Aircraft modellers come in two varieties: the dedicated and the dabbler. The latter leave no record of achievement. As one who started modeling at the age of nine in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, the names of a few in organized competitions prior to the second world war come to mind. One was Andrew Reynaert, a wonderful craftsman in everything at which he ever worked; another was Bentley Saari of whom not much is known, but those with memories of him regard him with the awe worthy of a legend. While Reynaert built gas engine powered large free-flight models, Saari had a penchant for gliders, much like rather large hand-launched chuck gliders. He used large rubber bands strung between posts to launch his missiles. In time he cut the rubber from inner tubes from discarded tires. This was poor quality rubber, but the best available in Depression times in the northern hinterland. When Saari flew, bystanders gave him a lot of room. The gliders tended to do high velocity loops, at times seeming to regard Saari’s backside as a hangar. Saari learned early to high jump.
Reynaert was my good friend. When he joined the air force as an airframe mechanic, he left his models at home. With a pride most modelers’ mothers show for their sons’ art, when Reynaert went out the front door to hassle the Hun, his mother was giving away his carefully stacked wings, floats, engines, and empennages at the back door. When he came home seven years later, I returned to him the wings and other relics, which I had received. What I vividly recall was that the wings were planked with 3/32″ balsa, which showed the score marks of the bad saw used to cut the sheets.
Modeling supplies were bought at the five and ten cent stores, and at hardware stores. Dope came in small glass tubes sealed with a cork, for a nickel a tube. Model kits ranged in price from a dime to a dollar and a half. If you were related to the Rockefellers, you could spend up to five dollars for a kit. The kits consisted of printed (NOT die-cut) sheet balsa, plus strip wood, a small plan sheet, two sheets of different coloured tissue, hardwood wheels, a piece of music wire, and a tubelet of glue opened with a pin in the nozzle. Often the contents had evaporated.
Mothers made faces when they smelled the glue. Now wives go home to mother when an expensive new kit arrives in the mail. The quality of balsa had improved, just before the war, but sometimes the balsa wood was very hard. The balsa was cut with half of a discarded razor blade. Much balsa was blood stained. There were no one-parent families then, apart from widows, and no woman ever admitted to the use of a razor, so only kids with fathers were able to model. Our first modeling club was called the Sault Aeronauts, and naturally this degenerated into Aeronuts. It arose during the first years of the war. As we slowly bought up the modeling supplies available from the usual outlets, we had to use substitute woods, and gift wrap tissue in lieu of silk or Silkspan or bamboo tissue. Bamboo tissue was a very tough skin, and it shrank tighter with every coat of dope applied. Four coats could turn a wing into a large propeller.
Three young men, Sid, Lou, and Dave Kleiman opened a sporting goods store in the Sault in 1940 and also had a splendid stock of model treasures. Among these were Forster .29 (Class A) and .30 (Class B) engines, Super Cyclone .60s (Class C), (for $35.00, the pay for a 48 hour week at the time) Ohlsson .23s, 29s, and .60s. There was a Baby Cyclone too. It idled so slowly one might have reached through the arc of a prop to retrieve a pin behind the engine. There were also Torpedo .29s and Bullet .29s. If you wanted trash you had access to Canadian made Hurricane .24s for $24.95 during the earlier war years. For reasons than defy sanity, these paper weights (hard to start and underpowered paper weights, at that) have become collectors’ items. The worst of all possible engines was a Yankee abomination called the GHQ. Heavy and impossible to start, let alone run, these cast iron clunkers were sold for $4.95 in the USA. Their ads proudly proclaimed “Thousands sold!”. They neglected to say “But never flown”. Some half century later, RCM magazine wrote the saga of one that after extended machining and modification was persuaded to run. But I don’t recall mention of air time. There was a lovely little .30 called a Cannon. I saw one running that suddenly threw its propeller, but never stopped. Totally unloaded it just revved ever faster. There was no throttle control on those early treasures and there was a terrible fear of reaching for this Cannon’s needle valve in case a phantom prop was still there, invisible to mortal eye, ready to shred a hand. When someone guessed it was turning 30,000 rpm (there were no tachometers then) and women started coming out of their houses to see the banshee in person, as shift workers and infants were waking up ahead of schedule, the engine’s owner went behind the engine and jerked away the fuel line. Too late; the Cannon was by then fried, not to say shot.
