Life in miniature: Tabletop model railroad creations depict life on Earth and fantasy worlds

Chattanooga Modular Modelers wants to build a local model railroading museum
The fishing camp looks like a charming part of someone's dreams.

The frame house has wooden shingles, hardwood floors made from carefully-cut coffee swizzle sticks. The moss flecked, golden-brown shingles were cut from cigar bands. Visitors enjoy the shade of a deep porch near handmade lobster baskets stacked neatly on one corner of the dock while a boy in a straw hat casts a line into the water. Two men playing checkers are a fraction of an inch tall.

The camp itself is tiny enough to hold in one hand. And it was all built by Willy Clonts, a "scratch builder," the honorary title given by model city builders to someone so talented, he can create whole worlds from materials he scavenges, carves or makes himself.

"I also made the smaller boat for that harbor," Clonts says, nodding toward a jaunty powerboat on a dark-green, hard-plastic ocean harbor that three men are placing on a large table. "Each of us here is really good at different things, so we can make some really great towns and cities together."

Clonts and the others are members of Chattanooga Modular Modelers, a nonprofit that wants to build a local museum of miniature metropolises and landscapes. For now, they display their works at festivals, schools, the Creative Discovery Museum and various events. Each month, they meet in a two-room house donated by a member as club space. They bring their works-in-progress for critiques and fine tuning, brainstorm new landscapes like the harbor city and work on projects while giving each other advice and feedback.

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