A burning passion for model toys

David Clarke has build a miniature fire engine which weighs 4kg and is 35cm long.
From as young as 13, David Clarke has always had a passion for model toys and during the 1960s when he found them too expensive to buy from a toy store, he realised that he could actually build them himself.

Mr Clarke, 65, who lives in Mossel Bay permanently and in Rosebank when he is in the Cape, has built a miniature fire engine model, which is based on the 1970s and 1980s design of the fire engine that he used to drive when he was a fireman at the Central fire station in Roeland Street.

Mr Clarke worked in the fire department from 1972 until 1989. He was based at the Central fire station for four years, then Wynberg  fire station for four years, followed by four years at Lakeside fire station and five years at Mitchells Plain fire station.

It was during his time at Wynberg fire station that he built his first miniature engine.

He designed and built a one-foot Delta 1 fire engine model 34 years ago which was made out of a cardboard box. It was so impressive that a fellow firefighter, Archie Dagnin, begged him to sell that model which would go to his small fire museum. Mr Clarke reluctantly sold it for R100.

Mr Clarke started his latest project in February 2017 and completed in November 2018.

This fire engine, the Alpha One, which weighs 4kg and is 35cm long was done with extreme precision.

He used tools like tweezers, a modelling knife, file and wore two sets of spectacles in order to carve and shape the plastic sheets into an old fire engine.

This fire engine shows minute detail in its doors, mirrors and various compartments of where firefighting equipment would be stowed. It includes different fire extinguishers like water, carbon dioxide and dry powder. 

It also includes spades, brooms, breathing equipment, fire hoses and a wooden fire ladder.

Even though Mr Clarke left the fire department nearly 30 years ago, he said his inspiration for building this fire engine is that he always wanted to have one.

“I just wanted to see it again,” said Mr Clarke.

His talent for building miniature models has expanded to other career paths.

He worked at the SA Maritime Museum at the V&A Waterfront from 1990 until 1999 where he built a miniature model South African steam tugboats.

Mr Clarke currently works at the Model Shipyard since 2012 in Mossel Bay where he builds miniature ships and steam tugboats, which will serve as an inspiration for the larger life-size models.

Mr Clarke visited the Roeland Street fire department recently to show off his miniature fire engine and some of the most experienced firefighters still remember driving the Alpha One fire engine.

Simon Abrahams, divisional commander of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services, said: “There are still a few guys in the service who remember that vehicle. It was a flagship vehicle at Roeland Street fire department compared to the modern vehicle where all our vehicles are diesel.”

Mr Clarke said he will keep his fire engine in the lounge though he would like to find out in the near future what his work of art will be valued at on eBay.