A nautical Christmas in the Model Shop!

Step inside the Steam Ferry Berkeley of the Maritime Museum of San Diego and you’ll see nautical Christmas decorations in the Model Shop!

A bright Christmas tree is ornamented with ships, boats, signal flags and lighthouses. It even appears that Santa Claus has been repairing and cleaning one model ship in the small workshop. I guess his elf helpers are busy making toys up at the North Pole!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Rare cars, antiques at a surprising museum!

Rare early automobiles and thousands of collectible antiques can be viewed during a visit to the unique J. A. Cooley Museum in San Diego.
About two dozen antique automobiles and thousands of collectibles can be viewed during a visit to the J. A. Cooley Museum in San Diego.

Last Sunday I visited one of San Diego’s most surprising museums. It’s located in University Heights, at 4233 Park Boulevard. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it. It’s called the J. A. Cooley Museum.

The J. A. Cooley Museum shares its 10,000 square foot space with the Frank the Train Man hobby shop, which was founded by Frank Cox in 1943 and originally opened its doors in another building at the corner of Park and El Cajon Boulevard. Today’s store and museum are operated by Jim Cooley and his wife, Carmen, who’ve been avidly collecting antiques for well over half a century.

Jim, who can usually be found hanging around the museum entrance, is a friendly gentleman with endless stories about his passion for collecting and preserving bits of history. Step inside the museum and it’s immediately apparent that he really loves antique automobiles.

This utterly amazing museum, which doesn’t advertise or have a website of its own, contains a world-class collection of early automobiles, some of which are extremely rare or even one-of-a-kind. The museum also contains a treasure trove of other antiques, including antique phonographs . . . cameras . . . amazing Standard Gauge trains . . . cast iron toys . . . clocks . . . coffee grinders . . . railroad lanterns . . . irons . . . hardware tools . . . even old-fashioned spittoons!

Over the years, Jim has collected all sorts of objects that have interested him, often saving them from being thrown away. For example, he told me around World War II, when spittoons were being discarded in large numbers, he’d see some in a trash truck and retrieve them. Now he has hundreds of them!

The most impressive part of his museum, however, is the jaw-dropping collection of antique automobiles–many well over a century old–which he has patiently acquired over time without an enormous expenditure of money.

Even if many San Diegans are unfamiliar with the J. A. Cooley Museum, serious car aficionados seem to know all about it. People sometimes fly in from around the world to see the collection. The museum’s reputation is such that from time to time a movie studio will borrow a rare old car for filming–for example the 1914 Renaut that was used in Titanic.

I was told by Jim that when General Motors borrowed one his cars for an exposition, GM executives came out to San Diego to look at the museum and were so impressed, they donated their incredible Buick XP 2000, a fully automated 1994 self-driving concept car!

The funny thing is, when I swung by on Sunday and spent a good hour walking about the museum in a state of complete and utter amazement, I saw no other visitors.

I learned Jim wouldn’t mind having more people swing on by. So if you live in San Diego or are planning a trip, look up the Frank the Train Man hobby shop. Step through the front door and the absolutely amazing J. A. Cooley Museum, and possibly Jim himself, await you!