There was a splendid kit of Carl Goldberg’s Valkyrie, a 7′ span pylon mounted elliptical wing wonder with individually built up ribs numbering in the thousands (or so it seemed when you had to build each undercambered rib). The kit came complete with bamboo paper, enough to cover a dozen lesser gassies for the duration of the war, plus three tins of desiccated coloured dope. The four ounce tins, filled with four ounces of homemade gun powder plus the remains of the nitrocellulose dope made wonderfully noisy bombs. Detonated in tree stumps at random locations around the Sault at five months intervals, they kept the police and the Militia diverted from more dangerous duties. Modelling has many faces.
During the war years, shortages included a lack of adequate transportation to the flying field. We almost always travelled on bicycles, carrying the fully assembled models under one arm, with fuel, starting batteries, tools, spare props (one flight = one busted prop), camera, and so on, in a carrier basket attached to the handle bars. All bikes had only one speed, and foot brakes. Like the Pied Piper, we were always trailed by kids. The field was at the Prince of Wales school in a remote subdivision. Parts of the roads were paved.
There was one tree on the field. The planes usually headed for that tree when in flight. Fuel was three parts of naphtha gasoline (available from dry cleaners – it was rationed for cars at gas stations) and one part SAE 70 oil. Every engine smelled like an outboard motor. Heady stuff. Free-flight gas and rubber were all we knew. Dethermalizers were rare, and engine runs were determined by the amount of fuel metered into the tank. Half the engines were impossible to start at any given contest. Planes whose engines started tended to stall, spin, dive, crash, or go OOS – out of sight. Some of us did a lot of running.
Scale models were rare, as were gliders. Rubber powered models lost popularity as rubber became ever more scarce. Even inner tubes became difficult to obtain, and mothers complained we ruined their scissors cutting the dense rubber of worn out tubes. Bicycle tubes had the thinnest and best rubber, but most bicycle tubes were studded with red patches over punctures. Who called them the Good Old Days? The Sault Aeronauts met at members’ homes. Once. The Campanas, Nino and Edi, had a vacant garage lined on the outside with doped linen fabric taken from aircraft at the Provincial Air Service Aerodrome on the St. Mary’s river. The man who covered the craft was Percival Hancock, and he could have all the discarded old flammable linen he wanted. And nitrate dope. He gave these to his neighbours, the Campanas. The linen was doped in yellow, or silver, with black lettering, CF-AAH, CF-LOK, and so on.
Out of the sight and sound of mother Campana, the boys modelled in the garage, winter and summer, and held many meetings, and made bombs. The roll call included Roger Kelly, who went on to become a chemical engineer, Art Bondar – pharmacist, Art Robb – butcher, Bernard Basest – dentist, Lou Kleiman – merchant, then soldier, James Kendall – physicist, Nino Campana – chiropractor, Edi Campana – pharmaceuticals manufacturer, James Jarvis -Bell Canada, Dave Bertelsen – engineer, Andrew Lahaye – teacher, Lorne Lahaye – a steel company superintendent, Jack Mertes – supervisor of steel quality assurance, John Scherback – aero engineer for Piper Air Craft at Lock Haven. Terry Lund – a Queen’s University graduate. One day Terry turned up with a copy of a 1934 Universal Model Airplane News. It featured a 21 1/2″ model of a 1933 Italian Macchi-Castoldi MC-72 Schneider Trophy pontoon racer. The original had a 3000 hp engine and contra-rotating props. It flew at 441.7 mph, a record it still holds for a prop driven pontoon plane. The rubber powered model had contra-rotating props. Sixty-three years ago! And we had a few dabblers.
The Air Cadets tried to lure all of us to join their local unit. We knew aeroplanes, and could identify virtually any a/c capable of flight and we were potential aerial cannon fodder. The Air Cadets studied aircraft, sat in parked planes, and drilled a hell of a lot. Few of us joined, but it was nice being wanted.
Toward the end of the war we ventured into control line flying. Roger Kelly made the loveliest models. He knew how to put a fine finish on anything, from cabinets to models. His secret? Sixty-four hand-rubbed coats. Easy, if you were Methuselah. Art Bondar built superlative models and flew superbly well. His first was called a Tethered Trainer and it served him well. Art was an important influence not only on his own children, but also on his niece Roberta, who adopted two other of his hobbies: photography and piloting full size aircraft. Bobbie is Canada’s first female astronaut. Edi Campana decided to build racing control liners. He designed his own. The fuselage was a spindle shaped piece of cedar turned on a lathe, then lovingly hollowed out to a wall thickness of 1/8 inch. The wing was built up and planked balsa. The engine was Nino Campana’s $35.00 twin plugs Super Cyclone .60, 1/4 hp.
