Richard Datin – builder of the Enterprise 1929-2011

Richard Datin (left) with the newly constructed Enterprise
photo courtesy of John Eaves

Richard Datin passed away on January 24, 2011.    As the man that built the original Enterprise, Richard’s legacy touches all of us.   Virtually everyone that has built a spaceship model has built an Enterprise at one time or another.   If you are like me, you have build quite a few.

Richard Datin was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1929 and graduated from New York Institute of Applied Arts & Sciences with a degree in architecture in 1950.   He started his own business in Los Angeles building architectural models which lead to his involvement in the entertainment industry.  In 1964 he was hired to build the three foot Enterprise miniature using plans created by Matt Jefferies.   In Decemeber 1964, Datin subcontracted the construction of the eleven foot model to Volmer Jenson.   Datin also oversaw later modifications to the studio models, as well as the construction of the shuttlecraft hanger and K-7 miniatures.    He worked on many projects in Hollywood, including Tora, Tora Tora, and Petticoat Junction.

Richard changed gears in the seventies, moving to Reno, Nevada, working as a researcher for the Nevada Historical Society.   He was a founding curator of the Nevada State Railroad Museum, continuing his love of railroad history.    He published several books about the history of Nevada, and traveled extensively.   He is survived by his wife Margie, three children and three step-children.

I was fortunate to have exchanged a few emails with Richard several years ago.   He was quite proud of his place in Star Trek history.   He shared his wealth of knowledge with Star Trek fans and model builders.   I asked a couple friends who knew Richard well to share their thoughts and memories of him.

William McCullars was one of the first model builders with a Star Trek website, The IDIC Page, sharing various photos he had collected over the years, including many rare photos of the Enterprise models.   William passed along this note:

I managed to track Richard down during the late ’90s to discuss his Star Trek modelmaking. I have a lifelong interest in the studio spaceship models used in Star Trek. Richard agreed to interviews, which went on for about two years off and on. He was incredibly patient with me and kept such good records of his work, as well as having a good memory. I finally completed the article around late 2000 or early 2001, and it was published in Star Trek: Communicator magazine in a two-part article. (There is actually a third part to the article, which the Communicator asked me to write for their planned website that never materialized!)

After that, the Smithsonian contacted me and asked for my help. I wrote the dedication plaque text and supplied the photo of Richard and the other Enterprise modelmakers for the 11-foot Enterprise studio model display at the NASM. Richard visited the NASM five or six years ago and had great pride in the dedication plaque:

Paul M. Newitt wrote the classic Star Fleet Assembly Manuals, which became the guide for building the AMT Star Trek model kits.  Paul was fortunate to have know Richard for many years.

I was about 15 in 1971 when I first met Richard Datin. I am also a fan of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad in Western Nevada (1870’s), and had some family items that I wanted to donate to the Nevada State Railroad Museum, just outside of Carson City. Richard was the curator there at the time and our family met him to donate those items.

Many years later, I somehow got to talking with him, but this time it was when I ‘d mentioned that I’d done the Star Fleet Assembly Manual series, and he said that he’d built the 11 foot Enterprise. About 2003, I drove up to Reno to meet with him, and look at the original blueprints of the TOS-E. These were working blueprints that Jefferies had drawn, with pencil notes of what to change (presumably from Roddenberry). They were cut up somewhat, so the lettering on the top of the hull was right. They were a real sight to see the originals, and to hold them in my hands!!!

Richard and his team went about building this large model–but at the time it was just another effects model from the old guard that built things with true craftsmanship and care. Richard also built the scale model of the train and “Shady Rest” hotel for Petticoat Junction. He made the original “Speedy Alka-Seltzer”, and was the hand that picked up the can of peas in the Jolly Green Giant commercials. Richard’s work was excellent–and yet in the standard that was meant for television. It was scale modeling with a fine art side to it for the camera.

The day I met with Richard in Reno, I took him to lunch at the Nugget Casino, and we talked about how the lights effects were done in the front of the Nacelles on the 11′ E. I explained how I’d received so much mail about what and how that was originally done since SFAM3 in 1976, that I needed to get to the bottom of this question for those who read my books.

I had a photo of the nacelle with the cap removed to ask him about the mirrors and nails and the motor shaft. Richard explained how it was Christmas lights attached to the backing plywood and that a visual display motor (for store window displays) turned a fan blade armature. I made notes and it was easier to figure out than most modelers and fans might think was in there.

Richard also built the K-7 Station from a scale model from an aerospace company. The clam-shell parts were originally a planned structure that would open and form a home for astronauts on the moon. Richard added the tubes and top piece and antenna, and it was done. Here is a photo of it in his memory.

I remember how Richard told me how he made the Shuttle craft miniature–and shuttle bay, too. There was even a foreshortened model as well for certain scenes. Richard was gracious enough to provide me with a scan of the decal sheet for the original Galileo model, too.

I remember Richard as a thoughtful man, and one that would take the time to answer my questions and ideas. Richard was a very good friend, and I will miss him.

I’d like to thank Paul and William for sharing their memories.   Information in this post comes from several sources.   The photo at the top of the page was posted on John Eaves blog, but can also be found on several other websites.   That photo is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum with the studio model.    Here are a few links with more information about Richard Datin and the classic Enterprise:

You may also be interested in finding these:

  • Star Trek Communicator #132 and 133 (from 2000) with William McCullars’ articles
  • Cinefantastique Magazine Vol. 27, No. 11/12 from 1996 with Richard Datin interview


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