BARRY’S BAY – Creating miniature versions of historic planes, boats and cars is a dying art form. But it has gotten one Barry’s Bay man through one of the darkest times of his life.
Dan Bates, 55, does not have a lot of material possessions. He lives in a modest home along Siberia Road with his new puppy.
The outgoing man, who receives Ontario Disability payments, underwent major surgery last year to remove a large, malignant tumour from his side.
Recovering was difficult. As the days turned to weeks, he eventually got stronger and turned to an art form to help him get through it all.
“I was going through a tough time with the cancer,” he said. “I was listless. I lost my appetite. I had no interest in anything. All I would do is get up and go back to sleep.”
After dusting off some model kits, he got to work constructing scaled-down sailboats, historic cars and even the infamous Avro Arrow.
“Because I don’t work, I’ve started playing with this stuff,” he said, pointing to a work desk full of different models.
He said he firmly believes that the art form helped him bounce back and recover.
Bates was born in Trenton, Ontario and lived in Ottawa. He only has his Grade 8 education, but he is not ashamed to admit it.
“People underestimate people with lower educations,” he noted.
Throughout his life, he has held a variety of jobs, from being a bus boy at the Chateau Laurier to working as a steel worker. Bates estimates that he has held more than 54 jobs over 30 years.
Life was not a cakewalk for Bates. He lived on the streets for some time as a teenager. But the fond memories that he does have of his youth usually involve building models.
He started the art form back in the 1960’s or early 1970’s, when his uncle in Trenton sent him a model kit every year for Christmas.
Bates’ very first kit was a CF-101 Voodoo airplane, which was also known as a ‘widow maker’ because it had a history of crashing.
He remembers his experience putting together that very first kit.
“It was a mess,” Bates chuckled. “At that time, I was young and it was like grab a tube of glue, a bottle of paint and have at it… Slap it together as fast as possible to get an end result.”
But the most memorable model he received from his uncle was a 747 plane with a space shuttle on top.
He has made dozens, if not hundreds, of models over the years. Bates has gone from purchasing kits to actually building from scratch. In fact, his all-time favourite is a Blue Nose sailboat, which he made years ago by hand.
“Modeling is a distinct society but it’s becoming an extinct society,” he said. “You have an opportunity to work with your hands and you have the opportunity to look at something that you have built with your own hands.
He said it is not like a video game, where a player defeats the game and goes out and buys another.
“You actually have something left over to show [for] your work, to show what you have done,” Bates said.
He noted that there are model builders in the area, like Madawaska’s Morris Towns, who built the large-scale Avro Arrow that sits in the downtown Zurakowski Park. But Bates sticks to the small scale models instead.
While it can be a rewarding craft, Bates said that it could also be an expensive one. For example, a good-quality kit could cost $50. The paint is around $2.50 each. Paint brushes, breathing apparatus’, magnifiers, putties, glue and other tools make the hobby quite costly.
To overcome this barrier, Bates has gotten creative.
Story continues in the June 6 issue of The Valley Gazette.