Stagecoach artist models crane mechanics |

Stagecoach artist models crane mechanics

Nicole Inglis

Jamie Horacek stands next to the scale model cranes he built in his Stagecoach home. Horacek's cranes will be on display this month at the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts, and he will demonstrate how they work from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Scott Franz

— Jamie Horacek never has owned a construction crane, nor has he ever operated one. Yet he's fascinated with how they move, how they work and every tiny detail of the massive machines.

"I've been infatuated with cranes forever," he said. "It was one of the first pieces of equipment invented. You need to lift things before you can move them."

Throughout the years, he's collected 1/50th-scale replica model cranes, but two years ago, it occurred to him he wanted something more — something bigger.

As a seasonal construction worker, Horacek has been occupying himself for the past two winters building his own model cranes, at 1/25th the size of the real thing.

The result of those two long winters of work now are on display at the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts: two cranes, reaching as high as 12 feet toward the gallery's ceiling, made of thousands of tiny hand-crafted pieces, replicated to the exact specifications of the giants they're made to imitate.

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Horacek will be at the gallery every Sunday this month to demonstrate how the cranes work almost exactly the same — except without motors — as their real-life likenesses.

"I don't want them to be artistic," Horacek said. "I'm going for the detail and the precision of it. When you build something like this, even if it's just lifting five pounds, it's got to stand straight, it's got to move right. It's got to work, it's got to be perfect."

But Center for Visual Arts Executive Director Linda Laughlin sees an artistic value in the work that will resonate more with the type of person who normally might not go to an art gallery.

Laughlin said she first saw Horacek's extensive hobby craft when she drove out to his Stagecoach home after a tip from Horacek's girlfriend. She wasn't sure if what she was about to see would be considered "art."

Upstairs, she found Horacek's detailed woodcarvings that give a human movement to the form of gnarled and knotted twigs. And in the garage, the towering cranes instantly piqued her interest.

"I found him completely fascinating," she said. "Here I'm looking at this guy who's a great carver and has an eye for things in nature, then to go down and see the precision and mechanical nature of these cranes, I thought, 'This is a very interesting mind.'"

It's very rare that Horacek's hands sit idle.

His father was a sculptor, and although Horacek never thought he was going to become an artist, he has been drawing and making crafts his whole life. Ten years ago, his interest was in wire sculptures, which he showed at Art in the Park, and the twig carving began only four years ago.

But talking about his cranes, and demonstrating the way they swivel and slide the same way a real one would, causes his wide eyes to light up.

"I just like seeing them. I like being around them," he said.

The taller of the two cranes almost entirely was made from aluminum parts he found at a local hardware store or built himself. He even used a piece of his father's vise in the Manitowac 18000, which took him six months, working eight hours each day, to build.

He hopes to sell one or both of them to crane companies or crane enthusiasts like himself — and he knows they're out there. The people who have come into the gallery with a construction background or engineering degree share that same wide-eyed stare, he said.

He wants to sell them only so he can recoup some of the thousands of dollars he spent building the first two.

Now he's set his sights on a model that will become a nearly 16-foot-tall behemoth.

"There's this lost talent out there that's about making something as close to perfect as possible," he said. "I enjoy just doing it."

— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 907-871-4204 or email

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