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A Model Citizen

Shadyside man enjoys boat building in miniature

T-L Photos/SHELLEY HANSON BOB WEST of Shadyside stands beside the tow boat model he built at his shop for his neighbor. Handmade of Styrofoam and plastic the boat weighs 25 pounds and is 3 feet long.

SHADYSIDE — As a kid growing up on Water Street in Moundsville, Bob West and his friends and cousins did things like play in the shallow Ohio River water and hop onto freight cars heading for Cameron.

He didn’t know much about the different types of boats that went up and down the river, but it likely helped him create the fantastic models he has meticulously worked on during the past few years.

The most recent is a tow boat — the kind used to push coal on the river. It will soon be a gift to his neighbor, Maxine Wells, who for many years worked as a cook on two different tow boats with her late husband.

West said it took him about two years to complete the model,

“It’s 3 feet long and weighs 25 pounds. It’s made out of Styrofoam and plastic, but you would never know it looking at it,” he said. “She’s really impressed with it.”

The hull’s Styrofoam was covered in a liquid plastic called Bondo that once hardened was sanded down to make smooth.

He then was able to paint it afterward.

Details such as the brass handrails were made in his machine shop beside his home in Shadyside.

West said he never liked using shipbuilding kits, but instead relies on his imagination, what he has observed and with the most recent boat, a photo of a tow boat similar to one that Wells worked on.

Wells is most pleased with how the model turned out.

“For someone who’s never been on a boat before and just used a picture, it’s fabulous,” Wells said.

She pointed out how everything on the boat was handmade by West except for some tiny life preservers and a tiny flag on top.

West said Wells was helpful during the process as she would describe to him details on real tow boats and what their purpose was.

West said at one point he got a close-up view of the underbelly of such a boat being repaired at Bellaire Harbor. This helped him create lifelike propellers underneath the boat.

West said he was happy to make the model for West as it is a good hobby to pursue during his retirement.

“It gives me something to do. I’m retired and I learn new things,” he said.

West retired from the Jim Walters Resources coal mine in Alabama.

He started working there in 1980 after he was laid off from the Valley Camp coal mine in Marshall County. Walters said he didn’t want to sit around and collect unemployment while waiting for a new job to come about so he researched for new coal mines across the country at the library.

He discovered the Alabama outfit was a new one looking for experienced miners. He called them up, got the job and worked underground for 26 years and the remainder above ground delivering supplies until 2002.

Before making the tow boat, West made a large wooden sailboat, named the “Sea Traveler,” that took about three years to create. He noted the process was much more intense as the hard wood had to be steamed and bent into shape. He made his own tiny ropes and the sails were even made from one of his white dress shirts.

He also handmade all the tiny wooden and brass and metal details in his shop. Just a few items he purchased — two lifeboats and two resident mice, one of which can be seen above deck. In the hull there are some items that can be barely seen including a chest of gold and supply boxes.

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