Model Builders Inc Blog

Apollo 8 Command Module replica model in "The 1968 Exhibit"

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 @ 12:32 AM

1968 was an incredible year with a spectacular ending - mankind's first trip to the moon. Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders flew the Apollo Command Module ten times around the moon starting on December 24th.

Model Builders, Inc. created a replica of the Apollo 8 Command Module for "The 1968 Exhibit" which is a month by month journey through a pivotal year for the baby boomer generation. See this video tour for a 4 minute overview and these photographs of the Command Module replica and some artifacts at . This traveling exhibit is at the Chicago History Museum from Saturday, October 4, 2014 to Sunday, January 4, 2015.

Apollo 8 Command Module replica

Apollo 8 Command Module replica in "The 1968 Exhibit"

The real Apollo 8 Command Module is on loan from NASA to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and we examined it to ensure detailed accuracy. We had to deal with significant challenges however. For example, having gone through the extreme heat of re-entry the original Apollo 8 Command Module no longer has the silver reflective Mylar heat tape nor very much of the exterior labels that were originally on it.

Thanks to some careful analysis, the replica in "The 1968 Exhibit" has the silver Mylar tape and the pre-flight exterior labels. Like the original Apollo 8 the replica tape pattern is exactly same and the tape width is exactly 4" as on the original. Not all of the Apollo Command Modules had the same reflective tape pattern. However by closely examining the burned residue lines left on about half of the original Apollo 8 Command Module Model Builders, Inc. was able to confirm that the tape pattern we previously had found for the Apollo 13 Module was exactly the same as on the Apollo 8. Model Builders, Inc. was also able to find all of the exterior label details at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Apollo 8 CM tape pattern

Apollo 8 Command Module - Mylar tape pattern

real Apollo 8 CMReal Apollo 8 Command Module - Note parallel white Mylar residue lines 4" apart

The Apollo 8 was the very first in the series of Apollo Command Modules to have a probe for connecting to the Lunar Module and this detail is shown on the replica. It is based on original NASA drawings and also close up photographs taken of a real NASA Apollo probe at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas. The probe mechanism is quite interesting in that on the later Apollo flights it had to latch onto a matching drogue parachute on the Lunar Module. After both were pulled together the twelve smaller latches around the circumference of the docking tunnel locked them together.  That explains the two red circles (representing the silicon o-rings) outside the tunnel. Once connected the hatch in the Command Module was removed, then they removed the probe assembly, then the drogue and finally the hatch on the Lunar Module to be able to get into it. 

Apollo 8 probe

Apollo 8 Probe replica

Model Builders, Inc. had already done a lot of the research necessary for accurately building this Apollo 8 Command Module replica. A few years earlier we built a 1/10 scale model of the Apollo 11 Command, Service and Lunar Modules and a 1/6 scale model of the Apollo 13 CSM -Command and Service Module (with the door blown off and the oxygen tank exploded) for the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center,  The 1/6th scale Apollo 13 CSM model sits next to the real Apollo 13 Command and Service Module in Hutchinson, Kansas. If you are interested in the details of the Apollo Command and Services Modules an excellent book with lots of illustrations in color and cutaway views is "Virtual Apollo" by Scott Sullivan. It is a pictorial essay of the engineering and construction.

We think you might really enjoy "The 1968 Exhibit". After Chicago the exhibit travels in 2015 to the Colorado History Center in Denver and after that the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping industrial designers, manufacturers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .

Tags: aviation models, model planes, model, exhibit, model builders, model maker, model makers, airplane models, museum model, aerospace models, props

GM Futurliner restoration gets a replica exhibit with aircraft models

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 @ 05:06 PM

We were surprised and delighted last year to receive a request from Ryan DeCol of Kindig-It Design to build a replica of an exhibit that had been in a GM Futurliner they are restoring for a client. Ryan found our website and thought our models of planes, trains, spacecraft, interactive exhibits and cutaways were high quality so he called us. Model Builders, Inc. since 1950 has a long history of working on projects for GM. Eugene Kettering (son of GM's "Boss" Kettering) was a close friend of William Chaffee, the founder Model Builders, Inc., and also an early investor in the company.

Originally there were 12 GM Futurliner buses and each one had a separate set of exhibits in it. This particular GM Futurliner had a "PROGRESS FOR THE AIR AGE" theme which included a full size cutaway of an Allison J-35 Jet Engine. If you would like to know the history of the GM Futurliners please see this youtube video . If you are interested in the GM Futurliner restoration go to and then click on the Facebook link in the upper right hand corner. Below are three photographs of the original exhibit.