Upon entering the J. A. Cooley Museum, visitors walk past a row of very old cars. On the left is a 1914 Ford Model T.
Upon entering the J. A. Cooley Museum, visitors walk past a row of very old cars. On the left is a 1914 Ford Model T.
1910 Hunt Special, the only car ever manufactured in San Diego. This one car was produced by Mr. William Hunt of National City, ordered by Mr. Arnie Babcock, whose father built the Hotel del Coronado.
1910 Hunt Special, the only car ever manufactured in San Diego. Just one car was produced by Mr. William Hunt of National City, ordered by Mr. Arnie Babcock, whose father built the Hotel del Coronado.
1933 Franklin Olympic, produced one year before Franklin Motor Company ceased operations during the Great Depression.
1933 Franklin Olympic, produced the year before Franklin Motor Company ceased operations during the Great Depression.
1929 Franklin Model 135, produced the first year that Franklin offered a steel frame and hydraulic brakes.
1929 Franklin Model 135, produced the first year that Franklin offered a steel frame and hydraulic brakes.
1913 Cadillac Model 48. This car on display is the most original 1913 Cadillac left in existence today.
1913 Cadillac Model 48. This car on display is the most original 1913 Cadillac left in existence today.
1912 Carter Car. The body of the Carter Car is made of compressed papier-mâché composite panels over wood framing. This car on display is the only Carter Car Sedan left in existence.
1912 Carter Car. The body of the Carter Car is made of compressed papier-mâché composite panels over wood framing. This car on display is the only Carter Car Sedan left in existence.
Buick XP 2000, a fully automated 1994 self-driving concept car that was donated to the J. A. Cooley Museum because the designer was very impressed by the collection when GM executives visited the museum.
Buick XP 2000, a fully automated 1994 self-driving concept car that was donated to the J. A. Cooley Museum because the designer was very impressed by the collection of rare cars when GM executives visited the museum.
A couple of early cameras among a vast collection of antiques and memorabilia filling the J. A. Cooley Museum.
A couple of early cameras among a vast collection of antiques and memorabilia inside the J. A. Cooley Museum.
Behind some cars you'll find a rare WurliTzer Model 153 Band Organ.
Behind some cars you’ll find a rare WurliTzer Model 153 Band Organ.
An antique two-horn Duplex Phonograph.
An antique two-horn Duplex Phonograph.
An antique Edison Concert Phonograph.
An antique Edison Concert Phonograph.
An old photo of the Frank The Train Man storefront over an Edison Home Phonograph.
An old photo of the Frank The Train Man storefront over an Edison Home Phonograph.
One wall and a couple of glass display cases filled with fantastic old collectibles and Americana.
One wall and a couple of glass display cases filled with fantastic old collectibles and Americana.
Shelves and shelves of old cameras.
Shelves and shelves of old cameras.
Shelves filled with old irons.
Shelves filled with old irons.
Antique cast iron horse drawn toy fire engines.
Cast iron horse drawn toy fire engines.
Shelves and shelves of Standard Gauge toy train locomotives and cars from 1900 to the 1940's.
Shelves and shelves of Standard Gauge toy train locomotives and cars from 1900 to the 1940’s.
Lionel toy train accessories including buildings and railroad crossing signals.
Lionel toy train accessories including buildings and railroad crossing signals.
All sorts of old manual typewriters and calculating machines. (I must be an antique, too, because I used a manual typewriter when I was young!)
All sorts of old manual typewriters and calculating machines. (I must be an antique, too, because I used a manual typewriter when I was a young man!)
One corner of the J. A. Cooley Museum contains shelves of spittoons, coffee grinders, old lanterns and more!
One corner of the J. A. Cooley Museum contains shelves of spittoons, coffee grinders, old lanterns and more!
1895 E. A. Gardner Buggy, the only light weight horse drawn carriage that was built in San Diego known to exist today.
1895 E. A. Gardner Buggy, the only lightweight horse-drawn carriage that was built in San Diego known to exist today.
1885 Benz Model 1. The first vehicle in world history that used an internal combustion engine. They were produced from 1885 to 1926, when the company merged with Mercedes.
1885 Benz Model 1. The first vehicle in world history that used an internal combustion engine. They were produced from 1885 to 1926, when the company merged with Mercedes.
1895 Benz Velo. The world's first mass-produced vehicle. 67 were built the first year, 135 the second.
1895 Benz Velo. The world’s first mass-produced vehicle. 67 were built the first year, 135 the second.
1899 Mobile Steamer. Built under Stanley Patents from 1899 to 1903.
1899 Mobile Steamer. Built under Stanley Patents from 1899 to 1903.
A bunch of old-fashioned oil cans and various other objects.
A bunch of old-fashioned oil cans and various other cool objects.
Cuckoo clocks and a historical display of different California license plates!
Cuckoo and mantel clocks, and a historical display of different California license plates!
So many fantastic old objects and collectibles, my eyes almost popped out of my head.
So many fantastic old objects and collectibles, my eyes almost popped out of my head.
I believe these are cast iron coin banks.
I believe these are cast iron coin banks.
All sorts of cool cast iron figures and toys, including an awesome motorcycle!
All sorts of cast iron figures and toys, including an awesome motorcycle!
Two shelves containing railroad lanterns.
Two shelves containing railroad lanterns.
Some classic Coca Cola trays and even more antique collectibles.
Some classic Coca Cola trays and even more antique collectibles.
A bunch of jugs!
A bunch of jugs!
1900 Doctor's Buggy. The narrow, light body allowed for quick travel during medical emergencies. The tires are metal.
1900 Doctor’s Buggy. The narrow, light body allowed for quick travel during medical emergencies. The tires are metal.
1900 Crest. This extremely original car is also very rare, with few left in existence today.
1900 Crest. This extremely original car is also very rare, with few left in existence today.
1905 Cadillac Model F. This particular unrestored car was bought new by famed newspaper founder Ira Copley.
1905 Cadillac Model F. This particular unrestored car was bought new over a century ago by famed newspaper founder Ira Copley.
There's so much cool stuff inside the J. A. Cooley Museum your head might explode!
There’s so much cool stuff inside the J. A. Cooley Museum your head might explode!
1910 Brush Model D, just one of many amazing old automobiles exhibited inside the J. A. Cooley Museum in San Diego.
Front and center is a 1910 Brush Model D, just one of many amazing old automobiles exhibited inside the J. A. Cooley Museum in San Diego!

