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Devoted modelers are masters of miniatures

December 14, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - Steve Jones does not own a large factory, work for an airline manufacturer or fill military orders.

But he builds airplanes.

It takes months, even years, but when Jones is finished, he has a work of art - an exact copy of some of the nation's most advanced fighting machines.

Never mind that they are only a few inches tall. Jones, you see, builds model airplanes.

Once the domain of children, modeling has become a favorite pastime of adult hobbyists. The International Plastic Modelers Association counts chapters in cities throughout the world.

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Jones, 45, and other self-described fanatics meet at the Days Inn off U.S. 11 each month to show off their tiny creations. He said a group of men decided to form the Tri State Scale Modelers Club, which is affiliated with the national group, in 1991.

The models built by those dedicated to the craft bear little resemblance to the ones that many children put together with parts from a box.

"The average modeler in this room will have the same number of tools as a good jeweler," said Jones, past president and co-founder of the club.

The members of the group pride themselves on tweaking box models to enhance realism. Some forego model kits altogether and use plastic strips to create their masterpieces.

Hagerstown resident David Monnett, a graphic artist, said he finds the hobby more challenging than most of his work.

"I find model building to be hardest," said Monnett, 33, the group's vice president. "I think it's an art form, really Everybody thinks just kids build models, and that's just not the case."

The modelers said they go to extreme lengths to ensure precision in their work. Some attend annual conventions that arrange special tours of military aircraft and Formula I race cars. Jones said this allows them to take note of tiny details that they might not find in books.

A modeler may take a jet fighter that comes in a box and refine it over a period of months, Jones said. Most store-bought model airplanes have very basic cockpits. But Jones said he adds small details, using material left over from other models or virgin plastic.

Jones said he also strives for maximum historical accuracy. When he picks a plane, he chooses a specific aircraft flown by a specific pilot. To individualize it, he said he adds insignias and replicates the chinks and marks of the real plane.

Jones said it is important that the plane does not look like it just came off the assembly line.

"What you're trying to do is make it look like someone shrank the real airplane or real boat or real car," he said.

Such detail, while unimportant to casual hobbyists, is essential for those who compete, Jones said. He and several other group members enter models in fiercely competitive contests in which the tiniest flaw can make the difference.

Wayne Wachsmuth, 62, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force with more than 6,000 hours of flying experience, helped write the judging rules for national competitions. For 12 years, he was the chief judge and chairman of the contest committee.

Like many, he developed an interest in models as a child. The Shippensburg, Pa., resident said he has more projects going than he knows what to do with.

"None of us will ever live long enough to complete all our models - and we know it," he said.

Many of the group's members come from military backgrounds, Jones said. Models provide an outlet for those who long for the multimillion machines they once worked with every day.

"Can't afford a real B-51," said Maugansville resident Steve Mesner, 43.

Some have a more personal attachment to their creations than others.

Bill Woodal, for example, recently completed building a model of his oil tank. He said he decided to build it when a model company introduced a replica of the truck he drives for Chemical Leaman Tank Lines in Hagerstown.

Using a tailpipe and measurements of the real McCoy, Woodal, 48, said he worked off and on for about a year.

"They came out with a model of my truck and I just put the tank with it," he said.

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