Aircraft Collection

John W. Kalusa Miniature Aircraft Collection.

Although particularly noted for its vastness (the canyons), wide-open spaces (the deserts) and big stuff (saguaro cacti), Arizona also offers a few items of a smaller scale that are worth noting. Some are off the beaten path; others are right out there in plain sight.

The little thing billed as the ‘World’s Smallest Museum’ sits in front of the Buckboard City Cafe & Saloon just off U.S. Highway 60 as it passes through Superior. It contains a mere 128 feet of working space subdivided into ten display areas, each with a different theme. Each display case is about three feet across, two feet deep and ten feet tall. This cuts down on crowds because there’s room inside for only two people at a time.

The focal point is the roof, which builder Dan Wight once claimed is the world’s largest roof built of empty beer cans. Wight said it took 1,000 empties to finish the job, then jokingly noted that his acquisition crew “furnished 3,600 cans and some of them aren’t sober yet.” The museum is accessible to the public during the restaurant’s open hours.

What may or may not be the world’s smallest church sits in an agricultural field off of U.S. Highway 95, about 15 miles north of Yuma. Loren Pratt, a farmer, built it as a tribute to his late wife, Lois. This is not uncommon among shrine builders. For example, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan loved his wife so much that he had the Taj Mahal built near Agra, India, to honor her memory when she died. That monument stands nearly 330 feet tall at its highest points and took an estimated 20,000 men more than 20 years to complete.

Pratt’s memorial stands a mere 15 feet tall and can seat six or eight people. With the help of friends and relatives, he built it in a few months in 1996. Many of them also assisted with restoration after a storm damaged it in 2015. Inside, the church pews can hold one person comfortably but can accommodate two if they don’t mind sitting close together. The church is non-denominational and open to the public year-round.

And now, something small that is also something big. It’s the world’s largest collection of small airplanes, more appropriately named the John W. Kalusa Miniature Aircraft Collection, currently housed in the library at Emory-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. There are 5,829 miniature airplanes that were each painstakingly carved by Kalusa, a Mesa resident, who used balsa wood and razor blades to create every model to an exact scale of one-eighteenth of an inch to one foot.

Each model is delicately painted, right down to the detailed markings. Kalusa began this avocation when he was only 14 years old, carving everything from bombers to jet fighters to hot air balloons. His goal was to build a tiny replica of every aircraft ever built. He also wrote detailed specification sheets for every model, using the full-sized dimensions of the originals.

After Kalusa died in 2003, his family donated the collection to the university, where people can view it during library hours. The university is located at 3200 Willow Creek Road in Prescott.

One of the world’s smallest jail cells is located in Clifton, on Route 75 in eastern Arizona. It is little more than a hole in the wall, but it has a couple of notable features. One deals with its construction; the other with its first inhabitant. The jail was built in 1881, hacked, hammered and drilled into a big rock in Clifton. When completed, it was a rather tiny space surrounded by solid rock. Two steel bars attached to the single opening made escape extremely difficult.

Local legend says the first prisoner was Margarito Verala, which might not have been noteworthy were it not for the fact that Verala built the jail. According to the story, when he finished, he converted his pay into distilled spirits, shot up the town, was arrested and thrown into the cell he had crafted. The accounts don’t say how long he was incarcerated.

– Sam Lowe is a former Valley newspaperman who now writes about his travels across Arizona, the U.S. and the globe.