Lifelong resident Pete Egan has parlayed passions for Sapulpa and for model-making into elaborate preservation of the town’s history. In three dimensions, no less.
Piece by piece, the 75-year-old retiree, driven by love of history and the desire to create, has built scaled miniature models of the Oklahoma town. A dogged attention to detail translates into uncanny depictions of life as it once was in the historic town.
“It is just something that I wanted to do in my later years, so when I retired I started working on them,” Egan explains. “I’ve always been interested in history and I like to build models, so I put the two together. I thought it would be a fun project to do.”
He began his first diorama, a duplication of the railroad grounds, in 2000. Egan says he began the project intending to donate it to the Sapulpa Historical Society’s museum, which is where all of his dioramas are on display for visitors today.
Delving into the town’s history and building replicas of the downtown is Egan’s way of contributing to preserving that which has been lost to Sapulpa and to many towns. He thinks dioramas are the best way to show the town as it once was.
“There are so many of the buildings gone, and young people don’t know the town that I remember,” he says. “To me the best way to preserve it is with a visual concept. A diorama preserves history and lets everybody see the way we were.”
Building a diorama isn’t a typical craft project that may be done in a weekend. A lot goes into making the models, such as the size, choosing the scale of the model and getting the right materials for accuracy. Egan often had to search all over the country to find a piece to complete buildings within his models. Further complicating the effort is that there aren’t exactly step-by-step instructions for building the dioramas.
“You’re not working from plans, so you have to experiment with how to build these things,” he says. “There was a lot of trial and error.”
Despite the arduous nature of the project, Egan feels it more than worthwhile.
“When I built the dioramas I enjoyed every minute of it,” he says.
The historic dioramas aren’t Egan’s first delve into preserving history. His book, Sapulpa, Oklahoma: The Greatest City in the World, covers the town from the beginning to 1920. He is currently working on volume two, which covers 1921-1960.
You’ll find Egan’s dioramas at the Sapulpa Historical Society’s museum, www.sapulpahistoricalsociety.com.