I have always loved trains, architecture and photography. I moved to the Los Angeles area from Argentina when I was in my early 20’s and worked as an architectural planner and salesman, involved in the booming L.A. housing industry. When the mid-70’s recession shut the door on new housing, I found a job making use of my photography expertise at a large camera retailer while searching for a new career. In time I discovered the perfect profession – chiropractic – which became my life’s work.
One Sunday about 23 years ago, my two youngest children and I visited Los Angeles Live Steamers. A member took us on a tour, and we rode the trains for the first time. The scenery, vintage railroad cars, signals, switches, various elevations, bridges and tunnels made this ride so engaging. All my childhood train memories came flooding back. When the ride was over, I immediately asked, “How do we join?” Before we left, I had completed an application and paid the membership fee.
A couple months later I came by with my wife and we walked around the property. My recurring thought was, “What can I do to better the place?” I had noticed the name “Minden” lettered on the rocky wall near the members’ entrance, and a sandy area beneath it. There was a crumbling wooden facade of a train station and platform, half-covered in decomposed granite. With help I dug out two tractor loads of sand, then leveled the surface.
Next, I did some internet research on old western towns, and found a photo of an 1811 fort in Arizona. I recreated a scale facade of it for Minden, using concrete and real stones. This was my first building. Referring again to photos from the internet, I slowly began recreating the town of Minden a building at a time: a mining factory, a church, a train station, a saloon/hotel and a small chiropractor’s office. I learned as I went along, and my building technique developed.
One thing I noticed was that typical craft/hobby shop materials are expensive, and do not hold up to months of outdoor weather. Plastic windows become yellow and cracked, hot-glued materials fall off as the wax grows brittle, and wooden facades split and sag. I knew my next project would be much larger and more complex, and I didn’t want it to fall apart over time. So, I made a pivotal decision: to change over to actual construction materials and installation processes.
A very charming, two-story British cottage dollhouse pictured in a brochure came in the mail one day about 20 years ago. Of course, the back of the house was open so furnishings and dolls could be moved around inside. I wanted a complete building with all four sides, and a different “front” to the back so it would be interesting from all views. I took measurements from photos in the brochure and figured out the scale sizes of walls, doors windows and roofs, then drew “blueprints” on paper with the dimensions.
Visits to the local building materials warehouse store yielded small remnants of lumber and other materials that I was able to purchase for only a few dollars each. I use exterior paint (two coats) and sealer on all surfaces, to repel moisture and protect the wood. A sturdy piece of painted and sealed plywood provided a secure base for the structure. It took me two years, working on weekends, to complete the house. It is detailed with real stones and 2,600 slate roofing tiles, hand-cut and installed with exterior glue. This beautiful house was my joy, and I named it “Crystal” for my younger daughter and the Crystal Springs Division. The building is now over 20 years old and still in excellent shape.
This Crystal House moved around the facility over the years until I found a good location near the Disney Loop, where I flattened a dirt slope, and covered it with artificial turf. The house looked lonely there, so I continued my research. My next inspiration was from Thomas Kincaid paintings and I found an interesting house to model. I built a third structure that is a house on one side and a church on the other. Another building was inspired from a miniature ceramic Victorian cottage I found from the dollar store that was quite detailed and charming. That scale house now joins the others.
I sold my 44-year chiropractic practice this year, and now have more time to dream and to build. I have many ideas for new, grander structures. But my interest includes more than just the construction of scale models. I would like to encourage our young people to take an interest in the buildings. Perhaps we could start an “adopt- or build-a-building” plan where members (of any age) can choose one of the buildings to maintain or add to – or even build one of their own. If they are interested in learning how to build, I would be happy to share some tips, or even offer classes. Our hobby is for all ages and interests and continually offers opportunities to inspire and learn from others.