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A few days ago, one of our contributors, Stefan Jones, sent us a lovely piece he’d written, an ode to the 1970s Estes model rocketry catalog. We’ll be publishing that piece in the near future. The manuscript completely inspired my own nostalgic longing for my model rocketry past. I was a dedicated rocket geek for much of my childhood. I vividly remember that edition of the catalog, and looking through an online copy, made me almost tear up with memories of sitting in my bedroom at night, pouring over every page, graph paper and mechanical pencil in hand, carefully planning my mail orders with the modest money I made raking leaves and mowing lawns. One thing Stefan mentions specifically in the piece, and which my meager yardworker’s salary could never afford, was the Cineroc, the 8mm movie camera-equipped rocket nosecone. I was shocked when I saw in the archived catalog that it only cost $19.95. To a kid in 1970, I remember thinking it was a King’s ransom.

In my nostalgic revelry, searching online for more on the Cineroc and Camroc (its still-camera sibling), I was saddened to discover that Mike Dorffler, the inventor of the Cineroc and many other hobby model rocket innovations (for Estes and then Apogee Components), died of pancreatic cancer last fall. Before he blasted off for that big Tilt-a-Pad in the sky, the NAR (National Assoc. of Rocketry) gave him a lifetime achievement award which was presented by none other than Verne Estes himself (yes, Verne, the godfather, is still with us)! Rocketry Planet has a nice tribute article to Mike (linked below).

I like this comment left on the piece:

His designs were the inspiration for me to follow his path and become a rocket designer and eventually run a rocket kit company. Godspeed Mike.

Mike Fisher
Binder Design

Mike Dorffler, a Unique Visionary Whose Life Mattered

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor for Boing Boing and WINK Books. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TYJUFVXRH2DWLTHSLBO2ENEEHQ Gregg

    Oh my g_d! I remember both of them. I was an avid one as well. While I never bought either of them, I studied the catalog as well. And I do recall building and launching a few birds. I still want to know, but living in NYC I don’t know where. Worse, what with the strange things that surfaced after 9/11 I’m not even sure the Feds would want to allow some of the things I’d want to do that way…..

  • http://twitter.com/aeQQue qwerty123

    Memorized that catalog and the Centuri one, too!

  • Anonymous

    wonderful hobby.  I too always wanted, but never got, the camera equipped kits.  One of my favorite flights was the delta-winged “SST” that was supposed to eject the engine pod and then glide recover.  I didn’t have a spare engine so had to pull one from a friction fit rocket I’d already loaded in order to try the beauty as soon as the paint dried.  Pulling the motor with pliers, I damaged the ceramic nozzle… The maiden (and only) flight of the SST was a slow liftoff with a wide fan of flame that made it perhaps 10 ft and hung there, while the flames climbed the wings…

    Awful, but memorable.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/ Stefan Jones

    Those who regret not having had a chance to buy and build those swell old kits should check out:

    http://www.semroc.com/

    Semroc is a high-tech cottage industry that sells a huge line of old-school model rockets, the kind with balsa components. Most are recreations of old Estes and Centuri designs, including the Trident, Mars Lander, SST Shuttle and Orbital Transport.

    Product quality is excellent, and service is amazing. I have no business connection with them, just an amazed and grateful customer.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5ODELSMGMJ7XBH2NVAPSOQU5BM Gary

    Remember that in the early ’70’s (in California) the minimum wage was 1.25 an hour, which later went up to 1.65 if I remember correctly. So, $20.00 was probably a half dozen lawn jobs.

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