THOMASTON — A display of handcrafted model airplanes is quietly getting attention at the Thomaston Public Library.
Built from scratch by retired Lincolnville soil conservationist and flying buff Manley “Joe” Bailey, the scale model B-25 World War II era medium bomber and the DC-3 Airliner have gained quite a few admirers since their installation last month. The models will remain on display until the second week of November. The show is part of the library’s Community Displays program.
“They’ve been quite popular,” said librarian Brian M. Sylvester. “I see a lot of people looking at them every day. They’re a big hit with the kids.”
Bailey, 83, grew up on a farm in Sidney and was taught to fly by a neighboring farmer as a young boy. Those flights over the woods and farms of central Maine in that single-engine Taylor Craft instilled in him a lifelong love of flying and all things aircraft.
“I got so I could take off with him, though I never did dare to fly it alone,” Bailey recalled of those days on the “home farm” in the late 1940s. “Boy, it was fun, and from that point on I’ve always loved airplanes.”
After receiving a degree in agriculture from the University of Maine, Bailey went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force on the flight line at the then Loring Air Force Base in Limestone in the 1950s, where he worked on, among other aircraft, the 10-engine B-36 and some of the early jet-propelled craft.
After the Air Force, Bailey began a long career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil and Conservation Service, working in a number of Maine communities. After his retirement he began restoring Farmall tractors and then moved on to model airplanes.
“I needed something to do,” he said.
Bailey built his models from scratch using found materials. He began by assembling plastic model airplane kits of the type of planes he wanted and then using those models to create three-dimensional blueprints for the ones he would build by hand. His models are built from dry cedar wood, copper tubing, plywood strips and even cardboard paper towel rollers. He used knives, saws and razor blades to fashion the component parts of each plane. He also installed battery-powered electric motors to operate the propellers and running lights.
“I drew the plans in pencil, taking my measurements from the models as best I could,” he said. “Then I made the parts from different kinds of wood, plastic and other things. It took me quite awhile.”
Bailey described the DC-3 as “the plane that changed aviation,” and said he was inspired to craft a model after a watching a video highlighting the aircraft’s 50th anniversary.
“I played that tape a good many times while I was building that DC-3,” he recalled.
The B-25 bomber has a 34-inch wingspan, and the DC-3 has a 44-inch wingspan. The DC-4, with its 64-inch wingspan, was too large to place on display at the Thomaston library and hangs in Bailey’s garage. It has four working propellers and two pilots sitting in the cockpit. It took Bailey a year and a half to build the DC-4.
“I started in the middle of winter. I set up a table by the window in my bedroom and began working putting the plastic model together, then started the drawings and watched the winter go by,” Bailey said. “It looks pretty realistic.”