By Fran Lyons
Harry Dieffenbach began his lifelong love affair with model-building when he was a kid in New York City. He started with aircraft models, which he built throughout his youth and even into war.
Dieffenbach joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 during World War II. He traveled the seas serving his country until 1946.
“I was not sure where I wanted to land after leaving the service,” he said.
He didn’t actually “land” at all, taking an assignment with the U.S. Weather Bureau doing weather patrol at sea for the Coast Guard. The On Station patrols were 21 days plus travel time to and from port. The long days could be pretty monotonous.
“I recall when I went to sea in September of 1948, the weather was wild. Just before my second patrol I bought a model ship kit to pass the time. ‘What the hell are you building that for; I’ll give you a set of ship plans,’ barked the chief engineer. It was actually the ship we were on. That’s how I got the bug to scratchbuild (modeling to scale),” Dieffenbach said.
Scratchbuilding requires everything be meticulously researched, planned and painstakingly reproduced to scale to the last detail. “It gets tedious at times, and I got a T-shirt that often described my mood – ‘Salty, Old, Navy Vet,’” he said.
After leaving the Weather Bureau in 1951, Dieffenbach went to school to study engineering. Sometime later, he made a career move and secured a position at Fairfield Camera and Instruments in California, where he did machine designing and work on semi-conductors, computers and photo equipment. His career, adding to his skills of precision and attention to detail, dovetailed well with his passion for modeling.
Among the high-points of his life, Dieffenbach includes 50 years of marriage. After becoming a widower, meeting a wonderful life companion, Esther Carrarini. They have been together over 15 years and both love Maricopa.
“From traveling the world together to living in Maricopa and sailing the model ships on our serene lake, life with Harry is always an adventure,” she said.
They relocated from Reno, Nevada, and have lived 11 years in Province. They love to travel, particularly on riverboat cruises. Their favorite destination is Italy. Harry said, rather gleefully, “I moved to Maricopa for the weather, the lifestyle and also to get away from my children.”
Dieffenbach has two sons, five grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Within a year of living in Maricopa, Province offered to host an impressive display of Harry’s work in the Village Center. He also has a ship – the ice breaker “Eastwind” – on display in a museum in Newbury Port, Massachusetts. In a special event, Dieffenbach donated his model “The Water Witch” to Helping Hands in Maricopa.
“Amazing, just amazing to see,” Carrarini said of the Province display. “The finest details of the smokestacks, the cannons and hatch-covers are totally built from scratch. Also, these models are built to sail on water. We enjoy going to one of the lakes in Province to sail a ship. I like to watch, but on occasion I have to grab Harry by the shirt-tails so he doesn’t fall in.”
Dieffenbach, now 93, experienced another high-point in his life last year. In September, he and 20 other veterans of WWII, ranging in age from 90 to 98, were invited on a trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by a generous donor from Texas. They were taken on a sight-seeing tour, starting their day at 6 a.m. and ending at 8 p.m. They visited all the monuments and memorials dedicated to those who served our country. The highlights for Harry were the Vietnam Wall and the Korean and WWII memorials.
He said the Vietnam War Memorial “brought tears to my eyes.”
“This trip was just outstanding. Being acknowledged that we served, and being greeted at the airport by so many people when we arrived was spectacular.”
“To be able to share my life at this point in time, is very important to me,” Dieffenbach said. “Connecting with people gives me a sense of satisfaction and contribution.”
This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.