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The Model Citizen: Joe, A Personal Memory


The Model Citizen: Joe, A Personal Memory

"You have to look harder, you have to notice the details in life."
Joe Cavorley

Tom Geiger
December 1996


On November 30, 1996, the modeling community suffered a serious loss with the death of Joseph Cavorley, Jr. Joe was 39 years old and is survived by his wife Johanna, and daughter, Joanne Marie. Joe was known throughout the hobby as a leading builder of both light and heavy commercial trucks. His work appeared in every model magazine and he won top awards for his work at major model shows across the country. He was a member of both the Jersey Shore Model Car Club and the Tristate Scale Model Car Club.


When I first got involved in modeling back in 1986, I found Scale Auto Enthusiast Magazine at a bookstore in Boston. Then and there, the models of Joe Cavorley jumped from the pages, instantly capturing my attention.

First, I remember the scratch built New York City transit bus. Then came the famous Ford popcorn truck, the Bulldog Macks and a dozen or more "dirty old trucks". I hoped to someday see these vehicles in person and maybe even meet this model master craftsman.

I found the organized hobby, joined a club, and began to regularly attend model car events. There I came across the trucks that were even more spectacular in person than in any magazine article. And I met the character known as Joe.

Bigger than life, a booming voice, thick black beard and his ever present bandanna, Joe not only showed me his models, detail by detail, but he did so while I held them and worked each feature myself. In a hobby where. "Don't touch!" and "Don't even breathe on the models!" is the law, Joe insisted, "Here take it, it won't break!"

Still, I trembled as I held model wonders that were far beyond my wildest dreams for my own capabilities, Joe didn't see it that way. There were no trade secrets, no magic formulas. Not only had I met the man and seen the models, but he wanted to be my friend and show me how I could build them too.

I saw Joe at one Tristate meeting and he had four sticks of Evergreen plastic glued into a rectangle with the flat head six from the '41 Plymouth kit sitting inside it. "Scratch building a tanker truck." he confidently told me. The next time I saw him, he had his famed Texaco Airflow tanker truck with him. You had to believe in Joe.

About this time, we formed the Jersey Shore Model Car Club and Joe became one of the charter members. He was building his 1932 Ford Motor Company traveling advertising display truck complete with the Ford auto rolling chassis inside it.

Those early club meetings had a world class seminar series as we all watched the progress of the truck each month. Joe would explain the scratch building concepts and the steps that went into each operation. Never worried about breakage, he passed the truck around the room and we all examined it in great detail. It became our truck.

We cheered the progress. Joe would explain that his skills were not unique talents, but simple techniques that could be learned by all. He actively encouraged everyone to "Just give it a try. All you have to do is take a scrap of this, a bit of wire and a little imagination. You can build anything!". His belief was that the only thing that separated him from the rest of us was that no one had taken the time to teach us the tricks of the trade. And he was going to fix that.

At this time, I was looking for a modeling style and it all clicked. I fell in love with the trusty old work truck. Survivors who stood the test of time and untold abuse, but still managed to start every day. I was up to Joe's challenge and he started to coach me on the finer points of dents, rust and weathering.

My first real attempt at building a model in the style of Joe was my 1955 Chevy Christmas Tree Truck. It won first place in Tristate's annual Christmas contest before the glue dried, but I was more interested in the reaction of the master. "Nice try. BUT you could've opened the doors!", he critiqued in his New York style. Forget the fact that it consistently won first in class at the shows, if it wasn't good enough for Joe, I had to do better.

My next shot at pleasing my teacher was my 1953 Ford Pyrite's Paddler. I opened the doors and scratch built nearly everything short of the cab and chassis. Again I won the Tristate contest and cleaned up at the shows. Joe's reaction: "The windshield wipers are too shiny." I knew I was on to something, but he wasn't letting me off that easy. He wanted me to keep working.

When both trucks appeared in Car Modeler, I received a phone call. "So you think you're pretty hot now!", the unannounced caller I instantly recognized as Joe exclaimed. "Do you think you can compete with me?", he asked. I didn't know what to say. He answered, "Good, I need the competition to keep me sharp!". Joe was like that. He didn't want to be the big fish. He would rather share his skills and be surrounded by accomplished modelers.

Joe liked competition and he liked to win 'fair and square'. When he lost fairly, he'd say, "There was more work into that truck." and he'd start to build something new. He also was a real stickler for taking the 'shiny boy toy 4x4s' out of the Light Commercial class, a philosophy I shared, so that the real commercial vehicles could compete fairly. Once when the Ford Display Truck was unfairly nosed out by a snow plow with a huge air conditioning unit mounted on it's roof, Joe exclaimed that he'd have to build a garbage truck with a sleeper on it to compete in that show. This became a running gag among a circle of friends.

The last time I saw Joe was at this year's Staten Island Model Show. I wasn't planning on attending, but something changed my mind at the last minute. I hadn't seen Joe in a while and I knew he would be there. SI was HIS show. Painting my house could wait.

He immediately mentioned that he heard that I was going to build the same truck he was. This is the 1956 Chevy Dekalb Lumberjack. A unique custom body built for lumber yard use on a Chevy pickup chassis. This truck was featured in This Old Truck Magazine, another vise that Joe had turned me on to.

I offered to step aside, leaving the job to the best man, but Joe would have none of that. He wanted both of us to build one at the same time. My job was to enlarge the article diagrams up to 1/25 scale on my copier and his was to locate an example of the truck that he believed was out on Long Island. We were going on a field trip.

I showed him my 1959 Chevy convertible, which I had dented, rusted and put quite a bit of scratch built detail into. I weathered it to the best of my taught abilities and to scary realism. This was courting danger since it was only a CAR! Joe looked it over intently and said, "Nice model.", without a critical comment. I had finally met his expectations.

And that was the last time I saw Joe.

Those of us who knew Joe, were aware that he was not in good health. Sever asthma and other problems saw him retired on disability over ten years ago. In the last few years, Joe's condition worsened and his appearances at hobby events became further apart. And now he's gone.

What I admired most about Joe was what he did with his life. Sidelined with health concerns from many avenues of achievement, Joe strove to lead a life of accomplishment. He filled his time by practicing his own unique brand of art, earning the distinction of being widely recognized as the best in his field. He entertained people who became enthralled with his work and enthusiastically taught all who would listen.This was his life's work. Joe was a success.

One time when I told him that I was going to build a Plymouth Volare kit into a New York City messenger car, complete with twenty years of damage, Joe remarked, "Great idea. Most people would look right past that car on the street and never even see it. You have to look harder, you have to notice the details in life."

I do not claim to be very close to Joe. I am just one of the many modelers of average talent that Joe helped and encouraged. I looked up to him as a mentor and enjoyed the time we had together. I still strive to someday reach the level of modeling skill he exhibited. He changed the way I look at things. Now I notice the details.

I will truely miss him.

(This column originally appeared in the TSSMCC NEWS, December 1996 and the JSMCC NEWS, January 1997)

Copyright 1996 by Tom Geiger, All Rights Reserved, Used with permission.

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