U-control was an American phenomenon. The world’s speed record was 108 mph using an expensive McCoy .60, or Dooling .60 engine. No Canadian had ever hit 90 mph in 1947 (or 48). But Edi Campana, with Lou Kleiman, not long out of the army, took his tried and truly tested speedster to the Eaton’s sponsored MAAC Nats in Toronto. Car tires had come a long way since the war. Lou’s Nash had only eight flats en route. Ed’s props were hand crafted 10 x 10s, made by Andrew Reynaert from gum wood. At 15 cents each, Edi bought three. In Toronto he discovered he’d left two at home. But 16 year old Ed flew his first flight and hit 100 mph on the nose! The rules called for three flights. Ed tried to track down a second and third prop, since the plane took off from a dolly and landed on a stopped prop. Only one fellow had spare props, an American U/C speed champ. Yes, he’d be happy to sell Edi props, as he had just flown 92 mph himself. Edi said, “I just now clocked at 100!” The American’s smile crumpled. He was unable to find spare props; nor could anyone else. The American won with three flights, the top speed being 92.
The war had ended, and now that our generation of modellers had escaped the war, we also graduated from high school. Most of us went to college. Local modeling activity went into hibernation. Some of our degreed heroes returned home in 1952, married, started families, and a few resumed modeling. I looked around and discovered that there was a model airplane club in the Sault that flew only radio control. Roger Kelly and Art Bondar and I resumed free flight rubber and gas. But r/c was a lure.
The old Aeronauts were no more. The rising generation was the Soo Modellers Radio Control Club.The founders, in 1955, included Jack Mertes, Jim Elgie, Herman Thiffault, Art Denning, Barry Cooper, Bill Fleet, Ralph Fowler, Glen Bridge, Glen McIntyre, Glen Allen, and Lincoln Ray. Herman Thiffault lured me into the new club by swapping me his older (let’s say primitive) radio gear for some of my built models. I was hooked. I brought Tom Atkinson into our Club, who in turn brought Paul Butcher. Keen eyed Paul is the best all around modeller we’ve ever had, and has created many splendid aircraft. He led the giant scale model movement in our area, and everything he ever built flew superbly no matter how difficult the subject aircraft turned out to be initially.
Jim Elgie became a member of MAAC earlier than any of the rest of us. He was followed by Thiffault, Campana, Bondar, then the rest of the Club voted to make MAAC membership a requisite for membership. Meetings took place in Jim Elgie’s cellar workshop. Correspondence was read from other clubs. We received newsletters and were invited to send copies of ours. We had none. Glen Bridge volunteered me to edit one. We called it The Glitch. Being a lousy pilot I dedicated a lot of time to the Glitch. A source of much inside information was Stanley Lyons; as a dealer, he received all advance notices of new products. These he passed on to me. A cardinal rule of amateur newsletters is to mention as many members as possible, preferably in a favourable vein. If a member goofs up, turn it into a funny happening. Everyone enjoys humour; the only thing they prefer more is the sound or appearance of their own name. We mailed The Glitch to every club who had an address we could find, to every modeling publication for which we had an address and to every American model manufacturer, including engine and radio manufacturers.
In return we got a few thank you notes, advance notices of new products, samples of new products from people like John Tatone, who sent a sample for each member in our Club. Best of all, some model mags reprinted stuff from the Glitch. Jerry Kleinburg of Radio Control Modeler was editor of a column he called Top Out, in which he skimmed material from all newsletters received and reprinted it for the information and delight of everyone. The Glitch was quoted more often than any other newsletter. This won our Club prizes from RCM. This in turn allowed us to ask Carl Goldberg, Heathkit, Tatone, and many another firm for donations as prizes for our Club’s events. They sent many fine prizes. Our Club gained some renown which meant that modellers came to the Sault from Montreal, Toronto, Thunder Bay, and many places in between to participate in our contests and events. They came from Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, and other states. We were popular. We had US National scale champion Bud Nosen, who flew a Skyraider that fired rockets at the field, missing the spectators. You’ve heard of Bud Nosen Giant Models. Walt Moucha, Jr. of Balsa USA flew with us for a number of years. Noted American modeller Albin Signorino, who created the first full size flying Snoopy’s Doghouse came here to fly it. Jerry Kleinburg of RCM came from Texas to award prizes at our formerly renowned UGLY Meet. Local modellers swapped all manner of equipment and information with these splendid visitors.
