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Welcome to Coon Gap, population 50

Polk County Museum exhibit features miniature logging town

Welcome to the Long Legs Saloon.

Members of the Coon Gap Grange meet upstairs. Exotic dancers perform every day at 7 p.m. downstairs.

Other towns might be scandalized by such arrangements.

Around Coon Gap, it's just business as usual. The town, population roughly 50, is a wide-open kind of place.

Even more scandalous is the saloon a block away. It's billed as "the only second-class saloon in town." Stan Schmidt just knows something wicked is going on over there.

"My wife won't let me go in and find out."

Fire codes might be an issue. Letting Stan in would definitely exceed the recommended capacity -- what with him being 50 times larger than the entire saloon.

Coon Gap actually exists only in miniature.

Schmidt, who owns State Farm insurance in Dallas when he's not building miniature communities, will have Coon Gap on display at the Polk County Museum for the next three months or so.

The town's 50 raucous souls are only a little taller than the average thumbnail. The boys at the grange office are really quiet innocent. The exotic dancers are purely hypothetical.

The town may not be real, but that's only one minor detail. Schmidt has seen to all the other minor details personally.

And they are in perfect order.

Right down to the water pouring into the harbor from the Hyde Pulp and Paper Mill. "We didn't care so much about pollution back in the 1950s."

The paint is chipping on the buildings. Schmidt planned it that way. After painting the buildings, he put tiny flecks of rubber cement on them.

By scrapping off the rubber cement, Schmidt made it look like peeling paint.

He even makes the trees using only wire and hemp rope.

Coon Gap has two major businesses. Beside Hyde Pulp and Paper, there is the Coon Gap band saw mill.

There is also a general store, news stand, filling station and those two nefarious saloons.

A railroad runs through it.

Not just any railroad either -- the famed McKean Gas Electric. The train ran through the Willamette Valley from 1905 to 1929.

Most of the businesses came from George Selios, an East Coast model maker.

Schmidt bought the buildings for $250. They came arranged on a piece of plywood meticulously fashioned into a diarama. The same set would cost a model railroader at least $750 nowadays.

Schmidt took the diarama and fit it into Coon Gap.

There is usually a power plant that feeds electricity to the band saw gap. It's not a part of the museum. No one will notice, Schmidt's friends tell him.

"That doesn't matter," he said. "I'll know."

Still, he's not going to quibble. The display that is there represents some 350 hours of his life. At least 60 hours were spent on the band saw mill alone.

Schmidt used three layers of Epoxy to get just the right texture and translucent quality to the harbor.

Back at his house, Schmidt has an entire building for his miniatures. For the museum display, friend Jim Walburn has encased the collection in a clear plastic case.

Eventually, Coon Gap will become part of a larger diarama depicting Coos Bay, circa 1949.

Schmidt grew up in Willamina but often worked around water. It gave him a fondness for shorelines.

"I've always liked harbor scenes with old buildings and old mills."

There are some flaws in Coon Gap. There is some roofing on the band saw mill that is not quite complete.

"I ran out of material," Schmidt said. Even that doesn't faze the authenticity of Coon Gap.

"I just tell people there was some high winds that blew off part of the roof."


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