces during the night when concentration and focus was more pliant to the surroundings.

I also found that this proceedure also made for better work -better presentation.

The most tedious work involved with the COMMONWEALTH Miniature were the rails, paddlewheels, boat and stack details. Sometimes these items can be ruined (without notice) when the excitement to finish takes precedent over patience.

The key to any project, whether personal or commissioned, is to start and complete it with one objective...and this must be developed, regardless of cost. That objective is PATIENCE.
Without it, quality is diminished and the work has little or no value. When patience is developed, building becomes enjoyable and timeless. Not just for the 'builder', but for all the participants, re: the builder, the collector/investor, the contributor, and the viewer.

                 Scratchbuilt custom wood model of Commonwealth c.1925 -Scale 1:182                     

COMMONWEALTH was, and is, a great project for any steamboat enthusiast willing to work with patience and precision. She's a beautiful vessel of which I'm sure was the mainstay of New England's steamboating industry of her day.

I've seen a few models of her nicely done in years past, but I decided to take a different route - making the 1:182 Scale Collection my own signature. To this end, I'm delighted to be part of the family of shipmodelbuilders who can make a difference in preserving an American era by way of this artform.

Kudos to the forerunners that were before me.Social Share Toolbar

No comments:

Post a Comment