By John Burton
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Hans Mikaitis, his foreman Ken Foster and their client, Adam Schneider, may not be on a mission to “boldly go where no man has gone before” but they are clearly having a ball with their project.
“It’s different from what we’ve been doing, I’ll tell you that,” Mikaitis acknowledged from his workshop.
Mikaitis, who owns and operates Master Shipwrights, Inc., 25 West Highland Ave., usually works on building and repairing boats, both leisure and commercial craft. But over the years he and his staff have taken on other woodworking jobs that require their deft hands. Some of those projects have been offbeat, he and Foster acknowledged.
“You never know when that phone rings what it’s going to bring,” Mikaitis said.
He has been working on restoring the approximately 24-feet prop used in the original Star Trek TV series, dating back to 1967. The Galileo was the shuttle spaceship used by various characters on the show’s USS Enterprise as they sped through galaxies on the show’s fictional five-year mission.
The work the firm is doing to the mostly wooden TV spaceship is “pretty extensive,” Mikaitis said.
“It’s nothing but a frame here,” he said pointing to the vessel’s bare shell. “We have to rebuild the whole thing.”
“It was just a wreck,” when it arrived in his workshop in the fall, Mikaitis said.
A previous owner had purchased the piece with the intention of showing it at conventions and fan shows but eventually allowed it deteriorate to the point where it needed a complete overhaul, according to Mikaitis.
When Schneider contacted him he said, it “sounded interesting and fun and I told him to bring it in.”
The work requires Master Shipwrights to replace or repair window, cabinetwork and the sheet metal over the wooden frame and painting. “Everything’s getting done to it,” Mikaitis said.
Along with that work, Foster said, they will have to attach two pods, long pontoon-like fixtures to its exterior which are suppose to look like jet engines; each weighs about 600 pounds.
The Galileo was purchased in June from the Kiko Auction House in Canton, Ohio, for about $70,000, Schneider said
Schneider, 56, lives in Long Branch (he is not related to Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider) and works in New York City as a management consultant in the financial industry.
Schneider, who describes himself as a “science fiction kind of guy,” has begun collecting items that have appeared in movies and on TV, especially those that have been used in sci-fi features and especially spaceship models and props. He caught the collecting bug while attending an auction at Christie’s in New York City about six years ago.
“I fell head over heels for the spaceships,” he said. “I said to myself ‘These are really cool.’ ”
Collecting movie and TV props, especially costumes, is not an uncommon hobby. But what makes his take on it especially interesting, Schneider said, is the rarity of them. Costumes mean multiple versions, which can have a tendency to walk away following the initial production; spaceship models are much fewer and more guarded. Couple that with the ever-increasing reliance on computer-generated imaging in productions, and there’s no need to build them, making the existing ones that much more scarce – and desirable – for collectors, he said.
The spaceships, he said, “are big and interesting and, in my mind, beautiful.”
When it comes to Star Trek Mikaitis, who has been in business for more than 50 years, conceded he hasn’t “paid much attention to it.” But, since he’s been working on the project, he’s found “there’s a load of devoted trekkies who are coming in and asking, ‘can I look at it?’ ”
Foster has teased Mikaitis, saying his boss is developing an appreciation for the show and movies. “Can’t you see his pointy ears,” Foster joked, smiling, with Mikaitis adding he now pays attention to it, when he comes across one of the show’s incarnations on TV.
Schneider, a member of the baby boom generation and a sci-fi fan, holds a special place in his heart for the original show because, in the guise of an outer space adventure, it tackled such heady topics as racism, the Vietnam War and religion. “The content was far more sophisticated than appeared on television,” once you got beyond the phaser ray guns, which were pretty cool, he said.
The spaceship should be completed in March, Makaitis expects.
Schneider said he plans to make a trip to California to track down the original paint to make it is as close to the original as possible.
Schneider’s ultimate plan is to fix it and “donate it to a museum for the public to enjoy it.” He has been in discussions about a possible location, though he declined to name which ones.
Mikaitis has found that the advantages of doing this type of work is “it doesn’t have to float, it doesn’t have to fly.”