WEATHERFORD, TX — For Don Huddleston, building models began with a dare. At the time, he was working at Greene’s Florist. In 1992, the owner, Bobby Greene, challenged him to build something for the Peach Festival craft contest. Don accepted the challenge and built a bird cage.
Using pine wood, coat hangers and garage sale discoveries, Don built the bird cage. He took home the first place ribbon.
From there, Don accepted another dare from his boss to build a model of the Parker County Courthouse. Don thought it would be complicated, but he took on the challenge. He began researching the building’s history at the library and took dozens of pictures of the courthouse from different angles. Don drew a sketch based on past and current photos, and the building process began.
For the rockwork on the exterior, Don used a sealant from ACME Brick. Each of the 14 exterior panels was indented with a handmade metal tool to give the impression of rock. Don then painted each sealant panel.
Balsa wood was cut for the tiny window frames, which hold the glass windows. Everything was measured to fit correctly.
Embossed aluminum was used to make the roof, which provides a perch for a tiny owl to keep the pigeons away. The four clocks in the tower are real time pieces. Don set the time on each clock to 9:20, which is the time his mother, Lucy Huddleston, passed away in 1994. “She saw me working on it, but she didn’t see it completed,” Don explained.
Don actually got a first-hand look of the tower. Back in the 1980s, he climbed to the top of the courthouse with a contractor and then through a little door. He saw the bell in the tower and had the perfect view of the surrounding landscape.
To make the iron fences that surround the tower and corner roofs, Don created a jig by hammering a design of nails into a block of wood. He wrapped each piece of wire around the nails to bend them into matching pieces before installing them onto the model.
Green turf surrounds the courthouse, and trees, miniature cars and people dot the landscape and surrounding streets. He also included a fence that once encircled the courthouse to keep people and cattle off the grounds. The model fence was made from painted necklaces and earrings. The model also features a public well, complete with a bucket, which once stood on the courthouse grounds but has since been filled in.
The model courthouse took Don 19 months to complete. He spent countless hours working on the project in his shop in his backyard. “I couldn’t get it in my front door,” he shared, “so I had to find a home for it. I decided I would give it to the county.” Don was leery of having the model housed in the Parker County Courthouse because of history. The current courthouse was built in 1884 and is the county’s fourth. The other three courthouses were destroyed by fires. So, upon Don’s request, the county displayed the model inside a Plexiglas case at the County Annex building. The courthouse has since had electrical wiring upgrades, and in December 2013, the model was displayed inside its namesake. Dozens of framed photos of the courthouse and newspaper clippings are displayed in Don’s living room. He also keeps a collection of photo albums outlining the different phases of the courthouse model building process.
Since he finished the courthouse, Don has worked on a few other projects. “I like small details and the creative part of it. I like to see if I can really do it. It’s a challenge for me,” he admitted. He built a church with handmade pews, stained glass, lighting and little leather seats that sit on the altar. He made the seats out of sample blocks of wood. “I cut them up and used what I needed.” With his florist background, Don thought the perfect item to make the base of the steeple would be a metal cone. He painted it and added the cross to the inverted cone. To find the perfect piece to create a miniature building, Don often thinks outside the box. “I’ll go to sleep at night thinking about it, and the solution comes to me,” he said.
A model Red Barron airplane Don built sits on the floor of his living room. Its wings are made of lumber, and individual boards glued side by side create the curvature of the plane.
Don also built a two-story log cabin dollhouse in memory of his late wife, Joyce Huddleston, who passed away just over three years ago. After she passed, he discovered strips of amber-colored stained glass she had wrapped in tissue paper. He installed the stained glass as windows in the dollhouse. Each room includes tiny furniture, most made by Don’s own hands. The living room holds leather chairs. “The little cushions come out,” he said. A bedroom has bunk beds for the doll children, and the bathroom features a claw-footed bathtub. Little curtains add color to the windows. For the kitchen appliances, Don printed a stainless steel oven and refrigerator on paper and glued the pictures to a block of wood. “It’s a little bit modern for that, but I used what I had.”
The outside of the home is made of small, wooden stems Don discovered at Cartwright Park. He cut and bent each “log” and nailed them onto the exterior of the dollhouse. Most of his models are displayed inside his home, but he is running out of space. The house he lives in was his childhood home. He had the house moved from its original location on South Main to his current property in 1977. The home was built in 1946, but after its move, Don decided to add onto it, extending the floor plan.
Weatherford has been Don’s home since birth. He served in the U.S. Army during the Berlin Crisis and at Fort Polk for his second installation. Don has worked a variety of jobs over the years from baling hay as a young man to working at J.C. Penney & Co. and later retiring from Greene’s Florist. He still enjoys landscaping his yard, which always has something in bloom. His black and white cats, Prince and Hart, keep him company while at home. In his free time, Don likes to visit garage sales and catch up with friends at the Senior Center. For now, Don has packed away his modeling tools. He doesn’t think there is much more he can replicate with a model. His hobby could just be on the backburner though, as he waits quietly for another dare to challenge him to prove his talents once more.
Written by Amber D. Browne.