Bob Murphy’s Railroad Town

June 6, 2017–August 6, 2017

This temporary exhibit features scratch-built G-scale western buildings created by Bob Murphy. Included with museum admission or free for museum members.

Exhibit Overview

Bob Murphy developed a passion for model railroad displays after attending a Tour of the Rails hosted by Tucson’s Garden Railroad Society in 2011. Inspired by the tour, Bob picked up a model train at a thrift store and decided to build a G scale layout. Unlike most model train enthusiasts, it really wasn’t the locomotives that capture his imagination; it was the old Western buildings that got him enthralled. Following the lead of other hobbyist, he started building his town by putting together commercial kits. However, his love of the old West and passion for Western buildings was not fulfilled by the kits he was assembling. He wanted a town with more character, one that was unique and authentic. He realized that if he wanted to create a true-to-life old Western town for his garden railroad, he was going to have to design and create his own buildings.

Using historic photographs as reference for his designs, Bob built elaborate wood frames for his structures so that each building would be interesting from all sides. He started frequenting thrift stores and yard sales with an eye for objects that could be repurposed as siding, light fixtures, or window mullions. His career as a salesman for Home Depot and manager for ACE Hardware gave him an eye for seeing alternative uses for objects. Soon he had scavenged a closet full of odds and ends: small suction cups, board game pieces, petite plastic eggs, and plumbing parts, drift wood, and discarded soda cans, among other items. He cut, crimped, painted and attached these items to his wood frames, deceiving the eye and creating realistic looking buildings.

Artisan Bob Murphy

Bob Murphy

Over five years Bob has made more than 25 buildings. He spends between 40 and 80 hours creating each piece. All these hours of crafting have enabled him to hone his technique and skill. He discovered that he could make the frames of his buildings from foam board which is sturdy but lightweight, much less cumbersome than working with wood. His skill in transforming everyday objects into building components is so polished that it is hard to identify the real world items. With a hint and close observation, you might be able to see that a factory’s smokestack is actually a plastic jump rope handle topped with a hummingbird feeder part, and those rusted lampshades are actually suction cups, painted and aged with rust. That’s actual rust that Bob makes himself!

Check out this video from an Arizona Daily Star article in October 2016.

Associated Programs

Opening Reception: Thursday, June 8, 2017 5pm–7pm. This event is exclusive to museum members and Family Summer Pass holders.

Tinker Workshops: Thursdays in July (July 6, 13, 20 and 27th), 1pm–4pm       
$2 for museum members and Family Summer Pass holders or $3 for non-members with paid admission.

Meet the Artist: Meet Bob Murphy and watch him demonstrate some of his techniques. Saturday, July 22, 2017 1pm–4pm. Included with museum admission.


Exhibit Support and Sponsors:​

This exhibit is supported in part by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which receives support from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts.