... The Origin of Wah's Bucks

November 2008 -  Some dedicated and resourceful members of the (now former) Trek Prop Zone board made collectively an amazing discovery of historical significance - they have identified the found object Wah Chang used to create the bucks for shaping the communicator shells!  Conventional wisdom had assumed the bucks were carved out of wood or perhaps clay.  Not so.  They were with absolute certainty cast in plaster directly off of a mold made from a plastic pencil case by the Sterling Manufacturing Company:

Images above and below courtesy of Greg Schnitzer and the TPZ.

This "Pencil Box" theory has been bandied about for years, with some junior fans as far back as the 1970s keenly noting the uncanny resemblance between their dime store pencil box and the cool prop pictured in the TMOST ("The Making of Star Trek") book.  Well, as it turns out, they were spot-on correct all along.  How did this theory then move to confirmed certitude?  The two key pieces of evidence at long last met; a vintage intact pencil box and a perfectly cast version of a genuine Wah comm.  It all started publically when TPZ member Todd Mustachio launched a thread wondering if anyone remembered the kind of box so many of us had as kids.  Fellow member Greg Schnitzer promptly posted pictures of one he had obtained in auction.  Noting the modern bar code on the packaging and wondering if this model was also available in the mid 1960s, Keith Marshall found this U.S. patent record dated 1961.  Milling marks on the back where the date was edited suggests this box came off of the original 60's metal tooling.  Additional pictures showed matching profiles.  So far, so good:

What shifted gears into overdrive was when HMS, the manufacturer of communicator kits sold by Roddenberry.com, showed off their new bucks that utilized such a pencil box (seen below).  Of monumental importance was the appearance in their bottom buck of four circles (pointed to by the arrows) indicating where the small circular domed "feet" on the bottom of the box (with a 5/16" diameter) had been sanded down.  Soon after Mr. Schnitzer followed with pictures of the bottom of his box:

Images above courtesy of HMS, Greg Schnitzer and the TPZ.

It was Dennis Stines who immediately recognized that faint traces of identical 5/16" diameter circles in the exact same location could also be found in Alpha's and Zeta's bottom shells:

The two bottom-right images above of a Kydex shell formed from a direct Alpha casting courtesy of Todd Mustachio.

The two rear circles seem not to have left an imprint on the buck, plus they were located pretty much right where Wah recessed in the shells the screw dimples, so any remaining circular traces would have been mostly obliterated.

As Mr. Stines had also previously cast Alpha and was able to make detailed vacuformed shell reproductions (which he was able to slice up without destroying something priceless), Mr. Schnitzer kindly lent him the box for a physical testing.  The results speak for themselves:

Images above and below courtesy of Dennis Stines.

The real proof, though, came from matching the circle remnant's position in a molded replica of Wah's shell with the pencil box's front foot:

The rock-solid confirmation of the Pencil Box Theory also answers why there are curious full-length seam lines visible on the inside of the bottom buck.  The box was wider and much longer than what Wah wanted, so he sliced out excess and recombine the four corners, crudely smoothing over the edges with putty.  Evidence of a small joint mismatch is also seen showing through on the left side of the top shell:

All that's left to debate is how Wah used the pencil box to make his bucks.  The likely process had him cut and glue the actual plastic "quadrants" together, insert sloped pieces into the big rectangular hole in the middle for the control well's surfaces, use modeling putty or clay to smooth the seams and maybe even create the sides of the control well, make a plaster mold of that shape, and finally plaster cast the bucks from that impression.  Certainly having the bucks made from plaster accounts for the countless pits, bumps and bubbles eventually picked up in the Kydex.  It also clarifies how a crack in the top buck, initially identified by John Long, could have developed across its width (Zeta, at right >>).  It seems that the buck broke (probably while being pried from an earlier-vacuformed shell) and was re-glued.  By the way, Epsilon does not have this crack.

A more thorough investigation of the box is now available at the page linked below, with at last an explanation for the small zig-zags in the control well edges:


HeroComm thanks the many participants of this investigation for their insights, efforts and their allowing us to tell their stories.

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