The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Tom Showers

Updated: 2/24/03

A lifetime hobby of building scale model firefighting apparatus and the city to put it in.

A young Tom Showers works on a model ladder truck in a photo from 1966. (Click on photo for larger image.)


John Ackerman visited the museum in 2011 and brought with him some beautiful examples of model fire apparatus he had built. He related the story how a noted fire apparatus model maker, Tom Showers, inspired him to get serious about fire apparatus model making. Tom began building models in the early 1940s and carried on in the hobby throughout his life (1917-1996), creating over 400 models of firefighting apparatus. Tom inspired and mentored fire apparatus model makers around the world. Tom also did commission work for enthusiasts worldwide. Periodically, he would sell models from his collection or in some cases, trade for parts and such. In this way, John was able to collect a number of Tom's earlier work. While the majority reside in firefighting museums in the Los Angeles area or in private collections around the country, John wanted Tom's work to be available to a wider audience. He initially brought several of Tom's models for display in the Carlsbad, California Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum, where they can be viewed by model makers and others touring the museum. Here they will be appreciated if not so much for their historical accuracy or significance as for the skill of the builder, because it would take someone familiar with the equipment to see that the details are all correct and in place. However, even those who don't know where the ladders go on a 1915 Robinson will appreciate the fine details. John has put together a nice retrospective on Tom's work, including the building of a complete fire department for the mythical city of Luna Beach.

Tom Showers: Fire Apparatus Modelmaker Extraordinaire

By John A. Ackerman

The War Years

Newly transferred to Camp Malakole, Hawaii, in early 1941, Corporal Tom Showers was assigned to a searchlight battery that utilized mobile light trucks. Many of his fellow soldiers were building model airplanes to help pass the time. Tom elected to make a model, from balsa wood, of a searchlight truck. It turned out pretty well and happened to resemble a fire department rescue/searchlight truck. Since Tom had an interest in and knowledge of firefighting before joining the U. S. Army, he painted it red and called it Rescue 1. He then made, from memory, a Seagrave pumper to go with his rescue truck. Tom compared the model to the apparatus at one of the Honolulu fire stations and found it surprisingly accurate. Like the rescue truck, this model was made with balsa wood, with various odds and ends scrounged from a local hobby shop. He also discovered that both trucks were very close to 1:32 scale. This would become his lifetime scale of choice

Adding an architect’s scale ruler to a small collection of tools, he began planning and making additional model fire apparatus. During this time, a military fire department was formed at Camp Malakole. Tom was the only one who knew anything about firefighting and fire apparatus operation, so passed the chief’s test with flying colors. He became the fire chief, advancing from corporal to line sergeant to acting staff sergeant. Using his models, painted cardboard to represent buildings and string for hoselines, he conducted tabletop training exercises for his crew.

A wartime training session at the fire station and camouflaged barracks. The structures were made from cardboard and the model fire apparatus was made from balsa wood. String and shoelaces served as hose lines. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

Reality struck on December 7, 1941, with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tom and his crew fought fires on the Naval base for over 76 hours straight. After the attack, Tom discovered a .50 caliber bullet had left one of his newly completed Mack pumpers in shreds. He kept the damaged model for years, however, in time he threw it out because it reminded him of those terrible hours during the attack and subsequent firefighting and rescue efforts. Tom didn’t talk about those experiences very often.

All these early models were of late 1930s through 1942 vintage: the rescue truck, Seagrave pumper, an American LaFrance pumper and, now, only one Mack pumper. He also constructed a cardboard fire station. Eventually, two American LaFrance ladder trucks were added: a tractor-drawn 100' aerial and a JOX type mid-ships 65' aerial. The rungs of the aerials and the assortment of ground ladders were made of thin balsa wood strips.

Tom was transferred to the U.S .Army Air Corps and stationed at Hickam Field (HI) Fire Department. Here he served as an engine captain, captain of Fire Prevention, and drill master. During Fire Prevention Week 1942, he was invited to set up a model display at the local McInery's shoe store. The store's window dresser crafted a scale block of storefronts and added fake fire. Hoselines were laid and ladders were raised to simulate firefighting operations. The display enjoyed a popular month-long run, and afterward he was invited to set up the same display at the Honolulu public library.