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Photos of RC boats racing for San Diego Cup!

Today I headed over to Mission Bay’s large model yacht pond, located near the center of Vacation Isle Park, to watch gasoline-powered high speed RC boats race for the San Diego Cup!

The exciting annual event is hosted by the San Diego Argonauts, who sail and race a variety of model boats on the saltwater pond. I blogged about the San Diego Argonauts and hobbyists maneuvering remote control sailboats out on the pond here.

San Diego Cup weekend features over 160 RC powerboats in dozens of classes, brought in by groups from all over Southern California and Arizona. The local group is called SD Gassers.

I spoke to a few people and watched several races. I learned that the model speedboats are built from kits, and that the different classes are determined by the size of the boat. I observed that after contestants are told to start their engines (which at times is problematic) there is a countdown to the beginning of the race. After tossing their boats into the water, it appeared that getting in optimal position for the start was an important aspect of the strategy.

These amazing little powerboats can go over 60 miles per hour! Boats are readied and repaired on the shore and good times are had by all contestants.

It definitely appears to be a fun hobby!

The racing continues through Sunday and anybody can watch from the grassy shore. If you’re in San Diego, head over to the model yacht pond in Mission Bay and check it out!

I took some photos of the action…

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Fun stage dioramas at Paper Theatre Festival!

An example of a elaborate paper toy theater, a source of family entertainment in the 19th century.
An example of an elaborate paper toy theater, a source of family entertainment in the 19th century.

Today, just for fun, I headed up to the Paper Theatre Festival, which is held every year at UC San Diego.

Upon entering the Seuss Room at the Geisel Library, I couldn’t help smiling. Scattered about the room was a large collection of Victorian stage dioramas, character cut-outs, books and ephemera from the 19th century when paper toy theatre was a popular family entertainment.

All of the colorful artwork exhibited at the festival is part of an immense paper theatre collection assembled over the course of eighteen years by Scott Paulson. I listened to him talk to visitors young and old about his collection, and tried to absorb a bit of this unique art form’s history. I learned how in that bygone age, families would construct these paper theaters from kits, then act out plays with the included scripts and paper doll actors. The entertaining hobby encouraged people to learn about the operation of a real theater, including set design and stage lighting effects.

Walking about the Seuss Room, I bent over to peer into many highly ornate 3-dimensional dioramas. Slots at intervals on the stages allow different paper backdrops–scenery sheets–to be inserted, as you can see from my photos. Paper characters, which are often mounted at the ends of sticks, can be moved about on a stage as a dramatic performance demands.

