Special to the Tribune-Star
Small town U.S.A. is the heart of what America is all about — and something that arouses ardent feelings in those who have experienced that lifestyle. Some write odes to commemorate their small home towns, like John Cougar Mellencamp in his famous song “Small Town.” And others, like Solsberry resident Larry Shute, construct them to scale in a garage.
That’s right. The very typical small town of the 1970s — down to the minutest detail — comes back to life in the form of Solsberry, Indiana, in Shute’s garage, including the Illinois Central Railroad, which passed through this town.
“Small towns are on the way out, and I wanted to preserve mine in the way I remembered it,” Shute said. So he took on the project back in 1972 and has set the ultimate goal of finishing the city before he passes from this world, he said. So, the little town of Solsberry, population approximately 300, exists in duplicate — a little smaller, but in duplicate — just as it was and how it remains in Shute’s heart.
“It certainly is a labor of love,” he said.
“I measured the complete town back in 1972 — the size of buildings, how far apart they were. I photographed every building — measured how far back off the road they were. I wanted to preserve this community just as I remembered it in the 1970s,” Shute said.
The project was started, but Shute ran into some difficulties with space. Once that was rectified, he began building the town in earnest in 2006. He began to fully construct the town using model railroading and laying Solsberry proper in inches and feet on graph paper.
There were three focal points Shute concentrated on, he said: 1) the Yoho General Store; 2) the early IC Railroad depot which later became the Post Office and; 3) Solsberry High School building. Today in the real town, the Post Office and the school building are no longer in existence. (A new Post Office building was constructed in 1958, allowing the Post Office to move from the Depot to the new facility.)
Today Shute estimates that 90 percent of his town of Solsberry is complete. Even the famous Tulip Trestle viaduct, the only part that is not quite 100 percent to scale (but only because of its extensive length), has been included in Shute’s extravagant rendition of Solsberry.
“I had to learn how to lay rail and track and switches,” Shute said.
It has involved tedious labor but, “It’s all been a labor of love,” he said.
“People come in to see it the first time and immediately recognize specific areas or buildings,” Shute said. “They’ll say ‘Oh, there’s so and so’s place,’ so I know I’m on track,” he laughed.
And nothing is “dolled” up — if a building needed paint in the ’70s it still needs paint in Shute’s smaller version of Solsberry. Paint colors, roofs, siding are all meticulously matched to the real thing, Shute said.
Singing about it or building it — either way — it’s all about preserving that special memory of living in small town U.S.A.
‘Coolest small towns’
The top 10 “Coolest Small Towns in America” from 2011. To check them out in detail go to www.foxnews.com/trav
1. Lewisburg, W.Va (population 3,830)
2. Astoria, Ore. (population 9,477)
3. Clayton, N.Y. (population 1,978)
4. Eureka Springs, Ark. (population 2,073)
5. La Pointe, Wis. (population 309)
6. Phoenicia, N.Y. (population 309)
7. Newtown Borough, Pa. (population 2,384)
8. Cedar Key, Fla. (population 896)
9. Ripon, Wis. (population 7,733)
10. Greensburg, Kan. (population 777)
— Fox News’ Budget Travel team