Monday, June 18, 2018

Death of a hobbyist


I learned this evening that Al Ernat, an old co-worker of mine, passed away in January. I came across the news by accident on a Tamiya Models forum.

I knew Al from back when I was about 15. He started working at D&J Hobby at that time. I'd been going to D&J to buy tank models 'n' stuff since they opened around 1970. Eventually, I worked there myself from 1977-78.

Al was a consummate plastic model builder and a long-time member of International Plastic Modelers Society (IPMS). I had the opportunity to see a lot of his work from back in the 70s. I was just a dabbler and his skill amazed me. He won several awards when I knew him and got a write-up about him in Finescale Modeler magazine in the 80s, I think.

Oddly, he was well known to the people on the forum because Tamiya Models gave his name to the first named driver of their scale R/C cars, the Tamiya Super-Champ.


I don't think I'd seen Al for at least 10 years. I always made a point of stopping by D&J when I had occasion to be down in San Jose. Al was still there behind the counter. The last time I was in San Jose, D&J was gone—or almost gone, or gone except for the name. The big shop was gone and one of the owners' children was running a much smaller version of the shop at a new location. Al wasn't there. I assume he'd been at the old shop until it closed when the owners retired, or maybe Al retired first. He was a bout 10 years older than me.

For me, working at D&J was my first job. It was something to move on from. I sometimes wondered on my trips back to San Jose why Al was still there and hadn't gone on to a "real" job. But it struck me that he was doing what he loved and that doing what you love can be a real job, too. In that sense, I think I envied him.

You can't go home again, Thomas Wolfe wrote. But you can, really, in your mind. And when I go home to the days of my youth, Al Ernat, with his white man's 'fro and acerbic wit is there with me chatting away a Sunday afternoon while we work together at the hobby shop.

Rest in peace, Al.

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