LUMBERTON — David Bullock has spent thousands of hours meticulously crafting parts for and constructing model ships since retiring from his engineering career.
Using only model plans — no pre-fabricated kit for him — Bullock prepares to spend an average of about 2,000 hours on a single model ship. That would be nearly three months working 24 hours a day straight, but he works in shifts of two hours or so at a time, taking as long as two years to finish a model. He keeps computer records of all of the hours he spends working on a particular model.
It’s an addiction, said Bullock, a Lumberton native who spent most of his adult life away from his hometown but returned after retiring.
“I just love creating things. If it had not been this, it would have been painting or some form of building furniture,” Bullock said. “This is a unique art. This shop is my place of peace.”
Bullock has restored damaged model ships for others, but he does not sell his models, nor does he accept commissions for construction. His ships belong to his children and grandchildren, he said.
In his woodworking shop behind his house, Bullock takes wooden boards and begins the process, which involves carefully carving all of intricate pieces that help define the authenticity of the models.
He retired nearly 20 years ago from a career in engineering, and later in human resources. His love of woodworking led to an interest in model shipbuilding. He also founded, then later sold, Regal Poker Tables, which he described as a high-end product for poker players. He kept one table for himself, which he and his friends use every Tuesday night.
Bullock graduated from Lumberton High School in 1961, so several years ago, as a former Pirate, he built his largest ship ever, and dedicated it to Tunney Brooks, a longtime coach and athletics director at the high school. The ship’s namesake, though ill, lived long enough to see the ship dedicated. Bullock built another, smaller, pirate ship for Brooks’ longtime colleague, Finley Read, who also coached for many years at the high school
The model ship is “docked” at Lumberton High School.
“It’s a beautiful ship. It has the school colors,” Read said. “It took a whole lot of labor to do that. I have one at my house on a smaller scale. It is very meticulously made and made with affection. I certainly appreciated the honor he did me and I know Mr. Brooks did before he passed. He appreciated that the ship had been made in his honor. We were just very pleased that one of our former athletes would think enough of the school to build these ships.”
Read described the ships as works of art.
“You can tell it was done with David’s heart,” Read said.
Of his model the HMS Victory, Bullock said he invested about 1,000 hours just in the hand carvings, which he performs with scalpels.
“This one is unique. To our knowledge, there are probably less than five ship modelers in the world that have ever built this ship from scratch. It’s a ship that very few modelers even buy a kit for because the kit is expensive,” he said. “It’s probably the most advanced model on earth to build. It’s almost an act of insanity to take on doing all of these carvings.”
He is currently working on a model of the USS Constitution.
“I’ve saved this as my last model to ever build because of the history of it and because it is our nation’s ship,” Bullock said.
He has already put 725 hours in the ship.
Bullock said he is often asked how many pieces go into a single model, and explains that the answer is not easy. He pointed to the model Ship of the Land, a 17th century British vessel. The model’s crow’s nest includes more than 100 parts, he said.
“For me to answer that question, there’s no possible way. There are probably several thousand, maybe 10,000, individual parts to that ship where there may be 1,000 parts for The Mayflower,” he said.
Bullock said he would like to start a class for people who are interested in building model ships. Those who are interested can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.