Ninety-year-old Hixson makes crazy fast model boats
March 13—For 90-year-old Bud Parks, building model ships is more than a hobby. “It saved my life,” says Parks, a widower whose wife, Mackie, died in 2020.
For at least 25 years, Parks has immersed himself in the art of building radio-controlled wooden boats. Some are up to 48 inches long and can shoot through water at 60 mph.
He sometimes races his handmade boats at Camping World Pond in East Ridge, where the Chattanooga Model Boat Club holds competitions.
Parks has a workshop next to her apartment in the Morning Pointe Senior Living community in Hixson. When he noticed that a laundry room was essentially going unused, he asked if he could build his boats there. The answer was “yes”. Now, the halls of the Morning Pointe location are lined with elegant mahogany and maple boats from Parks. Most are scale models of real 19th century boats.
There is a model of the “Typhoon”, a mahogany boat built for Edsel Ford in the late 1800s. There is a replica of the “George Washington” tug launched in 1890 to work on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. And there’s even a sternwheeler called the “Myrtle Corey”, which was a tug converted into a pleasure boat.
Parks is a retired engineer who previously worked at the Combustion Engineering plant here. Later, he worked as a property manager in downtown Chattanooga for Independent Health Properties.
After retiring from Combustion Engineering, Parks said he and Mackie spent years enjoying their own boat, traveling along the Tennessee River in their Celebrity Express Cruiser. They would travel from Fort. Loudon, Tennessee, north, south to Scottsboro, Alabama, Parks said in an interview.
When his wife could no longer travel due to health issues, Parks sought another hobby.
“I started [building models] when my wife and I had to stop boating,” he said. “It gave me an outlet to continue my love of boats.
Parks says it takes two to six months, working several hours a day, to complete one of his models. He works from kits, most of which cost less than $1,000.
There is a process. All boats start with a keel assembly, then plywood planks are added to build the hull. Then strips of wood, usually maple or mahogany, are applied to the hull and the boats are finished with layers of polyurethane.
“The models come in boxes about 3 feet long, and they’re filled with lots of wood and instructions,” he said. “You have to be patient and correct your mistakes as you go along. Some boats are fine, all the way, without problems. Others, I feel like everything I’m doing is going wrong.”
Parks says with age comes patience. As a young man, he would never have been able to overcome mistakes, he said.
“In my youth, I would have thrown it on the ground and stomped on it,” he said.
But when all is well, he enters a boat building area, Parks says, and the hours pass.
“I can get involved in any of these [boats] and shut down the world,” he says.
Life Stories is published on Mondays. Contact Mark Kennedy at [email protected] or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPcolumnist.