Talking to Elmer Lakata and his wife, Carol, it’s easy to see how much the couple, who live in New York state, love Labrador and North West River in particular.
Both have strong ties to the area — Carol (nee Montague) is from the community, with many siblings and extended family still living there — while Elmer was stationed at North West Point in the early 1950s with the United States Air Force.
About five years ago, Elmer decided he wanted to do something special to acknowledge the history of the area.
“I had taken the Bonavista coastal boat when I was posted here,” said Elmer, who recently visited North West River with Carol.
“So in the early 1980s, I built a model of the ship.”
As the years went by, Elmer said he would think to himself, what would happen to the ship when he passed away?
“It was just sitting in the house. The kids will probably throw it out, as it doesn’t have any meaning for them. So, we took it here, to the Labrador Heritage Museum.”
That one donation has since led to dozens more, with most all models having a working component of some kind.
With his background as an electrical engineer, Elmer has brought the models to life, with lights, music, dancing people, moving saws, tracks and propellers.
“I used to paint … and then that got boring,” said Elmer. “Then I started building models, and that got boring after a while until I decided to make them mechanical.”
During the last five years, he has taken three batches of a dozen or so models to the museum for display.
The most recent trip was last week, when an open house was held at the museum for his newest additions.
“It was a great turnout,” said Amy McAuley, curator at the Labrador Heritage Museum.
“People are amazed at his work, very impressed with how he does it.”
McAuley noted one piece in particular usually fools people with regards to its age.
“There is a large music box that, when the button is pressed, the curtains open and a band plays the ‘Ode to Labrador’,” she said. “Many people think this piece is actually somewhere around 100 years old. But he only made it within the last several years.”
Elmer was stationed with the United States Air Force at North West Point in 1955.
He stepped into a dance hall one weekend, and there he saw his future wife, Carol.
“Two years after meeting Carol, we were married,” he recalled. “We come back every few years, and even had a cabin up in Grand Lake for seven years.”
Elmer said he not only fell in love with Carol, but also with North West River.
“I was born in New York City, in the Bronx, which is like a ghetto now,” he said. “But when I got older, our family moved to upstate New York, which is in the country and I loved it.”
Elmer and Carol live in Johnstown, N.Y., which he says is nearly identical to North West River.
“We have snowfalls every year and our winters are just as cold, but not as long.”
Elmer was stationed at North West Point for just six months, helping to install transmitter towers.
“We would build them, test them, and turn them over for operation,” he said. “There were no satellites then. This was during the Cold War, and there was no way to have a communication link with Europe without these high-powered transmitters.”
Elmer said he has a long list of items for future projects, including one that recently made the news.
“I will certainly be making a model of the North West River Hospital that burned down,” he said.
“I also have a list of mission boats that I would like to do. The challenge will be finding pictures of them.”
Carol is pleased her husband has a hobby he loves.
“If he’s not building something, he’s trying to fix something,” she said with a chuckle.
“My wife is a great critic, too,” added Elmer. “If I’m about to paint something — a roof on a building red, for a example — she will say, ‘No, that roof was more of a maroon than a red.’”
Elmer said he generally works on his models between October and May each year.
“I smoke my pipe, drink my coffee and build. I love it.”
He has a high regard for the Labrador Heritage Museum and its staff and encourages everyone to go see the many displays it houses.
The museum — located on the North West River waterfront — is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday until Aug. 31.
Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children. For more information, call 497-8858.