Model Builder Brings The Ocean Home



Richard Mitchell is a man who loves the water. The former Navy petty officer has, in a way, brought the ocean home by building replicas of the vessels that charge his imagination.

A model he built of the ill-fated Swedish flagship, Wasa, sails through the Mitchell living room. A replica of the King of the Mississippi, a river showboat, complete with working paddle wheel, moves sedately though a bedroom.

There are six other model vessels in cases about the Mitchell home. They were part of the Western Ship Model Exhibit displayed on the Queen Mary in 1998.

"I haven't built one lately because there is no place to put them anymore," Mitchell said.

Boats were part of Mitchell's childhood.

Mitchell recalls spending time on his uncle's boat before that uncle was killed serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

From 1951 to 1955, Mitchell served as a communications technician for the Navy. He served for two years in Japan and a year in Maine.

The 3rd class Petty Officer used to write feature articles for a Navy newsletter, Comm Fax.

"There was lots to do and see in Japan, so I used to travel around and write about it," he said.

Writing was not his duty, but "it kept me busy and out of trouble."

The first article he had published outside Comm Fax was a piece of short fiction based on the movie "The 47 Ronin."

Japan's Preview magazine paid him 365 yen for the story.

"I got paid a dollar," he said.

Mitchell worked for the aerospace industry, then in materials management for health care after he was honorably discharged from the Navy.

A gift for carpentry also runs in the family. His grandfather built houses when he immigrated to the United States from Lithuania.

In his grandfather's footsteps, Mitchell built the last few homes he lived in.

He had some time on his hands one day in 1979 when he decided to build a model of a 17th Century French Man of War, based on Le Soleil Royal.

Mitchell's father built a similar model in the 1940s and it was displayed on the center of the mantel in their home.

The hull of that first model was solid.

Subsequent models, such as the Sharpshooter, a Gloucester schooner, Mitchell built plank by plank from the keel up.

Mitchell builds from a kit, but he must use the design to cut out the materials in the precise shape he needs.

He also built models of the last clipper ships, The Cutty Sark and The Flying Cloud.

Building big models like the Wasa takes time -- around 2,500 hours.

Even though Mitchell would like to sell his ships, he knows he will not get his time back in money.

He finds peace in the challenge of painting miniature cannons, sewing authentic canvas sails and making Plexiglas cases to protect his labors of love.

"You get so engrossed in what you are doing, you forget your problems," Mitchell said.


Name: Richard Mitchell

Hometown: Kearny, N.J.

Age: 75

Occupation: Retired

What brought you to Payson? My wife, Francis, and I like small towns. We searched all around -- Prescott, Strawberry and Payson. We like the quiet life in Payson.

What's the best advice you've ever been given? My father used to say, "Work hard, do a good job and everything will fall into place." But now, the workplace isn't like that. If you don't produce, out you go. Quality is secondary.

Three things you want people to know about you: I have model ships for sale, and, according to Francis, her husband is "quiet and a good guy."

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? I dreamed of being an airplane pilot or a baseball player.


Books: Mostly biographies and autobiographies

Song: "Moonlight Serenade"

Movie: "The Glenn Miller Story"

Food: Everything but fish

Leisure activity: Puzzles

Vacation spot: I don't know. We have been to eight countries and all 50 states.

Hobby: We love to go on cruises. Our son lives in Juneau, Alaska, so we always have a good excuse to take a cruise.

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