John Evenhouse Sr. works on a replica of the HMS Bounty in his living room, where he has his tools spread out on a coffee table. GARY S. HATRICK
by gary s. hatrick Tribune correspondent
Published: July 21, 2013
Updated: July 22, 2013 at 12:23 PM
DADE CITY - John Evenhouse Sr. comes from a long line of shipbuilders. From the 1700s to the 1900s, the Evenhouses were shipbuilders in Holland. Evenhouse has returned to the family's shipbuilding heritage - but on a smaller scale. Evenhouse, 71, has been building historical model boats since 1997. It started as something to keep him busy and to keep his mother's mind occupied as she watched.
"My mother fell and broke her hip, and I became her primary health care provider," he said. "A friend of mine got a ship for Christmas, and he didn't know what to do with it so he gave it to me and said, 'Here, deal with it.' So I built it, and my attorney saw it and he said, 'Hey! I love it!" So he was the first one [to buy a model ship from Evenhouse]. Since then I've built about 15 of them." Building model ships is no afternoon pastime. It takes months of work. "It takes basically the same amount of time to build a real ship," he said. He is working on a kit model of the HMS Bounty. "I've been working on it for about three months and I hope to get it finished before the end of July," he said. Evenhouse does his work in his living room where he has his tools spread out on a coffee table in front of his couch. The Bounty waits for him to apply ratlines, the small ropes fastened horizontally to the shrouds of a ship that form a ladder for going aloft to a platform or to the top of a mast. The HMS Bounty is from a kit model. "I do kit models, and I also do scratch built models," Evenhouse said. Scratch models he builds from full-size ship plans. "I get the plans from the Smithsonian Institute and build them from there," he said. "The plans the Smithsonian offers are actual working drawings from years and years and years ago. The first was a French frigate of 1811 named L'Astrolabe. Since then, I'm building models of the Boston and the Hancock, which are Revolutionary War ships. I've built the Hazard and I've built some European models." Evenhouse sells his ships although he has several on display in various places of honor around his home. "Anyone that wants ships gives me a call and tells me which one they want and I build it for them. I can either build them from kits if they order the kit or I can build them from scratch," he said. What he charges depends on the complexity of the work, but it doesn't really reflect the time it takes. "You can't charge $10 an hour because by the time you get done nobody could afford the things," he said. "So because it's a hobby, I give a pretty good break on them." Kits, he said, are more expensive. The Bounty lists for $400, and that is unbuilt in a box. Building from a kit is not like building a model car where you take pre-made pieces and glue them together and wait for them to dry, according to Evenhouse. "Everything comes to you in a box," Evenhouse said. "Basically, it's straight pieces of wood. You have to cut them and fit them. The only thing the kits will provide is the keel and the bulkheads; from there on it's one piece at a time. The riggings and the rope, you have to do it on your own." Deck furniture and masts - everything but features like the pulleys and the wheel, which he buys even for scratch models - have to be built by hand. He has a library of 15 to 20 books about how to construct the various components. With scratch models he has to scale them to the right size from the plans. A scale of 1:64 is standard, which means 3/16 of an inch would equal one foot in real life. Evenhouse likes to build them bigger. "I like to build them in quarter-inch scale because it is so much easier, but they wind up being huge," he said. "A lot of people say, 'I don't have room in my house for something that big.' So I back down on it." The Hancock, a 1797 frigate model sitting in a corner of a room, will be the largest ship he's ever built. He is building it for himself, and it will be the one ship he will probably never sell, he said. "By the time it's finished, including the bowsprit, it will be about six feet long and five-and-a-half feet tall. I have a big living room," he said. "That's where it's going to go." The Hancock is a project he works on when he doesn't have shipbuilding orders. He's been working on it for seven years. His models appear so realistic that one wonders whether they could float. "They probably would," he chuckled, "but I've never tried it. Water and models normally don't get along." Originally from Tampa, Evenhouse bought his Tudor-style home in 1979 off a dirt road northwest of Dade City, where he enjoys country living with his son John, Jr., the youngest son of four children. In 1906, his father, Herman, emigrated from Groningen, Holland, to Chicago. His father went into the dairy business but then grew tired of northern winters and moved to Florida. Evenhouse has lived in Florida all his life except for a tour in the Navy when he was stationed in Alaska. He returns to Alaska each summer for mountain climbing, fishing and hiking. Anyone wishing to order a ship can contact Evenhouse at (352) 567-0004.