Lowell Model Railroad Designer Takes on Times Square Giant
The Washington Post called it a “whimsical wonderland,” the Boston Globe dubbed it “an amazing, high-tech mini world,” and to the folks at Expedia, it was a “fantastical display.” Travel + Leisure added, “This is incredible.”
The source of all that praise is “Gulliver’s Gate,” a blocklong attraction inspired by Jonathan Swift’s classic book “Gulliver’s Travels” that opened last year near New York’s Times Square. The permanent site includes 300 built-to-scale miniature displays of world landmarks and cities, reduced to 1/87th of their size.
The 50,000-square-foot exhibit features scenes from five continents and includes about 100,000 teensy people, 1,000 working trains, and 10,000 cars and trucks, along with planes, boats, ferries and a host of interactive and moving elements.
Along with many of the world’s great attractions, such as Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and the Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll find Maine’s iconic Nubble Lighthouse, the Clam Box eatery in Ipswich, and the Citgo sign in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood.
That’s because the exhibit includes a 308-square-foot representation of New England, with beaches, mountains, 15 working trains and more.
Look closely and you’ll see an exact replica of Fenway Park’s Green Monster. And, uh, aren’t those also red socks and a towel with Brady’s “12” on a ridiculously tiny clothesline? The exactly scaled Mount Katahdin is home to a goat (as in the “greatest of all time”) wearing Brady’s jersey, another nod to the Patriots’ future Hall of Famer.
More than 600 model makers were involved in creating the miniature Gulliver’s Gate universe, but whoever assembled the New England section clearly has local roots.
Actually, all of New England was created by Stephan Lamb Associates in converted mill space in Lowell before being shipped to the Big Apple and assembled by the company on-site.
Lamb, a 60-year-old Mill City resident, says the New England portion of Gulliver’s Gate was built in just 54 days. Given the extraordinary task, over 20 assistants needed to be brought in to join his regular full-time staff of 6.
Lamb has been in the business of building high-end model train layouts, some as costly as six figures, since 2001. He heard about the coming attraction in 2016 through a local retail store. “I had never heard of it,” he says. “But they gave me the link and I sent them an email to see if they needed any help.”
That blind contact paid off. Though Lamb’s assistance initially was not needed, the folks overseeing the project eventually asked for help with the computer software that would be needed to run the many model trains in the exhibit.
Lamb’s firm works with that software and was hired as a consultant. The Gulliver’s Gate people were so impressed with the company’s work that they wondered if Lamb had any ideas for a small area that needed to be filled.
He sure did. He thought they could do New England and show the four seasons, including fall foliage. “They liked the pitch and asked if I could load it up with as many running trains as possible. So we have 15 of them that run on schedule.”
Lamb’s work crew, which includes his wife, Kim, and sons Jonathan, 25, and Timothy, 20, had to work insane hours to get everything done on schedule. His first contact with Gulliver’s Gate was in the summer of 2016. The exhibition was to open in April 2017, but it took awhile before Lamb was given the green light to fabricate a mini-New England.
“The product is remarkable. It’s one of my favorite models,” says Matt Cote, who was chief technology officer for the Gulliver’s Gate project.
“We had contracts with four very large outfits around the world, but they were model makers, not train model makers,” Cote says. “Working with Steve was a nice change from the norm for me. His company is, quite literally, a mom and pop shop, and I got a good vibe from them.
“It was often difficult to communicate with the other model makers. With Steve, it was easy. He’s a very genuine and soft-spoken guy, and working with him was a neat experience.”
“I’ve heard that a lot of people love the layout and that our trains are the most reliable,” Lamb says with a touch of pride. “I think what people will like the most is the beautiful skyline and mountain range. We did six mountains, including Mount Washington and Mount Mansfield.
“The most difficult thing for me was worrying if we would get the mountain scenery done in time,” he says. “But that’s become my favorite part of it — the mountain range and that we have all four seasons in New England represented.”
The Gulliver’s Gate project could lead to bigger and better things for Lamb’s firm. He said he is currently in discussions with public television regarding the possibility of a reality series based on his company’s work.