“I’ve been stuck on Christmas Day for 23 years, because for me, every day is Christmas,” says Jimmy Frost, model shipwright, Air Force veteran, lover of cats, World War ll aviation enthusiast and all-around very cool guy.
Dozens of model ships he’s either built or restored are displayed, most in glass cases, at The Original Benjamin’s restaurant in Myrtle Beach, but his signature isn’t even visible on his work.
“You have to know which piece to lift or move to see my name, but I only tell the owner.
“I’m an ambassador of Myrtle Beach and of Benjamin’s, and I don’t want recognition, it’s not about me,” he insists.
But Frost’s story, and his work, are indeed about him, and they’re both worth the telling.
If it hadn’t been for a game of bingo, he says he wouldn’t have a story, and he tells that story in a slow drawl with a perpetual twinkle in both eyes.
Back in the day, when Ripley’s Believe it or Not was a hamburger joint called Sloppy Joe’s, they held bingo games where the prize was a puppy or a kitten the humane society donated.
Frost’s military father, Jack, was stationed here, won a puppy and took it to the vet for a check-up. That’s where he met Frost’s mother, Shirley, a 1946 Myrtle Beach High School graduate, and he never left.
Jimmy Frost is also a Myrtle Beach native who spent summers as a “beach monkey,” helping lifeguards set up umbrellas, eventually working as a lifeguard, serving in the Air Force, working for FedEx, and then sailing on and working on yachts.
For the last 23 years, he’s been building and restoring model ships at the Original Benjamin’s, a job he invented and hired himself for.
“I’d been sailing in Florida and working on boats and I got tired of it, and after about 15 years, wanted to come home.
“There were a couple models at the restaurant in horrible condition and I introduced myself,” he remembers.
“I told them if they needed someone to clean up those models, I’d be happy to help. I showed up, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Frost’s shop is downstairs in the restaurant, and guests are encouraged to watch him work through a huge window. He enjoys that. He likes the interaction. The accolades, he says, are “sweet and humbling.”
But he’s a loner who feeds eight stray cats and listens to – and plays – flamenco guitar music.
He’ll talk about those things, the cats and the music, for a minute, adding that if he hears one more Pink Floyd song, he’ll take hostages.
He listens to flamenco because it doesn’t remind him of anything or anyone.
But what he talks about mostly are the models in the restaurant.
It took about a year to restore the 30-foot long, 3-foot wide fiberglass Queen Elizabeth which came from South Hampton, England.
It took twice that long to finish the 18-foot long Queen Elizabeth 2 which someone else started.
And then there’s the huge Mayflower built by Warner Brothers in 1952 for the movie “Plymouth Adventure.”
That one has 3,500 feet of rope and “was the first giant restored for the restaurant.”
One of his favorites is the Inca, which he made from drawings, and he points out the paper sails.
Frost knows the story behind every model, and tells that the five-masted schooner Inca carried lumber and ran aground in Australia.
While he doesn’t put a visible name on his work, he does put his signature on it in the form of what he calls “secrets.”
For example, on the QE2, there’s a mini-figurine of himself holding his Yorkie.
Two little girls look through a portal, reminiscent of the children – now grown women who live in Cary, North Carolina - who asked questions while he worked on the model that includes their likenesses.
Another has a model of him holding his guitar.
In each, he’s wearing his trademark Tilley hat.
Frost says he’s constantly learning and calls his work “acceptable, at best.”
In his self-deprecating manner, he says, “You should see what real model makers can do. I’m not even worthy to carry their tool boxes.”
At 60, his goals define him as much as his history.
One is to have the Guinness World Book of Records declare the Original Benjamin’s Seafood the owner of the largest collection of large models in the world.
Another is to finish the 10th Leper, the huge rig he’s working on that will eventually go outside the restaurant.
“Do you know Christ?” he asks, adding, “I don’t preach, I tell people to look it up. But only one of those 10 lepers came back to thank Him for their healing, and I’m that one.”
Another goal – “I want to have an honorable death,” he says, and it takes a minute to realize he’s not joking.
“I’ve had an incredible life and every day is Christmas,” he says. “Some Christmases are better than others, but yesterday was Christmas, today is Christmas and tomorrow will be Christmas.”