Tom was inspired to make another fire station. He collected some 7,000 used matchsticks for material. He glued them in rows like bricks, then coated them with six layers of varnish. Unfortunately, due to its size he couldn't take the station with him when he transferred out. Since no one was interested in taking it, he set it on fire.

After shattering his knee at a large fire, he was transferred to the McCook Army Air Base Fire Department in Nebraska. Here he served as an assistant chief, a position he held until the end of the war.

Three days before his discharge, Tom was hired by the Los Angeles County Fire Department on a “as-needed” basis. He took the first peace-time exam shortly after and officially joined the Los Angeles County Fire Department in September 1945.

A young Captain Showers in the field after fighting a brush fire. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

From Malakole FD to Long Beach FD to Luna Beach FD

During the war years, Tom lettered his training rigs “Malakole FD.” When he went to Hickam Field, he began lettering them “Long Beach FD,” after his hometown in Long Beach CA. Now that he was a firefighter with the Los Angeles County FD, he decided his budding fire department needed another name. Doing some research he found a Luna Beach, NY. All he had to do was change two letters, thus the Luna Beach Fire Department was born.

Luna Beach, CA

The mythical city Luna Beach is a composite city of 15 square miles. Its location approximates the California city of Long Beach, with commercial and business districts, residential areas, heavy industrial areas and a harbor, petrochemical facilities and an airport. Originally, the city's population was estimated to be 50,000, however, by 1965 it had grown to over 125,000. Tom’s highly detailed hand-drawn map (600'=1” scale) shows streets, parks, schools, hospitals, large commercial and industrial facilities. Fire hydrant locations and fire alarm boxes are shown, as well. A set of more than 600 “running cards” indicate what resources would respond to a specific fire alarm box location.

Luna Beach Fire Department

The Luna Beach Fire Department was the cornerstone of Tom's modeling achievements. It has been a showcase for many different type of apparatus—tractor-trailer aerials, mid-ship mounted aerials, rear-mounted aerials, articulated platforms known as Snorkels, standard pumpers, large-capacity pumpers and hose wagons, heavy rescues, squads, utility and support rigs, industrial rigs and airport crash trucks. This scale model fire apparatus was made with the highest degree of craftsmanship and detail. Models were based on real apparatus and have steerable wheels, and compartments that open to display miniature handcrafted tools and equipment. Often, Tom would incorporate ideas collected over years of experience as both a firefighter and from visiting fire departments around the country and overseas.

Quartered in five fire stations (a sixth was planned but never completed) are nine engines, three ladder trucks, a heavy rescue, a hose tender, two foam trucks, two support trucks, three ambulances, a light and generator trailer, three chief’s cars, three airport crash trucks, three fireboats, two reserve engines and a drill tower with petrochemical training props.

His fire stations have detailed interiors, including working lights. He periodically upgraded his stations, either by rebuilding or making a new one.

Tom updated his Luna Beach rigs just as an actual fire department would. Models slated for replacement were either rebuilt, repainted and re-lettered and added to his main model apparatus collection, or sold to collectors. Every so often he would trade a retired model for parts made by other fire apparatus modelmakers. Sadly, he would trash older models if he felt they didn't weren't quite up to his standards.

Tom's R & D Works

Tom's first model was based on inspiration; the next was built from memory. From there, he started collecting information, plans and photos. More often than not he would measure the actual piece of apparatus. When enough information was gathered, he would make highly detailed drawings in his primary scale of 1:32 or 3/8" = 1'. He generally had no less than four architect’s scales in his work areas.

