The hull of Bullock’s replica of the H.M.S. Victory — at 30 inches long it is being built to a scale of one to 98 — had almost been completed and its guns were poking out of about 100 ports. If his shop were an ocean, it would be easy to imagine a small scale naval battle with two of the other ships Bullock had built, a smaller version he completed 30 years ago and a version of La Couronne, a ship he completed recently which originally sailed in 1636.
Bullock’s first built a model ship 37 years ago when his son was 10 and he bought a plastic kit of the H.M.S. Victory. When his son lost interest in the project, Bullock replicated all of the plastic model’s pieces in wood and finished the model himself.
He returned to model shipbuilding about a year ago after retiring for a third time, first as an industrial engineer, and from two businesses he started in retirement. La Couronne was his first project.
“I enjoyed the heck out of it, but I didn’t do a very good job,” Bullock said. “After I was finished, I had a look at it and said, ‘I can do that better.’”
Bullard has devoted his time since Jan. 1 to his current H.M.S. Victory project. The model is a combinations of items he has assembled and pieces taken from store-bought kits. He estimates he will have to work another couple of months to complete the project, with the most difficult work ahead — the rigging and sails.
The H.M.S. Victory was Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson’s flagship, a 260-foot ship that fought in the battle of Trafalgar, an important naval battle in 1805 between the British fleet and Napoleon’s navy of French and Spanish vessels. It was in that battle that Lord Nelson, a national hero in Britain, was shot dead by a French sniper on the deck of the H.M.S. Victory.
Although Bullock said he appreciates the history of the ship, the complexity of the model, the wood-working challenge and the time it occupies are his motivations. Although the ship requires great detail — such as ropes holding the guns in place on the top decks and added embellishments over the gun ports that Bullock designed using AutoCAD, a powerful engineering design tool — not everything is exact.
“I’m not one of those modelers who go out of the way to create pure history ... The Victory has black paint,” Bullock said. “I use a walnut stain. I’m just not going to paint over beautiful wood.”
The wood for the project has come from unlikely sources. The deck is made from tongue depressors bought from Walmart. Wood for one of Bullock’s other ships is taken from venetian blinds made from Bass wood.
He usually starts building at 7 a.m. and only takes a couple of breaks for household chores and lunch during the day. At night he uploads photos of his project to the Internet to correspond with other model shipbuilders, with whom he shares methods.
“There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than to walk in here and make little sticks out of big sticks,” Bullock said.
If there are tools available to help modelers, Bullock doesn’t use them or has cast most of them aside and made his own, using his experience owning a business creating custom poker tables and his experience owning an art gallery. He also has experience in woodworking, creating large pieces like bedroom suites and entertainment centers.
“My kids’ homes are like Dave’s Museum of Woodworking,” Bullock said.
While some of his tools are clever and simple, the copper plating below the waterline of his model was designed in AutoCAD. The lines are precisely drawn and he sends the file to a friend who does laser etching. The window grating on Bullock’s earlier project, La Couronne, was designed in AutoCAD, but printed on a manilla envelope.
The purpose to one day have a legacy. After being told that his grandson expects to be the owner of one of his ships one day, Bullock decided he needed at least three ships in that navy.
“I’ve built most everything I’ve built in oak,” he said. “Unless they sell it on eBay, they will be around for my grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids.”