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Greenfield, MA: Scale Model Town in His Backyard

The store is long since complete. There are two reasons for that. When he was gathering stock for these shelves, in the sixties and seventies, bottles and such could be had for not much. Now the prices are sky-high. “See those two cobalt bottles over there? They’d probably cost $75 apiece now, so hey, I’m done.” It’s not just the money. “I wouldn’t want to buy any more bottles. I would have to build another shelf, and once I hit the ceiling, that’s it.”

After the pharmacy he lost track of the sequence; the years seem to blur. “I’d have to look that up,” he says in answer to questions of when did he put in the doctor’s office and when did he reassemble the tinsmith’s shop. But in truth he doesn’t really have a place to look it up. He’s not absent-minded and heaven knows he is anything but disorganized. It’s just that there is so much. Beyond the pharmacy, there is a big building, more than 100 feet long, with add-ons like shops along a street. And several others, the doors to which Waine Morse opens like surprise packages, moving into the darkness and amid the smell of pine and sawdust until he finds the light, illuminating his creations.

In a comer he has the blacksmith shop, behind a glass wall made of old storm windows. The more-than-man-sized bellows, the anvil as big as a workbench, the collection of tongs on the side of the forge – all of it brought from different sources. Waine didn’t know too much about this kind of work. “For this I got a book that showed how it was done and so I said, ‘Okay, here we go,’ and I looked for one of this and one of that.”

When he read in the paper that Tony Trela, the last blacksmith in Greenfield, had died, he took note. “By the time I got down there, most everything was gone. The tools, that is. But I got what no one else wanted.

I got his chair, his gloves, his boots, and his two hats, one for summer and one for winter. I looked down at the floor. It was covered with metal filings and ashes and coal dust from the forge, old cigar butts and the parings from horses’ hooves.” Waine Morse’s eyes shine in recollection. “The man never swept. NO one else wanted it, but oh, it was beautiful, if you like such things.” Waine swept it up and brought it home. When the time is right, he will carpet the blacksmith’s shop with its majesty.

This is how he came by a lot of what he has. For the buildings, he kept his eye on the paper for old boards and materials. “I never actually took a building down, but I was standing right there while they were being taken down,” he says. And into the back of his father’s pickup would go the doors and the windows, the boards and the beams. Something like half of his buildings come from the old tom-down buildings and barns of Greenfield.

What else he gathered, of course, are the workings of his exhibits. Living as he did in the great industrialized mill valley, as the fifties turned to the sixties and the sixties to the seventies, one mill right after the other shut its doors in Greenfield, in Millers Falls, and most of all in Holyoke.

Most everyone else stood by and watched while this glum transition took hold. Waine Morse went in and got, taking apart the weighty machinery and trucking it back to Greenfield in the same borrowed pickup. “This would all have gone by, otherwise,” he says.

He is talking here not only about things such as the old cracker barrels of which nostalgists are so fond, but of an enormous treadle-operated lathe, a giant hand-cranked drill press, a belt-driven planer that weighs a full ton, an ancient table saw with a wooden bed and a blade reminiscent of scenes from the silent movies.

In the pattern-maker’s shop, bolted to the rafters, Waine has a rope winch that looks capable of reeling in the Queen Mary. Miles of hemp rope are wound to the spool. Waine says the entire unit weighs 1,800 pounds. He should know. “I put it up there piece by piece and it was a pain in the neck, but I bet there isn’t another one like it anywhere.” Probably not. He looks ground him, the tools silent but set like a stage, ready to come to life — all they need are the men and the women and the times past.

In rooms and in separate buildings, he leads me through his version of the past — a dry goods shop (“I’m going to hang curtains in here when the time comes”); the wheelwright’s shop (gently, he runs his fingertips across the spoked wooden wheel, set in its vise, half made); the ice cream parlor with the old marble fountain and soda dispensers (he walks in and straddles one of the stools, puts his elbows on the counter); the toy shop, which displays a few of his own toys from his own growing up — WW II soldiers and Jeeps — alongside wind-up steam shovels and a ride-on bull with wheels and other vintage toys; the candy shop, stocked, like the pharmacy, with penny candy — Mint Juleps and Chocolate Babies and Red Hot fireballs (many jars are empty — “I fight the mice in here all winter,” he says). On and on: the barber shop with its Regulator clock, lined-up mugs, and the spittoon in the comer; the doctor’s office with the rolltop desk, leather couch, cane-seated wheelchair, and black bag on the floor.

The dentist’s office is still in the making. There are just a few tools, two chairs, and a mean-looking old treadle drill. “I need more parts here. I’ll stumble onto something,” he says. His wife, Margaret, a wiry, fun-loving woman, has already told me how this happens. “He reads in the paper that so-and-so, a doctor or dentist or whatever, is retiring. Bingo, he’s on the phone!” She laughs.

Over the years she has played the spectator in this, watching from the window as Waine works. She is amused, never troubled, by this accumulation, this little city going up around her.

How did this happen? “It was just a notion,” Waine says. “It seemed like a fun idea. But you see where it went. I’m going right through to the other side of the mountain.”

Indeed. Up a steep footpath, gated by low-hanging branches, Waine continues the tour, to the top of the high hill above his house. If it were cleared of its trees, there would be a million-dollar view of Greenfield and the Pioneer Valley below. But the trees are as thick as ever, except for the two new buildings wedged in. Waine says he just found a place he liked, swept aside the brush, and poured the concrete.

Updated Monday, July 14th, 2008

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