POWER FOR THE AIR AGE - General Motors 2014 photo 

GM Futurliner talk

Discussing how a Allison J-35 jet engine works. It is cutaway so the viewer can see the parts. General Motors 2014 photo

GM Futurliner presentation

Presentation on the theory of how a Allison J-35 jet engine works. General Motors 2014 photo

Futurliner Cloud exhibit

Replica of the cloud on the backwall of the PROGRESS FOR THE AIR AGE exhibit

The cloud is 8 feet long and 3 feet high. The hemisphere diameter is 24". The continents and ocean we silk screened on the inside. The atmosphere is a 32" diameter clear acrylic disc that is 1"thick.

The aircraft are 1/27 scale models. From the top to the bottom they are the P-80 Shooting Star, F-9F Panther, Convair CV-240-2, A2D-1 Skyshark and the F-84 Thunderjet.

GM Futurliner Convair

Replica of the Convair 240 at the right end of the cloud exhibit. 

We did an extensive search but couldn't locate any of the original drawings. The pictures we found on youtube were too fuzzy or dark to be able to identify the aircraft. So we called retired GM manager Don Mayton who led the restoration at his farm in Zeeland, Michigan of Futurliner #10 starting in 1999 (however it had a different exhibit inside). A DVD on his restoration is available at .  Don suggested we contact the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, MI which has over 650 GM vehicles and extensive archives.  The GM Heritage Center was very helpful and found in their archives thirteen high resolution pictures of the PROGRESS FOR THE AIR AGE Futureliner which enabled us to scale the cloud exhibit and identify the aircraft.  Futhermore they sent us a copy of the script that the instructors used for this exhibit.

Some of our other projects for GM include the entire underseas section of the GM ride at the 1964 World's Fair on Long Island, a half size Aerotrain locomotive mounted on a truck chassis and also a half size steam locomotive mounted on a truck chassis, a 13 foot long Diesel locomotive with one half cutaway down the length so you could see the interior, a transfer press model, numerous diesel locomotive models and a cutaway of a full size turbocharger for a diesel locomotive.

A blog in November, 2014 featured several nice pictures of the restored GM Futurliner No. 3 after it had been in the SEMA show in Las Vegas. There is a particularly good picture of the cloud exhibit we made in the last picture.  If you click on the picture it gets larger and provides a dramatic highly detailed view of the cloud exhibit. See: . If you would like to see the before the restoration pictures of GM Futurliner No. 3 see  .

 Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping manufacturers, industrial designers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .


Tags: aviation models, model planes, model, exhibit, interactive exhibit, model builders, training aid, model builder, industrial scale model, airplane models, museum model, aerospace models

Props and models help to attract potential clients to your booth

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Thu, Jun 27, 2013 @ 09:29 PM

Props and models can be a great way to attract visitors at a tradeshow. However they should be related closely to a company's marketing and sales message.  You want to attact people who are interested in your product and help others who are not viable prospects realize that this product doesn't relate to them.

Here are four examples where props and models have attracted potential clients.

1) The first example is where the product is the center piece of the exhibit and also a beacon that is visible from a distance.

Far better than just a sign the model is of the product being sold. If you are interested in cell towers then you are not likely to miss stopping by this booth and learning more.

This cell phone antenna model is used at  tradeshows to attact potential clients to the booth. A red light on the top also helps to get attention. The height of this model makes it noticable on the tradeshow floor from quite a distance away. 

Cell phone antenna model


Cell phone antenna and base

Cell phone antenna and base model 20 feet tall

2) The second example is a custom three dimensional model sign that attacts attention with movement and light as well as relating well to the product.

Below is one of two rotating signs for the Global Sleep Solutions tradeshow booth. There is also below this sign in the booth at eye level a similar but larger sign (one sided) with three Z s in a row on one rod that slowly rock up and down which effectively reminds you of sleep.

Two of the most effective ways to attact attention are to use movement and/or light. This rotating sign uses both movement and light. Furthermore the lettering is large enough and words short enough to be easily read from a distance. The crescent moon and large Z letters let you know in a glance that this booth is about nightime sleep solutions. The sign rotates at a sleepy 2 rpm.

Global Sleep Solutions rotating sign

Global Sleep Solutions - rotating sign 30" diameter

3) The third example is a larger than life product model and it also uses light to draw in visitors. This toothbrush gets instant attention at tradeshows because it is several times larger than life, it looks realistic and the lighted fiberoptic bristles draw the viewer in for a closer look.

toothbrush - fiber optic

7' high toothbrush model with fiber optic bristles 

4) Food tends to be a product category that gets a lot of interest. One tradeshow exhibitor who sells signs related to food decided to have a custom 6 foot long "Chicago" hotdog made so he could use it as the centerpiece in his booth to attract attention to his food signs.

Hot Dog prop in exhibit resized 600

 6' hot dog custom prop

You don't have very long to get the attention of potential clients at a tradeshow as they walk down the show aisle. Maybe you need to try something more dramatic and attention getting. If you have any questions or would like to discuss props, models or other projects contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .



