Retired Jet Mechanic Becomes A Model Citizen

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Charles "Bud" Hyer, a retired jet airplane mechanic who will turn 80 this year, has been building models all his life.

"Once you get it in your blood it stays there," Hyer said.

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It took Charles "Bud" Hyer two years and a trip to San Francisco to build this model of a World War II liberty ship. The Jeremiah O'Brien, which participated in the D-Day landing, is one of only two remaining liberty ships.

But model building isn't the inexpensive pastime it used to be -- even accounting for inflation.

"When I was a kid, you could buy a kit for a dime. Now a kit like this is about $35."

Hyer, who has lived in Payson for 12 years, was referring to a model plane hanging from his workshop ceiling, one of the balsam wood numbers that you covered with with Japanese tissue paper.

"Then you'd spray it with water and the tissue shrunk," Hyer said.

Such models were usually powered by a small gasoline engine and stayed connected to the "pilot" by wires.

"They were really easy to crack up," Hyer said. "It you flew into the wind and the lines went slack, you didn't have any control."

Today's sturdier models are most often radio-controlled, and Hyer, who got his regular pilot's license at the age of 65, is currently taking lessons to fly them.

"People who fly the big planes can't fly these until they've had lessons," he said.

Hyer's basement workshop is filled with a variety of aircraft models, many of them World War II vintage, including a spotter plane that was launched by catapult, landed in the ocean, and was hauled aboard cruisers and battleships.

Hyer also has a big collection of World War II books on all aspects and phases of the war. He served in as a member of the U.S. Merchant Marine. Hanging in his shop is a world map with the voyages he took during the war drawn in.

Pointing to one that ended in New York City, he said, "It was lucky I went there because that's where I met my wife. Her mother ran a rooming house and I was on leave. I married the housekeeper's daughter."

That was 58 years ago, and Claudia has tolerated Hyer's fixation on flight and model building through good times and bad. One thing she won't do, however, is fly in a small plane.

"She doesn't like one-engine planes," Hyer explained. "She doesn't even like two-engine planes. She prefers four.

"She tried it once, and we got part way down the runway before she changed her mind."

Claudia would never have climbed aboard one of Hyer's favorite models, a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing of an aircraft. It was designed for a person to use foot pedals to flap the wings, but Da Vinci never built the plane.

"He wasn't that stupid," Hyer said.

The model that Hyer is most proud of isn't even a plane. It's a two-foot long replica of the Jeremiah O'Brien, one of some 2,000 World War II vintage liberty ships.

"They were 440 feet long and cruised at 10 knots," Hyer said. "They were cargo ships; some were made into tankers and some carried troops.

"There are still two of them sailing. (The Jeremiah O'Brien) is in San Francisco right now. When I was building the model I made a couple of trips up there and took lots of pictures."

While the ship was made from a kit, it was a lot more difficult than it sounds.

"The whole thing is made of wood," Hyer said. "They just give you a block of wood and a set of plans."

The Jeremiah O'Brien made headlines a few years ago during the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

"She was one of the ships that participated in the D-Day landing in France," Hyer said. "On the anniversary back in 1994, they took her back to the beaches of France. She was the only ship that had been there."

If you haven't built a model in a while, you'll be pleased to know that some things haven't changed.

"You still use a lot of sandpaper and razor blades -- the same old tools," Hyer said. "And while they have epoxies and super glue today, you can still get model airplane cement."

Hyer's advice to novice model builders is to visit a hobby shop in the Valley. There you can pick a model building magazine that will put you in contact with clubs, organizations and other resources.

An understanding spouse is a good idea, too.

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