The festival is geared toward kids, who are encouraged to handle these fun paper playhouses, learn about their history and create their own small dramas. The event continues Sunday and Monday. Click here to learn more!

Paper Theater - It's the smallest show on Earth! Historical amusements are on display at the Paper Theatre Festival at the UC San Diego Library.
Paper Theater – It’s the smallest show on Earth! Historical amusements are on display at the Paper Theatre Festival at the UC San Diego Library.
Objects on display include books, posters and materials to craft paper theaters.
Objects on display include books, posters and materials to create paper theaters.
A mirthful dance of magical characters!
A mirthful dance of magical characters!
A variety of paper toy theaters and related items are on display at the festival.
A variety of paper toy theaters and related items are on display at the annual festival.
A scenery sheet depicting a London street to be used in a play of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
A scenery sheet depicting a London street to be used in a play of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
Detail from one highly ornate paper stage.
Detail from one ornate paper stage.
These cut-out paper actors include dragons, knights and other fantastic characters.
These cut-out paper actors include dragons, knights and other fantastic characters.
Mr. Jackson's Elizabethan Theatre includes the characters and text for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Mr. Jackson’s Elizabethan Theatre includes the characters and text for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
An example of a French paper theatre kit.
An example of a French paper theatre kit.
The exhibition includes a crazy MOV-I-GRAFF card. The outline of the face is a fine chain. The face's shape can be altered with a jiggle.
The exhibition includes a crazy MOV-I-GRAFF card. The outline of the face is a fine chain. The face’s shape can be altered with a jiggle.
This stage features a troupe of ballet dancers!
This stage features a troupe of dancers!
Edward Gorey's Dracula, a toy theatre!
Edward Gorey’s Dracula. Classic horror and toy theatre!
Teatro de Mexico. A folk art toy theater.
Teatro de Mexico. A folk art toy theater.
Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop. Hansel and Gretel. A model to cut out and make.
Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop. Hansel and Gretel. A model to cut out and make.
A fun Hansel and Gretel scene made of paper!
A fun, very colorful Hansel and Gretel scene made of paper!

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Star Wars lightsaber combat at Maker Faire!

This member of the San Diego Sabers has personally made many lightsabers. Some examples lie on the group's table during Maker Faire in Balboa Park.
This member of the San Diego Sabers has personally made many lightsabers. Some examples lie on the group’s table during Maker Faire in Balboa Park.

The last couple of years at Maker Faire San Diego I’ve watched a group of Star Wars enthusiasts entertain audiences with lightsaber duels. They have engaged in their elaborate play on the main stage, swinging their illuminated lightsabers in mock combat, to rousing music from the Star Wars movies.

This year, as I walked around Maker Faire, I happened upon this group’s cool lightsaber exhibit. These local Star Wars fans call themselves the San Diego Sabers. They are one of many similar groups all around the world that make their own lightsabers and engage in mock combat.

I asked all sort of questions and learned more than I expected. Most of the extremely elaborate lightsabers used by the members produce colored light, illuminating a long clear tube that can be attached, thereby appearing much like the Jedi and Sith weapons made famous in the movies. Most of the mock weapons also generate that distinctive lightsaber sound. I learned that it’s also possible to order a variety of lightsabers from several online vendors.

Regional competitions are often held between groups, and the method of scoring is similar to that used in fencing. The sport is lightning fast, highly athletic and incorporates various styles of martial arts. The San Diego Sabers provide demos free to the public, teach all ages including kids (often using foam lightsabers for safety), and encourage acceptance, respect, and a positive attitude.

And it’s obvious they have a lot of fun!

