Blurring the Line Between “Real” and “Miniature”
GIjOE fan and collector, Chris Rowland of Macon, Georgia, strode purposely down the wide hallways of the Marriott Century Center in Atlanta. It was almost time for the world-renowned, 3-day Joelanta 2014 show to begin and Rowland was clearly a man on a mission. His mission? To set up one of the world’s largest and most detailed hand-built structures ever created—for use with 12″ GIjOE action figures.
A carpenter by trade, Rowland looks every bit like a man who works outdoors all day with his hands. He’s tall, fit, rugged and muscular, embodying the same sort of physical attributes one might also apply to his most recent custom creation: an astonishingly accurate 1:6 scale “Fire Tower.” Utilized in forests throughout the world, fire towers enable park rangers (as well as military and civilian “fire spotters”) to climb high above canopy level and sight smoke or forest fires in every direction (Smokey the Bear would be VERY proud).
Has a World Record Been Broken—or Set?
At its fully assembled height (including the spotter’s shack) of 17′, Rowland’s amazing 1:6 scale fire tower is, indeed, an awe-inspiring sight. And we’re not sure, but we also believe that he may have unknowingly set a new world record for the tallest hand-built structure ever created for use with 12″ or 1:6 scale action figures. (Anybody have a Guinness book handy?)
Unfortunately for attendees of Joelanta 2014, the lower ceilings of the Marriott restricted the display of only 2 of the fire tower’s 4 sections, shortening it to half of its normal size. To assuage his obvious disappointment, show promoters decided to award Chris their highest possible honor—allowing him to display his massive creation at the event’s primary focal point, the “visual nexus” of Joelanta itself—the Main Entry Hall. It was high praise from his peers that Chris well and truly deserved.
Indeed, after enduring months of arduous construction, the enormity of such a LARGE custom project surprised even its creator. In an exasperated update posted on Facebook, Rowland admitted:
“I finally finished all the stairs! Over 150 steps. Glad to be done with that. Today I’ll put the tower back up to check how everything fits and I have some minor adjustments to one section. Considering math wasn’t my strong suit in school, it could’ve been a lot worse. The only bad thing about the build thus far is that I’m learning better ways to do things as I get closer to the top. They say hindsight is 20/20, and I have to agree. There’s going to be a lot of tedious measuring and cutting in my future.”
Rewarding Hard Work With Honor and Praise
Although Rowland was only able to display 2 of the tower’s 4 sections at Joelanta 2014, his one-of-a-kind handiwork was breathtaking nonetheless. After setting up, as a final touch, he carefully posed 3 GIjOEs along its railings and staircases to illustrate its 1:6 scale perfection.
Then, stepping back to take it all in, Chris crossed his arms in satisfaction and breathed out a long sigh of relief as fans began to slowly and respectfully gather around him. At that early pre-show hour, only dealers and event coordinators were allowed in the area, but to a man (and woman), they found themselves stopping dead in their tracks, eyes agog, and grinning uncontrollably at the sight of it all.
The comment heard most often was, “Can you imagine how big the entire thing must be?” Indeed. Heads shook in disbelief. Whistles of admiration echoed down the hallway. Envious murmurs, followed by repeated offers of congratulations, respect and outright astonishment were proffered to Rowland, as the reality of what we were witnessing sank in. We knew we were seeing something truly unique. This was a record-breaking MASTERPIECE of miniaturization!
The Story Behind the Tower
We asked Rowland to recount the inspiration for his masterpiece and any additional insight he had about its construction and possible future. He kindly replied:
“As far as WHY I built it, let’s just say that I remember one near my house as a kid and thought it was UNBELIEVABLE. I’m a carpenter by trade, so finding the materials was no problem, and I’d been wanting to build one for a few years now. I’m always making things and I decided to combine my love for GIjOEs with my creative side. That’s all it took to get started!
Before beginning, I thoroughly researched fire towers online (to find a design that I liked) and then started in on all the math. The tower is about 90 ft. at 1:1 scale and is a little over 17 ft. at 1:6 scale. I’m not a modeller, so I’m sure I might offend some purists out there, but I built this thing to have FUN, not to win any awards.”
“The lookout building sits in the middle of the top platform and has a railing going all the way around. That was the trickiest section to build because the last section of stairs had to go through the tower and to the outside. I must say again that I wish I would have paid more attention in math class!
The handrails were a major pain to do too, but definitely needed. It’s all made entirely out of 90% recycled wood materials from a local sawmill, and held together with wood glue and 23-gauge brad nails. Before I built the little building on the top, I put all the sections together so there wouldn’t be any ‘bad surprises.’
Now that it’s completed, I’ll probably set up scenes and take more pictures. I also plan on having a zipline coming off of it somewhere and make a short video of Joe taking the plunge. Beyond that, I haven’t really given much thought to what else I’ll do with it.
I would probably give it away if it went to the right place. For now, it’ll just go back in my basement. It’s built in 4 removable sections that mortise together, so it stores away fairly easily.
Finally, I remember that I couldn’t stop laughing as I stepped back and looked at it all for the first time. Yes, 17′ sounds tall, but standing right next to it is a whole different story. It…is…TALL. Now the fun really begins!” —Chris Rowland, Macon, GA
Bottom Line: Since “official” records are not actually kept regarding such things, we don’t really know if Chris Rowland has broken or set a new World’s Record with his fire tower, but it’s more likely than not that he has. Over the past few decades, we’ve witnessed hundreds of customizers around the world creating 1:6 scale trains, rail guns, aircraft, bunkers, vehicles and other GIjOE-related items of all sizes and types, but NOTHING quite as tall, elegant and intricate as Rowland’s tower. Our sincerest congratulations to Chris on his amazing achievement and our thanks too, for his generous contributions to this article. Absolutely SUPERB work, Chris!