How did you get your start?
I’ve been living here since 1955, I was born in Elyria. I grew up next door and built my own house in 1987. In fact, this house was the first Styrofoam house built in Lorain County. I was a green builder in 1987; I started my own company to build energy efficient houses. In 1987, I won a brand new Dodge Dakota pickup truck because the house was the most energy- efficient built in the United States at the time.
What’s the R-factor on the walls?
Thirty on the walls and 50 on the ceiling. It’s solid Styrofoam and has steel tubing for the structural strength. I was a machinist at the time and decided to turn into a builder. But now this opportunity came up with this Titanic job about 11 years ago.
Tell us about that.
I’m building a photo op, called “King of the World” and it’s used at the entrance of our exhibits to take photographs of people visiting our exhibits. The parent company is Premier Exhibition out of Atlanta, Ga., and they own the sole rights to all the artifacts that were brought up from the ocean floor from the Titanic. They have over 7,000 that they pulled up off the ocean floor.
Have you seen some of those?
All of them. I’ve seen just about every artifact.
What still exists on the Titanic with the prow? You’re building a replica of the bow?
The railing is still on the ship. We’re not allowed to take anything off the Titanic. We can only take items from the debris field.
And you work for that company?
And they have to keep the collection together?
Yes, they do. The federal government won’t let them sell it piecemeal. The artifacts have gone up for sale, but we’re talking $170 million for the collection.
So, you’re building a replica of the bow. Is that pretty close to the size of the Titanic’s?
No, I would say it’s about half scale. … These are the mooring cleats built out of Styrofoam with a hard coat put over them. I ship this out. It’s going to an exhibit in Orlando, Fla.
Have you built anything else?
I’ve built wall sections, a third-class and first-class cabin.
I imagine for the steel plates you could use plywood with carriage bolts for the rivets?
That’s what we do. I hide everything. It’s all show. I’m the lead carpenter, we travel all over the world setting these exhibits up. They stay up for six months. We have a couple of grand staircases, a 40-foot by 40-foot room, two stories. We’ll assemble it, then I’ll go back and move it to the next city or country.
Tick off some sites you’ve traveled to?
Shanghai, China; Seoul, Korea; Budapest; Paris, France; London, England; I just got back from Singapore. The nicest part of this deal is my wife, Faye, gets to travel with me. She’s on vacation, and I go to work. (He laughs.) We’ve been to Athens, Greece, Copenhagen, Brazil, Argentina, South America, just everywhere. When you work 10 hours a day, seven days a week until the show’s done, you don’t have time for sightseeing. When I get off of work it’s usually dark or I’m tired. The only time I see any sights is if I stay longer, after the show’s been set up, and my wife’s with me, that’s when I can go sightseeing.
Did the movie reignite the passion for the story of the Titanic?
I’m gonna say it helped a little, but there are a lot of followers. A lot. It’s a universal story. And with the 100th anniversary this year, the popularity has definitely grown. I have a big show going on now in Detroit at the Henry Ford, it will close in September.
Do you have a website?
Premier Exhibitions: prxi.com. That’s the parent company, but the company that tours is RMST (Titanic).
I have a son Josh, he’s 37, and a grandson.
What do you do for hobbies when you’re not involved with the Titanic?
I do a lot of RVing, I work on cars, motorcycles, hot rods. I just never seem to get anything finished. That’s why my friends nicknamed my shop the Museum of Unfinished Projects.
What are some of those projects?
Let’s see, I have a 56 Ford F-100 pickup I’ve been working on for 13 years, a ’60 Falcon in the back, a ’73 Shovelhead, I do ride my ’99 Road King.
Chronicle photographer Chuck Humel shines the spotlight on the people of Lorain County each week. Know someone worthy of 15 Minutes? E-mail email@example.com.