In 1967, having moved from our primitive first flying field to Sinclair Park, located in town, we were privileged to host the MAAC r/c Nationals. Eastern Canadians and their Western counterparts complained the Sault was lost out in nowhere, inaccessible to anything but bears, wolves, and moose. True, they do occasionally turn up to watch us, along with eagles and hawks, but Sault Ste. Marie is located only 33 miles east of the midpoint on the TransCanada Hwy. It was a very successful event.
Magazine editors and manufacturers read The Glitch for the humour and jokes. They replied to material they found erroneous or that they thought merited comment. We heard from Duke Fox, Carl Goldberg, Jerry Kleinburg, Ken Willard, and many others. In Italy, Modellistica exchanged its publication for RCM, latched on to the editor’s Italian name in the Top Out column and wrote me to ask permission to reprint Glitch material in Italian. Sure. So did Aviamodelli, another magazine, who reprinted every issue in its entirety. This I learned thirty years after the event. An Italian modeller named Leopoldo Pergher wrote me about a fellow modeler named Paolo Zoppolato who had run afoul of the Roman bureaucrats who ran the Aero Club d’Italia, the Italian equivalent of MAAC and the FAI combined. They had rescinded his membership, so he couldn’t fly models at any sanctioned event. With our local Club’s approval, we issued him an honorary membership, with all rights appertaining thereunto, including flying in any sanctioned event anywhere as a Canadian modeller. The Aero Club d’Italia protested this extraterritorial intrusion. The issue was brought up in Italy’s Parlamento, and the Aero Club d’Italia was censured, underwent a change in its Executive, and Paolo was restored his membership, with full rights. In one European r/c event, Paolo placed third, and was listed as the sole Canadian contestant. See what a little newsletter can do?
Eventually the Glitch took too much time away from more pressing needs, and publication lapsed. A new Club executive inadvertently slowed the momentum of our Club, and our importance in the hobby waned.
There was a brief resurgence when Wally Batter joined our Club, and he turned out to be one of the most outstanding modelers in Canadian history. A master craftsman and artist, Wally co-edited the Journal of WW 1 Aircraft, and turned it into a noted mag. For a time he edited MAAC’s MAC magazine. Wally deserves a history of his own. Ill health brought on a painful and protracted death in 1993, just as his diabetes had killed the formidable Stanley Lyons in 1972. In his honour we from time to time award a silver mug created in Stan’s memory. We call this Stanley Lyons Award the Stanley Cup. We remember him with fondness.
It is with happiness that I can say with the improvement of its new (third) field, our membership is again growing, with members who left decades ago returning to the sky, having lost none of their skills. Some even kept their hair and teeth. We have two members who come from Michigan and one from Elliot Lake to share our camaraderie and facilities. If you’re in the neighbourhood, please drop by and visit us. The field (1997) was located on the Black road. Where one would turn left along the Second Line to continue on Hwy 17, there is a dead end rough road to the right. If you follow this trap rock road for 500 meters, you will encounter another rough road on your right, under the high tension lines. Follow it for 150 meters and to your left is our magnificently isolated flying field and the jolliest modellers in Canada.
Our clubs have run through a long list of presidents. The most dedicated, and longest serving has been Craig Knight. Besides being a great pilot, the man is indefatigable. The man in charge is still Craig Knight.
Do you recall I mentioned a plan for a contraprop Macchi-Castoldi MC-72 racer from a 1934 magazine? A decade ago I enquired from Model Airplane News if they could provide me with a copy. They did by return mail, gratis. Typical modeling folks. Last week I initiated construction of this rubber f/f model, something I promised myself I’d do more than half a century ago, as a tribute to the ingenuity of the modellers who preceded us. Could this be the beginning of my second childhood? Or has my modeling come full circle?
Let’s meet at the field. Till then, happy landings!
Note: Our flying site was relocated yet again after this article was written in 1997 – and is presently located HERE