The Lumberyard

In the winter 1968 issue of the NRG journal under QUERIES the following appears “Harold Hahn proposes to build a diorama of a colonial shipyard of around 1760. He wishes to correspond with anybody having literature on the subject, or having knowledge of such literature. He is interested in engravings or descriptions of ship yards and ship building.” The Query didn’t produce any usable results.

Building the diorama required all the artistic and engineering skills Harold had. Because there were no plank on frame schooner plans available Harold had to draw his own. With training in engineering drawing Harold felt quite capable of handling the new challenge. This was also his first attempt at building a true plank on frame model.

What literature Harold had, indicated building the framed hull upright on the keel then covering the hull with planking. The thought of trying to control the hull framing until the addition of planking stabilized it inspired Harold to find a better way. Somewhere in Harold’s library he noted a method of holding the hull frames upside down in a jig placing it in a position to fasten the planking. This idea seemed like the solution to the problem of building the hulls for the diorama. Expanding on the idea Harold drew the plans with an extension on the top of each frame to extend to a common reference point where a jig could be designed to hold the ends of the frames.


As the building system became known, people began to refer to it as the “upside down method”. In order for a model builder to plank a hull he would need to turn the model upside down, so the building method seemed to be a natural solution to building framed hulls. Using proportional dividers and ordinary drafting techniques, the plans for the schooners in the diorama were developed from the drawings in the book “the History of American Sailing Ships by Howard Chapelle.

Since Harold was still working full time at Horseburg and Scott, work on the diorama took fours years of only working evenings and weekends. In 1970 there was an ad for a book of pictures of models built by August Crabtree who built one of the finest collections of ship models now housed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News Virginia. Harold sent way for the book, which included a good shipping and handling allowance which apparently caught Crabtree’s fancy. Mr. Crabtree wrote back that he would like to come and visit; he and his wife arrived in a van, which had cots in the back so they could travel economically. Harold kept corresponding with August, finally in 1971 Harold made a trip to the Mariners Museum to visit Crabtree. During this time, August introduce Harold to the museums officers and curators. From this meeting on Harold kept in touch with the museum officers and sent them photographs of the progress on the diorama. In 1973 Harold and his son Chris drove to Newport and met with the museum officers.

Harold and the museum had come to an agreement that the museum would purchase the diorama.

The following year the NRG conference at the Mariners Museum proved to be a significant turning point in Harold’s life. With the sale of the diorama to the museum, and receiving his first commission to build a model of the Oliver Cromwell, Harold felt it was possible to go into ship modeling full time. Although he had a secure, well paying job at Horsburg and Son he felt there was no room for advancement at the family owned business. With another ten years before he could retire, Harold took the plunge and retired from his job and headed into the future on a wing and a prayer.

Go to PART 6 - The First Book

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