In a wooded subdivision of this small town south of Baltimore, tucked between a row of suburban homes and the murky waters of Bodkin Creek, a bearded man with one leg runs a boat factory capable of turning out 100 vessels a month.
But most of Tom Harsh's yachts, whalers, dredges and sailboats are less than 2 feet long. Harsh is a professional modelmaker who crafts miniature replicas of contemporary and historic boats, each of them exactly proportional to the real thing in size, shape and every detail.
A craggy-faced, beefy man who lost his lower left leg in May 1978 because of a blood clot, Harsh said his skill has proved profitable. He earned $15,000 several years ago for a miniature version of the Civil War battleship Hartford, which used sail and steam for power. The income of his one-man business averages about $25,000 a year, Harsh said.
He charges $20 an hour for labor, and a half-hull, which is the right half of a small epoxy boat hull mounted on mahogany or teak sells for $70 and up.
"I'm a stickler for detail -- every detail must be right," Harsh said. That includes everything from the exact shape of the hull and the precise number and size of mainsail pulleys to the differing thicknesses of the anchor line and the bow lines. He has built more than 40 full models and half hull models in the past seven years.
Harsh picked up a slick, color brochure from a large model-making firm in Holland and began picking his competition apart. "These deadeyes," he frowned, pointing to a color photo of a model 1812 schooner, "the planks are far too wide, the hull here is too rough."
Harsh hesitated, touched his right thumb and forefinger together and said, "it's not primo."
Harsh's two-story studio, which occupies the right half of his recently purchased white stucco house on Bodkin Creek, is full of paints, the piercing smell of epoxy, rolls of masking tape, scattered blueprints, wood carving tools and an arsenal of electric saws, sanders and drills.
This is where Harsh's large meaty hands do their painstaking work. For halfhull models, Harsh starts with the blueprints or admiral's plans that details a boat's dimensions. Using those dimensions, he fashions a block of wood from several glued layers and hand carves the shape of the halfhull, he said. He then sands, paints and mounts it.
For full models, Harsh starts with the same authentic boat plans -- he's got the blueprints for the design of Ted Turner's Tenacious, for example -- and usually uses wood and hundreds of hours of hand work, he said.
"It's a long, messy process" that combines skills of wood carver, architect, boat designer, mathematician and china painter, Harsh said.
Despite the skills his job takes, "There's frequently the problem of people who are not in the marine trade who fail to see the value of what I do.
"They don't look at it as though it was work. They see me in my environment, relatively enjoying what I do and they don't want to pay for it.They want it to be drudgery," Harsh said.