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Phil Pace, owner of Vac-U-Boats, sent me one of his Vac-u-Tow kits to try out and detail to my liking. It produces a single screw boat in 1:48 scale of a vessel 85' x 26'. I did every thing according to the instructions with the kit except for what I mention on this page. For those of you who have bought this kit, or considering a purchase, I will show some easy and simple tips to building a more realistic model from the Vac-u-Tow.  All measurements are used using a 1:48 scale rule.

Click here to visit vac-u-boat site

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port-begin.jpg (84398 bytes) Starting out I cut out each section as shown in the instructions. I masked off the cabins one scale foot from the deck. This will produce the "mop line" whenever I spray paint the deck. I chose to use gray for my decks for it is a commonly used color on vessels. Red is the second most used color. Be sure to mask off the entire cabin so overspray doesn't get on the white cabin.

stbd-begin.jpg (95441 bytes)I used regular Krylon paint. I've had some trouble with their new "fusion" nozzles. After it dries good it's time to decide how to place your doors and windows. I opted for experience here. With my general knowledge of  how towboats are laid out, I drew my cabin designs to figure where to place things. Instead of putting the stairs on the forward deck I opted to put a sliding door for deck storage and have a ladder to the 2nd deck. I wish I had thought of it before painting the deck and I would have put in a blank piece of plastic to fill the stair well void. Oh well, I'll fix it later.

vacutowdwng.gif (21001 bytes) Here's a drawing I did to decide where I was going to place my doors and windows.



Before painting the hull, I decided to put some skin coolers on the hull for more realism. All you need is some half round tubing, cut each end at a 45, then glue a piece of plastic on each end. Now glue a few rows on the hull sides and that's it. Refer to the photos above to see how they turned out. I also added two skids to the bottom to act as built in stand to avoid scratching up the bottom.



phintfrnt.jpg (68426 bytes)phintrear.jpg (124751 bytes) After you get the doors and windows in place now's the time to do something interesting. The kit comes with a clear pilot house so why not put it to use. Paint the console and wall area light tan or light green. You can paint the top any color you'd like, but I opted for black. 



phintport.jpg (51794 bytes)phintstbd.jpg (58004 bytes)Here you can see the radar added since last photos. You can make out the steering levers fairly well also. Radar was made from a block of balsa wood and a piece of 3/8" dowel rod for the screen.


What's the minimum we need for detailing? I could have went to the max on the interior, but decided to go with the minimum to help those just starting out. In the back part I put a small fridge with a clipboard on top and a settee. These were easy to make from a small block of balsa wood. Just use a tiny piece of plastic for the fridge handle. The clipboard is a piece of plastic with a tiny sliver in a general shape of one of those big clips painted silver. 

The console... The console is molded in. All I did to enhance it was to bring the black paint down to a point to bring out the angle. Take a piece of wire or brass rod about .020, no bigger than 1/32", dip it in silver paint and dab onto the console where ever you want to put a switch. Put one bigger round mark in the upper middle of the console for the rpm gauge. Next we need a single throttle control. It's just a small half round piece of wood or plastic with an upside down "L" shape glued to the right side with the "L" pointed over top of the half round base. 

Steering levers... This vessel has backing (or flanking) rudders. There are four steering levers, two on each side of the pilot. The long. lower levers steer the main rudder and the shorter, upper levers steer the backing rudders. To make these use plastic about .032. You'll need one about 6 scale inches as the vertical post. You'll need one 24 scale inches and one 18 scale inches. These are the steering levers. Glue the 18" piece to the 6" piece to male an "L" After it dries glue the 24' piece just below the 18". Leave a space about the thickness of the levers themselves. Once dry, paint silver, drill a small hole on each side of gauge console and glue the 6" piece down in the hole. (refer to P. H. photos)

Pilot's seat... Many vessels of this size have pilot chairs that look like captain chairs in vans with a higher pedestal. They usually have a heavy base to keep the chair from tilting over. I made mine with a few plastic rods, a plastic base, and two pieces of bass wood for the seat and back.

Other items... The other basics is a radio (with microphone), radar unit, depth sounder unit, spot light controls, and horn lanyard. I went ahead and added a Boatracs unit. Radio and Boatracs unit was made from scrap bass wood. The microphone cable was made with raveling from thread. 

  Boatracs is a satellite tracking system towing companies use. It is connected to a computer  with a keyboard and the boat gets orders and updates from the main office. 

boatracs-ant.jpg (54269 bytes) Here's what the antenna looks like for the Boatracs system. It's a small dome usually mounted on the front of the pilot house roof. When you see this small dome you know they have the Boatracs system.


ph-ceiling.jpg (49677 bytes) Light controls made from brass rod, and lanyard made from thread with a little glue dried on the end as a hand pull. Notice one of the controls is turned toward the middle. When I mount the spot light on the roof, it will be aimed a little to starboard. The handle is in line with the light. Also notice I marked off the ceiling in 2' squares to mimic a 2x2 lay in ceiling tile.

