Body by Fisher, model by Good

April 20, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - When Charles E. Good was 14, he wrote to the Fisher Body division of General Motors Corp. for a set of plans to build a model of a horse-drawn coach like the one depicted on the door sills of GM cars.

It was a contest for young model builders sponsored by the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild, a prestigious group made up of presidents of some the nations' top universities and giants of industry.

Boys whose coaches were chosen as the best won full college scholarships. Good entered the competition for 1937.

"I remember that I liked the picture of the coach, so I sent off for the plans," he said. When they arrived he saw that they were not only challenging but complete in their instructions.

"They were excellent. They didn't tell you how to do every little detail, but they did offer a lot of suggestions," he said.


He started work on the coach, got pretty far along on the main body, then discovered the Boy Scouts. He jumped in with gusto and went all the way to Eagle Scout.

After that it was girls. By that time, the model had ended up in a box in the attic. It moved from his parents' home to the home he designed and built for his family on Scott Avenue in Zullinger in 1963.

Good, 77, retired as a supervisor of tool design at Fairchild Aircraft after 38 years in 1983. He said his talent for craftsmanship came down from his father, Harper Good, a design engineer and inventor.

A year ago he was rummaging through the attic and came across the coach. It was still in the box but he couldn't find the plans. He wrote to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., to see if they had some. They didn't. He was discouraged but kept looking and finally came across them in an old bookcase in the attic.

"I told my wife I was going to finish it," he said.

It took him all of last winter to build the wheels and undercarriage. He spends the warm weather taking care of his acre of lawn and gardens and doesn't return to his basement workshop until winter.

So far what he's built is a marvel of master craftsmanship and ingenuity.

He has had to design and make tiny punches to form the filigreed details from sheet lead and aluminum to mimic an elegant 18th century coach worthy of royalty. The real one was used by Napoleon, according to the plans.

He has carved his own plaster molds to cast special lead parts that could never be bought or found elsewhere. All of the wooden parts are either formed on a lathe or hand-carved by Good.

He has to fashion the metal parts by hand, including the brass hardware on the hitches. He built and designed the tiny pull-out metal steps that disappear into the body of the coach when not in use.

"This is a lot of work. It takes a lot of patience," he said.

Good figures he'll have about 2,000 hours in the coach before it's finished.

His most recent creation before the coach was a two-year project in which he built a working model of the gristmill that once served the farm that is now the Renfrew Museum. The real gristmill was built in 1807 and worked through 1881. In 1884 it was converted into a creamery. The interior of the mill was gutted in 1907 and it was torn down in 1939, Good said.

He had nothing to work from, not even a photograph. Will Sheppard, an archaeologist who worked for Renfrew, had a dig where the gristmill stood and provided much needed information, Good said.

He also traveled, as far as Nova Scotia, looking at gristmills. His best examples came from Shank's gristmill in Waynesboro, he said.

He sent a photo and description of his model, which can be seen at the Renfrew Institute for Cultural and Environmental Studies, to Popular Mechanics magazine, which featured it in its December 1997 issue.

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