Throughout all his travels—stateside and overseas—he carried a notepad, tape measure and camera. Eventually, he amassed quite a collection of original factory blueprints, factory photographs, his own detailed photographs and pages of specific measurements. From those notes he would draw his own set of plans. He also collected an in-depth library of fire apparatus books featuring both American and foreign apparatus. He generously made copies of both his photos and detailed blueprints available to other fire apparatus model makers. His collection of foreign fire apparatus plans, information and photos was also quite extensive thanks to both correspondence with fire model makers abroad as well as trips he took with his wife.

Tom’s early models were made from balsawood. He would apply enough filler to firm up the surface, both for both durability and to achieve a smooth finish for painting. He also carved the small parts and accessories from balsawood, which was difficult at best. He incorporated thin pine stock when available and eventually began using shape and strip stock basswood. This material was much firmer than balsawood, and easier to work with. He would shape either balsa or pine wood and lay on fiberglass for front ends and roofs. He still preferred to build fenders with up to five carefully cut pieces of basswood sheet stock.

Tom purchased an airbrush in the late 1940's. For years he used enamel paints, off the shelf, hobby types, and then automotive paints. In the early 1970's he began using automotive acrylic lacquers. He put on a couple of coats of color and then a coat of clear. The result was a very glossy finish. The beauty of this was if he made a mistake when pin-striping, he could clean off the yellow enamel without damaging his paint job.

When he got his lathe in the early 1950's, it opened up a whole new world. Now he could make all his own nozzles, sirens, headlight lights, spotlights and searchlights. Fire extinguishers and a host of other small parts and accessories were now doable by machining aluminum round stock.

He used a tiny hand drill to drill mounting holes in newly turned aluminum parts. He became very good at it—doing so right up until his last years.

On his “inside” work desk, Tom used a Dremel tool for carving wood shapes. With the Dremel drill press, could drill holes in two beams of basswood at a time for his tiny wood ladders.

When he shifted over to using sheet styrene plastic, he discovered that cutting along a steel straight-edge with a commercial single-sided razor blade would make a sharp cut with little to no furrow that could be easily snapped off. He also would use two different hot knives, one with a small soldering tip, and another with an Xacto cutting blade.

The hot knife with the soldering tip enabled him to literally weld joints in the plastic. The other hot knife was used for both cutting out plastic and to make diamond tread plate. On a piece of plastic he would lay out a grid of 1/8” squares. The first set of scoring marks were done at the nexus of the squares and then perpendicular to those marks. In the squares he made a second set of score marks. The plastic would raise slightly, and when silver paint was applied, would resemble the correct size diamond plate.

Ambroid glue and carpenters wood glue served well in the days of wooden models. However, plastic required the use of MEK, which was very thin, would quickly fill spaces to be glued and melt in slightly. It also had the advantage of being very fast drying. When he combined the styrene with ABS plastic parts purchased from then EMA (Engineering Model Associates, now known as Plastruct) he would use their specially made multi-plastic glue.

Pin-striping was accomplished with a drafting ink pen and compass. He slightly thinned bright yellow enamel and added a drop or two of red to make a rich color, then carefully went to work. He used a tiny brush for some of the minute artwork. The lettering was all done by hand, directly on the model. Sometimes he would use press-on letters or hand lettering on blank decal paper that would be applied to the model.

Tom's files also included sales brochures, photographs, and measurements of all sort of firefighting tools and equipment. He would carefully make whatever tools and equipment were required for the particular model he was working on.

Making wheels and tires

Tom's first model wheels were carved from balsawood.  In late 1952, a friend made a clever cutting tool to cut tires from a block of pine. Tire treads could be scored in by mounting the wood tire on a drill motor or in a lathe. Round and shaped pieces of Bristol board with pinheads for lug nuts, when painted, made very credible Budd wheels. During the late 1950s, the Renwal company introduced a 1:32 scale plastic kit of a military wrecker. Tom was ecstatic. He bought many of these kits for frames, running gear and their nice wheels. Even the military figures could be reconfigured into scale firefighters.

Another word about Tom’s adherence to 1:32 scale: He reasoned that anything larger would be difficult to showcase. However, he was happy to do commission work in either 1:32 or 1:24 scale.