If I want to add more, what else would I find? A standard boat would have two radios, river charts, ash trays, fire extinguisher, a stereo like you would have at home (usually with the speakers mounted in each front corner of the windshield), binoculars, two radars (don't forget to add two radar antennae on the roof), and deck winch control buttons on the console. New additions are  Siris and XM satellite music, and the new Boatracs system.  A lot of boats have a toilet inside a cabinet for the pilot. The front opens and top tilts back to expose the toilet. 

Lettering & name boards... There are a couple of ways of going about this. Rub on lettering, decals (manufactured or home made on computer), or plain paper printing. For this application I decided to use the cheaper paper route just to show how it's done and how it looks.

First you need to think long and hard what company name you want to use and what you want to name the vessel. Seems like every time you make up a company name and apply it to the model, you always think of one you like better. You may want to mimic a real company that you see often.

Printers don't always print exactly the colors you see on your screen, so when you think you've matched the color of the background, make some copies one and two shades darker and a shade lighter. Most of the time you'll find the shade darker than you had picked matched best.

bst-letters.jpg (76398 bytes)In the diagram you'll notice I've made my stack logo and chose different shades to match to the stack. I used the same logo in different sizes for a logo to go on the front of the pilot house. You'll need to make name boards, tow knee name board (small), and transom name board with port of call. Do these in different sizes so you'll have the size you need for the application.

I use CorelDraw in my designing, so I can scale every thing to the scale of the model without having to make several different sizes. If you have scaling capabilities, you can take measurements from the model to design your graphics. If not, do what I have shown here.

laminate.jpg (67675 bytes)Once you have printed your design cut them out. Don't trim close to lettering you'll need some freeboard. Determined which size suits the model and set them aside. Dispose of the other pieces so you won't get them confused. Carefully laminate both sides of the letters since this model will be run in water. After both sides are laminated good you can cut them out.

On the lettering  paint the edge to keep any water from seeping into the paper. Use black paint with lettering with black background so a white line won't appear once it is glued to a black surface. Also uhen used as name boards on hand railing paint the back black.

Here is the stack with the stack logo and the trimmed logo beside it. I put the logo on with CA glue. If you're wondering which font I used for the logo, it was Pioneer-BT

I made the small exhaust pipe for the generators by bending a piece of brass rod. The main stack is brass tubing that I cut a small notch in, bent together, then soldered into place. I drilled holes and used epoxy to glue into place.


Boats usually have a galley and we need an exhaust vent for the range. My galley is on the stern, port side, so I added a vent where the range would be. How to build tip is on the On Deck page.


2ndeckmod1.jpg (103374 bytes) I just had to make a modification to the 2nd deck. I brought the deck back to cut off the stair well. You'll see why I wanted to do this later in the build. Another change made is a pin in the center of the overhang that will go into the lower cabin to hold the deck in place. I opted to do this instead of using the Velcro tabs provided in the kit.


stack2.jpg (63165 bytes)Prototypes need an access hatch to be able to remove engines and transmissions. To make this, cut a sheet of plastic a scale 10 1/2' long by 7' wide. place bolt patterns around the edge to make it appear to be bolted down (I made white bolts so you can see them) Bolts are painted the same color as the deck. Glue the stack onto the "hatch" then glue onto deck.


top-bot.jpg (110648 bytes) Here's how it looks so far. The logo is on the front of the pilot house tow knees and H bitt in place. You can see the pin glued into the center of the modified 2nd deck that holds it to the main cabin. You can just see the two skids on the bottom of the hull used as built in stand to avoid scratching up bottom.


roll-chock.jpg (15675 bytes)Roller chocks and buttons are needed for the wires to run from the winches to the barge. I used a 1/4" sheave and a piece of balsa wood sanded at an angle as in the photo. I'm placing two on each side. Normally, on larger vessels, there would be three or more. To provide more strength, glue a block of wood below deck and drill a small hole in the middle of the sheave and through deck to drive a straight pin into the block or you can use a servo mounting screw.



rollerchocks.jpg (71334 bytes) Here's a button and roller chock on the mv/ Tristan B. The cables used on a winch and for making tow are called wires. The wire runs from the winch through the roller chock, out over the cavil, bitt, or button on a barge, then back to the button. Usually an "eye" is made on the end of the wire and made tight to the button so that it doesn't slip off. When pushing a large tow a "double wire" will be made which means the wire will go from winch, around roller chock, then around, cavil, bitt, or button on barge, back around another roller chock (or the button in this case) and the eye of the wire makes up to the barge.


