TAYLORSVILLE Picture a 5-year-old boy looking on with awe at something he has never seen before:
A De Havilland DH-4 (the kind of plane that was used as a bomber in World War I) has landed in a nearby cornfield, and the pilot is taking people for rides.
"Of course, I didn't get to go up, but that piqued my interest," Douglas J. Shay says. "I've been crazy about airplanes ever since."
When he was 12, a friend gave him a model of a China Clipper. "That was back in the days when models were made out of blocks of wood. They gave you a general pattern, and you had to figure it all out." He's been crazy about models ever since, too.
Now at 81, Shay has had a good, long time to enjoy both passions, and he's not done yet. His Taylorsville home has two closets filled with kits maybe a couple of thousand or more, he says that he'd like to get to someday.
"I just love airplanes," he says.
His one big regret is that he never earned his commercial pilot's license. He was within 20 hours of completing it when he landed in a Denver hospital with tuberculosis. Because of medical procedures related to that disease, "they told me I couldn't fly for five years because the altitude change could collapse my lung. I had a private license, and I kept current with that for awhile, but then with family and all, I couldn't afford to keep it up."
The TB had been contracted while Shay was serving in the Navy in World War II, although it wasn't diagnosed until a while after his discharge.
When Shay enlisted in the Navy, he had hoped to go into the air corps. "But at that time, they wanted men with a college degree."
He was stationed on a destroyer in the South Pacific. "We did get close to an aircraft carrier a time or two," he says, and those times were pretty special.
But if Shay didn't end up flying planes, they still became a part of his life. For one thing, he worked at Hill Air Force Base for some 23 years. "That put me close to the planes." One of his jobs there, he says, was painting the landing gear on the C5-As.
"At the end I was in high priority materials security, and I could go anywhere on base." He hung out with the planes a lot.
But there have also been his models. He has tended to specialize in World War II-era models "mostly what you call 'prop-jobs.' Although I've done a few jets, too." He also likes planes that have been involved in racing. "I love the races they have at air shows."
His home is filled with his finished planes and with the trophies he's collected at various model competitions. Last April he took first place for the best World War II biplane. "It was actually one I made a few years ago. The show was coming up, and I decided I didn't have time to build a new one, so I took that off the shelf."
But that's not going to happen to him when the September show rolls around. He's already hard at work on a Hawker Hurricane for that show. (It will be held Sept. 13 at Union Station in Ogden. For details, visit www.nusma.org.)
Shay belongs to two modeling groups, the Northern Utah Scale Modelers Association, based out of Ogden, and the Salt Lake Chapter of the International Plastic Modelers Society. "I was president of that group for five years a while back."
He still gets a lot of enjoyment out of fitting pieces together, sanding down the lines, painting and adding details. Kits started out as wood, but nearly all are now plastic. "Plastic's a real soft material," he says. "You have to be careful what you do."
And even when you take care and go slowly, things can go wrong. "As careful as you can be, sometimes you touch a part that's not quite dry, and you leave a fingerprint. There's no way to get rid of it except to sand it down and start over. That's the time you almost want to throw it against the wall."
Models come in all degrees of difficulty and price, he says. "It's always nice to get one that just flows together."
The thing is, he says, "you can put it together so it looks like a toy. Or you can put it together so it looks like a real airplane just zapped down there. That's what I like to do."
It's just a lot of fun, learning about the planes and putting the pieces together, he says. He'd like to see more kids try it. He thinks they'd enjoy it. "So many kids get a model and don't know what to do with it."
If kids would like to get into modeling, he advises, "get a kit and start. Maybe you and your dad could work on it together. And if your dad can't help you, maybe your grandfather can."
By working on model planes, "you develop a real love for them," he says.
Shay has spent some time designing aircraft and has notebooks full of designs. He's also created what he calls "Shay's Air Force," where he's taken bits and pieces of different planes and put them together in different ways. He's even thrown a few UFOs and spaceships into the mix.
Someday, he says, he'd like to have a model of every plane that was ever built.
In fact, someday he'd like to have a museum an "international museum of transportation that would include models of everything man has come up with in the way of transportation, from shoes to elephants, camels and horses, to rafts and canoes. Everything that moved on land, sea or air," he says.
The museum could be a place where modelers could donate their collections. "Nobody's going to appreciate a model collection like another modeler," he says. "What happens is that a lot of guys die and their wives and families don't know what to do with the collection. They end up putting it on eBay just to get it out of the house. Or they let the grandkids play with them. But you can't play with these planes. They are too delicate."
So a museum is high on his "someday" list.
Airplanes are not all that fills Shay's life, however. He's written poetry and even had a poem published in an anthology. He's taken classes in art and has done paintings that decorate his house and others. He has a published song to his credit. He has three novels that he's working on.
Plus he and his wife, Shirley, have been involved in church and family activities.
"There are so many things to do," he says. "I joke that I'll have to live until I'm 103."He just might. There's a lot of that 5-year-old boy in him still, and the boyish delight he takes in his planes could well keep him young in mind and spirit for years to come.
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