|Former boatbuilder Edward Diggs (above) holds a model he made of the “Lavenia H.,” a 55-foot Chesapeake Bay buyboat built in 1946 by Alton Smith who Diggs worked for from 1951 until Smith retired in the 1980s.|
|This stage of a model of a Chesapeake Bay buyboat by Edward Diggs shows the same type of deck framing used to build the actual boat itself. Diggs built and repaired hundreds of deadrise workboats before building models in retirement.|
For those who have built wooden boats or worked on boats most of their lives, the art of boatbuilding is hard to get out of one’s blood.
Model making is a good alternative to the real thing and several longtime boatbuilders in Rivah country now make classic deadrise style models.
When Edward Diggs, 84, of Redart in Mathews County builds a model boat of a Chesapeake Bay workboat, he knows firsthand the design and shape of hull, pilothouse and decks because his hands and fingers have touched every part of the original boat. Most of Diggs’ models are of boats he worked on, or of boats he built himself.
Diggs grew up among boatbuilders. He started in the late 1920s as a child, blowing sawdust off his father’s saw mark. When he was 16, he went to work building boats for his father, Edgar Diggs, and his father’s partner, Ned Hudgins.
Edgar and Ned learned to build boats as young men under the tutelage of Ned’s father, Theopholis Hudgins. Most of the time, they built round and V-stern wooden boats for area commercial fishermen.
In 1951, longtime master boatbuilder Alton Smith got a job installing a bottom on a 65-foot buyboat and asked Edward and Edgar if they’d come to work for him.
This was the start of a long and lasting relationship for Edward and Alton Smith. Smith had learned the craft from his father Lennie, who was a pioneer in the early development of wooden, deadrise, and cross-planked boats.
When Smith retired, Edward took over his Horn Harbor boatyard and worked there until he retired in the late 1990s.
“I build my models identical to the way I built my boats,” said Diggs at his home recently. “They are built as a model to the scale of the original boat.”
Although he says he’s now retired from building models, when he was active Diggs often got requests to build a model boat from different periods in that boat’s life.
For instance, he has built the buyboat “Ellen Marie” in all three stages of its life. The Ellen Marie is a 60-foot buyboat built in 1926 by Lennie and Alton Smith. Its homeport today is Urbanna Creek.
“When she was first built she had a small, narrow pilothouse and I helped tear it off,” he said. “I remember the actual size of her. After we tore that pilothouse off, they found an old low pilothouse in Deltaville that was taken off another boat, and I put that one on her. Then later they tore that one off and put on the tall pilothouse that’s on her today, and I repaired that one. So when someone asks me to build them a model of the Ellen Marie, I ask, ‘Which Ellen Marie do you want?’”
Some of the boats Diggs built as models are of the buyboat “Levenia H.,” which was built by Alton Smith in 1946; the buyboat “Delvin K.,” built by Sidney Smith of Bena in 1949; and the log canoe “Indian Maid” restored by Alton Smith in the 1970s.
|Paul Green worked on the “Nellie Crockett” for many years when she frequented Deagle and Son Marine Railway in Deltaville. He recently made a model of her with the old forepeck cabin that he recalls being on the boat.|
|Paul S. Green Jr. started building boats in 1947 when he was 14 years old with his father and two brothers. Today, he builds models of boats he built during his 45-year career as a Deltaville boatbuilder.|
Paul Green Jr. of Deltavillle learned to build boats from his father, Paul S. Green Sr. of Deltaville. Paul Sr. learned the boatbuilding trade from his uncle, Johnny C. (Big Johnny) Weston.
Big Johnny was building boats and asked Paul Sr. to give him a hand. It wasn’t long before Paul Sr. was building boats on his own. He was able to get enough money together to buy land on Broad Creek and establish a boatbuilding shop.
Paul Sr. had three sons, Paul Jr., Bobby and Maylon. Paul Jr. recalls that in 1947 at age 14 he went to work full time at his father’s boatyard. “That year my father bought me a brand new foot adz and I started to work full time and never stopped until I retired,” he said.