Here's the main engine air intake made from a scale 5'6"x3'x3' piece of balsa wood with thin bass wood a scale 1' wide glued at a slight angle for a drip eave on three sides and a 1/2" dowel rod cut to go between the intake and stack. The intake mounts just behind the deck plate with the stack.


latch-top.jpg (22826 bytes)latch-bot.jpg (19011 bytes)I made a deck latch to keep the 2nd deck in place and to make it easy to access the interior components. It's just simply a brass rod sliding inside a plastic tube glued to the bottom of the 2nd deck. By drilling a small hole in the bottom of the intake it will be hidden and the intake will keep it from sliding forward. Remember on the front of the deck I glued a pin to slide in a hole in the top of the main cabin.



The yawl was carved from a block of balsa wood and .020 plastic strip glued on. it will lay upside down on the stern and will be used as a knob to open the steering gear access. You can paint it white or aluminum. usually the name of the vessel is placed on each side of the yawl toward the bow. A drawing for a yawl can be found on the On Deck page.

If you're an experienced scratch builder maybe you'll want to go all out and build a detailed yawl from the drawings. A finished yawl can be viewed on the G L FURR page.



Here's the finished yawl painted aluminum with an outboard motor on a stand. It also helps me to know which way to turn the boat to open the hatch. The motor stand is made from strip bass wood. You can use strip plastic if you want. The motor is carved from a small block of balsa with a tapered piece of bass wood glued on for the shaft. The prop was cut from a thin piece of plastic.


Here is the latch system I made to hold the steering gear access hatch in place. I used a couple pieces of plastic tube, two pieces of wire for the latches, and a servo arm screwed into the bottom of the jon boat. After you have put your screw hole into the boat, take the screw back out and put a little epoxy in so the screw won't work loose. It also wouldn't hurt to put a little epoxy on the screw head and arm  to keep it from slipping. Make sure the hole in the access hatch is bigger than the screw so it won't foul.


railingprep.jpg (53555 bytes) To put hand railing on the boat I purchased 3 pieces Plastruct hand railing (HRS-8) and 1 piece of Plastruct stair railing (SRS-8). I masked off the bottom rail and painted the railing. When dry, I proceeded to cut off the bottom rail vertically with the stanchion portion of the railing (see photo, bottom railing is uncut). I used the railing to make where to drill the holes in the deck for the stanchions to glue into.

The other item in the photo is how I make fake guard lights. It's 1/8" dowel rod cut in scale 10" lengths, painted white, then I paint  about 2/3rds of it yellow to represent the light globe with a yellow bulb glowing in it.


winchbuild.jpg (56567 bytes) Here's a simple and easy winch to build. Using some sheet plastic, 1/4" dowel rod. 1/8" dowel rod, a piece of 1/8" bass or balsa wood, and a  3/8"x 1/2" mini spool from a crafts store. A good looking wire is Charcoal Gray #942-1220 rayon thread made by Sulky.


winchdwl.gif (4349 bytes)Here's a drawing for a simple winch

You'll need to build two winches.

winch.jpg (89982 bytes) Here's a view of a finished winch mounted on the bow deck.



Here's a simple way to make halogen flood lights. Use 1/8" plastic angle and cut to 10 scale inch lengths. Glue thin styrene on the ends. The photo shows the way I do it. I glue them all on one piece, let dry, then trim. Then I repeat the process for the other side.

When everything is trimmed paint the outside black and the inside silver.



Here's what the finished floods look like. You'll need 7 floods. Two facing forward, two facing port (one fwd., one aft), two facing starboard (one fwd., one aft), and one on the stern light pole/flag staff facing the stern.




bowview.jpg (79694 bytes) Getting close to finished. In this view you can see the roller chocks, winches, H bitt, cavils, spot lights, nav. lights, floods, bell, and anchor lights. Notice the ladder added where once was a cut out for a stair well. I wanted to do this to add a "doghouse" (where deckhands rest, barge lights, and other miscl. deck equipment is stored) door that opens onto the bow deck. I cut the ladder off just below the 2nd deck so the deck will be easy to remove. I glued two little pieces of remnant hand railing as brackets to hold the ladder off the cabin wall. 




bell.jpg (94692 bytes) I affixed the bell by filing the top flat, drilling a 1/32" hole in it and gluing in an "L" shaped piece of brass rod. I then drilled a hole in the pilot house and glued the bell. Make the brass rod long enough so the bell can be kept away from the wall.


