Weekend Reading: How To Build a Model Railway – Ultimate guide to making buildings

Sometime around the Christmas holidays during one of those bits in Ontario where we ventured into bookstores carefully bemasked, I picked up the Model Rail annual How to Build a Model Railway: Ultimate guide to making buildings. It definitely provided some enjoyable reading.

While I think “ultimate guide” is a bit of hyperbole, this volume is structure build articles and structure build adjacent articles from cover to cover. (Save the few front and back pages of on-topic adverts I so greatly prefer to the North American interstitial approach). As the cover says, over 30 build articles. There are also a couple of how to research your prototype and a bit extolling the merits of scratch building.

The subjects are entirely UK based but other than making me wistful for thatched roofs and castles, the techniques covered are generally applicable and run the gamut of all media, card, clay, resin, plastic, wood and plaster. No whole etched metal kits covered but metal is in there too!

There is probably limited merit in reviewing an ephemeral publication such as this but I wanted to take note of the good work the Model Rail staff produces. I enjoy the regular Model Rail when I can get it and this was more and denser than that.

Some Pending Verticality

This is the current main loading dock side of Griffiths Foods, one of the few remaining rail served customers on the CN GECO spur. The view is facing west with the real Comstock Road is directly to the right. In the absence of any 1970’s photographs, I am going to take this and run with it, or at least what will fit.

The building front will be a maximum of 38 scale feet wide and mirrored to what is here. Main truck docks to the left will be implied to be in the off layout space in front.

Things I like about this and hope to capture:

  • Side by side truck and rail doors with the truck dock ramped down.
  • Despite a lack of any windows, there is a lot of things going on.
  • Clear progression of additions at different heights/widths.
  • Whatever that machinery on a plinth is to the right.
  • I have a big pile of 1:48 embossed brick sheet!

Things I am reasonably sure don’t belong in the 1970’s:

  • That metal siding at upper left. Covered windows perhaps?
  • Security camera on corner of building.
  • Gas bottle storage with exchangeable 20lb propane tank.

My current plan is a foamcore shell with brick sheets applied thereon. I will do the foamcore as a mockup to see how it looks.

Simple Joys

The last couple of Monday night Zoom calls, I have been working along on a 1:48 water tower kit from Built-Rite Models that I picked up at the 2016 National Narrow Gauge Convention in Augusta, Maine. I put the kit in a bin and lost track of it until that pile until recently. Since I am always looking for things to do at the bench during calls, I opened it up and started in.

The kit consists of a four part laser cut frame for the round tank shape, a whole bunch of strip wood, some thread and a couple of castings. There is a clear and well illustrated instruction booklet to help you along. A well designed kit that gives you the pleasure of board-by-board scratchbuilding without the challenge of assembling the materials and figuring out the methods yourself.

The process of applying boards (previously stained) one by one is something I find restful. It also helps that the results are, like hand laid track, impressive looking disproportional to the actual skill required.

Here is the tank with the side boards on, perched on my sander so I can even up the ends of the boards. Sanding or trimming overlength boards almost always results in a better finish that trying to line up the ends. (Church-Key Brewing Holy Smoke Scotch ale in the background…)IMG_20200831_210105109

I got as far as applying the top boards which are obviously going to require more than a little sanding to get them to length. I am looking forward to carrying on with this kit. I am probably going to need an On30 layout to give me a place to put these various structures that don’t fit Comstock Road. This is the meandering comes in.IMG_20200831_213117188

Modelling Goes To The Cottage

There are good things about a stay in Ontario’s Cottage Country but it does increase the distance to the workbench rather unreasonably. I usually find myself casting about for a project that is self-contained enough to take with me to work on. Or a pile of books. Or both. I take it as a sign of improved intensity of modelling activity that I didn’t have to work too hard to find a project.

The project needs to be:

  • Transportable: can it be contained well enough to survive being packed in the back of a station wagon with everything else up to and including 35kg of soggy dog?
  • Self-contained: can I identify and bring along all the needed tools and supplies?
  • Engaging: is it something I want to work on and will the work last long enough?
  • Relaxing: doing nerve wracking fiddle tasks at the kitchen table in company is not going to happen. A repetitive task that is not mentally tasking is what I want.

The project I elected to take along was the Book Nook. The next step required was applying Das clay to all the surfaces that will become some sort of masonry as well as a bit more work with cardboard to complete the base structures.

Here is the work at about the half way mark. IMG_20200803_164802537

I have added a covered bridge spanning the alley between buildings. It will be some combination of non-masonry to provide some contrast. (Neither it nor the right hand side building/side are attached. Getting in there to work on things would be nigh unto ship-in-a-bottle fiddly.

