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In Memorium: Steve Wheeler

January 16, 2020 12:58 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Steve Wheeler passed away on November 26, 2019 at the age of 76. Steve had been ill but his death from complications of the illness and medications was unexpected.

Steve was a 25-year member of the NRG. He was a current member of the three Chicago area clubs, The Nautical Research & Model Ship Society, The Midwest Model Shipwrights and the North Shore Deadeyes. He was a member of the Rocky Mountain Model Shipwrights when he lived in CO.

Steve was a Master Modeler who freely shared his knowledge of modeling and was always the first to say his garbage can was one of his most used tools. He urged modelers to keep on working until each part is correct – don’t settle for good enough. His attention to detail rewarded him with a wall at his home in Racine, WI covered in awards for his modeling. Steve won a Gold award for every model he entered at the annual WI Maritime Museums starting in 1997. During the 22 years Steve was involved with the museum’s Midwestern Models Ships & Boats Contest, he was the recipient of 22 gold awards, nine Best of Show, nine Best Great Lakes Awards, and seven times his models won the Modelers’ Choice award.

Steve won a Gold medal and Best of Show for the first two of the three NRG photographic model competitions held. He was a judge for the third competition.

Steve even won Best of Show three times at International Plastic Modelers Shows in IL with wooden boat models.

The award from the WI Maritime Museum’s annual contest for the Best Novice Award sponsored by the North Shore Deadeyes club is being renamed “The Steve Wheeler Best Novice Award” to honor Steve’s commitment to educating and helping novice model builders advance their skills. Steve never won this award but the first model boat he built, the Great Lakes Tug SHARON W., resides in the museum’s main model room. It won a gold award and would have surely won the Best Novice award had it been awarded at the time.

Steve wrote 29 articles and Shop Notes in the Nautical Research Journal and has two multi-part articles scheduled for upcoming Journals as well as several more Tips & Techniques. He wrote three articles for Model Ship Builder magazine and thirty one articles in Ships in Scale magazine with several covers for both publications.

He also wrote two books about boat building in the Racine, WI area:

  • The boat and yacht designs of Fred W. Martin: reprinted from existing original drawings, ca. 1896-1902 Racine, WI. Published by the Racine Heritage Museum ©2009
  • An Industry Forgotten: A Half-Century of Boat-Building in Racine, Wisconsin Published by the Racine Heritage Museum ©2011

Steve enjoyed writing about model building almost as much as building models and we discussed this many times. Steve always wrote his articles with the less experienced modelers in mind rather than the modelers closer to his level because the novice builders must be encouraged and shown how they can improve their skills, so they achieve better modeling results.

Steve gave numerous talks on aspects of modeling at club meetings, the Tri-Club meetings in IL, the annual WI Maritime Museum’s Modeler’s Symposiums, NRG Symposiums and NRG Conferences. Steve’s last appearance at an NRG Conference was at the 2018 event in Las Vegas where he spoke on Lapstrake Hull Construction. He always had a word of encouragement for fellow modelers and when a modeler asked him to pick apart his/her model all of Steve’s comments were certain to be positive and encouraging to the modeler.

Steve had a unique sense of humor and we swapped jokes back and forth almost daily. Steve and I traveled to NRG conferences and Manitowoc together so much that if either of us showed up at one of these functions w/o the other we were questioned about the other’s whereabouts – some said “if you see one the other is close by”. Many said that Steve and I were “Brothers from different Mothers” and we seldom went more than two days w/o talking together on the phone. The spare bedroom here was known as Steve’s room.


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