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Grandfather builds miniature town for grandson (w/video)

By Jessica Rodrigo
May 13, 2014 at 12:13 a.m.

Robert R. Roller speaks about building a town for his grandson Waylon Robert Roller, 3, at his home in Yorktown. Each building in the town has its own story.  It has cost him less than $75 for all the building materials, which he has constructed each building by hand. "From 3:30 in the morning until 11 at night, I'm feeding, planting or working on this town," he said.

Robert Roller

• Age: 68

• Hometown: Yoakum

• Education: Victoria High School graduate, class of 1965; two years at Victoria College

• Air Force: 2 years

• Family: Son, Bryan; daughter-in-law, Christen; grandson, Waylon

• Other interests: Used to play golf, hunt, fish and collect coins and rare newspapers

Robert Roller has spent a lot of time bent over a work table in his garage since Christmas.

The proud grandfather has taken on the task of building a miniature town for his 3-year-old grandson, Waylon, as a surprise gift complete with a two-story governor's mansion. He's been working harder on this project, he said, than he did while in the Air Force.

"I'm having more fun now than I did when I was younger," Roller, 68, said.

The garage at his Yorktown home has become a shared space for his equipment, tools and the temporary setting for the miniature town he has built from scratch. Before he relocates the entire play town to Austin to show his son, Bryan, and Waylon, he has a few more final touches.

"I still have more to do," he said, peering over the town like a curious giant. "I have to build the newspaper and antique hut my mother used to own."

There are nights when he said he has to force himself to go to bed because he's so wrapped up in the project. Past his normal bedtime, his dogs and cats will lie patiently on the cool concrete until the late hours of the night while country tunes play from a small, black radio near where he does his sketches. Before he can put his thoughts into 3-D, he draws each building with a ruler, measures it and then makes his cuts.

Roller pulls all the details from his imagination but said the inspiration came from a hand-built birdhouse he saw about six months ago at the DeWitt County Producers Co-Op. He was so impressed by the craftsmanship in the birdhouses, he asked the owners how he could get in touch with the man who built them.

Roller phoned W.H. McKenzie, and the project was born.

"He talked about building a bunch of small houses for his grandson," said McKenzie, 80. "I gave him a bunch of old fence boards and cedar boards to get him started."

Although he hasn't seen the progress Roller has made since donating the material, he's interested to see what the end product will look like.

McKenzie was happy to hear someone else had taken on a hobby he shared about a decade ago.

"I thought it was a neat idea," said his wife, Alice McKenzie, 78. "He said his little grandson just loved all the things he's made for him. I think it's a lot of fun."

Roller ran with the idea and built more than 20 buildings, each with its own special name linked to family members. There is the Broken Spoke, a place where Roller used to go to dance when he was in the service; Frankie and Gae's Eatery for Roller's brother and his wife; and Christen's Dentist Office because Waylon's mom works at a dentist office. There's also a place for Waylon's dad - Bryan's Shiner Bar.

"I didn't know I was going to do this," Roller said. "Every grandpa should think about building something like this for his grandkids. I've never known such a therapeutic feeling."

Each building has scrap wood used for the walls and hot glue used as the mortar. Sticks and twigs collected from the oak trees on his property make up the fences and trees that will decorate the town.

Gloria Rangnow, the daughter of Roller's friend Louis, helped to furnish the moss to complete the trees, which Roller said would help make the town look lifelike.

"He wanted some but couldn't find any," said Louis Rangnow, 83.

So Gloria picked enough Spanish moss from the trees around their home to fill a large bag and half a bucket.

Louis Rangnow was surprised to hear Roller had the time for it. He's a very dedicated man, he said about his friend.

"He's very busy," Rangnow said. "He has cattle and horses that he tends to."

When Roller completes Waylon's miniature town, he plans to transport the 4-by-8 landscape to Austin in a U-Haul trailer.

"He'll be the only 3-and-a-half-year-old that has a ranch house that's paid for," Roller said. "He won't be bored."

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