Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

April 10, 2012

Titanic replica sets sail ... in a pond

By Cindy O. Herman
CNHI News Service

MIDDLEBURG, Pa. — "It goes like heck," said Vern Heimbach of his 6-foot-long model of the Titanic. "I've had it in the pool, and it does not like to stop."

That's right. In the swimming pool.

The model – built on a scale of 1 to 144 of the original ocean liner -- is not just a showboat. With a custom-built rudder, propellers and remote control, it's made to sail, all the while looking like its namesake, down to the tiniest detail.

At least, as much detail as Heimbach, 33, of Middleburg, Pa., could find. The Titanic sank 100 years ago off the coast of Newfoundland only a few days into its transoceanic voyage and photos of the doomed ocean liner are rare.

Heimbach said many pictures of the Titanic are actually of its sister ship, the lesser-known though nearly identical Olympic.

The Titanic, he said, was “just neat” and its stately look caused him to order a model ship kit that included the hull, four funnels and most of the life boats. He made just about everything else on the ship, doing most of the painstakingly detailed work in the past year.

"I tried to stay as close as I could to how it was supposed to be," he said. He consulted reference books and, of course, watched the 1997 James Cameron movie, “The Titanic,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, no less than 13 times.

The research helped him accurately replicate lights, windows, stairwells, and railings, though when he couldn't find pictures or diagrams, he had to use his own judgment.

With balsa wood and oak tag, he built vents, stairwells, and the many odd-shaped, important-looking but unidentifiable contraptions found on any ship. He used telephone wire and individual strands from metal screens to make poles and railings around the upper decks, working with pliers and tweezers to glue everything into place before painting it.

He used a blob of glue from a hot glue gun to simulate the rounded lights lining one deck, and lit them from inside using tiny track lighting. To make a line of teeny windows on the B deck he drilled a round hole into the balsa wood, then filed each hole with a rectangular frame. The famous dome peeking through the top deck is a ping pong ball with a leaded glass design.

When making the rope ladders attached to the masts, he started by placing the rungs 1/8th of an inch apart, but when that didn't look right, adjusted to 1/16th.

"I was officially cross-eyed," he laughed.

Even the red port and green starboard lights are accurately placed to safely guide passing vessels at night.

He readily acknowledges his ship's shortcomings. The docking bridge, for example, is actually modeled after the Olympic's; the Titanic's bridge overhung the ship.

"If I would decide this had to be perfect, this would be a 10-year project," he said. "There's no way I'm spending 10 more years building a boat."

He also hopes to build an exhaust manifold and channel smoke from dry ice through the funnels, and friends tease him about building a big Styrofoam iceberg to float near it.

Heimbach laughed at that idea, and also at another one, saying, "It'd be great to get a picture of it, maybe next to a duck."

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Cindy O. Herman is a free lance writer for the Sunbury, Pa., Daily Item. Contact her at Cindyherman1@yahoo.com or on Twitter @CindyOHerman.