A Display for Relatives

For three weeks in late August and early September, we had four separate groups of relatives here for a visit.

So that they could see some of my modeling, I set up a fictitious town with a number of my structures.

I say fictitious because this is not the exact location where these buildings will go. Many will actually be in Silverton, but I currently have no benchwork up there.

Even this area where Durango will eventually go has no track laid.

The homesite here just has a coat of Kilz-2 primer to seal the material, so please ignore the ground color. I am not trying to depict winter! Here in Minnesota, we cherish our springs, summers and autumns.

It looks a little bit like there is a lake in the background here, but that is just the gap between the homesite and the photo background. This will be filled in when I get around to finishing this area.

Durango’s mayor is still waiting for his city to be completed, too.

Maybe that horse and wagon coming around the corner will pick up some of these crates.

Somebody is inside the bank making a deposit…..or a surreptitious withdrawal?

Here comes the Main Street trolley. Durango’s first trolleys were horse drawn like this.

The Rochester Hotel on my layout is a selective compression of the old hotel that still exists in Durango.

The laundry and the general store are still doing good business.

The local freight house is still the only place in town to buy fuel for the “newfangled horseless carriages”.


This is a project I’ve been working on all summer. Since my layout is On30 scale, and this is an HO scale kit, my intent is that it will be a background model if I can find a place where I can fit it in. I do this to create forced perspective, but this technique works best at eye level, and you need a little distance from foreground to background to make it work best. See “More HO Half Houses” in my category “Modeling In Other Scales”.

I originally felt that I could just assemble the water tower on a couple of layers of one inch styrofoam insulation material, but then the project started growing on me!

If I was going to have a water tower, I needed to have a locomotive and tender to put water in, so I needed track to “run” the locomotive on. The model will be static (thank goodness). I added more styrofoam underneath and on both sides of the original piece, and contoured it all with Amaco Sculptamold.

I wound up making my static locomotive and tender from a number of sources. Most of the pieces came from Shapeways compliments of Railway Recollections, but the running gear was from an old N-Scale Minitrix loco. Since my layout is narrow gauge, I opted for an HOn30 locomotive, “running” on some old N-Scale track that I already had.

I enjoy modeling, but working in HO scale is tiny stuff. The whole diorama is only about 10 inches square. You can double click on any of the photos to get an enlarged view.

One reason the project took so long was that I had to source the various components from so many different places, mostly by internet purchases and waiting for delivery. HOn30 is not a very common scale, so for instance, the tender wheels came from a different place than the tender truck side frames. The Shapeways parts were supposed to fit on a specific N-Scale 2-6-0 locomotive which was going to be quite expensive to purchase, so I used a Minitrix 2-6-0 (which I bought on eBay, non running), but the switch meant that the Shapeways locomotive pilot wouldn’t fit correctly, so back to Shapeways for a different pilot…..and so on.

Once the locomotive and tender were assembled, I turned to Google Images for some research into painting details.

The research photos also helped with ideas for further details.

The headlight and tail light were little stick-on jewels from Michael’s. The figures were from an HO Preisser engine crew set. There were six of them, and I managed to find work for them all. I made the builder’s plate from the kind of thin clear plastic that comes with a lot of packaging. I punched it out with a paper punch, and painted it gold. It’s about 2mm in diameter.

The water in the tank is Woodland Scenics Realistic Water. I like this product because you can color the water by mixing in acrylic (water based) paints before making the pours. I say “pours” because this product works best if you build up the water with thin layers, no more than 1/8 inch each. The tank looks almost full, but of course, there’s a wooden disk just a little way under the water.

The locomotive hand rail in this picture was made from an HO scale brass etched ladder. I cut it in half lengthwise, drilled small holes along both sides of the boiler, and glued the two halves in. The pilot support rods are small bits of wire.

The deciduous tree on the left was made with a Scenic Express Super Trees stem. For thickening the trunk, I used the technique of applying hot glue, and shaping it with the tip of the hot glue gun. This gives the trunk a more realistic thickness, and strengthens it. The yellowish leaves are Scenic Express Super Leaves, Moss Green, and the underlying dark green leaves are also Scenic Express.

I believe the coniferous trees were from Affordable Forests; I purchased them at a train show. The rail was weathered with Floquil Rail Weathering pens, and acrylic paints.

Weathering on the tender and locomotive was done with acrylic paints and weathering powders. The track ballast is some old N-Scale ballast I’ve had for decades. The open cover on the tender water hatch was made in the same way as the builder’s plate.

The decals for the number “5” on the locomotive and tender were another special order item. The grass tufts were from Bachmann Scene Scapes, 10mm tufts (Tan). I like the way this picture makes the water tower look like it is high up in the mountains.

I also like this running gear level view. The workman on the right is oiling in the piston rod area. He does have an oil can in his hand, but he wound up facing away from the camera in all my shots.

