Ships anchor passion for model builders club member

To quote author Arthur Ransome, "The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place."

Glenn Williams knows a bit about building boats … small ones, at least. But, oh, what boats.

Williams is a member of the Sun City Model Builders Club and has completed 17 ships, nearly all of them old sailing ships with tall masts and plenty of rigging. They can take months to complete. He can be found, three hours a day, six days a week, at the model maker’s workshop at the Desert Vista Community Center, 10360 Sun City Blvd.

"I don’t know what it is," he said of the hobby’s appeal. "New (ships) don’t interest me at all. But then, I like old movies."

The workshop will be open to visitors during the Las Vegas N-Trak Train Club’s Holiday Experience, which is set from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday in the ballroom at the community center. Organs from Kirby Music will supply holiday music. For more information, call Bill Winchester, president of the Model Builders Club, at 240-9900.

Usually, Williams has to buy his own models, which run in the hundreds of dollars. But earlier this year, a man contacted the club and said his father-in-law, J. Larsen, had died and had pieces for four model ships. Did the club want them?

Do fish love water?

"When they came in, I expected Bob Sylvester and Glenn to maybe collaborate on them, but Bob was busy with something else, and Glenn took them on," Winchester said.

By September, Williams had two finished. A third, begun by Larsen, was donated with its hull finished but was far from completed. Williams is the only one, to date, working on the models donated by the Larsen family, although there are six model ship builders at the club. The others are Sylvester, Joel Goldberg, Earnie Tomey, Fred Vincent and Stan Roche.

This day, Williams was working on a 3-foot-long model ship featuring numerous copper plates, masts with strings of rigging and canons peeking out of opened gun ports.

"It’s really detailed," he said of the unnamed ship.

Details are what model building is all about. The rigging is the most tedious, said Williams, requiring a magnifying glass and dental floss threaders for the miniature blocks and tackle.

Too much intense concentration can become overwhelming.

"You have to have the ability to walk away from it," he said.

The hobby moved Williams to learn about life aboard ships in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Sailors often did not know how to swim, he said, nor were they taught, as it only meant the ship would be delayed if someone fell overboard. The decks of war ships were painted red because spilled blood would render them that color anyway. The gunpowder set off in battle meant those manning the canons could barely see four feet in front of them. And then there was the tactic for cleaning those sailor uniforms.

"They stored urine and used it to whiten their uniforms," he said, speaking of the ammonia that resulted. "The smell must have been just horrible."

A more modern-day bit of trivia: In the early days of legitimate stage, the stagehands often were sailors because they could expertly run lines and climb rigging on the sets.

Williams has his own link to the entertainment industry. He was a sound technician for 28 years, working on movies such as "The Color of Money" starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise, "Backdraft" starring Kurt Russell and TV shows such as "ER" and "The Untouchables."

But these days, he’s content to work on his model ships.

His wife, Laura, also is a modeler but prefers buildings. She joked that if a model ship could be considered her husband’s "other woman," then "he has 17 of them."

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 387-2949.

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