A model dedication

Grand Encampment Museum unveils new exhibit of model tramway


Mike Armstrong

Andy Peryam explains his process to a crowd gathered at GEM on June 9.

It is all too easy to become mesmerized by the various historical collections and exhibits at the Grand Encampment Museum in Encampment, Wyoming. On June 9, the museum added yet another one, which can be found in the Doc Culleton Building.

A diorama of the aerial tramway, once the largest in the world, used to transport copper from Battle Mountain to Grand Encampment is off to the right when a visitor first comes into the building.

At 16 feet long it is hard to miss. While, at one foot per mile, the landscape is to scale the buildings are not. According to GEM Director Tim Nicklas if they had been, the models would have been only about an eighth of an inch tall. They are larger, with much detail and workmanship.

Nicklas recounts how this whole diorama got started.

"One day I was kind of daydreaming about something like this, much smaller in scale, a bit more mechanical," Nicklas said. "Basically I saw a couple tram towers going from terminal to terminal, sort of a Disneyland toy."

Nicklas approached Andy Peryam to get advice on how to make models because Peryam had built a model house for the museum based on his grandmother's home. Nicklas also knew Peryam had an excellent wood shop in Georgia.

"One day I asked Andy if he had ever gotten into model railroading," Nicklas said. "Andy said no, but I told him my idea: instead of doing a railroad, doing a tramway, and that is how it got started."

Peryam said he was interested from the start in his speech to the 70 plus attendees that came to see the dedication of the diorama.

"I knew COVID was coming and I needed something to keep me busy," Peryman said laughing. "I did a prototype of a smelter and it turned out so large that we knew it was going to be about 16 feet long."

Peryam said he learned a lot of the model building from YouTube. 

Although YouTube might have helped, Peryam admits that he built a dollhouse for his wife Susan about a decade earlier. 

"It was a fancy Victorian dollhouse," Peryam said. "I do mostly jewelry boxes for grandkids and such."

He said learning to do the models was trial and error.

"A lot of trial and error," Peryam laughed. "It is good that I am a patient person."

The meticulousness of the models proves Peryman has patience beyond most people.

"I love detail work and I loved exactness," Peryam said. "I love perfection of models. It does take patience, but I was a high school principal for eight years and I guess I learned patience then."

He said working on the models is actually calming for him.

"Some people do meditation and others do yoga," Peryman said. "When I am working on all the details, I am at peace."

He pointed out that although he did the models, the diorama had many volunteers working on it.

Bob Masson built the contours of the landscape out of Styrofoam that he matched exactly to real topography.

Jerry Anderson built the platform table the diorama is showcased on which Anita Morris and Vicky Ward made the landscape look real.

"All I did was sit around and make models," Peryam said. "My next project is to build a model of old Encampment which means see you around in 10 years." 

Masson said he took United States Geological Survey (USGS) topo (topographic) maps and blew them up.

"To cut the contours on the Styrofoam, we had to lay the maps and cut it out," Masson said. "It is very accurate."

Masson said the project on sculpting started last September. Nicklas and Morris also cut out landscape. He said the diorama actually has three different scales. The landscape is accurate at one foot equaling one mile. The models and trees are a bit different so that people can make them out.

If a person looks hard enough, there are some unique aspects to the diorama that might not have been found back in Encampment in the early 1900s. There is a kangaroo hidden in the trees, a hippo taking a bath and a man-eating crocodile with a man in his mouth in the river. There is also a moose and mountain lion. It takes a careful eye to find them.

The tramway for which the diorama is modeled was built in 1902. The buckets that were on the tramway held 700 pounds. It was operated by steam at three power stations, four miles apart.

There is a tremendous amount of information about the tramway GEM can supply when visiting. Three towers of the 370 constructed back in the days of its operation, can be seen on the museum grounds.

Mike Armstrong

The 16 foot diorama is filled with detail that can keep people interested for hours.

They were always impressive with their historical significance to Encampment's time as a copper producing boomtown, but the new diorama exhibit, makes them more so.


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