In 1964, the Aurora company produced an American LaFrance 900 Series pumper kit in 1:32 scale. Tom purchased these kits by the case. He used the wheels, frames, running gear and various small parts. In 1967, he began working in plastic—specifically, the high-impact styrene available commercially in large 30 x 60-inch sheets in a variety of thicknesses. He also made use of the plastic tubing and parts made by Engineering Model Associates, Inc., a company that manufactured items for scale model making of various industrial/petrochemical facilities. A division of this company later formed that is today known as Plastruct, which continues to provide a large variety of plastic materials and components for model makers worldwide.

Tom fashioned spoke or artillery wheels—both solid-rubber and pneumatic—by using the hub and spokes from a kit. (In the ‘50s, wood kits would often contain plastic spoke wheels). However, they would have to be cut down to the proper scale size and fit into either a turned-wood or aluminum rim. Sometimes he would turn the rim and hub from aluminum and remove enough material in between so it could be easily carved out. He would very carefully drill or carve out the excess, leaving four spokes in place. The correct number of 1/16" square basswood pieces were added, then painted and pin-striped. Solid rubber tires were added by wrapping actual rubber around the wheel. Eventually, he would use either plastic tubing for tires or a piece of styrene plastic cut the width of the wheel and long enough to be bent in a curve around the wheel. This would then be glued in place and painted. Solid wheels were scrounged from military tank kits and customized for the particular fire model.

As 1:32 scale “Snap” kits increased in hobby shops, Tom began to use the wheels and tires, as well as running gear, frames and other odds and ends. Instead of buying tools to make tasks easier, Tom would check out available plastic at hobby shops. He was gifted in that he could visualize a kit and correlate the parts to a planned model fire rig. The only real downside was that his models were incredibly fragile. He used glue very sparingly and was not one to add a lot of structural reinforcement.

Tom's Work Spaces

(Left to Right) Tom's work desk, Tom peeks from behind his Craftsman lathe and Tom's shop with Tom looking from behind the lathe. (Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Tom worked in a garage workshop while he and his wife raised two daughters. Eventually, he was able to move into a spare bedroom. There, he set up his work desk, a cabinet or two, a model display case and a display rack for his fire stations. His lathe, airbrush equipment and supply storage remained in the garage. After he retired and moved to another home, he kept his lathe, painting tools and supplies in a separate shed. This shed was also excellent for model work that overflowed from his study. Another component of Tom's work spaces was bagpipe music. For some time he was a Drum Major for a Southern California Pipe Band. He was never without a quality record player!

Beyond the Luna Beach Fire Department

Tom's modeling efforts covered all types of fire apparatus, both American and from around the world. Part of his collection included models of very early hand-drawn and horse-drawn apparatus, as well as an array of early motorized rigs. There were many unusual rigs. A significant portion of his collection was models depicting a wide range of colors other than red used by American fire departments. He devoted a lot of energy to making models of foreign fire apparatus. To see the entire collection and compare years, types and nation of origin was impressive.

Tom Showers accomplishments in the world of replica scale model fire apparatus were amazing. In a field populated over the years by a select number of skilled fire modelers, Tom stood out as the most prolific: creating over 400 scale replica fire apparatus, 12 fire stations and support structures, six fire boats and one training tower in a span of almost 56 years.

Born in 1917, Tom passed away at the age of 79, just days before his 80th birthday in 1996. At the time of his passing, his personal collection consisted of about 150 model fire apparatus, five fire stations, one storage garage, a drill tower, three fire boats and a small number of Coast Guard ships. (His father was an officer with the USCG.) Additionally, there were replicas of all the different rigs he worked on as a firefighter, including early military, Los Angeles County and Shelter Cove fire departments.

His commissions kept him quite busy, working for those who appreciated the fine art of miniature scale replica fire apparatus. He built for private collectors as well as attorneys—the legal models would be used in court cases involving fire apparatus. He helped fire apparatus manufacturers and inventors working to develop new apparatus and innovations to visualize their finished product. He would also trade models to people who did work for him. He simply loved making miniature fire apparatus and welcomed any opportunity to pursue his craft.

