This story is a little unusual for Dixon Patch. But if you’re into model building or model trains you’ll find it of interest.
It all began when Gael Troughton of Woodbridge was a petroleum geologist working in the Dixon area in the 1970s and 80s. His employer owned several natural gas fields, including the Maine Prairie Gas Field. One day his boss pointed out the abandoned Maine Prairie schoolhouse, sitting forlornly southeast of Dixon.
Just about that time Troughton was getting interested in model railroading, which often includes building replica structures to enhance a train layout. “I filed away in the back of my brain that the little schoolhouse would make an interesting model,” says Troughton.
In 1982, when Troughton was again in the area prospecting for more natural gas for another company, he took a photo of the schoolhouse, which was fortunate, because the next time he saw it, all that remained was a pile of lumber.
He started doing some research on the old town of Maine Prairie and its schoolhouse, and found my historical articles in Dixon Patch archives. Here’s what I had to say:
"The old Maine Prairie school, which as far as I can tell was originally at the corner of Bartlett and Norton Roads, and which was later moved to the corner of Maine Prairie and Robben roads, was down to around five students when it closed in 1945. For years afterwards, in a decrepit and forlorn state it was the final reminder of Maine Prairie’s glory days. It was finally torn down in 1988. Now there is only pasture land."
(To read the entire article, go to http://dixon.patch.com/groups/opinion/p/dixon-then-and-now-maine-prairie-slowly-abandoned.)
When Troughton retired, he decided to create a business called Mokelumne River Models. Fortunately for Dixon, he chose the old schoolhouse as his first product. “It’s my way of preserving the little building – by creating a model of it for others to enjoy,” he says.
“My target (customers) would be model railroad fans of the Sacramento Northern Railway, a former regional electric interurban railway that once allowed a person to travel from San Francisco all the way to Chico, via Sacramento,” he says. “Since the SNR line was only a half mile west of the Maine Prairie School, it’s a reason for a modeler to add the school to their layout.”
(The Western Railway Museum along Hwy. 12 south of Dixon preserves the history of interurban electric rail lines and operates excursion trains along a few miles of still-existing SNR track.)
Troughton’s schoolhouse, a “craftsman”-style kit, includes laser-cut basswood parts and is in the standard HO scale of 1:87. Just to indicate the amount of detail provided, the schoolhouse’s shingles are made from laser-cut paper and the windows, doors and stovepipe are plastic castings. The kit sells for $56 plus tax and shipping from Molelumne River Models at PO Box 435, Woodbridge, CA 95258. It’s also available through his Web site at www.mokrivermodels.com and from Roger’s Railroad Junction in Lodi.
The schoolhouse was probably a good first kit for Troughton due to its relative simplicity. For his next model product, he’s chosen a much more challenging building to model, the Gilroy Hot Springs Hotel, a three-story Victorian Italianate building that used to stand within what is now Henry Coe State Park. The preliminary model will be presented in October.
Beyond that project, Troughton knows of other buildings in the Dixon area that one day might surface as models, including the old church along Shiloh Road north of Birds Landing. I asked him to also consider the Tremont Church east of Dixon and the Methodist Church within Dixon.
If anyone who once attended the Maine Prairie School is still living, they should be happy to learn that it will live on, if only on model train layouts.