Model shipbuilder devoted to perfect re-creations

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  • Allen Daffern works on a model of the HMS Leopard in his home on Thursday, April 11. Daffern estimated that if he worked every day for eight hours, it would take him between seven and nine months to build one of his models. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Allen Daffern uses tweezers to put in the rigging of the HMS Leopard on Thursday, April 11, at his home in Kalispell. Daffern’s interest in boat building comes from history and aesthetics. “I’ve never built a ship I have no interest in,” said Daffern. The Leopard mainly served in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, however, it does make an appearance in American Naval history. In 1807 the captain of the Leopard asked permission of the USS Chesapeake to board and search for deserters. The Chesapeake declined, and the Leopard opened fire. The incident is known as the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair and nearly resulted in war. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Allen Daffern uses tweezers to put in the rigging of the HMS Leopard on Thursday, April 11, at his home in Kalispell. He said that rigging the ships is mostly mundane, but requires a lot of time and patience. On the HMS Victory Daffern estimated that there is at least a quarter of a mile of thread, possibly more.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    Detail of Allen Daffern’s replica of the HMS Leopard. Daffern said the Leopard was a 50-gun, fourth rate ship of the Royal Navy. The guns refer to the cannons, on this ship that would have been cannons firing different size balls by weight. The largest cannons, were the 18 pound guns, and occupied the lowest level of the ship. From there the canons increase by firing size to 12 pound, 9 pound, and 6 pound.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Detail of the figurehead of the HMS Leopard, the ship Allen Daffern is currently building at his home in Kalispell on April 11. The boats Daffern makes are not from a kit, they are almost entirely made by Daffern. There are some items he buys, like the cannons, and chains of different sizes, but he does all of the plank bending to builds the ship up from a shell. He starts with pictures and diagrams, not a box full of parts to assemble. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 5

    Detail of the figurehead of the HMS Victory, which is the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. The HMS Victory was ordered in 1758 and launched in 1765. It is the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission because in 1922 the ship was moved to Portsmouth, England to be preserved as a museum. It is therefore still serving today, Daffern made a point to visit the HMS Victory when he was in England. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 6

    Detail of the canvases of one of Allen Daffern’s ships. On the real ships the sails would not have been a single solid sheet, but rather would have been strips of material that had been sown together. To recreate that visually Daffern cuts the full size for the sail, but then adds stitching to create the look of pieces that had been sewn together. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 7

    Detail of the rigging of the HMS Victory. According to Allen Daffern, not all the sails are deployed at once; different sails are used at different times, so they had to be manned 24 hours a day. In this detail you can see one of the platforms that shows where sailors would have stood to raise and lower sails as commanded. Daffern is still deciding how he wants to display the HMS Victory. When I ship is “battle rigged” most of the sails are out of the action. He has created pretty much a full set of sails for the HMS Victory, but he also said that with model building, too many sails will overwhelm the ship and prevent a view from taking in the details. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 8

    One of the first decisions that has to be made with model ship building is determining the scale. For the HMS Victory Allen Daffern chose 1 to 73. Once that has been decided he’s able to research where to find the cannons and cannonballs that he does not make, in an appropriate size, and he beings doing the math that will determine the length of the ship and amount of rigging, the size of the myriad of details he will make by hand.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 9

    A detail of a piece of the HMS Victory that shows one of the cannon positions and the details sailors on a real ship would have had access to. When it comes to the HMS Victory, Daffern has made a number of smaller replicas that show of pieces of the ship, rather than the whole.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 10

    Detail of the America, a racing yacht and the first winner of the  53 mile regatta America’s Cup sailing competition in 1851.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 11

    Daffern uses tweezers to put in the rigging of the HMS Leopard. He said that rigging the ships requires time and patience. Daffern estimated that there is at least a quarter of a mile of thread on his model of the HMS Victory.

