By STEVEN NALLEY
There is only one piece of metal in each of Bob Fye’s two replicas of Noah’s Ark.
“Neither one of them have any nails in them,” Fye, an 87-year-old retired entomologist, said. “I did it all with pegs and glue. The original ark probably had no metal in it, or a bare minimum of metal. I just thought that was the best way to go on these.”
The metal is not in the 5-foot-long, two-foot-wide ark itself, Fye said. The only way to find the piece of metal is to comb through the more than 100 wooden animal figurines Fye carved to place inside each ark.
“I had to make a porcupine tail to hang a porcupine on a limb,” Fye said.
Fye’s arks are the culmination of years of woodworking experience, which includes about 15 years at more than 100 craft shows selling animal figurines similar to those found in his ark.
Fye said all the figurines that now rest in his arks were made for the arks from the beginning. Some, he said, were based on animal figurines he sold, and some he saved up during his craft show years.
“In fact, I had all the animals cut a number of years ago, 10 at least,” Fye said. “I had to change my techniques sometimes to get them right.”
It took Fye one year to finish his first ark in 2005, he said, and two years to finish his second in 2011. While the deal has not closed yet, he said, he has offered the second ark to the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, where he sold figurines as well as much smaller toy arks after he stopped attending craft shows in 2000.
The second ark only took longer because an injury from a fall in a parking lot forced him to put the ark on hold for several weeks, he said. Building the ark itself does not take long, he said — it’s painting the animals that takes time.
“Being a professional biologist, I was a little fussier on some of them than others,” Fye said.
The ark itself is built mostly from pine, Fye said, with some plywood mixed in to give the ark extra strength. He said the only parts of the arks he did not make himself were barrels he bought representing the ark’s food and water supply.
“I built them with three decks, and each deck fits in the deck below, and there’s a roof that goes on the whole thing,” Fye said. “The decks come apart. In fact, they’re all strung out on a table so you can see the whole thing.”
Fye said the ark is far from the most ambitious thing he has built, as he built lab equipment and buildings before his retirement in 1985.
“Those are more complicated than the ark,” Fye said.
Fye’s expertise lies not only in woodwork, but also in mechanical engineering. He said he developed an interest in both when he was very young, starting with woodwork in the fifth or sixth grade.
“My dad had been a stone mason, and he had just converted over to a postal worker after World War I, and we had a basement full of tools we had accumulated,” Fye said. “He was kind enough to introduce my brother and I to them, and that’s how we got into it. I used to make things for my aunts and things for Christmas.”
Fye said he also worked with an uncle driven out of mechanical engineering and into farm work by the Great Depression. His uncle brought electrical wiring to farms and homes, he said, in an era when electrical power grids were still nascent in rural America.
“That’s where I learned a lot of the mechanical skills for my career,” Fye said. “By the time I got out of high school, I had the adequate knowledge to wire a house if necessary.”
Now, Fye said, he’s not likely to attempt something as ambitious as the arks again.
“I’m pretty well done,” Fye said. “I’m getting so shaky I don’t trust myself with the high-speed saws. I do have some wooden blocks, I may turn a few bowls out of those, but other than that, I don’t have any plans.”
Even if the ark is the end of an era for Fye, he said that era is just one of many.
“I consider it such a small part of my career, the entertainment part of my career, I guess you could say,” Fye said. “It was a little project I had thought of very often. When time became available, I decided to get on it. I had time on my hands.”