Accomplishments & Accolades

In addition to his accomplishments as a military firefighter, Tom distinguished himself during his tenure at the LA County FD. He was one of the first fireman-dispatchers. He promoted to engineer in early 1950, and by that September attained the rank of captain. In 1953, he was assigned to Fire Station 31 and remained there until retirement in 1971. He served 26 years, 21 one of them as a captain.

Tom was involved with the design of what are now known as the Emergency!-style rescue squads. He also proposed air-cascade trucks for the department. He devised their map grid book system and was instrumental in promoting Snorkel-type fire apparatus.

When he moved to Shelter Cove in Northern CA, he became their first fire chief, tasked with starting their brand-new fire department. Twelve years later, Tom retired from the SCFD.

Tom was featured in numerous model publications. Perhaps the best article was in the May 1965 issue of Model Car Science. Another detailed article appeared in the January/February 1981 issue of Scale Auto Enthusiast. He was also recognized in the May 1950 issue of Popular Science. Fire service enthusiast publications such as The Visiting Fireman would present his work. In 1997, the year after he passed away, they ran an in-depth article on his accomplishments. The Luna Beach FD was profiled in the December 1982 issue of the technical fire service magazine Western Fire Journal. Tom himself authored numerous articles and columns such as “Model Fire Department” in the 1950s magazine, The National Fire Fan Register.

Tom belonged to the IAAM (International Association of Automotive Modelers), FAMBA (Fire Apparatus Model Builders Association) and IPMS (International Plastic Modelers Society).

His models have been shown at numerous fire prevention displays and televised children's programs. Tom also participated in numerous model shows over the years, winning a number or trophies and awards. He was always generous with his assistance and willing to share his expertise with other fire apparatus model makers around the world. Many of his models are still displayed in museums and personal collections around the county. Tom's life and life's work continue to inspire active and budding fire apparatus fire modelers everywhere. Without question, this is a legacy well earned.

Magazine Articles on Tom Showers and his Models

Click on either the thumbnail of the magazine cover or the underlined magazine title to view a PDF scan of the article.

Model Car Science, May 1965. Six pages were devoted to Tom's models. Black and white, not the greatest print quality on newsprint

Scale Auto Enthusiast, January/February, 1981. A nice 5-page black and white article on Tom and his models.

Western Fire Journal, December, 1982. Not for modelers, but rather for firefighters, this 4-page article takes a look at Tom's imaginary city fire department of Luna Beach, CA

Here are several examples of Tom Showers' work:

(Click photos to view larger images.)


1900 LaFrance Searchlight engine #1, FDNY

1:32 scale

Courtesy of John A. Ackerman Collection

This New York Fire Department horse-drawn Searchlight wagon is based on a 4th size steamer with Bullock marine type 5 Kw generator. It has two de-mountable searchlights of 9,000 candlepower each. (The term “4th size” refers to a particular category of boiler and/or pump size and is not a reference to scale.)

This model is made from sheet styrene plastic and tubing. The “crown” of the steamer is turned aluminum. Some tubing, accessories and fittings are scrounged from various kit parts and some metal work was done on the lathe. Horses are from military figure kits.


1915 Robinson, Marion (OH) FD

1:32 scale

Donated by John Ackerman

Tom built this model in 1951. It is one of his earlier models built from basswood. In fact, the number 20 on the door indicates that it is his 20th model. It represents an engine from the Marion (OH) Fire Department.

Originally, all the smaller parts such as headlights, spotlights, siren and air chamber over the pump were carved from wood. After Tom acquired his lathe, he would go back and redo them in turned wood. Eventually, he replaced the wooden parts with turned aluminum.

The wheels were created from kit spokes cut down to fit in the “proper” sized rim. Ladders were basswood beams with bamboo rungs.


1932 Seagrave Rescue Car, Sacramento FD

1:32 scale

Courtesy of John A. Ackerman Collection

Equipped with an overhead ladder rack, four searchlights and compartmentalized body designed to carry various rescue tools and equipment, this rig served in the Sacramento (CA) Fire Department.