  • 12

    Detail of Allen Daffern’s replica of the HMS Leopard. Daffern said the Leopard was a 50-gun, fourth rate ship of the Royal Navy. The guns refer to the cannons, on this ship that would have been cannons firing different size balls by weight. The largest cannons, were the 18 pound guns, and occupied the lowest level of the ship. From there the canons increase by firing size to 12 pound, 9 pound, and 6 pound.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 13

    Detail of the stern lantern and the stern gallery of the HMS Leopard, a model ship being built by Allen Daffern, of Kalispell.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 14

    A book on rigging and some of the tools Allen Daffern uses to make his to scale model ships at his home in Kalispell.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 15

    (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 16

    Allen Daffern points out the rolled hammock replicas that are tied and hung at the top of a piece of the HMS Victory. When not in battle these is one of the places sailors would have slept.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 17

    Allen Daffern reduced the scale again, and create a detail of just one cannon of the HMS Victory.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 18

    Sometimes Allen Daffern will take a normally small detail, like one of the boats that would have been stored on the deck of the larger ship and will scale that up so one can really appreciate the detail. This is a long boat that would have been on a war ship. The long boat would carry 15-20 men. It would sail out from the ship, usually to a position where they could stay just out of sight, and would wait to row in to a bay after dark. One reason would have been to damage other war ships. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 19

    A look down at the Admiralty model of the USS Essex, a 38-gun frigate, by Allen Daffern.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 20

    A look down at the Admiralty model of the USS Essex, a 38-gun frigate, by Allen Daffern.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 21

    A look down at the Admiralty model of the USS Essex, a 38-gun frigate, by Allen Daffern.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 22

    Allen Daffern created this section of the HMS Victory to show only the mast and the what each of the inner decks would have contained. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 23

    Allen Daffern’s attention to detail is evident in the copper sheeting that covers the bottom of this ship. Daffern carefully tapped details into the copper to visually represent what would have been nails on the real ship. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 24

    A detail of the USS Essex by Allen Daffern.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 25

    Detail of the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship of the United States Navy. In the history of the ship it was lovingly given the nickname “Old Ironsides.” The ship was launched in 1797 and was named by President George Washington. The USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel that is still afloat. Like the HMS Victory, Old Ironsides was retired from active service in 1881, and became a museum. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Allen Daffern works on a model of the HMS Leopard in his home on Thursday, April 11. Daffern estimated that if he worked every day for eight hours, it would take him between seven and nine months to build one of his models. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Allen Daffern uses tweezers to put in the rigging of the HMS Leopard on Thursday, April 11, at his home in Kalispell. Daffern’s interest in boat building comes from history and aesthetics. “I’ve never built a ship I have no interest in,” said Daffern. The Leopard mainly served in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, however, it does make an appearance in American Naval history. In 1807 the captain of the Leopard asked permission of the USS Chesapeake to board and search for deserters. The Chesapeake declined, and the Leopard opened fire. The incident is known as the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair and nearly resulted in war. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Allen Daffern uses tweezers to put in the rigging of the HMS Leopard on Thursday, April 11, at his home in Kalispell. He said that rigging the ships is mostly mundane, but requires a lot of time and patience. On the HMS Victory Daffern estimated that there is at least a quarter of a mile of thread, possibly more.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    Detail of Allen Daffern’s replica of the HMS Leopard. Daffern said the Leopard was a 50-gun, fourth rate ship of the Royal Navy. The guns refer to the cannons, on this ship that would have been cannons firing different size balls by weight. The largest cannons, were the 18 pound guns, and occupied the lowest level of the ship. From there the canons increase by firing size to 12 pound, 9 pound, and 6 pound.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Detail of the figurehead of the HMS Leopard, the ship Allen Daffern is currently building at his home in Kalispell on April 11. The boats Daffern makes are not from a kit, they are almost entirely made by Daffern. There are some items he buys, like the cannons, and chains of different sizes, but he does all of the plank bending to builds the ship up from a shell. He starts with pictures and diagrams, not a box full of parts to assemble. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 5

    Detail of the figurehead of the HMS Victory, which is the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. The HMS Victory was ordered in 1758 and launched in 1765. It is the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission because in 1922 the ship was moved to Portsmouth, England to be preserved as a museum. It is therefore still serving today, Daffern made a point to visit the HMS Victory when he was in England. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 6