I created a set of steps out of layered cardboard and started to cover it with spackle for a smoother potentially brick or concrete finish. Not really happy with how that is working, will probably scrap it in favour of a wood base and paint.

The street has been “paved” with PVA and Das and the back wall has been covered. It was a small relief to bury the tie staining stains on that back wall as well as the N-scale flex I am using to suggest an On18 plant railroad.

I did get the whole of the clay layer applied and have just begun scribing stonework. I need to consider how to do the tops of the arched doorway and windows. My initial attempt looks like the mason’s apprentices got into the rum barrel and let loose on the work unsupervised. Other than that, progress made!


I Knew I Would Need That Eventually

I found the previously mentioned Campbell profile shingle kit after a gratifyingly short amount of hunting. Multiple winnowing passes of the supply stash over the years has reduced the height of the pile more than I thought. Apparently some of that pile is psychological. 🙂

In this case, over the years is almost an understatement. I purchased this shingle kit sometime in my teens which makes it on the order of 40 years ago. I am conflicted about how to feel about finally finding a use for it. It is not like I have never constructed a structure in the last four decades but never one in HO that required a shingle roof. Let this be a caution against purchasing materials on vague contingency. Or an exhortation to get out this sort of thing and create a use for it. Take your pick.

On the actual usage, the decades have caused some disarray in the reel and, I presume, some curling and taking a set. The adhesive on the back is still viable but, being a belt and suspenders sort of guy, I used double sided tape to attach it with judicious adhesive activation via water and small brush as required.

Side trimming still in progress but the result is satisfactory but does suggest some general weathering will be required to get things to blend.IMG_20200401_104914344

Train Night in Canada #2

We now have a series of virtual gatherings scheduled and seven of us gathered on Zoom to catch up, model, have a drink and generally socialize. I think we successfully managed to combine mutual support and encouragement. Having a scheduled time designated for this helps give one the emotional permission to take a break.

Prior to the actual video call, I did some tidying up around the shop. I have two workbenches and neither one is suited to current needs. Unburying them is a necessary first step to moving them out/on and clearing space for the replacement.

During the call, I worked on my Waterfront Willy’s kit. By end of the night, I had the sub=roofs on, the dormers on, and the walkway planking stained and stuck on. I even remembered to install the laser cut rafter ends before glueing the roof down. It was a near thing, though.IMG_20200328_212758866

I have some ancient Campbell shingles somewhere in the stash. I need to find them or make some substitutes. This being the only HO scale structure I am likely to build in the near future, it would be great to use the pre-made ones up.

Modelling Idea: The “Book Nook”

One of the modelling challenges I ponder regularly is the logistics of taking modelling output (hypothetical though that output might be) to distant events especially those involving plane travel. I can’t see putting any non-trivial structure or diorama in a checked bag which means you are wanting something that qualifies as carry-on.

At major events featuring modelling contests, there is often a diorama contest with limited space for just such travelling modellers. I have seen square foot, a ceiling tile, peanut butter jar lid, 2×2 inches, and so on. One I have not seen yet is the shelf insert or “book nook”. The basic format is a roughly book shaped box diorama viewed from the narrow edge while inserted among books on a shelf. I didn’t want to pirate anyone’s photos so here is a link to a BBC article on the subject. If you search online, you can also find numerous photos of fascinating instances.

Many of the existing instances are variations on a view into a narrow alley framed by structure faces depicted against the inside of the box. Usually some sort of lighting is included. It occurred to me that I know of a bunch of folks who like to model structures… I also see why there couldn’t be rails running up that alley since even modern O scale (1/48) horizontal minimum clearance is about 4.5 inches. Giving it a bit of thought produced an extensive list of possible ideas.

Why wonder about this when I have a layout already under construction? If the blog title didn’t warn you already, I am not the most laser focussed person when it comes to modelling subjects. Such a format offers a change to try out all sorts of techniques, materials, scales and eras that do not fit within the primary project. The book nook format would also solve the question of where to put the non-conforming item once completed. Leaving aside the problem of having bookshelves already stuffed with train books, of course. 🙂

Willy’s Walls

I have been remiss in posting but not entirely inactive just not doing much that seem worthy of mentioning. (AKA makes a good photo)

I have made some incremental progress on the Bar Mills HO Waterfront Willy’s kit. All the windows, window glazing and most of the trim is done. I have started the actual assembly which is a drawn out process when you have to let glue set and you have one pair of clamps.


Those are Rite-Way magnetic clamps and although I have use them before I am still impressed with how useful they are. The magnets are strong enough to hold through not just the wall but also the 1/8″ bracing on the inside.