Durango Smelter, A Background Building
August 23, 2012 by markpaulson
One of the most distinguishing features of Durango, Colorado during the height of the gold and silver mining days was the Durango Plant of the American Smelting & Refining Company. Not only did it dominate the skyline in Durango, sitting part way up the mountainside as it did, it was directly across the river from the D&RG railroad yards. (See the brake wheel on a railroad car in the lower left of this photo) For quite a while, I debated whether to model this plant or not because I didn’t have room for it, or the space to add a spur track, and it would negate the logic of shipping raw ore to Denver for smelting. Eventually I compromised, and added it as a background building behind the Durango yard on my track plan. This would at least contribute in a visual way to the historic look of Durango. I still don’t have room to deliver ore gondolas there, and as an HO scale background building, On30 ore gons would look pretty ridiculous anyway, but not all smelters used all grades of ore, so I can still logically ship some ore to Denver.
Sanborn Insurance Co. maps are often used to research the footprint of structures that are no longer in existence. Here the Sanborn map for Durango for 1910 shows the smelter as it sat just across the Las Animas River. It was a huge complex, and most photos, taken from the city side, like the one above, only show the front edge of it. If the smelter was one of the more prominent edifices in Durango, the signature of the smelter was the three large chimneys belching smoke into the sky. I knew I would have to have some tall chimneys.
Last week at the Minnesota Transportation Museum Roundhouse in St. Paul, we were trying to wind up the sale of old donated HO scale items that we have been doing for several months. We literally had three tables of things we were just giving away. I saw this HO kit, and thought I might use the walls for my background smelter.
My first step was to take three of the four walls and lay them out end to end to create what is known as a background flat. I glued the walls to each other with small rectangular pieces of styrene cut from some of the window assemblies. I’m not using all four walls, so there are some extra parts. I’ll actually be using some of the left-over windows as skylights when I build my saw filer’s cabin for the lumber camp….but that’s another post. The straight edge clamped to the front of my work desk helps to keep the bottom edge of the factory perfectly straight and level. I’m not going to glue the window assemblies in yet; I have to finish painting the walls, but having them in place shows me where I can position my joiners.
A company called Clever Models makes designs for models in all scales that can be printed on card stock, and assembled. It’s a nifty idea; you just select the model you want from their web site, pay them a very reasonable fee, and download the pdf file to print on your printer. I’ve thought for some time now I’d like to try some of their creations as background items. A slick marketing technique they use is to have some of their models in a section they call “freebies”. You can download these and give them a try for nothing. This is an HO scale factory chimney that lives in their “freebies” area. Here I am following their instructions to secure a steel straight-edge to a cut line, and use a brand new Exacto blade to make the cut. Since this will be a background chimney, I’m only using one of the four sides they gave me.
After cutting out the chimney, and it’s accompanying cap, I glued them to 1/8 inch square basswood strips for stiffening, and a little thickness.
Here is the front of the chimney. Next I’ll carefully trim the overhanging basswood flush with the chimney sides.
With the flat front wall fairly secure, I began building a wooden inner structure to support the walls and roof. Here you also get an idea of the dominance of the chimney that I wanted to achieve. I could have made the chimney even taller; I cut about two inches off the bottom from the size it was on the pdf.
Here is the inner wooden skeleton with the card stock sub-roofing in place.
An overhead view showing the roof underlayment and the chimney. Since I can’t paint the Clever Models chimney, I’ll need to try to match the red brick walls of the kit to the purple-ish shade of the bricks on the chimney. Notice also that I used two single window sections of the left over fourth wall to form the ends of the building.
I found a color in the Testor’s Model master line called “Chestnut” that was a pretty close match to the chimney, especially when I used my technique with acrylic paint to fill the mortar lines in the brickwork.
I covered the roof with 240 grit wet/dry sandpaper, and small 1/16th inch square dividers.
I used Polly Scale Grimy Black to paint the roof.
Here the painting and mortar technique are complete, and the windows are installed. I used a dull green color for the window frames. On a background building, I don’t want anything too bright jumping out at me. I’ve also added a light brushing of Bragdon’s “Dust Bowl Brown” weathering powder.
I couldn’t paint the chimney, but a few streaks of “Soot” and “Rust” weathering powder work great.
I made a sign on my computer, and framed it with some strip wood.
I added the smoke jacks that came with the kit, and what’s a factory building without at least one boarded up window? For now, this is as far as I’m going with this. Eventually, I’ll create flat representations of some of the other buildings in the first photo in this post, and I’ll add more chimneys, of course. For the time being, I’m pleased with the results, and the cost was literally just a few pennies for a little strip wood.