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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.

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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.

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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.

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