It is said a man’s destiny is a book pre written. Harold Hahn lent me a book he had written titled The Memoirs of Harold Maxwell Hahn. On the first page Harold wrote “a persons life story actually begins well before he/she is born. Family genetics passed down from mother and father determine much of what will happen in the new life that has yet to make an appearance. In addition, the life experiences of the parents both before and after the birth can have a profound effect on the child’s development.” How very true this is. Meeting Harold Hahn is not seeing just one man but a collimation of generations. He comes from a lineage of teachers, artists, business men and architects. After reading the memoirs, I came away with the feeling Harold was a hard driving man seeking perfection, and that he has achieved it. To receive less than an “A” in any school or college course was not good enough and he felt the need to do better. Harold’s passion was art, but, as all family men know the need to support and raise a family comes first, so art remained a life’s passion and engineering became his career. Walking into his house is like walking into an art gallery with his paintings and etchings framed and hanging on every wall. Four of his model ships are displayed in various rooms. The very house itself is a result of additions and home improvements designed and carried out by Harold.
Harold ended The Memoirs of Harold Maxwell Hahn with chapter 26 in 1981 at the age of 82. It is titled “The last twenty years and a Look to the future.” He does state he just ran out of steam which at the age of 82 and with twenty years of writing, model building, etching and photography behind him he is entitled to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor and what he called his obsession with model ship building. Harold just celebrated his 87th birthday and he is doing remarkably well. In chapter 26 of his memoirs, his first book the colonial schooner 1763-1775 was a success and a second book ships of the American Revolution was in the works. By 1988 the first book was out of print but the second book was published the same year. Five years later it also went out of print and his books were no longer available. This raised concern with Harold, with no books available to ship modelers, it was possible the sales of plans would die out and his system for building models and his work would slip into obscurity. Finally after contact with a local printer Harold self published the second edition of the colonial Schooner book and a second edition was published of the book, Ships of the American Revolution. The two books and the collection of plans were now set to continue into the future.
Harold no longer attended conferences nor entered models into contests, his days of lectures were past, no articles appeared in journals. Harold Hahn became a man of mystery, where did he go? what happened to him? in fact is he still alive? All questions were answered when in 2000 Harold Hahn and his family were invited by the Ship Modelers Association of California to the model exhibition on the Queen Mary for special recognition. This was the last public appearance of Harold Hahn and years have now passed.
I called this writing “chapter 27”. It is the future which Harold included in the title of chapter 26. Before we continue allow me to introduce myself and my connection with Harold Hahn. My interest in model building fades so far back into childhood you might as well call it a life long ambition. My father’s influences played a big part in my interest of model making. He was an avid model railroader modeling buildings, bridges, entire towns in every detail, mountains and lakes. Along with model railroads he was a professional photographer, engraver, artist and lithographer. My interest in model ship building led me to the Inland Seas Maritime Museum and their model club. This is where I met Robert Bruckshaw who was building models for the Smithsonian and Harold Hahn who at this time was well established as a leading model ship builder. At this point in time I was building model ship kits. It was Bob Bruckshaw who took me under his wing and taught me how to draft ship plans and build from scratch. Working in the printing trades as a lithographer, I was well acquainted with the tools and skills of drafting and layout. It was the knowledge of ship design and drafting plans that Bob provided. I caught on fast and in a very short time was able to select any modeling subject and develop working plans. In our club, at its peak, we had 132 members and it was brought up to buy wood in bulk for modeling projects. Many lumber companies did not stock some of the more exotic wood model ship builders would like to have used. The reason there was such a low demand for the wood that it sat around for long periods of time in their stock. So if all the members put in an order for wood perhaps we could persuade a lumber supplier to order the wood for us. I was put in charge of the wood supply for the club and began to research the market. In time I collected enough different woods that Bob Bruckshaw suggested I should take the wood collection to a NRG conference and sell it there. That started a 15 year run of packing up a load of wood and going to NRG conferences. At one conference I met a man Milt Roth who started a mail order ship model supply company. Milt saw this void between the hobby kits being offered and the serious scratch builders. I said to Milt our club members were buying kits, throwing out the wood and having me mill quality replacement wood. What if a high quality plank on frame kit could be produced? The next time I saw Harold Hahn I asked him if I could make a kit from his plans, the answer was no. Harold felt his work and his plans were for the more advanced model builders, to make a hobby kit would sort of degrade the work. The problem at hand for a model builder was the need for machines to mill out the wood which this is expensive investment for someone wanting to build just a model or two. Also having to locate the exotic wood in small amounts. This gave rise to the concept of a semi-kit. The builder would be provided with the high quality milled wood, laser cut framing jig and a few select parts along with a set of Harold’s plans. Harold agreed with the idea and the timbering set was born. The timbering set started a 20 year business relation with Harold Hahn his plans and my milled wood and laser cut wood parts. Our relationship was confined to letter writing, which contained a please send me such and such set of plans with a few personal note here and there.
I did achieve a reasonable proficiency in model building, won awards and perfected the art of drafting plans, my only regret was not asking to become a student of this master builder. I guess I just didn’t want to make a pest of myself but in hind sight, I should have.
What prompted this web site was a flood of questions for more details on how Harold did what he did. Having been a part of ship modeling for the past 37 years I have seen bodies of work spit up, sold or lost. Others are buried in museum archives were only the most diligent of researchers can find them. A book is a book, you can find them on Ebay and at book dealers everywhere, the value being that of the book. A mans personal library holds a much greater value. It shows what he was seeking and what knowledge he gleaned from the many pages. A personal library reflects a persons quest for knowledge.
Harold is a man of extreme detail he kept a diary of everything he did. What should become of years of work, record keeping, research material and the hundreds of unpublished photographs taken and developed by Harold’s sister in a darkroom that Harold built? I can’t say.
I have the privilege and honor of sitting down with Harold Hahn and talking to him. As much as Harold is willing to share I will document, record and publish here on the world wide web for builders all over the world to study his work and his achievements.
When I asked Harold if his sons Chris or Mike picked up model ship building the answer was “nope, it begins and ends with me” indeed it began with Harold Hahn but I see no end in sight as model shipwrights all over the world continue to study, in the smallest of details, the man and his art.