Model ship builder showcases his talent at Maritime Museum

<I>LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian</I><BR>Clyde Rau displays some of his intricate ship models, including the Fair American, (in case), a Revolutionary War ship which took him more than a year to build.

ASTORIA - "When you see it on the plans, it's all just in one dimension, but it springs off the drawings as you build it," Clyde Rau says. "To me, I get great pleasure out of that."

Rau turns lines on a drawing into intricately detailed model ships. The retired forester displayed a few of his creations and explained some of his model-making techniques last week at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

As children created their own simple craft at a nearby workshop, Rau described to visitors how he turns string, pins and tiny strips of wood into faithful reproductions of historic ships and boats.

Rau was introduced to model building early, sitting at a table at his family's Wisconsin home watching his father, a sailor on Great Lakes freighters, build model ships, he said. Following his retirement from 34 years with the U.S. Forest Service, he returned to the hobby, and has produced about 15 models.

Rau started out carving ships from solid blocks of wood. Now his models feature the same plank-by-plank construction of the actual ships that inspire them. It's exacting work - he put more than a year into the Fair American, a Revolutionary War vessel that was on display last week.

Sailing ships of the 18th and 19th centuries are Rau's favorites, and he prefers "working" vessels like his current project - a bateaux, an open boat with oars and a single square sail used by members of the Hudson's Bay Company for travel up and down the Columbia River. A friend asked him to build the boat as an addition to a display about a Northwest fur-trading post, and sent him a copy of some original plans found in a museum.

Rau brought the mostly completed model to Astoria to demonstrate some of his construction techniques. Though it's a simpler vessel than some of the sailing ships he's built, the bateaux is the first vessel he's modeled featuring a lapstrake hull, in which the planks overlap like shingles, he said.

"At first I didn't know if I could do it. But you learn as you go," he said.

His research for the project took him to Washington's Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, where he learned how the traders packed bales of furs and supplies to fit snugly within the boats. With that information he crafted his own miniature bales - wrapped with genuine deerskin hides - just like the real boats would have carried.

There is still some detective work to do on the bateaux - Rau isn't sure whether the vessels used rudders. Just in case, he's fashioned one to attach to the boat if and when he finds out.

The Internet has become a valuable tool for model-makers, putting a wealth of historic information right at the fingertips, Rau said. In researching the bateaux, he learned how the boat's design has been traced back to the Orkney Islands off Scotland.

Research also turned up some surprising information about another of the models at last week's display, the revenue cutter Jefferson Davis. Rau "just liked the lines" of the graceful two-masted schooner from the mid-19th century. On digging up information on the vessel for the model, however, he found that it had a Northwest connection. During its career chasing smugglers, it was stationed for a period at Port Townsend, Wash., an hour from Rau's home in Shelton

The actual Jefferson Davis was planked in pine, which is too soft to be crafted in small scale, so Rau instead used American chestnut, one of 12 types of wood in the model. He leaves all his models unpainted to show off the variety of materials.

Rau doesn't work from kits, preferring to build his models from scratch. That requires careful work to make sure all the parts are the proper size - model authorities can have an almost religious devotion to accuracy, arguing that models show future generations what a vessel looked like, he said.

"Out of scale - oooh!" he joked.

Rau buys some specially-made pieces, like tiny brass cannon, for his models, but otherwise fashions all the rest of the pieces himself. He also creates many parts from everyday items or cast-off material. For the masts on the Jefferson Davis, he used some reject arrow shafts made of Port Orford cedar. Some discarded old growth Douglas fir moldings found in an attic were perfect material for the bateaux's oars.

"Boy, did that ever carve nice," he said, pointing to the clear, straight grains in the tiny oars. "You can scrounge up stuff and find that it has a use. That made it such a pleasure making these oars."

Red and green running lights? Cheap jewelry provides the necessary pieces. The same for necklaces, which on a ship model look like stout anchor chains. Bits of paper clips and tiny strips cut from pop cans can be worked into a variety of metal fittings, and toothpicks make fine belaying pins.

"Don't buy anything if you can make it," he told a visitor as he pointed out the recycled parts on the models.

His next project? With the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial approaching Rau is considering a replica of the explorer's keelboat, the vessel used on the Missouri River on the first leg of their journey.

Rau was commissioned by Cape Disappointment State Park to build a replica of one Lewis and Clark's pirogue rowboats. But he still considers his pastime a hobby. "I wouldn't do it for a living," he said. Most of his creations are given away to family and friends, although he admits, not without some difficulty.

"It's hard to give them up when you're finished."

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