    Detail of the canvases of one of Allen Daffern’s ships. On the real ships the sails would not have been a single solid sheet, but rather would have been strips of material that had been sown together. To recreate that visually Daffern cuts the full size for the sail, but then adds stitching to create the look of pieces that had been sewn together. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 7

    Detail of the rigging of the HMS Victory. According to Allen Daffern, not all the sails are deployed at once; different sails are used at different times, so they had to be manned 24 hours a day. In this detail you can see one of the platforms that shows where sailors would have stood to raise and lower sails as commanded. Daffern is still deciding how he wants to display the HMS Victory. When I ship is “battle rigged” most of the sails are out of the action. He has created pretty much a full set of sails for the HMS Victory, but he also said that with model building, too many sails will overwhelm the ship and prevent a view from taking in the details. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 8

    One of the first decisions that has to be made with model ship building is determining the scale. For the HMS Victory Allen Daffern chose 1 to 73. Once that has been decided he’s able to research where to find the cannons and cannonballs that he does not make, in an appropriate size, and he beings doing the math that will determine the length of the ship and amount of rigging, the size of the myriad of details he will make by hand.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 9

    A detail of a piece of the HMS Victory that shows one of the cannon positions and the details sailors on a real ship would have had access to. When it comes to the HMS Victory, Daffern has made a number of smaller replicas that show of pieces of the ship, rather than the whole.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 10

    Detail of the America, a racing yacht and the first winner of the  53 mile regatta America’s Cup sailing competition in 1851.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 11

    Daffern uses tweezers to put in the rigging of the HMS Leopard. He said that rigging the ships requires time and patience. Daffern estimated that there is at least a quarter of a mile of thread on his model of the HMS Victory.

  • 12

    Detail of Allen Daffern’s replica of the HMS Leopard. Daffern said the Leopard was a 50-gun, fourth rate ship of the Royal Navy. The guns refer to the cannons, on this ship that would have been cannons firing different size balls by weight. The largest cannons, were the 18 pound guns, and occupied the lowest level of the ship. From there the canons increase by firing size to 12 pound, 9 pound, and 6 pound.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 13

    Detail of the stern lantern and the stern gallery of the HMS Leopard, a model ship being built by Allen Daffern, of Kalispell.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 14

    A book on rigging and some of the tools Allen Daffern uses to make his to scale model ships at his home in Kalispell.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 15

    (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 16

    Allen Daffern points out the rolled hammock replicas that are tied and hung at the top of a piece of the HMS Victory. When not in battle these is one of the places sailors would have slept.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 17

    Allen Daffern reduced the scale again, and create a detail of just one cannon of the HMS Victory.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 18

    Sometimes Allen Daffern will take a normally small detail, like one of the boats that would have been stored on the deck of the larger ship and will scale that up so one can really appreciate the detail. This is a long boat that would have been on a war ship. The long boat would carry 15-20 men. It would sail out from the ship, usually to a position where they could stay just out of sight, and would wait to row in to a bay after dark. One reason would have been to damage other war ships. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 19

    A look down at the Admiralty model of the USS Essex, a 38-gun frigate, by Allen Daffern.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 20

    A look down at the Admiralty model of the USS Essex, a 38-gun frigate, by Allen Daffern.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 21

    A look down at the Admiralty model of the USS Essex, a 38-gun frigate, by Allen Daffern.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 22

    Allen Daffern created this section of the HMS Victory to show only the mast and the what each of the inner decks would have contained. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 23

    Allen Daffern’s attention to detail is evident in the copper sheeting that covers the bottom of this ship. Daffern carefully tapped details into the copper to visually represent what would have been nails on the real ship. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 24

    A detail of the USS Essex by Allen Daffern.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 25

    Detail of the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship of the United States Navy. In the history of the ship it was lovingly given the nickname “Old Ironsides.” The ship was launched in 1797 and was named by President George Washington. The USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel that is still afloat. Like the HMS Victory, Old Ironsides was retired from active service in 1881, and became a museum. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

His silver Labrador dozing at his feet, Allen Daffern, 70, deftly repaired the rigging of the HMS Leopard in his workspace, preparing the second of two ships for their final voyage to the Kalispell Vet Center.

