The smallest details

For more than 64 years, Oscar M. Cortes has been handcrafting Old West reproductions through Oscar’s Old West Miniatures, his family business. The business is located in Quail Valley, Calif., and makes handcrafted wooden wagons, stagecoaches and horses out of hardwoods, metal and leather.

The company has four employees, including Oscar, his wife Maria, and sons Robert and Jorge. They make about 200 different styles of Old West models including water wagons, chuck wagons, sheepherders, buckboards, horse-drawn teams, mud wagons, oil wagons, covered wagons, Conestogas, freight wagons and more.

Everything is built to scale at various ratios, the average being 20-to-1. The models function like the real thing, with working brakes and opening doors. They also have leather suspensions in the framework. The designs are modeled from pictures, blueprints and Old West history the family has studied through the years.

“Developing the first one to make it look like the original is the most difficult part — and also getting the design to scale,” says Cortes. “There are a handful of businesses like ours who make wagons, and a lot of them use the same wheel for many of their wagons, but we don’t … everything is individually made.”

Clients come from all over the world. The majority of commissions go to commercial clients who get production-style products. The company makes about 100 models a month for a major bank that has been a customer for more than 30 years. Other customers include celebrities, an amusement park, collectors and museums from around the world.

A small percentage of clients are from the private sector, many of whom have life-size wagons and want a copy for display at home or at work. The company makes about five of these custom models per month.

An average-sized project takes about 40 hours to make. But for larger and more detailed ones, it can take up to several months to build. The miniatures sell from $150 to $20,000 each.

“The best part is, due to the uniqueness of each piece of art, there is no business competition. Business has always been pretty good,” says Cortes.

Contact: Oscar’s Old West Miniatures, 28630 Goetz Rd., Quail Valley, CA 92587. Tel: 951-244-1186.

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue.

Comments (2) Comments are closed
2 Friday, 17 June 2011 02:02
James Alsleben
I purchased a Wells Fargo Stage with 6 appaloosa horses. It is dated 1991, I purchased it in 1994,it is signed by Oscar M. Cortez. It has 5 figurines, the driver and 2 riders on top and 2 inside. It is absolutely beautiful with a leather saddle displayed on top. I still remember the day I bought it and was shown around by Oscar. It still sets on our mantel today.
I doubt I could ever sell it but I'd really like to know what the estimated value is. I get asked so many times and my answer has always been "priceless" could you be of any help?
1 Saturday, 09 April 2011 18:58
Gary Smith
Hi Oscar, I just found your site. great looking work!Ive been makeing Miniature Chuck Wagons, for a time I have 5 so far. all the parts or right and work, from looking at yours I need work on my wheels mine or a little fat but I'm going from memory as a kid. my grand dad had all that sorta thing and would tell me what eatch part was and what it did. but you have it down Pat! I sure would like to see your Shop a fan Gary Smith