Tags: industrial scale models, exhibit, model builders, model maker, model makers, model builder, industrial scale model, tradeshow product models, trade show product models, props

Why quality matters for museum model boats.

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 @ 11:23 PM

Quality craftsmanship is essential for a quality model, but it's not enough. The final result also depends on high quality research and planning, as John Into and Nancy Price point out in their book, "Fundamentals of Model Boat Building."

Quality always matters, but this is especially true for museum work.  Museum patrons expect authenticity, so that is a primary expectation for museum acquisition decisions, too. Curators look for quality in all three steps - research, planning and construction - and only then do they consider price and reliable on-time delivery. The same is true for any client that places high value on model quality.  Let's use boat models to illustrate the point.

 River tugboat model

River tugboat model


Research is the first step and it often requires one-third or more of the total time to build a quality model. In many cases, the museum and the exhibit designer do not have detailed information on every element in their display and it is up to the model builder to ensure authenticity. Research like this is a particular strength for Model Builders, Inc. Often we have discovered original specifications unknown to museum personnel.

Research can be quite challenging. You may or may not be able to find a kit or detailed plans for the boat you are going to build. One difficulty is that if the boat model is a US Navy ship that is currently commissioned the policy of the US Navy is to not release any of the drawings. For ancient boats little information may exist.

You may have to work from a sketch or artist's illustration Unless you are willing to put in the hours necessary to search like an archeologist for as much relevant information on the boat as you can possibly find you probably won't be able to build a accurate boat model. If however you do the necessary research you often can find plans, pictures drawings and other information needed to build a quality model. Once in a while the real boat exists and you can do some research by going to see it.

There are a wide variety of sources for detailed plans, photographs, books, illustrations, magazine articles and other information on boats. The Hart Nautical Collection at MIT, the Mystic Seaport museum, the Smithsonian, the US Naval Academy museum, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum at Manitowoc and many other museums have real ships, scale model ships and boat plans. The Nautical Research Journal is an excellent magazine and starting in 2013 they are greatly expanding their coverage of model boat building.

I know of one model boat builder that builds limited edition boat models for collectors. He will only build that boat model edition if he has access to the original drawings of that boat. However working from all of the original drawings is a very time consuming and unless you can spread the cost over a limited edition (or a large production run for commercial kits) then the cost to build one boat for a museum might be too high for their budget. Many of the museums we have built boats for are looking for the highest quality model they can afford.


Research results normally shape the planning for the boat construction. If you have found detailed plans for the boat or a detailed kit model of the boat that will help minimize the planning time that would been taken up with creating scaled drawings based only on whatever other information you found.

You may have to design special jigs to accurately portray plank on plank construction. The Curator of the Navy checks the symmetry of the two sides of the hull to see if one side varies from the other. You may need to get or make special tools or jigs to keep both sides symmetrical. 

It takes a while to track down the expert boat modelers and historians for the specific boat you are building. Often they can be a very good source to find the right methods and steps to fabricate your boat. The Nauticaul Reseach Guild holds an annual meeting where you can meet some of the best boat modelers and historians. There are also many model boat building clubs around the country such as the Midwest Model Shipwrights which meets monthly. Several of their members have received awards in national model boat building contests.


Let's take a look at some of the boats models that we built for the Ft. Osage Museum in Sibley, Missouri.

Ft. Osage river boats

Above are seven very different boat models. A variety of source information was used to build these boats - from kits to plans to just illustrations. The tugboat, LCT boat and Keel boat were built primarily from kits of varying quality. The keel boat kit we bought wasn't detailed enough so we studied photographs and illustrations to determine how to upgrade the model to a higher level of detail and more realistic looking materials. For the flatboat there were no plans or kits.  We studied illustrations, found the basic dimensions in literature and consulted with the museum. Collaboration among the model builder, the exhibit designer and the museum often results in a high quality at a reasonable price.


This flatboat model is not made out of wood. It is made out of ABS plastic that was painted to look exactly like wood by a very artistic model builder. It will last much longer than wood construction.

 LCT boat

This World War II LCT (landing craft boat) is built from a plastic kit. However the model builder is also an artist who weathered the boat to look highly realistic.

Dugout canoe

This Dugout canoe model is based on photographs and illustrations.  It is hand carved out of wood and artistically painted.

Far West boat model

The Far West paddleboat model was built from plans and embellished with detailed loads on the lower deck. The paint was modeled to give the Far West a realistic aged look.

Most often museums are looking for boats that fit into into a specific exhibit such as one about the Missouri River. The boat model usually has to be at a specific scale for that exhibit. Consequently the boat model is custom built by a professional model builder.  

