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Airplane enthusiast builds life-size replicas out of scrap metal

The joke around Ian Baron’s home is that after he restored eight Model A Fords, his wife Luverne insisted “no more cars.” So Mr. Baron moved on to building model planes. Not small scaled-down versions, but life-size replicas.

The joke around Ian Baron's home is that after he restored eight Model A Fords, his wife Luverne insisted "no more cars." So Mr. Baron moved on to building model planes. Not small scaled-down versions, but life-size replicas.

It's a good thing that the Barons own 11 acres at Model A Acres, the bed and breakfast they've operated in Clarington, Ont. since 2001.

Their front lawn now features a 1918 DR1 Fokker (the same kind of plane the Red Baron flew), a 1916 Sopwith Camel (cartoon character Snoopy's plane), a 1944 Spitfire Mark 9 and its rival, a 1944 Messerschmitt ME 109 G, modelled after German flying ace Adolf Galland's plane (although, in this case, it's a mustached mannequin setting at the controls). Although the planes are static and don't fly, the rudders and other controls are operational.

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Of course, when Luverne suggested to her husband that he'd built enough planes, he turned to constructing other war replicas: a Sherman Firefly tank that drives, and for their pond, the conning tower and gun tower from a World War II German U-boat. He originally thought about building an entire U-boat, but abbreviated his plans when he discovered that the original U-505 was 236 feet long.

Mr. Baron's next project – to restore a 1944 Willys Jeep using pieces he purchased at a wrecking yard for $400 – will be relatively small in comparison.

Mr. Baron doesn't splurge on the materials. The planes, tank and U-boat are made almost entirely from recycled or scrap items, though the welding supplies, paint and rivets can cost around $2,000 per project ($45 each for 20 cylinders of oxygen, $60 each for 10 cylinders of acetylene and $50 per gallon for eight or nine cans of rust paint). Discarded, above-ground swimming pool skins are used to create the outer shells for his creations.

"I'm on pool number 29 now," says Mr. Baron. Most of the pool skins are free; some cost him a case of beer.

The Sopwith Camel's wings are made from bent-up farm gates, TV aerials and concrete rebar. The landing gear on the Messerschmitt is made from legs from a children's teeter totter and its tail wheel came from his wife's wheelbarrow. The Spitfire's fuselage is fashioned from bar stools and has 15 authentic British airplane gauges he paid $5 each for. Its wheel wells are fashioned from the tops of 45 gallon drums.

But if time spent building the projects was money, Mr. Baron would be a wealthy man. Every evening and weekend was consumed by his hobby for nine months. When he started working on his first plane project, the Sopwith Camel, his wife jokes about how she became "a Sopwith widow."

Mr. Baron's passion for motorized machines started with his father, who was a mechanic and sergeant with the 23rd Field, Fourth Canadian armoured division in World World II.

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"My dad always had a tractor or a motor apart and he taught me to weld and how to do bodywork," says Mr. Baron. He started building dune buggies as a teen then moved to restoring cars. His first was a 1959 Morris Oxford.

He was 21 years old when he restored his first Model A Ford, a 1931 street rod that he paid $350 for. He still owns it and is now worth $33,000. He's restored eight Model As: five for the road (he sold three), three as static lawn ornaments at Model A Acres and one became a headboard for one of the guest rooms.

Mr. Baron had always been interested in airplanes. When he visited the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, nearly a decade ago and saw a replica of Charles Lindbergh's plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, he was inspired to build a full-size model plane. He chose the Sopwith Camel to commemorate the Year of the Veteran in 2005.

His most challenging project was the Spitfire, which took 18 months to build. Its rounded shape made it more challenging to construct. "If not for what I learned doing the Camel and the Red Baron's plane, I never would have succeeded," says Mr. Baron.

"Every project I've started, I have finished. I haven't had to abort any," he adds. "When I start, I question myself: 'Can I pull this off or not?' So far, I'm batting 1000."

The Sherman tank, started in Nov. 2012, was completed in July 2013. It's mounted on a 1989 Silverado pickup truck. A paving company in London donated its rubber track and its windows came from a school bus. It can shoot small firecrackers toward the U-boat through a barrel made from light posts and a fire extinguisher.

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Mr. Baron has an encyclopedic knowledge about the original versions of his creations. He does extensive research on the Internet and has gleaned other details from a 92-year-old farmer from Manitoba who served with his father during the war.

He also receives information about the original machines his replicas are modelled after from people who have heard about his collection through or who have noticed the war replicas while driving by. One veteran who stopped in supplied him with details about the Sherman tank, while another drop-in visitor was the son of an engineer who designed a part for the Spitfire.

The war replicas attract considerable attention from passers-by. Pilots often stop in, including one from Emirates Airlines in Dubai who heard about the replicas from his aunt, who lives in nearby Bowmanville. Motorcycle and car tours, seniors' bus tours and photographic clubs have all made stops. The collection is also a big hit with bed and breakfast guests, who come to compete or to watch races at the nearby Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

There are three questions that Mr. Baron gets asked most frequently: "Where did you find these?" "Where's your workshop?" (It's his garage and it's his driveway) and "Are you a pilot?"

"I tell them I'm not a pilot," says Mr. Baron. "I'm just a person who loves old aircrafts."

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