Picture a Matchbox car. Typically, it's classified as 1:64 scale and measures 2 1/2 to 3 inches in length. Now shrink that car even further, to 1:87 scale (you might need a magnifying glass!) and picture working windshield wipers, doors that open and close, and a hood that lifts up so you can take a close look at the engine.
You're looking at the work of John Schmidt, a Cedaredge resident who has elevated modeling to an art form.
By definition, scale models are miniature representations that look like the real thing. In John's case, some of them started with kits; others are built from scratch and the knowledge he's gained as a lifelong car "nut."
John recalls building his first model cars from kits his dad brought home from his travels. John was just 6 at the time. When he hit his early 20s his dad, being a "very straight Christian man," told John it was time to put down the kids' toys and become an adult. "I put them down for a while ... about a year," he says.
Then he began entering contests and earning master's engineering awards. His cars were pictured in Street Rodder, Hot Rod, Scale Auto Enthusiast, Plastic Fanatic and other magazines for hobbyists.
When John showed his dad one of those magazines — a magazine that was read worldwide — his dad changed his tune.
While John has built models since the age of 6, it wasn't until his wife brought home a copy of Scale Auto Enthusiast that he narrowed his focus to small-scale replicas. Then a friend said John couldn't add details to that small a scale, and of course John responded, "The hell I can't!"
The first master's engineer award he won was for working parts on a car he built with working suspension, a working shift,individual lug nuts and removable tires, working windshield wipers, working doors, working latches — all on a 1:25 scale car.
Working from scratch, John works with whatever materials he can lay his hands on — fine wire, wood, plastic, aluminum, super thin brass. As a joke, he once packaged cat whiskers and marketed them as antennas at the Greater Salt Lake City International Model Car Championships. Cat fur upholstered the seats in a '50s car he built. He plans to expand his "Pet Boy" series of model accessories for the 2015 championships.
"It's good, fun humor and the people love it," he said.
Because he's a "poor guy" and can't afford high-dollar equipment, John sticks with basic tools — X-acto knife, a very fine pair of tweezers, Dremel tool, pin vice, needle-nose pliers and a fine pair of nippers. He relies on his eye, not a ruler, for measurements and says a draftsman's lamp with a 30x magnifier is invaluable. Sound effects are also helpful — when he's working on his cars John often finds himself "revving" the engine.
Scale modeling clearly involves a lot of patience, something John says he's not always had a lot of.
"I put this [hobby] down for a few years," he said. "I was a lost young man — I was into drugs and I've been in jail. I'm not proud of that. But since I got back into this, I've been a good guy. It's kept me out of jail, out of bars and out of trouble."
Building model cars became his therapy. "It taught me understanding and patience — with myself, more than anything — because I used to have a temper."
He points to one car he built for a contest. But because of the thickness of the paint, he couldn't get the pieces to fit together right. "I still had a very short temper at that time," he explained. "I reached over and BOOM — destroyed it. I've still got the scar."
Then he started over and a few weeks later won a master's engineering award — his first ever in a national contest.
Then there was the time he spent a full year handcrafting a wood bed for a '40 Ford pickup he built.After working a graveyard shift, he fell asleep while watching his 4-year-old son. When he woke up, he realized his son had emptied a bottle of paint across the hood of the car. "It was on the car, it was on the table, it was on the floor, it was on the sofa, it was on his pajamas," John said. "But I've got to give the kid credit — it was one of the best paint jobs I've seen in my life."
Cars have been a big part of John's life since he was a youngster driving in the back of a neighbor's 1925 Model T Ford. He got into racing for a while — until he broke his back — and aspired to be an automobile designer. But because his family couldn't afford that kind of education, he went to art school. He later earned a degree in auto body. After a lifetime around cars, it's not surprising he can re-create the inner workings in such a realistic manner.
John doesn't confine his modeling to cars. He's working on a diorama of a demolition derby called "Reverse Decision" and once did a miniature scene featuring an Airstream trailer that had been made into a concession stand. "That was so detailed you could look inside and see the guy with a spatula flipping the burgers," he said.
John said it's been some time since he worked on his models, but after pulling them out for a Delta Fine Arts demonstration he's feeling the urge to get back to work. His goal is to have several cars completed for the next Salt Lake championships in 2015.
While Schmidt is primarily an artist specializing in acrylics, modeling is in his blood. "This is what I am into," he said. "I love it."blog comments powered by Disqus