At 40 feet long, the President Cleveland II isn’t a large ocean liner by any standard.
But as a model of an ocean liner, it’s Titanic in size.
For the past five months, model train builder Lindsay Schroeppel has been piecing together the 1/15 scale ship model inside Tacoma’s Sanford and Son Antiques, 747 Broadway, with the help of Alan Gorsuch, the store’s owner.
The men didn’t start the project. They are just the latest caretakers in a line that stretches back half a century and high into the Cascade foothills.
Donald Werner had been a model maker since he was a boy. In 1962, the cedar shake mill worker decided he wanted to make a model bigger than he had ever made. Bigger than just about anyone had ever made. He was 43 at the time.
“I just like ship models,” he recalled in a December 1982 story in The News Tribune, “I decided to build one a little bigger...”
Werner began the project in a wooden shed on his Mineral property. And there it stayed.
After 20 years of work, he told the newspaper, he was about 75 percent finished with the project, and estimated he had another year and half to go.
He said he selected the President Cleveland II because he wanted a ship that carried both cargo and passengers – a mix that was quickly becoming extinct on the high seas.
The real President Cleveland II was owned and operated by American Presidents Line. The ship – 609 feet long with a beam of 75 feet – was launched in 1947 in Alameda, Calif.
The ship, which traveled among California, Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong and Manila, could hold 379 first class and 200 economy passengers and sailed at a speed of 20 knots. A round-trip fare in 1961 from San Francisco to Hong Kong was $594.
The full-size ocean liner was sold in 1973, when APL got out of the passenger business, and was scrapped the following year in Taiwan. APL still operates today as a container shipping line.
When Werner started the project in 1962 APL sent him blueprints and photos to aid in its construction. Werner’s wife, Mary, travelled to San Francisco in 1972 to photograph the ship while it was in port.
The model has two large smokestacks with the APL logo but Werner created details as small as individual rivets on the ship’s hull using thousands of straight pins. Handrails, barely thicker than a needle, line the deck. Orange lifesavers, closer in size to the candy than the real thing, hang next to doors. A swimming pool the size of a bathroom sink is ready for water – or the faux version of it.
Werner never finished the project because of ill health, his daughter Judy Jacobson said. He died in 1997.
When his family sold the Mineral property in 2007 they wanted to find a home for the model.
Jacobson found maritime enthusiast Robin Paterson, who carefully cut the model into three pieces to move it out of the shed and into storage at the Foss Waterway Seaport. He kept smaller parts at his Gig Harbor home.
“He hoped to find some modelers to put it together and they could display it there,” said his wife, Kae.
But Paterson never located any modelers, and when the Seaport began to remodel its space earlier this year it found it no longer had the room for the ship.
Joseph Govednik, the curator of collections for the Seaport, said most ship models are about 2 or 3 feet long.
“Once you get larger than that they get much more rare,” he said.
In addition to the room the model was taking up, the real President Cleveland II had no Puget Sound connections, Govednik said, so the Seaport put the model up for free on Craigslist in April.
“It was a ‘Please come and rescue this model’ ad,” Govednik said. “We wanted it to go to someone with expertise.”
Paterson, who was ill with cancer at the time, was happy the model would survive.
“He was absolutely delighted that somebody wanted it,” Kae Paterson said.
Her husband died in June after Schroeppel and Gorsuch took possession of the ship.
Schroeppel, 43, has decades of experience building model trains, ships and airplanes. Gorsuch just thought the huge model “had tons of potential and was an amazing find.”
Currently, it’s taking up almost the entire length of Gorsuch’s auction room.
“From what I can see, it’s one of the larger scale model ships in the world,” Schroeppel said. He’s found two in Europe that are bigger and another built for James Cameron’s “Titanic” movie.
The blueprints Werner used were lost, so Schroeppel went to San Francisco in late August to get new ones from the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
It took Schroeppel a month to reassemble the model in to one piece.
“I had a pile of parts and no drawings,” he said.
Old cigar boxes hold parts Werner made but never installed: winches, portholes and pullies.
“So far I’ve figured out where everything goes with the parts that I have,” Schroeppel said.
He will have to make more parts to match the realistic detail Werner laid down, including lifeboats.
He seems unfazed.
“As a model railroader you end up scratch building anything,” Schroeppel said.
Despite a half century of time passing, Schroeppel said, model-making techniques haven’t changed much. Except for one thing: lasers. If he buys a laser cutter, the project will go much faster, he said.
“My goal is to complete his vision and have the same level of detail,” Schroeppel said.
He speculates that APL will want the model for its corporate headquarters – a hope Werner had as well.
Asked about the idea by The News Tribune, APL spokeswoman Pamela Pung at the company’s headquarters in Singapore responded: “Mr. Schroeppel is welcome to contact us when the model is complete and we can explore the possibilities together.”
If that doesn’t work out, Schroeppel just wants it to go somewhere the public can appreciate it.
He estimates the model is about 80 percent complete. He figures he has about two years left to go on it.
Which is, of course, almost exactly what the model’s creator said.
Thirty years ago.