It takes about 1,000 hours for 81-year-old hobbyist Bill Lofquist to build a single model ship. The retired engineer has constructed close to 30 of them, which is equivalent to 1,250 days, or 3.4 years of his life.
Needless to say, it’s an intricate craft – one he has perfected.
Each model Lofquist builds is based on an exact replica of an actual historic ship, such as the HMS Victory, U.S.S. Constitution, and Sovereign of the Sea, to name a few.
The detail put into each model is to the tee – all the rigging, lines, sails, planking, ladders, cannons – you name it – match the full-scale version of the ship.
Upon completion, the average ship stands 36 inches in length with all pieces hand-placed by Lofquist.
With each project, he basically starts from scratch with a kit containing stacks of cut wood, a blueprint, and decorative accessories.
“He has more patience than me,” said Bill’s wife Luanne. “You open this box up and you look at it, and it’s just overwhelming.”
But to Lofquist, each model is another exciting project in the making, and a hobby he’s partaken in since he built his first model in 1951.
Much like the Lofquist family’s extensive history in the Navy – a combined 97 years of service since 1944 – model crafting is something that trickled down the family tree.
As a young man, Lofquist recalls watching his grandfather craft model cars and airplanes, which, in those days, was an even more tedious task.
“Back then you had to hold the pieces together until the glue dried,” said Lofquist. “Now you’ve got superglue. I remember watching him. He would light a Camel cigarette, and he’d carve. He’d leave it right there in his mouth. I’d sit there watching as he worked, waiting for the ash to fall, but it would never fall. But as soon as it started burning his lips, he’d take it out. He had the patience of a saint.”
At age 18, while in the Navy, Lofquist built his first model ship, if for nothing else than a lack of entertainment.
“There wasn’t much else to do besides drink beer,” said Lofquist.
A passing division officer noticed the ship and offered Lofquist $100 for it – a significant amount considering Lofquist’s salary at that time in 1951 was $80 per month.
That was encouraging to Lofquist, and he wanted to continue sharing his talent, so he continued crafting them in the many years that would follow.
Today his work can be found all over the United States, from the U.S. Navy memorial in Washington D.C. to a transportation museum in Sacramento to the U.S.S Missouri in Hawaii.
He has even restored a model ship for the famous, since-deceased screen actor, Lionel Barrymore. One of Lofquist’s models, a pond sailor, was used in a movie set.
He also keeps a few of his own – among those an HMS Victory, pond sailor, and two U.S.S. Constitutions, some that are accompanied by an actual piece of wood from the respective historic ship.
Despite all the hours and at times, frustration, that has gone into constructing and restoring these models over the years, Lofquist doesn’t do it for money. In fact, he’s given away more than he’s profited.
“Since 1951, I’ve given away $120,000 worth of ships, and made $61,000 on the rest,” said Lofquist. “People look at these and they like them, but they don’t like the price, so I build them at a price they’re going to like.”
That’s not to say his models can’t sell for a pretty penny though.
One of his HMS Victory models sold for $8,600. Based off a 104-gun Royal Navy ship built in 1765, the Victory is the oldest naval ship still in commission, and sits in a dry dock in Portsmouth.
Lofquist has also built several models of the Mayflower, U.S.S Constitution, and Sovereign of the Sea, the latter of which is the largest model he has assembled.
Spanning 40 inches in length and accessorized with five pounds of brass, the model took him 1,200 hours to complete.
Lofquist dedicates a portion of his garage and office to construct the models.
He takes pride in his work, and he backs it up.
“I tell customers that these boats are always mine, and if anything ever happens to them, to call me, and I’ll come out and fix them,” he said.
Upon completion, Lofquist drives the model ship to his buyer to avoid damage that has occurred in the past when shipping them. He will drive one model to Minnesota in September.
For questions on model ships, or for consultation, Bill Lofquist can be reached at 520-297-5392