County man spends three years building model of ‘Miss Belterra’

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Larry Pence has always been a pretty handy person. Growing up, he liked to build things, so much so that he decided to make carpentry his career.

Over the years he’s worked on everything from restoring furniture to building entire houses – but it is the boat in the woodshop that is his pride and joy.

Having relocated to Switzerland County from Anderson in 2001, Larry Pence got a job in engineering with Belterra Casino Resort and Spa. As he worked each day, he became fascinated with the riverboat itself, and when he discovered that casinos in Lawrenceburg and Rising Sun had scale-model replicas of their riverboats on display but there wasn’t one for Belterra, he decided that he’d try his hand at building one.

“I’ve had a woodshop for years, and I’ve built just about everything,” Larry Pence said. “The CEO when I worked there was Kevin Kaufman, and I told him that I was thinking about building a replica of it, and he said ‘go for it, Larry’. Little by little, I put it together with help from my friend, Frank Bandy.”

Three years later, a 1/32nd-scale model of the Miss Belterra riverboat is complete.

Six feet long, two feet wide and 29-inches feet tall, the riverboat weighs just over 200 pounds. Although it’s small in size, it is amazingly precise down to the smallest detail.

What makes the replica even more special is that it is a “local product”.

“Most of the wood that I used to build the boat is Poplar that came off of the golf course when they cleared trees to make the course,” Larry Pence said. “I bought that off of Tony Brzinski. He had it logged when they cleared the trees to build the golf course. He had everything rough sawed, and I bought everything off of him to build the boat with. It’s the local boat build with local wood.”

The hardest part of building the boat?

“Getting it all to scale,” Larry Pence said. “They gave me the exact length, width, and height of it, then I went from there. We took a pontoon and got back in the bay and took detailed pictures of it, then I had the pictures blown up. I scaled everything down from the pictures.”

With all of the technology, Larry Pence also relied on some “old fashioned” measurements.

“Working there, I could step things off,” he smiled.

Larry Pence said that he began construction with the two side rails.

“The back of it is kind of flat, and then it rolls and comes up and comes to a ‘V’ in the front,” he said. “I just made two of those alike, and then started tying things together to where I could build the decks up. Then I took quarter-inch luan and cut slots to where it would roll up and make ‘V’s’ and everything.”

Larry Pence said that the hull is all 3/4-inch wood, while the decks are half-inch think.

He admits that he did have to buy the shutters that surround the replica windows on the model; along with some tiny spindles – but everything else was handmade in the Bandy Woodshop near Bryant’s Creek.

The windows themselves were another matter. With each one about the size of half a credit card, grooves were made in each one before paint was applied in the grooves to create the pains. Each window in the replica has 24 individual pains.

“Stuff like that are why it took so long,” Larry Pence laughed. “I’d work on it for awhile, and then I’d have other projects that I’d work on for awhile and then I’d come back to it. I figure I’ve got about 1,200 hours in it.”

What’s he going to do with it now?

“Well, I’m going to see if I can get an appointment to where I can present it to Belterra and see if they would want it,” Larry Pence said. “This is the only casino around here that doesn’t have one, so I hope they would like to have it and display it.”

– Pat Lanman