Lindsay Olsen did an exquisite job recreating the Fountaingrove Round Barn, the treasured, nearly 120-year-old north Santa Rosa hillside landmark devoured by October’s Tubbs fire.
Olsen’s barn does bear some obvious shortcomings to the original, though on the other hand it’s easy to carry around.
It’s a faithful, HO-scale model that becomes all the more impressive when Olsen, 66, lifts off the circular, painstakingly tiled roof to reveal a completely finished, astonishingly detailed and lifelike interior.
Here are miniatures of the actual barn’s horse stalls and several horses, workers, handmade leather saddles, feed troughs and pigeons.
“I wanted to portray it as the horse barn that it was,” said Olsen, who retired last year as a Calistoga elementary school teacher.
A model builder since he was a kid, he knew shortly after last fall’s firestorms he wanted to create something in tribute to all that Sonoma County suffered and lost, and to its recovery.
Olsen and his wife, Joy, feared for a time their home near Calistoga Road in Rincon Valley had burned. The wind-fueled destruction came within a block and a half of the house.
In the wake of the catastrophe, he witnessed how emotionally locals respond to images and likenesses of the ravaged Fountaingrove Round Barn, built in 1899 as part of the commune created by Thomas Lake Harris. A model railroader, Olsen decided late last year he’d build a miniature of the barn as a monument to it and all of the tragedy and valor of the 2017 fires.
The actual barn “was just always there,” he said. “When it was gone, there was a hole in me.”
Olsen’s first step was to become as familiar as possible with the actual, not round but 16-sided barn.
“I researched and researched and researched, and wound up finding blueprints,” he said.
He then searched online for historic and contemporary photographs. Those were easy to come by. But, said Olsen, “Very few pictures of the inside ever existed.”
He consulted with model train enthusiast Skip Rueckert of Larkfield, who a decade 10 years ago built a model of the Fountaingrove Round Barn for his scale railroad layout.
Olsen said Rueckert was especially helpful because he shared what he learned examining and measuring by hand the actual barn.
Olsen built his model of balsa wood and heavier, stronger basswood.
“I’ve never tackled anything as intricate as this barn,” he said.
Several aspects of the original barn are curious to him. He doesn’t know what to make of the interior loft platforms that were reached by ladders. He wonders if the domed lantern housing atop the roof ever contained a beacon that Thomas Lake Harris and Kanaye Nagasawa might have beamed from the Brotherhood of the New Life commune.
Olsen figures he spent about 300 hours researching and building his barn, which is about a foot in diameter and 9 inches tall.
As determined as he was to make it a true miniature of the original, he will admit, “There is some artistic license.”
Photos of the actual barn show the rooftop lantern cupola painted gray. He thinks it looks far better white. Olsen will enter his model as an exhibit at the Sonoma County Fair, which opens in Santa Rosa on Aug. 2.