Many DIY lightsabers are surprisingly elaborate, generating light and sound, while appearing as authentic as any movie prop.
Many DIY lightsabers are surprisingly elaborate, generating light and sound, while appearing as authentic as any movie prop.
The San Diego Sabers provides full contact lightsaber training based on fencing, HEMA, Kendo and Wu-shu. Kids are welcome and it's free!
The San Diego Sabers provides full contact lightsaber training based on fencing, HEMA, Kendo and Wu-shu. Kids are welcome and it’s free!
Someone picks up one of the cool lightsabers on display.
Someone picks up one of the cool lightsabers on display.
Members of the San Diego Sabers demonstrate mock combat using foam attachments. Together they've got enough lightsabers to take on General Grievous!
Members of the San Diego Sabers demonstrate mock combat using foam attachments. Together they’ve got enough lightsabers to take on General Grievous!
A kid checks out one of the cool lightsabers. As you might have noticed, I took these photos on two different days during Maker Faire San Diego.
A kid checks out one of the cool lightsabers. As you might have noticed, I took these photos on two different days during Maker Faire San Diego.
Kids have a lot of fun with the foam lightsabers.
Kids have a lot of fun with the foam lightsabers.
Members of the San Diego Sabers arrive at the Maker Faire main stage in the Plaza de Panama. A combat exhibition is about to begin.
Members of the San Diego Sabers arrive at the Maker Faire main stage in the Plaza de Panama. A combat exhibition is about to begin.
As Star Wars music plays, two members of the San Diego Sabers simulate an epic battle between the Jedi and Sith.
As Star Wars music plays, two members of the San Diego Sabers simulate an epic battle between the Jedi and Sith.

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Natural beauty at the West Coast Shell Show!

Colorful snail shells on display at the West Coast Shell Show.
Colorful snail shells on display at the West Coast Shell Show.

On Sunday I peered into Balboa Park’s Casa del Prado and discovered a surprising exhibition open free to the public. It was the San Diego Shell Club’s amazing West Coast Shell Show!

There were so many beautiful shells covering table after table it blew my mind. Every shell, I noted, was unique and interesting, and many that I saw seemed like exquisite works of art. Nature’s abundant beauty was spread throughout the room. It seemed I had blundered into a vast treasure of spilled jewels.

When I walk along a beach, I like to search the sand for bright or colorful objects washed up by the tide. But I honestly know next to nothing about shells from molluscs on land or in the sea. So I learned a few fascinating facts during my short conversations with a friendly hobbyist and a dealer.

Among other things, I learned some shells are highly prized for their rarity and apparent perfection, and that a few can fetch many thousands of dollars. I also learned there are relatively few serious shell collectors worldwide. But those who have a passion for shells have a hobby that promises new discoveries at every turn and inexhaustible wonder.

The West Coast Shell Show was presented in Balboa Park by the San Diego Shell Club.
The West Coast Shell Show was presented in Balboa Park by the San Diego Shell Club.
Beautiful shells of all types could be enjoyed--and purchased--inside the Casa del Prado over the weekend.
Beautiful shells of all types could be enjoyed–and purchased–inside the Casa del Prado over the weekend.
A variety of different colored abalone shells were on display at the show.
A variety of different colored abalone shells were on display at the show.
A wide variety of beautiful cowry shells, a type of sea snail.
A wide variety of beautiful cowries. They almost look like polished agates to me. The cowry is a type of sea snail.
The story of shells appears to have many chapters and subplots.
The Story of Shells appears to have many chapters and pages.
The many shells seemed to me like exotic jewels, no two exactly alike.
The shells seemed like exotic jewelry or small works of art, no two exactly alike.
One display case showed a large variety of fantastic chitons. These almost look like polished wood!
One display case showed a large collection of fantastic chitons. To me these almost look like varnished wood!
Dr. Wesley M. Farmer had a table full of scientific books, plus lots of unique art he'd created concerning nudibranchs, a type of sea slug. They shed their shells after their larval stage.
Dr. Wesley M. Farmer had a table full of scientific books, plus lots of unique art he’d created concerning nudibranchs, a type of sea slug. They shed their shells after their larval stage.
All sorts of fascinating mollusc art created by Wes Farmer, including specimens made with colored oven bake clay.
All sorts of fascinating mollusc art created by Wes Farmer, including specimens made with colored oven bake clay.
The public could enjoy many amazing sights at the West Coast Shell Show!
The public could enjoy many fantastic displays at the West Coast Shell Show!

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A look inside the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town.

