McDONALD — Everyone is obsessed with something.
Whether it’s gardening, hot rod cars, antique collecting, reality TV, or traveling across the country in an RV to get closer to nature, we all have a passion for something. thing.
Arthur Griffin, 85, of McDonald’s has an unusual passion for building planes – not from a kit, but from scratch – over the past 77 years. He has built over 400 different models of airplanes and will occasionally build other models for people such as a Volkswagen bus, a Ford Bronco, tractors, boats, the USS Enterprise, the space shuttle and even the Goodyear Blimp.
And he builds each to exact scale. He built them all from scratch because his family didn’t have the money to buy kits. However, he said his finished projects were much more complex than expensive model kits anyway.
Griffin, a 1955 graduate of Fowler High School, began making models at age 8 with his nine brothers.
“We were making flying objects from our own idea of stick and fabric. We would then light the fire and throw them out the upstairs window to see which one would fly the longest and the farthest,” Griffin said.
He said he never met the Wright brothers because they were before his time, but because of these shenanigans his mother called her 10 boys the “Wrong Brothers”.
Griffin then graduated to build a stronger type of lightweight structure constructed with balsa wood. And soon after, he started building with basswood. He also built plastic models, but he prefers wood.
At the age of 45, many people offered to buy his exquisite work. His biggest offer was $1,000 for the USS Star Trek Enterprise from a local hardware store owner. However, Griffin refused to sell it because it was a gift for his son, Bill Griffin.
When asked if he was an engineer, he simply laughed.
“I graduated from Fowler High and worked directly at General Fireproofing until I took a better job at Packard Electric as an artos cutter and inspector for the next 35 years. I cut and prepared wiring harnesses for car electrical systems as well as radio and speaker systems,” Griffin said.
He taught himself how to build things. He learned at a young age how to use a band and table saw and a belt sander. His many handicrafts are authentic as he uses complex tools and a lot of time to cut lines of panels, and will simulate rivets where necessary using a sewing pattern wheel. For a fabric airplane, he uses striped tape to improvise his work.
Griffin said airplanes became an obsession for him as he grew up on State Road 193, about 3 miles from Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna. He said DC-3 twin-engine commuter planes from United and Capital Airlines flew over his house every day and he really wanted to be a pilot.
“I met the love of my life. I had to make a decision. Either spend the money on flying lessons or plan a future with the most beautiful person I have ever met,” Griffin said. “Well, it was an easy decision. Annabelle and I were married in November 1955, the same year I graduated, and we had a wonderful marriage for 65 years before she passed away two years ago. We were good Christians and members of Howland United Methodist Church.
He said they had four children: Janie, Robert, William and Heidi.
The whole family is passionate about aviation. His son Robert took his father’s ideas one step further and now rebuilds or restores and flies many planes and owns a 1946 Fairchild.
His other son, William, was also a pilot and founded the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum in Warren. Hall was notably America’s first flight instructor at age 19 in the early 1900s. Griffin’s grandson, Connor, is also a pilot and owns his own plane.
William “Bill” Griffin died in February 2019.
When asked what his favorite model was, Arthur Griffin replied “all”.
He mentioned how much he loved the life and times of Howard Hughes and read all of his books and biographies. So he decided to build Hughes’ famous Spruce Goose Aircraft with his HR1. The HR1 was a record-breaking speed racing aircraft.
He also enjoyed creating the 785-foot-long USS Akron airship to scale. He removed the sideboards from his brother’s waterbed to complete the project. It can create 1/2 inch by foot, 3/4 inch by foot or 1/16 scale, or 1 inch by foot scale drawings and even 1/72 and 1/4 scale models. 44.
Griffin recalled a very special moment in time when his good friend Arnie Nashbar offered him a job for Edward DeBartolo Sr.
“I built a model of Mr. DeBartolo’s Lear Jet and his Helio Courier. They thought it was an amazing reproduction. This was when Mr. DeBartolo was building plazas and malls all over the country. Nashbar owned a bicycle business and was also a mall planner and builder. Seeing my work, they realized that I could build scale model buildings and any changes could be made to the model before the actual construction started. It would save a lot of time and money,” Griffin said.
He didn’t take the job and said he didn’t regret it. He expressed satisfaction with his work at Packard Electric.
CHRONICLING THE HISTORY
“By making hundreds of model airplanes, I tell the whole story of aviation. Shapes and sizes are constantly changing, but we’ll never forget what they looked like,” Griffin said.
He used the aircraft from the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown Air Reserve Station as an example.
Do any of us remember any of the many wonders that have flown over our heads locally since 1953? Well, stop and see Griffin, because he has all models of them: the F-84 Thunder Jet, the F-86 Saber Jet, the F-102 Dagger, the C-119, the A-37 Cessna Jet, and now C-130 and the C-17. Many of Griffin’s works are on display at the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum.
And these 3D models made exactly to scale could be all we will one day have to remember our aviation history.