Building mini Badgers

January 8, 2024

Building mini Badgers

Around the County is a presentation of Preferred Credit Union,, located locally at 266 N. Jebavy Dr., Ludington.

Story and photos by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

SHERIDAN TOWNSHIP — Every winter, the home of John and Penny Fort is overtaken by hundreds of mini ships. John is the craftsman behind a popular souvenir sold onboard the SS Badger, a mini Badger model, a chore he took on 20 years ago.

John is retired from the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, where he served as a road deputy. His wife, Penny, is retired from Ludington Area School District where she was an elementary school teacher. After Penny’s retirement, she worked summers at Lake Michigan Carferry.

“Val Stapleton, who is in charge of merchandising, mentioned to Penny that the man who was making the mini Badgers was no longer going to make them,” John said. “She figured I needed a hobby, so I took it over.”

John uses a lot of scrap wood for the mini boats. Last year he made 550, which included 250 that are made with a small hole in the smoke stack to hang it as a Christmas tree ornament.

After their retirements, the Forts moved to the Upper Peninsula. John then began building Edmund Fitzgerald build-your-own kits, which were also popular. He also has built a limited number of build-your-own Badger kits. The BYO kits are larger models compared to the mini ships.

Assembly of the models takes place over the winter, but John is continually preparing the parts.

“I mostly use pine but any kind of wood will work,” John said. “I often will buy warped wood from the lumber yards, because it costs less and it really doesn’t matter that it’s warped since I am cutting it into such small pieces.”

John uses a jig that allows him to keep the pieces consistent. He’s particular about making sure that the paint scheme is the same on each model. After cutting the pieces in his workshop, he sits in his living room, with a view of Ford Lake, and assembles the boats and paints them.

“It’s something that keeps me busy in the winter,” John said. “Penny and I are both fans of the Badger and people seem to enjoy the mini Badgers.”


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