A high level of craftsmanship, realistic painting and researched details gives these boat models a quality that meets museum requirements and engages the viewer. 

If you have any questions or would like to discuss boat models or other projects contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .


Tags: exhibit, boat models, museum model, ship model, boat model, ship models

How to create a trade show exhibit that sells

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:06 PM

To create a trade show exhibit that sells, focus on solving these three basic problems:

Problem 1: How do you get the attention of your highest potential buyers?

Answer: Use a concise headline in the most easily seen part of the exhibit - put it up high, make it big, light it up. Repeat the headline elsewhere in the exhibit. Use the company name nearby. 

Focus the headline on a specific product, or service and make a strong benefit promise. For example, Uni-tek's headline is "Broken Taps Removed Fast" in large, flood-lit lettering. Sharp focus like this attracts people who want what you have to offer.

You have five seconds to attract the attention of potential buyers and less than five minutes to develop interest. 

Problem 2: How do you develop detailed product interest?

millennium ball model

Photo: A 30" diameter model of the Millennium ball drops slowly a few times a day in synch with a video countdown at this 50' trade show booth for Philips light bulbs, drawing attention to the  key product benefits on the billboards.

Answer: Highlight the product. Use a sales message with the most important features and benefits. Show your product or service in action. Invite the potential client to participate in a product demonstration.

Remember the product is the star. Consider a cutaway of your product to highlight how it works.  Make a small product larger with a realistic larger-scale model as the center of attention in the booth, like the 5' high spark plug Bosch used. For a large product like a locomotive, aircraft, or mining truck, feature a smaller-scale model that fits in the trade show booth. Consider adding mechanical movement or chase lights to show the sequence of how the product works.

The sales message should be simple and dramatic.  A video or exhibit backwall with a few pictures and copy can tell your story quickly and effectively. Help the booth staff tell the product story with a few key visual aids that highlight the product's most important features and benefits.

Problem 3: How do you follow up with the potential buyer?

Business card drop box 

 Photo: Business card drop box (slot) in a 2X scale prop model of a new medical device.

 Answer: Often several potential buyers show up at a trade show exhibit at the same time.  A business card drop box offers a quick way to get a potential buyer's business card even when exhibit staff is busy with someone else. Provide blank name/address cards, too, and pens to make it easy to fill them out. Consider adding a question or two on the blank card to help qualify the prospect as a potential buyer.

If the objective is to make an appointment with the potential buyer for a followup call, include a graphic that invites the visitor to sign up for a product demonstration. Include a large appointment book to make it easy.

Another option is to integrate a private area or separate office into the exhibit area as a place to close a sale, show more detailed product options, etc.

One technique to close sales is use of show specials: offer a lower price for orders at the show only, making the invitation highly visible.

To wrap up the planning process, ask yourself:

  • Did we pinpoint the product and sales message in the headline?
  • Did we dramatize the product for immediate impact?
  • Is the exhibit uncluttered and geared to a single objective?

If yes, then you are on your way to having an effective exhibit. If you have any questions or would like to discuss exhibit design, a cutaway of your product, a product model, or a larger or smaller than life model contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .



Tags: construction equipment models, railroad equipment model, exhibit, interactive exhibit, product cutaway, product model, engineering model, industrial scale model, trade show product models, medical models

Museum interactive exhibits attract visitors and make the point

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Thu, Jun 07, 2012 @ 11:42 AM

Museum interactive exhibits engage visitors if you make it clear what the exhibit is all about and make it easy to use. 

The Wright Dunbar Interpretive Center in Dayton, Ohio has a museum interactive that shows how the Wright Brother's wing warping concept controls the wings on a biplane enabling it to turn. When the visitor moves a U shaped control the pilot in the model biplane moves his hips to the right or the left. The hip crade moves wires connected to it which causes one end of the wings to twist in one direction and the other end of the wings to twist in the opposite direction.  This enables the pilot to bank and turn.

museum exhibit

How do you focus museum visitors on the point that the Wright Brothers knew from racing bicycles on a banked oval wood track that flying in the air in three directions would be very difficult to control? The following exhibit with one handlebar used to control a 12" long bicycle in only two directions and another handlebar  used to control a 12" wide glider in three directions lets the visitor experience how much more difficult it is to control a glider in three directions than a bicycle in two directions.

.wright museum interactive exhibit

Museum interactive exhibits need to be user friendly to work best. Exhibit designer Jeff Kennedy wrote an excellent 77 page book called "User Friendly Hands-On Exhibits That Work" which is available from the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC). Look in the Exhibits section of the ASTC publications at . 

If you would like information on having a museum interactive exhibit fabricated contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .

Let us know below in the comments what your favorite museum interactive exhibit is and what museum it is located in.

Tags: museum interactives, museum interactive exhibits, exhibit, interactive exhibit, museum interactive model