A blacksmith shapes red hot iron at a forge in San Diego's historic Old Town.
A blacksmith shapes red hot iron at a forge in San Diego’s historic Old Town.

Yesterday I lingered for a few minutes at the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Two forges were operating. I watched as hammers swung, making sparks fly. It was fascinating to learn about blacksmithing and its vital role in San Diego’s history.

I chatted for a bit with one of the friendly gentlemen working in the Blacksmith Shop. These days the shop is used by highly skilled hobbyists to make all sorts of ornamental and useful metal items. They’ve made objects used for display elsewhere in the State Park. They make everything but horseshoes–and that’s because none of them know how to shoe a horse!

I learned that in 19th century San Diego there were several blacksmiths; this shop now in Old Town was probably located a bit to the east, on the outskirts of town (near today’s Presidio Hills Golf Course) because of the fire danger it presented to other buildings. No blacksmith shop back then would have been as large as the one visitors see today. A blacksmith would most likely do their work in the corner of a livery stable, using one modest forge.

Please read the photo captions to learn more!

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park's Blacksmith Shop and Wood Shop at the site of the Blackhawk Livery Stables, circa 1850-1871.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park’s Blacksmith Shop and Wood Shop at the site of the Blackhawk Livery Stables, circa 1850-1871.
Visitors to Old Town learn a little about life in San Diego during the mid 1800s. Blacksmiths created assorted metal objects, made repairs and shoed horses.
Visitors to Old Town learn a little about life in San Diego during the mid 1800s. Blacksmiths created assorted metal objects, made repairs and shoed horses.
This friendly blacksmith provided lots of fascinating information. Visitors watch with interest as he works to create a pot holder.
This friendly blacksmith provided lots of fascinating information. Visitors watch with interest as he works to create a pot holder.
I learned that in early San Diego blacksmiths typically burned charcoal in their forge, as coal was usually of poor quality and difficult to obtain in Southern California.
I learned that in early San Diego blacksmiths typically burned charcoal in their forge, as coal was usually of poor quality and difficult to obtain in Southern California.
A huge bellows provides oxygen for this furnace. A good working temperature is about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
A huge bellows provides oxygen for this brick furnace. A good working temperature is about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Products that were fashioned include grills, traps, candle holders, fish roasters, knives, shovels, chains, hinges, nails, cooking ladles and horseshoes.
Products that were fashioned include iron grills, traps, candle holders, fish roasters, knives, shovels, chains, hinges, nails, cooking ladles and horseshoes.
Hammers, bars, wrenches and various blacksmithing tools hang from the rear wall, in addition to harnesses and other items one might find in a livery stable.
Hammers, bars, wrenches and various blacksmithing tools hang from the rear wall, in addition to harnesses and other items one might find in a livery stable.
The gentleman showed me some devices used to suspend pots over a fire. Everything on this wall was made by local members of blacksmithing clubs and organizations.
The gentleman showed me some devices used to suspend pots over a fire. Everything on this wall was made by local members of blacksmithing clubs and organizations.
A shiny anvil.
A shiny anvil.
This wide grassy area behind nearby Seeley Stable was once used for anvil shoots. Gunpowder was placed in a hollow indentation between two anvils and ignited, sending one anvil high into the air with a loud bang! Anvils that did not shatter were considered sound.
This wide grassy area behind nearby Seeley Stable was once used for anvil shoots. Gunpowder was placed in a hollow indentation between two anvils and ignited, sending one anvil high into the air with a loud bang! Anvils that did not shatter were considered sound.
Old Town visitor tries on a Spanish conquistador helmet made in the Blacksmith Shop.
Old Town visitor tries on a Spanish conquistador helmet made in the Blacksmith Shop.
A heavy anchor chain is shown. The welds must be as strong as the iron links.
A heavy anchor chain is shown. The welds must be as strong as the iron links themselves.
A look back at history. Skilled artisans used muscle, fire and sweat to make everyday life easier for the early residents of San Diego.
A photo of living history. Skilled artisans used muscle, fire, metal and sweat to make everyday life easier for the early residents of San Diego.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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