Model passion pays tribute to submarines


Dwayne Hill’s fleet of vessels includes: top row – HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Barrie, USS Lake, USS MacDonough; middle row – USSR Kilo, USSR Alfa, German U-69, German U-873, German U-36, USS Shark, HMS Tally-Ho; front – HMCS Rainbow, CC-2, HMCS Windsor and HMCS Okanagan.

When the Royal Canadian Navy celebrated its submarine centenary in 2014, one submarine enthusiast offered up a very tangible lesson in Canada’s boat history.

Remote control model builder Dwayne Hill has built from scratch 1/48 scale models of every class of submarine to enter Canada’s service.

During 2014, Hill visited 15 schools near his Brossard, Quebec, home with his detailed recreations, and talked to students about Canada’s submarine history.

“It was very well received,” he says. “In two cases, I was asked to stay to present to more classes throughout the day.”

Not only are they perfect replicas of their full size predecessors, constructed from actual vessel plans right down to the tiniest details, the remote controlled models also do the same things the real boats did, such as dive, surface and fire torpedoes, albeit in much smaller bodies of water.

Hill’s collection started 30 years ago with submarine USS Tang.

He didn’t know it at the time, but Tang was the same class of vessel as HMCS Rainbow, which was originally an American submarine sold to Canada in 1968. When he discovered that in 2003, he made the necessary modifications, repainted it and Tang became Rainbow.

Not surprisingly, it’s his favourite model, even though it was among the most difficult to build. It took three attempts to properly form the hull out of Styrofoam and fiberglass, and learn how to replicate various parts from drawings and photographs.

“If I had the pick of the 19 that I have, Rainbow would be my choice. It’s a super nice boat. It runs very well, lasts a long time in the water. It operates nicely,” he says.

After the success of his first build, Hill honed his skills as a model builder with the help of fellow enthusiast Ted Scrivens.

The pair eventually began building in tandem, modeling sister ships from various classes of Canadian naval vessels.

In addition to building 12 surface ships from Canada, the U.S. and Britain, Hill sculpted models of submarines HMCS Windsor (Victoria Class), HMCS Okanagan (Oberon Class) and U-190, a Second World War German submarine that was captured by Canada and put into service at home after the war.

In 2010, during the Royal Canadian Navy’s 100th anniversary, he took his models to various shows; it was at that time someone mentioned the upcoming submarine centenary.

“I thought I’ve got four of the five classes. Why don’t I build the fifth one?” he says.

The task proved to be more difficult than he anticipated. He spent months looking for the plans of Canada’s first two submarines, CC-1 and CC-2, which were purchased in 1914. Hill checked every resource at his disposal, but kept coming up empty-handed.

Originally built for Chile at a Seattle shipyard, the two submarines were instead sold to Canada.

“When the boats were sold to Canada, it’s like the plans up and went away,” says Hill. “When I started looking for the initial builders drawings I went from Seattle to Puget Sound to Connecticut, to England, to Montreal, only to find out that nobody really knew where the plans were.

“I eventually got my hands on a chap, who was 93 at the time, who basically built the plans for me based on drawings. [The submarines] were built in the same dockyard where he used to work. He sent them to me in December 2013 and I took four months to build it.”

Without those plans, Hill says, it would have taken much longer to build CC-2 and the result would not have been as accurate.

Once completed, he demonstrated the boats in action for his school presentations.

Because they are fully functional vessels, both the structure and the radio control components must be water tight. Hill says he goes a little overboard making his vessels robust, but it ensures the submarines will survive a few days at the bottom of the lake if something goes wrong.

“I’ve lost a couple of submarines for a week, week and a half. But when I do finally find them and bring them up there’s nothing wrong with them, other than the battery ran out of power,” he says.

Operating his vessels is done by a remote control kit that runs at 72 or 75 mHtz, so the signal will pass through water. The kit includes a handheld transmitter and a receiver that fits neatly into a water-tight compartment on each vessel.

The remote control kits cost $400 to $500 each, and the Styrofoam, fiberglass, plastic and brass needed to fabricate each boat costs another $400 to $500. It’s a significant investment, but no more than most other people’s hobbies.

Hill isn’t sure why he’s so interested in warships, particularly from the Second World War, but it’s a passion he’s had for as long as he can remember.

“I used to love reading the stories of what happened during the war, how these guys went out. They were passionate about what they were doing, understanding what they had to do against Germany to make sure we were free.”

In his early teens, he bought and assembled several plastic kit models. But at age 25, when he discovered the remote control models he now builds, there was no looking back.

His home is now a tribute to his passion with about 1,000 books and 600 videos on the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as more contemporary conflicts.

“As I build my models, if any of those videos or books talks about or shows the boat, that’s what I use to do the details,” he says.

Hill’s collection has made an impression on several museums, and since his 14-year-old son prefers the action of hockey to his dad’s passion for models, he says his collection will eventually be donated to them.

But for now, Hill, who is 55, has two more projects on the go as he looks forward to retirement from his career with Bell Canada at the end of 2015.

He already has the hulls built for Castle Class Corvette HMCS St. Thomas and River Class Frigate Thetford Mines, two projects that will keep him busy and happy for at least another couple of years.

Carmel Ecker
Staff writer

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