Made of basswood, turned pine for the searchlights, and turned aluminum for the siren, bell and other small parts. Wheels are from Renwal’s military wrecker kit. The ladders are basswood and carefully shaped bamboo rungs.

This model also illustrates Tom's ability with hand lettering, pinstriping and intricately detailed embellishments.


1934 Ahrens-Fox Model VLU 42

1:32 scale

Courtesy of John A. Ackerman Collection

A standard line quad in an unusual black color. Many volunteer fire departments in the eastern part of the country continue to paint their apparatus in colors besides red. Tom replicated many such rigs in a variety of colors schemes.

This model is made with basswood, with wheels from the Aurora kit and turned aluminum for many of the small parts and accessories. The ladders are basswood beams with both spaghetti and bamboo rungs.


1937 Mack Type 21, FDNY

1:32 scale

Courtesy of John A. Ackerman Collection

A New York Fire Department classic. It’s made from basswood, with Renwal’s wrecker kit wheels, scaling ladders from basswood and turned aluminum parts and accessories.


1955 Bedford 30-meter Aerial Ladder Truck, Aalborg (Denmark) FD

1:32 scale

Courtesy of John A. Ackerman Collection

This apparatus was built on a British Bedford chassis, with a Magirus aerial (a German aerial ladder and apparatus manufacturer). It was used by the Aalborg, Fire Department in Denmark.

The five-section aerial is made from 1/32” square basswood, with basswood 1/32” x 1/16” strip stock for the rungs. The “cable” is button thread, properly “wired” to allow for sequential extension of the aerial sections by turning the cable drum at the base of the aerial. The aerial raises with a screw mechanism. An old television tuning wand paired with a flathead screwdriver blade encased in a tube fitted over slotted tubes on both the cable drum and raise mechanism.

The last photo shows a detail of the Magirus aerial raise mechanism.


1973 Howe/Hendrickson Manifold Wagon, Luna Beach FD

1:32 scale

Donated by John A. Ackerman

This model served in Tom’s mythical Luna Beach Fire Department.

Made from sheet styrene plastic, turned aluminum parts and accessories, its ladders are basswood with spaghetti rungs. Wheels are from the Aurora kit.


Isuzu-Morita Hose Cart Truck

1:32 scale

Donated by John A. Ackerman

This vehicle is tailored to meet the special demands of fighting a fire in a crowded city like Tokyo where there are alleys too narrow for trucks to fit. The truck carries two hose carts that are rolled down ramps and can be pushed by hand down narrow alleys while playing out hose.

The first photo shows the truck with the carts aboard. The second photo shows one of the carts rolled down the ramps. The third photo shows booth carts rolled out of the truck. The last photo shows the actual full-size fire vehicle. It is capable of pumping 500 gallons/minute.

Tom considered this Ahrens-Fox pumper his best wartime model. It is entirely made from balsa wood. Small parts and wheels were carved from balsa wood.

(Left) American LaFrance aerial ladder trucks and their display of ladders in 1942. Apparatus is made entirely made from balsa wood .

(Right) Display at shoe store in Malakole, Hawaii. American LaFrance aerial and a “modern” pumper of Tom's design. The store's window dresser made and painted the storefront.

Balsa wood replica of the engine on whichTom served as Captain. The wheels were carved from balsa wood and were the small parts and accessories. The ladder was balsa strip stock with bamboo rungs. The nozzles at the rear were added stateside, after Tom acquired a lathe.

Luna Beach FD circa 1949. The fire station, Station 2, his first since the wartime stations, was made in 1947 from sheet and strip stock balsa wood. The interior is highly detailed.

A 1950 Mack “Squad.” The first rigs of LBFD were painted white, as he started doing in the service. Around 1949 they began to be painted white over red. Basswood and Renwal wrecker kit wheels replaced the original pine and Bristol Board wheels. Turned aluminum for pats. Black string for reel line.

