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Even if you’re not enthralled by lifelike, Lilliputian, precisely handmade model-train landscapes, there’s one in Santa Rosa that’s almost sure to make you gasp and might even cost you a tear.

Over the course of three decades, hobbyist Skip Rueckert has created, from scratch, historically accurate miniatures of buildings that stand, or once stood, anywhere near rail lines from Petaluma north to Healdsburg and west to Duncans Mills.

In HO scale, with one inch equaling 7¼ feet, Skip has built models of Sonoma County landmarks past and present. Among them: the Healdsburg, Cotati and Penngrove train depots, Foppiano Winery, the Emporium department store at Coddingtown and G&G Supermarket.

The one that grabs you most these days is Skip’s painstakingly true model of the Fountaingrove Round Barn. The day the October fires destroyed the actual, 1899 horse barn, Skip feared for a time that his model and everything else that he built and owned might burn, too.

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SKIP LIVES in a pocket of the Larkfield neighborhood north of Santa Rosa that the Tubbs inferno missed.

“The fire stopped 200 feet that way,” said the 79-year-old retired construction supervisor, pointing south toward the devastation bordered by Old Redwood Highway and Mark West Springs Road.

Skip and his wife, Carol, fled for their lives after he stepped from the house at 12:45 a.m. Oct. 9 to behold an orange glow that he swears reached 500 feet into the eastern sky.

Joining the exodus, the Rueckerts left their home and the workshop filled with Skip’s scale-model trains and startlingly realistic miniature scenes of Sonoma County towns and countryside. He’s able to break down and pack up sections of the layout and transport them to shows hosted by the Coastal Valley Lines Model Railroad Club.

The club has for years set up a large display of running trains at SRJC’s Day Under the Oaks open house. Right now there’s a lot going on around the JC’s budget troubles, but if Day Under the Oaks happens May 6, the model railroaders will set up in the Bertolini Student Center.

And the Round Barn will be there.

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SKIP BUILT IT about 10 years ago.

A craftsman and lover of history committed to creating models just as identical as humanly possible to the actual structures, he spent a good deal of time studying, measuring and photographing the barn built at Fountaingrove under the direction of under Kanaya Nagasawa.

Skip knew, of course, that, unlike the DeTurk Round Barn in central Santa Rosa’s West End/Railroad Square district, Nagasawa’s barn was not in fact round but a 16-sided polygon.

The 28 horse stalls faced inward and featured a small window for ventilation and for all the horses to peek outside. Skip examined the actual barn closely enough to discover that below most of the windows were boards an inch thick and 6 inches high, but those below other windows were just an inch high.

He presumes the builder simply ran out of 1-by-6s. And he duplicated the variation in his model.

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HE MADE IT of styrene, a lightweight plastic favored by modelers. What do you suppose that he cut into small strips as roof tiles? Go ahead, guess.

Thin mahogany that served originally as cigar wrappers.

Skip constructed for his Fountaingrove Round Barn a base that features a wooded hillside scene and, in a departure from reality, adjacent railroad tracks.

Not long after the October fires, Skip and other members of Coastal Valley Lines hosted a train show at Rohnert Park’s Fundemonium toy and hobby store.

Passersby spotted the Round Barn and they stopped short, raised their hands to their mouths, called their kids or friends over, used their cellphones to photograph it from every angle.

It will be great if Day Under the Oaks happens this year but if not, other opportunities will arise to see the model Fountaingrove Round Barn and the pride and perfection that members of Coastal Valley Lines invest in their hobby.

If Skip loves anything more than building splendid, historically accurate miniatures of buildings and railroad scenes, it’s talking to people who come to see and enjoy them.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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