Staff photo by Mark Kennedy/Bud Parks, 90, shows off his hand-assembled model boats in the halls of the Morning Pointe Senior Living community in Hixson.

For 90-year-old Bud Parks, building model boats is more than just a hobby. "It's been a lifesaver for me," says Parks, a widower whose wife, Mackie, died in 2020.

For at least the past 25 years, Parks has been immersed in the craft of building wooden, radio-controlled boats. Some are up to 48 inches long and can shoot across the water at 60 mph.

He sometimes races his handmade boats at the Camping World pond in East Ridge, where the Chattanooga Model Boat club hosts competitions.

Parks has a workshop next to his apartment at the Morning Pointe Senior Living community in Hixson. When he noticed that a utility room was going essentially unused, he asked if he could build his boats there. The answer was "yes." Now, the halls at the Morning Pointe location are lined with Parks' elegant mahogany and maple boats. Most are scale models of actual 19th-century watercraft.

There's a model of the "Typhoon," a mahogany boat built for Edsel Ford in the late 1800s. There's a replica of the "George Washington" tug boat launched in 1890 to work on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. And there's even a stern wheel boat called the "Myrtle Corey," which was a tug boat converted into a pleasure boat.

Parks is a retired engineer who previously worked at the Combustion Engineering plant here. Later, he worked as a property manager in downtown Chattanooga for Independent Health Properties.

After his retirement from Combustion Engineering, Parks said he and Mackie spent years enjoying their own boat, traveling up and down the Tennessee River in their Celebrity Express Cruiser. They would travel from Ft. Loudon, Tennessee, in the north, south to Scottsboro, Alabama, Parks said in an interview.

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Ninety-year-old Hixson man makes crazy fast model boats

When his wife was no longer able to travel due to health issues, Parks looked for another hobby.

"I started [building models] when my wife and I had to quit boating," he said. "It gave me an outlet to continue my love of boats."

Parks says it takes two to six months, working several hours a day, to complete one of his models. He works from kits, most of which cost less than $1,000.

There's a process. All the boats start with a keel assembly, and then plywood planking is added to build out the hull. Next strips of wood, usually maple or mahogany, are applied to the hull, and the boats are finished with coats of polyurethane.

"The models arrive in boxes about 3-feet long, and they're filled with lots of wood and instructions," he said. "You have to be patient and correct your mistakes as you go. Some boats go smooth, all the way through, no problems. Others, it seems like everything I do goes wrong."

Parks says that with age comes patience. As a young man, he would have never been able to work through mistakes, he said.

"In my younger years, I would have thrown it on the floor and stomped it," he said.

But when things are going well, he gets in a zone building the boats, Parks says, and the hours melt away.

"I can get involved with one of these [boats] and shut out the world," he says.

Life Stories is published on Mondays. Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPcolumnist.