Like many families in the 1960’s, we had the ubiquitous Lionel train set, but it wasn’t until on a family vacation in the early 70’s that I stumbled across a Model Railroader magazine which I feverishly devoured. After seeing the realistic trains and scenery depicted in the magazine I knew that I wanted to have my own train layout. When I was 12 I began my first HO scale train layout in my bedroom on an old ping pong table. I scratch built several buildings using sheet balsa wood, scribing lines to represent planking. They were crude by today’s standards, but it was exciting to create something and see the possibilities. By 14 or 15 I became interested in R/C boats and ships which was a catalyst to later creating model boat kits for the model railroad industry.
In high school history class we were given the option of writing a report about gold mining or creating a diorama depicting some of what we had learned in class. I was happy to pick the project option and scratch built an HO scale gold dredge which I still have today and is sadly in pieces in a box due to a rough move. Also in high school shop class I was introduced to machining and had opportunities to use the lathe and milling machine. I machined a rough version of a vertical steam boiler out of steel and decided it was too heavy to be practical and wanting to experiment with reproducing it, I made a crude mold using clear silicone caulk and actually was able to reproduce the boiler in resin using the mold.
I went on to trade school after high school and trained to be a machinist. I still enjoy using these skills to machine various masters for the model kits that we produce. In my mid 20’s I decided to develop a business starting with HO scale tree stumps, logs, cactus castings and sidewalks that I reproduced in resin, packaged and went door to door selling to the various hobby shops that dotted the Denver area in the mid 80’s. These were produced under the name Cleveland’s Custom Products. I found that there was interest in products like these, so I continued to create these as well as my first resin kit which was an HO scale fishing boat that I produced. We still produce the sidewalks, stumps and the fishing boat kit. From these small beginnings my model railroad manufacturing business has grown into hundreds of kits and detail parts.
Over the years my wife and I have designed and produced quite a few boat kits and nautical detail parts under the name Frenchman River Model Works (name change in 2004) for the model railroad industry and dabbled in a few building kits including an HO and O scale cannery complex. In 2021 we had the opportunity to purchase a line of building kits designed by Thomas Yorke and previously produced by Dennis Brandt of Branline Sales. We were excited to reintroduce these kits and put them back into production. I had always admired Tom’s building kits and the amazing detail he has been able to build into his beautiful models. We have enjoyed building each display model as we reintroduce each kit and each of them has become our new favorite build. Through this experience not only did we greatly expand our product line, but we have learned a tremendous amount about creating structure kits. We are currently putting these lessons to use in our new product line called Stinkwater Crik. As a side note, we lived for many years in Nebraska near the Frenchman River and one of its tributaries was actually called the Stinkwater Creek (the locals refer to it as a crik) hence the business names.
My wife and I enjoy running our business on a full time basis and enjoy having a creative outlet. We are both artistic people, but I decided early on that although I enjoy creating the original master or patterns for a kit my true enjoyment comes from being able to create it in a way that can be reproduced and shared with other modelers. We have tried to make each kit and detail part reproducible for the foreseeable future. This includes creating production molds that will reproduce good, accurate parts for many years. Silicone rubber molds do wear out eventually so we create production masters (patterns) that allow us to pour new molds whenever the original molds get tired and worn. Many kit manufacturers produce a limited quantity of certain kits, while our philosophy has always been to create kits that will be available for the modeler whenever they decide to purchase one. Some of our kits currently in production have been in constant production for up to 30 years and as technology improves, we try to upgrade these kits to reflect that.
While all of our resin kits are being developed, our philosophy of “Quick Assembly! Great Results!” is at the forefront of our efforts. We have always tried to create model kits that have the greatest amount of character and details already cast in place to make assembly and painting a relatively quick process. Looking forward, we are excited about all the possibilities of creating new products for modelers to enjoy.