I often work on two or more projects at once. By doing that, I can shift gears when I need to let something dry overnight. I only wish I had a larger workbench surface, but I can get by. While pushing bravely ahead on an HO scale backwoods water tank that will become a background scene on my layout, I decided to tackle one of the two On30 Leadville Shops cars I had purchased some time ago.

This is the photo that Leadville Shops uses on their web site for the Denver, South Park & Pacific Tiffany refrigerator car. These are sold as “craftsman kits” which means you not only have to have a fairly high degree of modeling skills, and a good stock of modeling tools, but also the patience of Job.

This is my finished car. One thing I have found with many of these craftsman rolling stock kits is that the modeler really needs to have a comprehensive knowledge of how the prototype was constructed. I think the companies that make these kits assume that you will know what every part of the car was called, and how it connected to the other parts. The instructions could sometimes be a bit more helpful.

Having said that, you could easily build a contest quality model with this kit, but since I was only interested in a car that would run reliably, and be detailed enough to pass momentary inspection, I took a few shortcuts.

Underbody detail…..You have to furnish your own trucks and couplers, and that requires some fiddling around with the car’s frame to get everything to fit. I left off the brake detail on the trucks for the sake of being able to operate the car. It also looked like the brake gear would not easily fit on the trucks I used. Some of the brass wire piping, air lines, etc. interfered with the ability of the trucks to pivot cleanly. Since it doesn’t show very much unless you pick the car up and turn it upside down, I left some of that detail off. 

Instruction sequencing….I like to stain, paint, weather and decal the sides and roof of the car before assembly, not after. I also paint all the detail parts first. I always start by staining the wood with my alcohol and leather dye mix. The next thing I did on this reefer was to dry brush the sides with some acrylic Depot Buff. My research said that some of these cars were painted a pale yellow, and the Depot Buff turned out to look like a weathered pale yellow. As the car nears completion there are more and more fragile detail parts hanging off all sides of it. The less you have to handle it the better, so I saved some of the detail like the brake staff and brake wheel for last.

After the initial staining on the roof, I used a rusty brown dry brushing as well as some light brown weathering powders. Research said that some of these cars had dark brown roofs. There is a nice brass etching set, and I weathered this right away with Micro Engineering’s rail weathering solution. The door hinges and the corner braces show this effect.

There wasn’t enough wire in the kit for all the grab irons, so I substituted some white metal grab irons that I already had. These came with the NBW detail already cast into them. There is an ample supply of small detail parts, like the tiny NBWs. Leadville shops correctly assumes a fair percentage of these will go flying off into never-never land as you try to handle them with your tiny tweezers. There were no stirrup steps with the kit, but I used some from my detail supply. The holes on the ends of the car are for ventilation to help keep the ice from melting too fast, and to keep the vegetables and meats from spoiling. You will notice that there are no rooftop ice hatches. The ice compartments at the ends of the car were filled by carrying ice through the large side doors. When the ice had been loaded, then the contents to be kept cold were put in the center of the car. I am making progress on the water tank scene, and should be able to post something about it in the not too distant future.

Some weeks ago I purchased one of Bachmann’s newest offerings. It is the On30 Derrick Car in MOW Grey, Item #26901.

Almost all railroads needed a piece of maintenance of way equipment like this. Derailments were a fact of life, and other large things needed to be picked up along the right of way, or loaded on and off flat cars.

All D&RGW MOW cars were originally painted in Tuscan or Boxcar Red after rebuilds in the 1920’s etc. However, just about all of them were painted MOW Grey in the mid 1940’s. My railroad is set in 1915, so technically I should have purchased the version of this car that Bachmann does make in what they call “Oxide Red”, but all of the rest of my MOW equipment is grey, so that’s what I went with.

I did some light weathering with acrylic paints, chalks and Testor’s Dullcote. I wanted to take the shiny plastic newness out of the model, but leave it looking like it was in good working order.

This close-up shows some of the nice mechanical detail that Bachmann has included inside the enclosed portion of the car. Now my maintenance of way trains will really be well-equipped to deal with problems out along the line. 

This is a kit from B.T.S. Structures. According to their instruction sheet, that stands for “better than scratch”. Historically many Chinese men, and families, were brought to this country to work on the transcontinental railroad. From the outset they faced prejudice and discrimination, even on the railroad that brought them here. Eventually their superior work habits, skills, and clean living gained them widespread acceptance on the railroad, but they still faced an uphill struggle when they left the railroad to pursue other occupations. One of the few businesses they were allowed to own and run was the local laundry.

This kit consists of an elongated main structure and a small attached side room of some sort, as seen in this rear view.

Since I’m trying to save space in Durango, I decided to leave the small addition off, and shorten the depth of the main building. I can use the little addition to make a small shed somewhere. You can always use a lot of small sheds!

I don’t intend to have the back of the laundry show, so I just used a piece of card stock, and painted it a rust color. Now I can add the windows and doors shown in the second photo above to my stock of spare parts.