In 1966, Paul Jr. opened Amburg Boat Craft at his home in Deltaville, and he also worked at Deagle and Son Marine Railway in Deltaville. He built boats up until 1992 and he now builds models in his basement.
“I build my models the same way I built my boats,” said Paul Jr. “Some of my models are of the big boats I built. That one (he pointed to a model of a deadrise charter boat) I built for Lighthouse Crockett of Urbanna, the “Nellie C.”
“None of my boats are to scale but they look like my boats,” he said. “I built a lot of deadrise round-stern boats, with round houses and straight bows.”
He has V-stern and Hooper’s Island Draketail stern deadrise models, tugboats similar to ones he built, yachts, and schooners. “I’ve never sold a model yet,” he said. “I give them to my kids. It helps me pass the time.”
Paul Jr. builds his boats using wooden 5-gallon paint stirring paddles he buys at Walmart. “They don’t like to sell you a full box so I buy a half-full box,” he said. “I soak them (paddles) in water overnight and then I can bend it any way I want. I make everything in the boat out of those paddles except the chunks in the round stern. I shape each chuck out of 1-by-2-inch white pine.
“I miss building boats so bad I have to come down here (in his basement) and build my models,” he said. “I grew up building boats. My health has made it so that all I can do now is build my models.”
|Skip Bloxom of Wicomico in Gloucester builds classic Chesapeake Bay boat models while also building a full-size, 19-foot deadrise skiff at his home on Carmine Island.|
|Boatbuilder and model maker Skip Bloxom built this model of a Chesapeake Bay skipjack.|
The firm owned the “William B. Tennison,” built in 1899 as a sailing bugeye and converted to an oyster buyboat in 1906. The vessel is owned today by the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.
O.A. Bloxom also owned the bugeye “Nora Phillips” that was rebuilt in 1949 at Deagle and Son Marine Railway in Deltaville and renamed the O.A. Bloxom. This vessel is still alive and hauling freight in the south.
Skip Bloxom lives on Carmine Island near Wicomico in Gloucester County. He has a full-size Chesapeake Bay deadrise skiff (19 by 7.5 feet) under construction behind his garage. Interestingly, Bloxom learned to build boats from building models.
He has a garage full of model boats and airplanes that he has built. Several years ago he won a Certificate of Commendation from the Mariner’s Museum in what was a worldwide competition. In honor of the commendation, his model of a Chesapeake Bay workboat was on display at the museum for a year.
Like Diggs and Green, Bloxom likes to build models from full-size boats that he knows and has studied. One of his models is of the buyboat “Iva W.” before she had a double-decker house installed on her.
“I went to see Iva W. when they were making the conversion and got to see what she looked like with the original house,” he said. “I thought she was prettier with the original house so I made the model of her before she was converted.”
Bloxom specializes in building classic Chesapeake Bay workboats. One model is of a deadrise with a house and no pilothouse, which was the norm in the early years of wooden deadrise development. “I enjoy studying the boats and building them the way they were,” he said.
“Part of the reason I do this is out of respect for my heritage,” he said. “My family had one of the largest oyster companies in the state. Seafood and the wooden boats of the bay are deep rooted in my heritage.”
Diggs, Green and Bloxom build models because they love and know the boats of the bay. Their models reflect a heritage and culture in the Tidewater region that is fading. When the era of wooden Chesapeake Bay boats has passed, model boats will continue to offer some understanding of how significant wooden boats were to the economic and cultural development of the area.
“Model making has become a very important element in our mission to preserve the heritage of the Northern Neck and the lower bay,” said museum director Katrina Lawrimore.
“We offer classes for a week in August and it’s limited to six kids and most have been here for years,” she said. “They really build impressive models and have learned a great deal about the heritage and the role wooden boats play in the history of the Chesapeake region.”
The Pendleton Building at the museum was built to provide shop space and modern facilities for two of the RFM’s major programs, boatbuilding and model making.
These activities support museum education programs and special events held throughout the year, such as Family Boatbuilding Week and a display of a model of the Northern Neck Railroad.
For more information on children’s model making classes at the museum, contact the museum at (804) 453-7159.