More than a hobby

“Preserving History in Miniature” is more than just the slogan for Philip Scandura’s architectural modeling miniatures business. Miniature train and building construction has been a passion of his for as long as he can remember.

“Have you ever seen someone wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Still Plays with Trains?’ Well, that’s me,” says Scandura, EE’84. “I’ve been interested in model railroading since I was 5, and my dad let me play with his American Flyer trains.”

Throughout his childhood, Scandura built train layouts and assembled model kits. He didn’t know that it was a hobby or a learning opportunity, he just enjoyed creating his own worlds by hand.

But now, he believes that model trains helped lead him into engineering.

Phil Scandura builds lifelike miniatures for museums and other installations. Photo by Barbara Sherman

“Building train layouts taught me about electricity, wiring, how things work and how to fix things,” says Scandura. “As I got older and more experienced, I began scratch-building structures, instead of using kits. Drawing my own plans and creating a structure piece-by-piece allowed me to build anything I could imagine, without being limited by commercial designs.”

As an electrical engineer, he continued to design — but now for a living. Before he retired in 2016, Scandura worked for over 33 years in the aerospace industry, designing and implementing real-time embedded control systems for use in aircraft.

Throughout his career, though, he continued his interest in miniature building and eventually founded Mainenti Miniatures. He now makes one-of-a-kind commissioned works, ranging in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the size, historic research needed, and technical complexity for things like lighting and animation.

For example, Scandura recreated the town of Seligman, Ariz., as it was in the 1950s, a project that included two dozen buildings. It took him over a year to research, design and build. After being displayed twice at Flagstaff museums, it will be installed at a family museum built by the Delgadillos, who commissioned the piece.

“I have fond memories of Angel Delgadillo, a man in his mid-90s, on his knees peering into the museum display cabinet like a kid in a candy store,” says Scandura. “He was pointing out all the buildings in his town, including the barber shop, the pool hall and his brother’s restaurant. You never saw a grin so big!”

He still uses the ball-peen hammer that his grandfather gave him when he was a child.

Scandura’s company is named for his grandfather Sebastiano Mainenti, who Scandura says could fix practically anything.

“I named my modeling business after him when I realized one day that I had been using a small ball-peen hammer that he gave me when I was just a child,” recalls Scandura. “I bet that hammer is over 60 years old by now.”

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