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InterView Magazine
Ed Bair: Master Craftsman
Ed Bair: Master Craftsman

 

The French novelist, Emile Zola, once said, “There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman.” And, without a doubt, those qualities coexist in the meticulous craftsmanship that 75-year-old Ed Bair bestows upon each of the approximately 50 scale boats he has been building by hand for nearly 25 years.

“Scale boats fascinated me,” says Bair. “For many hobbyists, they’re at the bottom of the list.  Planes are much more popular. But boats don’t crash like planes do. So, when you come home, you’ve still got your boat.”
Initially, the boats were primarily an interest of Bair and his son. Eventually, however, they also became a passion for Joanne, Bair’s wife of 52 years. Both he and Joanne have been active members of the Inland Nautical Society for 20 years. And, while Ed is busy with his boats, Joanne takes care of the club’s sign ups, registration, ticket raffles and checking the score sheets for each boat class.

The Bairs also enjoy taking advantage of the informal weekly “sails” at the lake in Riverside’s Fairmont Park, as well as regular club meetings. Nautical Society members can demonstrate their navigation abilities in the Spring and Fall Regattas by steering through a challenging  navigational course. (for more information about the Nautical Society’s activities, visit their website at www.inlandnauticalsociety.com)

Starting from Scratch

Not one to “fool around with kits,” Bair explains that he gets tremendous satisfaction from the fact that the vast majority of his boats are not built from kits. To that end, Bair has a shed full of balsa wood, epoxy, glue and brass tubing to fuel his passion for his craft.

Typically, when beginning to build a boat, Bair says he “eyeballs for proportions,” then makes sketches. However, he has also built many of his boats from pictures alone. “I get a lot of pleasure out of sitting and building the models,” he says. “It’s very relaxing and fulfilling.”

 

African Queen Without a doubt, Bair’s pride and joy is his model of the boat from the 1951 film, The African Queen. Noting that others have built The African Queen model boat as a foot-long—Bair’s built his model 54 inches long.

 

“Since it is an open boat with no cabin, it was actually quite simple to build,” he says. “I bought a fiberglass hull and tracked down a steam engine in Riverside. Then, Joanne and I played the movie over and over, every night—rewinding constantly— to capture each detail.”

For an added touch of authenticity, Bair displayed stills from the movie when showing his “Queen,” at the wooden boat show held in Big Bear.

Another project Bair is particularly proud of is his model of the Balboa Island Ferry boat, which he built from pictures. His first rendition of the Balboa Ferry (he actually ended up building four) was on loan to the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum. Bair gifted the model to his son, Steve. “Steve wanted the model for sentimental reasons,” notes Bair, “because he and his wife spent a lot of time riding the Ferry together.”

A second model was built for a man in San Juan Capistrano, who wanted his own Balboa Ferry. Bair also built another Ferry to donate to the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, where it remains on display. “I also built another for a kid who used to work on the Ferry,” says craftsman Bair, noting that each rendition was customized by using different cars and changing out the years.

After finding blueprints in a 1950s yachting magazine, Bair took on the challenge of building a 24-foot Chris-Craft cabin cruiser. Inspired by his time serving the Navy Bair also built various Naval landing craft. “Those were mostly from memory,” he says, noting he joined the Navy right after graduating high school, served for two years and spent four years in the reserves before being discharged in 1961.

Plus there’s a tugboat that weighs-in at about 70 pounds because he uses a car battery for weight—to lower the tugboat down to the water line.

“It’s really amazing what he can do,” says Joanne. “He started using a 1/6 scale using 12-inch GI Joe figures, which he transforms into nautical figures. He even designed a PT boat with Star Trek figures on deck for one of our grandsons.

While Bair emphasizes he doesn’t punch a time clock, he says a typical boat takes about three-to-four months to complete, while some have taken up to a year.

More recently, Bair started on the boat from the movie, Mr. Roberts, and even included the “infamous palm tree” on deck. However, he sold the boat to a friend before it was finished, because his eyesight is failing. So, now he primarily repairs or works on build-to-sell models.

Still, the boats remain an integral part of the Bair’s life including a room in their home that’s devoted completely to his models—plus they have a six-foot boat in their dining room. The couple also continues to attend model boat shows, such as those in Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear, to display Bair’s handiwork.

Married for 52 years—the couple lives on a half-acre in Apple Valley that they purchased 11 years ago, when Joanne, now 72, retired from her position as a financial analyst at Raytheon. Ed is also retired, from Tamarack Scientific, where he worked as a machinist for 15 years until 1998.

“We’ve been very blessed,” says Joanne. “We have three sons, Steve, who lives with his wife, Margaret, in Santa Rosa; as well as Ron and his wife, Kathy; and Eddie and his wife, Tracy, who all live in Fullerton.” The Bairs enjoy being “Popper” and “Mommer” to their nine grandchildren.

Ed and Joanne also enjoy maintaining the 14 fruit trees on their property. This year they canned 14 cases of plums, seven cases of peaches and three-dozen quarts of peach preserves.

Today, the Bairs stay active and continue to do virtually everything together. Noting that she is not a “domestic goddess,” Joanne says she was never one to just stay home and read; rather, she’s always preferred going camping and motorcycling with her husband and three boys—and mischievously adds that she “put flower- stickers on her helmet and motorcycle to keep the boys from using her bike.”
The Bairs both agree that their time spent together, along with family, friends and boats keep them happy, active and fulfilled.

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