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Miniature Maker

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Jerome Sellner stands behind his model of a McCormick-Deering thresher. The model created is accurate down to the lettering.

NEW ULM — The Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth has a height of 226 feet and length of 501 feet. Over the last month, local lobbyist Jerome Sellner has been working on shrinking it down to fit on a coffee table.

Sellner did not have a specific scale in mind when he began designing a miniature of the Duluth lift bridge. He simply started with the basic framework and designed the details to match.

This is the first time Sellner has constructed a model bridge, but he has dozens of other miniatures in his collection since he took up the hobby 14 years ago.

Sellner said he started making miniatures as a way to keep busy. His first project was a miniature excavator he designed from a kit. Sellner said it wasn’t too difficult a project and tried his hand at other miniatures.

Over the years Sellner has moved away from the kits and begun designing miniatures from scratch using mostly wood materials. He specializes in creating miniatures of large machinery such as farm implements or construction equipment.

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt The early stage of Jerome Sellner’s Duluth aerial lift bridge miniature is shown.. Sellner is building the bridge based on a suggestion from his grandson.

Sellner said his brother Albert collects old tractors, which inspired him to make tractor miniatures. Some of his projects are by request. A former co-worker saw his work and asked for a custom miniature of construction equipment.

No detail is too small to be overlooked. Some of the machinery works. A thrasher Sellner built works the same as its large scale cousin. A simple motor and power system allows Sellner to turn it on and off with a flip of a switch.

One of the hardest parts of designing the mini-thrasher was finding belts. Finding a rubber band in the correct size that will hold up longterm is a challenge. Sellner is always trying to find one he can repurpose for his miniatures.

“The gears are taken from a fax machine,” Sellner said. Other items like the pulleys are hand made. Occasionally Sellner needs to special order a part, like ball-bearings, which are usually the most expensive part of the construction.

In July, Sellner completed his second miniature of the Brown County Historical Society’s (BCHS) popcorn wagon. The first wagon was made on request from his daughter Lori Windschitl.

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Sellner sits at his work table, gluing the cross-beams for the lift bridge.

His daughter had memories of visiting the wagon with her mom who died two years ago. She wanted a miniature version of the wagon. After Sellner completed his miniature, the BCHS photographs and requested their mini-popcorn wagon.

Like his other miniatures, Sellner made the popcorn wagon as functional as possible. It doesn’t pop popcorn due to size limitations, but the wheels turn and the windows open.

Sellner’s miniature work is based on photographs. Using a digital camera, he has every angle of the thing he will miniaturize photographed.

During the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium, Sellner’s daughter supplied him with photographs of a crane to help build a model of the machinery.

Sellner was inspired to create a miniature of the lift bridge because his grandson thought it would be cool.

Sellner said it takes roughly a month to complete a miniature project, but he is usually working on several projects at one time.

“When you glue something, you have to wait for it to dry,” he said. While waiting for the glue to dry he moves onto a different project.

The Duluth Lift bridge has been his top project over the last month. Sellner plans to make his mini-bridge functional. He’s looking to install a motor to allow it to lift.

The braces on the lift bridge are the most time-consuming part. The bridge features a series of cross-beams. On the actual bridge, these beams are relatively large, but are scaled down for Sellner’s model. The beams are a little wider than a toothpick.

Each of the wooden beams needs to be painted and glued into the cross-pattern before being placed on the bridge.

Sellner said he does not use a specialty tool. The one unique tool he uses is a small, handheld grinding device. The grinder allows him to file down enough to fit properly.

“I love that thing,” Sellner said.

The miniature making process does eat a lot of his time, but for Sellner that is OK.

“I love doing it and it passes the time,” he said. “I am not a TV man and I don’t read much.”

The other benefit of miniature work is there is always another task or project to complete.

“I don’t run out of work,” Sellner said.

Sellner continues to field requests to build special items from friends and family. The next miniature on his to-do-list is the Leavenworth Church.

Even though there is a demand for his work, Sellner has no plans of turning his miniature hobby into a business.

“This could be a business,” Sellner said. “But then it wouldn’t be a hobby and then I would need to find something else to do.”

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