canopy.jpg (13670 bytes) A canopy will be mounted to the top railing and extend down to the 2nd deck. Notice the notch cut out for ladder access. It's hard to see, but if you look close you'll notice the bottom of the canopy sides are a 90 degree angles at the bottom, but angle to the top of the canopy angle. In other words the bottom sitting on the mat is a "C" shape. The sheet for the front was cut at a scale 20' x 17 3/4' x 6'. Most are painted green, but I have seen a few blue, and red ones.

vent.jpg (15041 bytes) The engine room get very hot so we need an exhaust vent for there. There are many different types. An easy one is a 1/2" dowel rod with a piece of balsa block cut half round 4' x 2 1/4' You can paint it white or gray (if you have gray decks)


antenna.jpg (78873 bytes) I made a quick T V antenna out of strip plastic. Most boats now-a-days have DISH network on board. You can build a large dome on a three leg mast in place of a antenna. Refer to G L FURR model to see a DISH antenna.


pilothouse.jpg (100745 bytes) Here's a view of the pilot house looking in from starboard.




vac-u-tow1.jpg (110264 bytes) Here are photos of the finished model. Life rings and fire stations really add the the over all look. You can see the engine room exhaust vent beside the stack in this photo.


vac-u-tow2.jpg (115439 bytes) In this photo you can see how the canopy fits and the ladder access looks now.


vac-u-tow3.jpg (127139 bytes) Here you can see the 1/8" hose valve beside the hose rack. A simple touch that adds to the looks. I just drill a 1/32" hole and glued to valve into place.


vac-u-tow4.jpg (96137 bytes) You can see the winches, bell and H bitt good in this bow view.




vac-u-tow5.jpg (94184 bytes) Here's how it all looks from the stern. I make my own flags on the computer. Just make a reversed copy and mate them back to back so your flag will be on both sides. Then use some rayon thread and fold the paper over and match the two sides together. Use a good metal edge, like the back of a razor blade, to rub the flag against the thread. I have always had good luck using regular Testor's plastic glue to glue the flag back to back. After it dries, hold the flag at the thread end wit needle nosed pliers and fold and manipulate the flag until it looks like its flying in the wind.



flagstaff.jpg (119032 bytes) Closer view of the flagstaff and flag.



vac-u-tow6.jpg (110435 bytes) A good view of the outboard motor on stand and the gasoline tank. You can also see the galley vent and the port fire station. Take note of the larger cavil on the stern.



 Every thing is scratch built except for a few purchased items from Bluejacket Shipcrafters. Here's a list of items. I also purchased a set of diesel air horns at a local model train hobby shop.

6    item# F0062   5/8"     CLEATS              

1   item# F0160    7/8"     CLEAT                 

4   item# F0208 11/16" LIFE RINGS           

2   item# F0796.3  1/4" HOSE ON RACK  

2   item# F0863.4  1/8" HOSE VALVE      

1   item# F0113 3/4" RUNNING LIGHTS

1   item# FO489  3/16"   BELL                 

I used two spotlights I already had. A good spotlight choice would be item# F0122. You can use it as the carbon arc design it is, or for a modern Zeon spotlight, file off the cooling fins on the top and bottom of the light. Remember to buy two lights. 

I hope I have given you some ideas for detailing your vac-u-tow. I'd like to see photos of your creations so email them to me  towboatjoe@yahoo.com Remember when it goes to scratch building, all you need is some photos of the object and think, "How can I reproduce that?" You'll find that if you just sleep on it and roll it over in your mind for a few days, all at once it'll hit you and you'll realize it's not as hard to do as you once thought. Before you know it you'll start to throw an item away and think "I can make such and such out of that!"

Some river termology... You have noticed I have mentioned cabins, walls, toilets, etc. instead of  superstructure, bulkheads, or head.  A lot of people working on the boats, even today, are plain simple country folk, (that's why they have such good cooking on these boats). Even back 150 years ago some boats were built in fields. You'll find a lot of terms come over from steamboat days, such as wheel. Novices call it a prop, seamen call it a screw. River men still call it a wheel from the old paddle wheel days. When an ole' river rat talked in river slang, if you listened carefully, you could figure out what he was talking about for many things were named in relation to what they did. For instance a "monkey rudder" was named such because it hooked to the steering rudders and moved with them. The old saying was popular back then, "monkey see, monkey do", and so they decided that would be a good name for the rudders cause they copied the main rudders. 

UPDATE ! ! !

I commemorated Phil Pace of Vac-u-boat by renaming the vac-u-tow in his namesake.

PACE01.JPG.jpg (101153 bytes) PACE07.JPG.jpg (96480 bytes) PACE02.JPG.jpg (150988 bytes) PACE03.JPG.jpg (152954 bytes) PACE05.JPG.jpg (154786 bytes)

Click on thumbnails for larger image.