Around 1961, Tom switched to all white. Shown here is a 1964 Crown 2,000 gpm pumper made from basswood with turned aluminum parts and accessories and wheels from the Aurora pumper kit.

Starting in 1967, Tom started painting them a lemon yellow color. This 1972 Crown 100' aerial is made from sheet styrene plastic, some parts from the Aurora pumper kit, including the wheels and tires. The aerial ladder is made with basswood 1/32 square strip stock, basswood channel for the beams, and spaghetti for the rungs. Cabling is button thread and strung to enable the fly ladders to extend sequentially. The diamond plate is made by scoring the sheet plastic with a hot knife.

(Left) Fire Station No. 1, circa 1973, is made from balsa wood, stones from the beach at Shelter Cove and the interior brick is plastic architectural patterned sheet stock.

(Right) Fire Station No. 3 interior details, 1973

(Left) This LBFD Fire boat is based on the 1964 Los Angeles FD Fire boat 4.

(Right) The fire boat is made from basswood and plastic tubular shapes from EMA (eventually Plastruct) Searchlights are turned from wood.

(Left) The forward monitor is carved from basswood and the barrel and nozzle are turned aluminum. The outlet manifold is from tubular ABS plastic and the outlets are turned aluminum.

(Right) The detailed interior—The Pilot and engineer are modified figures from the Renwal wrecker kit.

The fire boat's snorkel boom is made from styrene plastic and was added years after the original construction of the fire boat.
This model Drill Tower made from sheet styrene plastic and various parts and pieces from Plastruct.

(Left) Engine Co. 31 Los Angeles County FD 1940 American LaFrance Pumper/Tanker. This was Tom's first engine when he transferred to Fire Station 31. It is made from basswood with machined aluminum parts and accessories. Tires are cut from pine with Bristol Board shaped and fitted for wheels and lug nuts made from pinheads. Made in 1955.

(Right) A photo of the real engine from which the model was patterned. John Ackerman matched the angle of this photo in his picture of Tom's model.

(Bottom) A partial view of detailed drawings of the American LaFrance Pumper/Tanker by Tom.

Here's a great shot showing one of Tom's commissioned models with the real one behind it.

A 1962 Yankee/Walter Crash truck. Made from basswood, nozzles, lights, turned from aluminum round stock. Tires are cut from pine with Bristol Board and pinheads for lug nuts.

Photo and model from the collection of Bob Milnes

A 1973 Seagrave 100' tractor-trailer aerial. It is made from sheet styrene plastic, turned aluminum parts, various parts from an Aurora kit, including wheels and side mounted wagon battery using tubular fitting from Plastruct. Ladders are basswood beams with spaghetti rungs. The aerial ladder is made from styrene strip stock.

This 1974 Mack MB Rescue truck with crane is completely made from sheet styrene plastic with wheels/tires from Aurora pumper kit. The small equipment is hand made.

A 1984 Pierce pumper running as P3. The 13 represents the new mutual aid system where specific cities are given a “city number” and the specific station the apparatus runs out of. Luna Beach was city number 1, thus the 13. The model is made from sheet styrene plastic and scrounged kit parts, including the wheels. Ladders are basswood with spaghetti rungs. Wagon battery tubular components are ABS plastic. The barrel and nozzle of the wagon battery is turned aluminum.

A 1991 Seagrave pumper—Luna Beach FD Pump 11. It is made from sheet styrene plastic, turned aluminum parts and accessories, wheels/tires from Aurora kit. Wagon battery components and angled outlets, ABS plastic from Plastruct.

Tom's first 65' Snorkel on a Crown Firecoach body was made in 1959 of sheet and strip stock basswood. Tires were cut from pine with Bristol Board “wheels” and pinheads for lug nuts. The snorkel boom is also made from basswood. Tubing and fittings are from Engineering Model Associates (now known as Plastruct). Pump inlets/outlets are turned aluminum. The beacon light has a turned aluminum base with a lens made from a red color stained clear pill capsule cut to size.

