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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Building Cars On A Smaller Scale

Terry Kahle

Dayton’s premier car show is the annual Concours d’Elegance, where every vehicle has earned an invitation to be on display.  Last month, more than six thousand people strolled the field at Dayton's Carillon Historical Park, which held over 200 restored and antique cars.  Community Voices producer Jim Kahle was one of them, and he found a display of miniatures vying for their own award.

As I entered the manicured lawn of the park, I was treated to automotive eye candy in every direction, Bentley, Bugatti, Pierce Arrow even a 1918 Willys Overland were on display.

At the far end of the field is the transportation building and on this day there was a “show within a show".

"What we had really hoped doing all this is to take people's thinking from 'oh there little boys playing with cars' to the point where they realize this is art and these guys are daw'gon serious about art," said organizer and participant Randy Westfield as he stood by his display of model vehicles.

The accuracy and attention to detail of the model cars and motorcycles is astonishing. I was particularly taken with a 1:24 scale model of a vintage motorcycle; the detailing was flawless down to realistic chips in the
paint and dirt in the tire treads. It would be hard to distinguish from its full size counterparts in a photograph. I talked with long time model maker Randy Derr about what it takes to craft these small models.

Credit Terry Kahle

"We are talking about scaled replicas of automobiles. Replicas can be an exact duplicate of existing automobiles or they may just be from the mind of the builder.  Some of the models will be kit builds, the builder will have detailed and painted them to make them look more realistic. You will also see vehicles that may be 100 per cent scratch built. Pieces and parts did not exist until the builder created them out of raw materials."

This takes a tremendous amount of time.

"Many models built from kits can take as little as 20 to 30 hours," says Derr. "I’ve been known to spend 2500 hours on a scratch building project spanning over 5 years of time. You need a dedicated spot a card table is more than adequate. You need a small arsenal of tools, hobby knife, paint brushes, tweezers , sanding papers, things like that. Probably the biggest resource you are going to need is patience, committing the time to the
project and being willing to recognize when something you have done is not up to the standard you expect [and that] you are okay with stepping back and redoing that so that it does meet the standard that you want."

The builder of the motorcycle model that so captivated my attention is Even Jones. He’s a prolific builder finishing around 12 projects a year. He drove the 6 1/2 hours from his home in Canada to participate and says that pretty soon his display area will be bigger than his workshop.

"Like most modelers we have more models than we are going to probably live to build. We call this SABLE, it's Stash Accumulated Beyond Life Expectancy,"  says Jones.  He has stacks and stacks of models, "about 150 kits that I want to build."

Every builder has personal reasons for choosing their subject. Sometimes it is nostalgia or to pay tribute to a great car or design, occasionally it is to express a personal vision or to take up a difficult challenge. The Concours d'Elegance certainly provided this enthusiast the opportunity to see very rare cars, well presented on the show field both full size and in miniature. Perhaps the models and the passion shared by their builders will inspire some of us to build our own dreams in scale.