A Fifty-Year Building Program by Ed Antin
Ed Antin remembers hearing the curator of the now defunct Ne w York Museum of Science and Industry tell him that no one person working on his own could complete 1,000 accurately scaled ship models in a lifetime. To an aspiring mode/maker not yet in his teens, standing in that technological wonderland in Rockefeller Center, that must have seemed like quite a challenge. Mr. Antin can look back on a lifetime of achievement as a modellerincluding surpassing that curator's magical number. I have always had a fasc ination with ships, one which was encouraged by weekend dri ves with my fa ther up Manhattan's West Side in the prewar years when liners gave such presence to the Che lsea Docks-Luxury Liner Row , as it was known. Things have changed quite a bit since the thirties, especiall y in the way of ships , but then there were all manner and sizes of vessels inviting inspection and the curios ity of a youn g boy . Although I cannot re member when I made my first mode l, l have always had a mechanical bent , and whenever I received any sort of building toy, like an erector set, I would in variably try to fas hion a ship out of the parts. Although I was fi rst entranced by the great liners , it was World War 11 and the naval vessels that played such a vital ro le in that conflict that gave me my greatest impetus as a modeller. In 1942 , I volunteered my services to make a display promoting War Bonds fo r the Navy. lt was February when I was give n the assignment , and by Navy Day , 22 October 1942, I had completed 227 models of which 60 were the fo ur-stack flu sh-deck destroyers that we had pulled out of moihball s during the Battle of the Atlantic, and some of which were commissioned as " Town" cl ass destroyers by the British. I later worked fo r the Thi rd Naval District making models of German U-boats. During the height of the Battle of the Atlantic the Allies were sinking anything that they couldn ' t identify immediate ly as one of our own . This included not onl y German submarines , but Allied ones as well , and even the odd whale. The Navy gave me photographs of Uboats and had me make as highl y detailed models of them as l could manage . These fini shed models-which were about two feet long-were then photographed from different angles in order to build up a body of recognition photos which could be di stributed to our armed forces. When I graduated from high school in 1943 both the Navy and I wanted me to 40
The Independence (CVA-62) in convoy with an Aegis cruiser and Knox class f rigate.
go into the Special Devices Section to continue work o n thi s and similar projects. But the day l e nli sted , the recrui ters happened to be tak ing people onl y fo r the Sea bees , no matter what one ' s preference. I was ass ured that I could transfer into the Navy at some point , when l had fini shed basic tra ining . But no sooner had I completed training than some of us were shipped out as a unit to a battalion that had been hard hit by the Japanese. T he number of ships I saw as a Seabee was beyond my wildest dreams, and I remember especiall y coming on deck one mornin g in Eni wetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands where we had arrived the prev ious night and seeing fi fteen aircraft carriers and countless other warships and support vessels sharin g the harbor with us. I spent the re mainder of the war in the Pacific and continued to model as much as I could . While other fri ends wo uld receive food parcels fro m home, l would get small tools and materials fo r modelling . I also had to re ly on whatever materi als were ava il able , so l made a mode l of the destroyer tender Prairie fro m some wood l foun d on Guam . The wood was so hard it had to be worked with a steel fil e. I fas hioned metal fittings from the wreckage of a downed Japanese Zero. When I couldn ' t model, l made drawings of ships l saw for later reference . l enrolled in courses in naval engineering and mechanical drawing, which greatly increased my ability as a draughtsman , and especiall y my understanding of ship design. I have always strived to be as acc urate as poss ible in my representati ons of ships, and one reason that I have made so many more models of twe ntieth-cen-
tu ry ships than of earlier vessels is that I do not feel as comfo rtable when I am not able to work from acc urate pl ans or from photographs. Of the 1,001 min iature ( 1: 1200 scale, I in = I OOft) models l have completed, 900 are wars hips or naval auxiliary vessels, 18 are merchant ships (includ ing liners, ferries and cargo vesse ls), 27 are Coast Guard and 56 are " hi storic" ships ranging fro m a pair of Roman galleys of the first century , th ro ugh the ships of Columbus, to shi ps of the earl y steam navies of Eng land and the United States . In addition to these miniature models, I worked on larger fractional-scale (for example, II I 6in = 1ft) models, though not to as great an extent. My mode ls are all hand-crafted and I pay spec ial attention to the detail s of the fi ttings . Since earl y on in my career, I have used basswood fo r the hull. I use brass and other metals for the funne ls, masts , yards, booms and gun barrels and I machine the latter on a small lathe. At fi rst I used c ut-up business cards fo r the decks , but later changed to styrene which has several advantages , not the least bei ng that it can be sanded . All guns above 40mm are reproduced . The gun tubs are made of metal .004in thick . Because of the di versity of the materials that have to be bonded to one another, I developed special fill ers and adhesives to use in asse mbling the mode ls. Even in miniatures I built thirty-fi ve years ago , there are still no signs of shrinkage, cracki ng or fl akin g. When a model required lattice-type towers, I made these in the same way as the ir counterparts on the original ships. In addi tion to the vertical posts, 1 added hori zontal bars and sway braces . It is not unusual fo r one of SEA HISTORY , SUMMER 1987