I decided to use a different chimney so it wouldn’t dominate the structure so much.

I like to use photographic interiors, and you can almost always find something useful on Google Images. I used this on the back wall of the laundry.

I split this photo in two and used half of it on each side wall. The canopy glue I use on the window glass, and the addition of a window shade makes these photos very hard to see, but that’s OK; I know they are there.

I put two lights on the structure: one over the door, and one on the inside near the back.

From this angle, you can see both lights. Now my little Railroad Avenue people can have clean shirts.

The Kokomo House

Another kit I recently completed was the Kokomo House by Wild West Scale Model Builders. With a footprint of roughly 6.5 x 4.0 inches, this structure is a little bigger than the houses I have been building lately. Maybe it can be the home of a rich person, or some business office. A bit of history by Joe Crea on the Wild West web site says, “Kokomo, a small Colorado mining town, once existed just below the east crest of Fremont Pass. The townsite is presently buried under extensive tailing ponds of the Climax Molybdenum operation. An early photograph of the town revealed this small house. Like many log structures of the period, this building has its facade sheathed with siding to provide a more finished appearance. The house appears not to have been painted, but it was common practice to paint only the finished facade and allow the log portions to weather naturally.”

This is the front view of my finished house. Nothing new in terms of techniques here. The mortar lines between the logs took a while to paint with a very fine brush. Fortunately, rough is OK here.

The front from another angle.

The back has an interesting little walk-out addition, and cut-away roof line.

The other rear view angle. I put two lights in the structure because of the size of it, and the many windows.

Viking Ship

Here is a little model of a viking ship that I have spent over three months working on. It is from a kit from Artisania Latina. The ship is approximately 11″ long from prow to stern and 11″ tall from keel to top of mast. I wanted to build this ship for display in my library, and because I have ancestors who were actual Vikings.

This picture shows the model in one of my lighted display cases.

There were a number of challenges to the construction, which explains the lengthy assembly process. Almost every piece of this kit had to be cut and/or shaped from the raw wood supplied. There were some exceptions like the stand beneath the ship, which was part of a laser-cut sheet.

The most time consuming process was shaping and installing the strakes (boards) along the sides of the ship. Each one of these has between seven and nine points of attachment to the underlying hull formers. The brass nails are only for visual accent; the strakes had to be glued at each of the 7-9 aforementioned points, and I could only do two to three of these points per day. The work had to be clamped and set aside for the glue to harden over night. I usually work on several models at a time, so I can move on to other projects when I have to wait for steps like this. This photo also shows the side tiller at the rear of the ship. This was one of the few steering mechanisms these ships had.

I modified some elements of the kit to create a more realistic model. The most visible modification is the sail. The stripes were my addition. I don’t know of any Viking sails that were not colored or decorated, and a stripe design was the most common. The colors identified the ship’s owner. I also wanted the sail to look like it was billowed out with a nice following wind, so here is what I did. First, I carefully stretched the sail on a flat surface, and drew in the red stripes. I used a permanent marker because the technique for filling the sail with wind would be using water based products. Then I sewed the top of the sail to the yard arm, and blew up a balloon. The sail and yard arm were carefully stretched across and secured to the surface of the inflated balloon. The next step involved using a diluted mixture of white glue and water. I used construction glue so that it would give the “white” surfaces a bit of an eggshell color. In the theatre, this kind of a mixture is called “dutchman glue”. I think this term came from the trade war that was waged between the English and the Dutch in the mid-1600s. At that time the island of Manhattan was a Dutch colony. When the English won the war and took over Manhattan, they either obliterated anything connected with the Dutch, or created derogatory terms for it. We still have sayings like “Dutch-treat” which implies something cheap. I think watered down glue acquired the same kind of demeaning appellation. If you are interested in learning many other fascinating facts that emerged from this period (including how the New York Mets got their colors), I highly recommend reading “The Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto. Back to the sail: I gave it several coats of this glue over many days, and when the glue had thoroughly dried, voila! I popped the balloon and the sail retained its shape! The next picture shows minor modifications I also made to the ship’s rigging to keep the sail positioned properly. I guess you’d have to know a lot about Viking ship rigging to know what’s correct and what isn’t.

The other major modification was to the shields along the sides of the ship. The shields in the kit had no decoration on them. For the Vikings, their decorated shields were part of their pride and their identity, so I found pictures of Viking shields on Google, sized them, and printed them on glossy photo paper. It’s a technique I’ve used before to make signs for structures for my model railroad.

I glued the photo paper to the plain shields. Then I found some small stick-on jewels at Michael’s to create the shield boss on each shield. The shield boss was a cup-like steel projection at the center of the shield that protected the warrior’s hand as he (or she) gripped the back of the shield. The Roman Legionnaire’s shield had the same feature. This boss was also used as a “butting” weapon. The edge of this otherwise wooden shield was then clad in a steel “tire”. I have some little Viking figures on order to complete the scene.