A 1957 Crown Firecoach pumper for Los Angeles County FD, Engine 31. The actual rig was Tom's engine at Fire Station 31. Made from sheet and strip stock basswood, turned aluminum parts and accessories. Wheels from Renwal wrecker kit.

This is a replica of the second engine for the Shelter Cove Fire Department, a used Van Pelt pumper purchased from San Diego. The model is made of sheet plastic and incorporated various kit parts and items from turned aluminum. It was made in 1974.

A 1928 American Lafrance aerial ladder made of basswood channel, strip, and sheet stock. Parts and accessories are turned aluminum. It is equipped with modified kit wheels. Ladders are basswood strip stock with bamboo rungs. Aerial raises, rotates and fly ladder extends. It was made in 1966.

This 1925 American LaFrance Chemical truck was made of sheet, channel, and strip stock basswood with turned aluminum parts and accessories. Chemical tanks are ABS plastic tubing and elliptical tank ends were purchased from Engineering Model Associates, now known as Plastruct. Tank wheels are from a hobby shop. Tires are from a kit and the wheels are turned aluminum with basswood strip stock spokes.

This Mack pumper is painted baby blue, representative of one of the Chambersburg Fire Companies. Basswood and craved fenders are from basswood. Some of the parts and accessories are from the Aurora pumper kit. The searchlight, front spotlights and headlights are turned from aluminum.

A scale replica of an 1830 Gooseneck style hand-drawn pumper. It was made early in Tom's modeling career, and a color photo was quite possibly never taken. The actual rig would have been colorful work of art. It was made of balsa wood along with wagon kit wheels.

This replica of a Dennis PAX pumper/tanker for Ankara, Turkey was made of sheet styrene plastic with Aurora kit wheels and turned aluminum headlights and bell. The ladder is basswood strip stock and spaghetti rungs.

Miniature tools and equipment: Stokes rescue basket, generator, floodlight, resuscitator—complete with face piece, cellar nozzle, rubbish hook, gas-powered 12" blower and battering ram. 

Tom's Model Workshop

A view of Tom's work space in his study while he lived in Shelter Cove, CA

Tom peeks out from behind an old Craftsman AA 109/Dunlap lathe. Aurora Pumper kit boxes and cigar boxes held an assortment of small parts scrounged from various model kit. The gray toolbox on the bench to the left of his lathe contained patterns of small fire equipment accessories, scale ruler, razor saw blade, small calipers, a 6” Vernier caliper, small files, a couple of lathe cutting tools, and a few lathe accessories. When he bought the lathe, it had a four-jaw independent chuck. Tom never bothered to purchase a three-jaw scrolling chuck, which would have saved him in setup time. All his lathe work was done by hand. The cutting tools were held in a file holder. One can be seen at the right front of his lathe.

He also painted his models out here. Note the turntable on the bench shelf. He had a Pasche airbrush and he originally used enamel paint. Around 1970, he started using automotive acrylic enamel paint.

A close-up of his work desk shows various hand tools, files, Dremel tool with drill press, a second Dremel tool, battery powered sanding tool and two soldering irons used for cutting and “welding” plastic. Drawing instruments, architects scale ruler, small clamps are in separate drawers.

Another view of Tom's “secondary” shop as seen from behind the lathe. A cabinet near the left holds some of his models (the overflow from his study), as well as one of the Luna Beach fire stations. For a change of pace, he would build ship models. His dad was a Coast Guard officer. The rigging of a square rigged ship model on a shelf at the back of the room is protected from dust by some clear plastic. The map on the wall is his very detailed map of the mythical city of Luna Beach. The file cabinet contained many of his apparatus blueprints, information and photographs.

(Left) The fire station display rack and one of two display cases. These photos were taken in 1976.

(Right) Second display case along with Luna Beach fire boats, ship models and numerous awards from model shows. Tom is supervising the picture taking.

Tom poses with a display of some of his vehicles in a display in his home in 1992. This photo illustrates the variety of different colors used on fire apparatus.

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