Richard James – a biography of skill and talent

Dianne St. Jean

Whether it’s innate talent, training and discipline, or a combination - the skill of Richard James is obvious.

Richard James brought his Fairbanks Morris model to Canada Day a couple of years ago, along with other working models.
Richard James brought his Fairbanks Morris model to Canada Day a couple of years ago, along with other working models.

James has become known in the Valemount area for his engine replicas, his most famous being the Fairbanks Morris engine, a 1/6 scale model of the original which he has proudly displayed at Canada Day in Valemount. The attention to fine detail is really something to be admired. It took him two years and 2000 hours to build, and it is the only one in Canada.

James has been working on his models now for a number of years, and still has ongoing projects. A man with an eye for detail, James got interested in the craft when he was in his mid-sixties. His previous lifelong work had been mainly trucking and load hauling. He also built the home he and wife Julie still live in, having built three houses in his lifetime.

The couple had moved to Valemount in 1965 about a year after they were married. “There was no road then,” he explains, adding that he had a couple of trucks, one he designed himself, and came to find work at McBride. He eventually got work on the construction of the old highway, also known as Main Street Valemount.

“I happened to have two new International gravels trucks and got employed hauling the rocks that were being crushed while they were building the old highway,” he says. But when he was 59, James experienced a heart attack and quit the loading work.

A close up of another current project. The cylindrical glass casings are only about 1” high, which gives an indication of the degree of fine detail of the pieces.
A close up of another current project. The cylindrical glass casings are only about 1” high, which gives an indication of the degree of fine detail of the pieces.

One day, when in his mid-sixties, he was reading an antique magazine about restoring old machinery, and it caught his interest. There was an ad in there for castings, so he contacted Tom Stewart in Salem, Oregon and ended up buying castings from him. He set himself up with a lathe and milling machine, and hasn’t looked back since.

Obviously Richard James has a gift and an eye for detail, and the patience to go with putting it all together. I wonder if that confidence in just tackling projects fearlessly is at least in part influenced by his upbringing, which itself is interesting.

James and twin brother John, along with one older sister and two other brothers, were raised near the now extinct town of Orkney, Saskatchewan. When the twins were about eight years old their dad brought home a welding outfit, and after that time says James, he did all the welding on the combine tables.

Children were treated differently back then, especially farm kids, who just presumably were believed to have the maturity and skill to undertake tasks that some parents today would shudder having their young children do. 

James recounts how they were on the tractors at nine years old, and when they were 11 they each had a combine. They had two tractors, including a British one-cylinder/two-cycle Marshall, and they’d drive them around the fields. He also recounts how his dad purchased a tractor in 1949 and that they drove it home themselves from Saskatoon.

I got a chance to not only see some of the finished models at the James’ home, but new projects he has on the go as well.  James makes each and every tiny, detailed piece by hand. It’s a real talent and work of art that deserves to be recognized and appreciated.

Keep on building, Richard James, so that we can continue to enjoy and admire the amazing end-products.

 

One of James’ current projects.
One of James’ current projects.

Side view and rear of the Fairbanks Morris model that demonstrates the detail put in to the project.
Side view and rear of the Fairbanks Morris model that demonstrates the detail put in to the project.
Dianne St. Jean PHOTO