Daffern began his lifelong hobby of creating museum-quality model ships at the age of 16.

Since then, all but two of his pieces have found a place on display at his home or in the homes of family and friends.

His perfect scale models of Royal Navy ships, the HMS Victory and the HMS Leopard, had been on display in a museum in Norfolk, Virginia, for the last six years until they made the trip home four months ago.

A career Marine, Daffern retired in 1992 after 26 years of active military service and since then has devoted more time to his hobby, which, he said, helps divert his focus from memories of combat.

In addition to model shipbuilding, he’s maintained connections with fellow veterans through the Kalispell Vet Center, where he attends regular group meetings.

Around the time Daffern was scheduled to undergo surgery, he received news that the museum where his ships were displayed was to undergo renovations and his pieces would need to be stored or sent home.

Opting to have the ships returned, Daffern told his veterans group, which met in his hospital room after his surgery, that he had nowhere left to display them in his home.

The other members of his group left the meeting and began developing a plan of their own.

“Then they came back and told me, ‘This is what you’re going to do with those ships,’” Daffern said. “And I said, ‘oh, really?’”

Daffern agreed to have his ships permanently displayed at the vet center upon their return and contacted a friend in Washington to have custom, museum-quality cases made for the occasion. Wanting to contribute to the endeavor, his friend chose to donate his time and the cases to the center.

“I didn’t know this thing was going to turn into such a big deal,” he said. “I just thought, oh boy, I’ve got a place to put the ships.”

Daffern builds his ships to a standard of detailed perfection.

Books on every part and process of building the different models comprise a single-subject library above his desk.

“When I make ships, I make them mostly from scratch,” Daffern said. “I research everything I can about whatever part that I’m working on.”

Each element Daffern crafts by hand, including the individual planks, the masts, the lifeboats and the ornate figureheads at the bow.

He hand-paints the smallest windows and embosses the individual copper plates that cover the finished hulls like scales on a fish.

“If I had eight hours a day to work on, let’s say, one of the bigger ones, I’m going to say it would take probably seven months at least,” Daffern said.

Of course, he said, you’d still have to factor in bathroom breaks.

“I’m told I have the patience of Job,” he said. “We’re all passionate about something and this is where mine is.”

From the laying of the keel, to the raising of the ribs, to building upward deck by deck, Daffern assembles each of his ships based on the same process and steps used to create the ships after which they are modeled.

Daffern said his ships should be sea-worthy, but none have ever set sail.

“After all that time, effort, expertise, you want to go stick it in the lake?” he asked.

During the months each model takes to complete, Daffern said, he also learns much of the history wrapped up in the ships he replicates, including the crews’ superstitions, the inner workings of the gun decks and battles won and lost.

During their glory days, the Victory and Leopard prowled the seas, accompanying a grand naval fleet into battle.

The two opposing sides would face off, shooting at one another until one side ran out of ships, Daffern said.

The guns on the Victory fired 18-, 24- and 32-pound cannon balls, requiring between eight and 12 men to operate each gun.

“A 24-pound ball coming at you at Warp 7 through wood can cause a lot of damage,” Daffern said.

Far from the threat of battle, at least 10 other models stand among other antiques and treasures that decorate Daffern’s home.

Uninterested in profiting from his hobby, Daffern said many of the ships he’s made over the years he’s given away to friends and family.

“If I sold it then it would be gone,” he said. “That’s not me. I build them because I like it, I enjoy it.”

The Victory and Leopard made their final voyage to the vet center on Friday, escorted by an caravan of friends and veterans who carried the ships and their cases from Daffern’s house to their new permanent home.

Daffern hopes the ships will inspire and encourage veterans to discover new hobbies or seek help through the various resources and groups offered at the center.

For more information about the Kalispell Vet Center call 406-257-7308; for assistance after hours, weekends and holidays call 877-927-8387.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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