Day at the Office (Sort Of…)

Readers will know that a colleague and I have been planning to build a model railroad in a mostly-unused back room at the office. We have been extremely busy lately, so haven’t had time. We’ve collected some materials, though: some 1x4s, a hollow-core door, and some assorted Kato packs.

Over the weekend, one of our employee’s told us that her 15-year-old daughter tried to OD on pills, so will be on suicide watch for a while, as they wait for an opening at a facility for troubled teens. I was asked if she could come into the office today, but given the high-paced work of clinical staff, I was the only one who could keep an eye on her. 

I asked my colleague what we should do. He said, “Why not ask her to help you build that benchwork?” (The alternative would have been to sit in my office bored, or do some menial, fairly pointless tasks with me.) I suggested that idea to our employee, with the promise of running trains when it was completed. She said her daughter thought it sounded alright, and agreed to come.

I plowed through some paperwork over the weekend which freed me up to take an “employee wellness day” today, and we spent the day (six or seven hours) designing and building benchwork, then set up some track. She did most of the benchwork design and most of the construction as well. If you can’t tell, the whole thing folds up against the wall on hinges. 

We had a really good time, and I hope she feels as accomplished as I do. She came in this morning embarrassed and withdrawn, but she opened up over the course of the day. We took a trip to the hardware store, had lunch, listened to some tunes, and talked and joked while building. She left in the evening full of smiles–all because of model trains.

Printed Walls

The office has been taking over my life lately, and we haven’t even had time to start on our new layout there. I’m thinking of bringing my inglenook so that we can at least run something, and maybe help to motivate us to build the layout proper. I think I will make the inglenook compatible with both my future bookcase layout and our compact office layout.

I’ve spent a few minutes here and there contemplating styrene vs. cardstock and wood models. I’ve been researching how to build with styrene, how to paint it, how to weather it. However, I think I’ve finally settled on using card and wood, primarily, if for no other reason than this: it is inexpensive, I don’t need to order supplies online, and I am familiar with its properties. Simply put: less waiting, fewer trial-and-error sessions, more modeling.

This weekend, between my son’s lacrosse games and household chores, I finally got a few hours to tinker with Photoshop, and overlaid the templates I created with a texture acquired from Clever Models. I had been considering a brick texture, but rethought that after noticing that the windows I have are not masonry windows, so wouldn’t look quite right set in brick. So, rather than spend twenty dollars on Tichy masonry windows, and having to rework my templates to fit them, I decided to use a weathered red siding instead. After all, the brewery isn’t one of those megalithic late-19th century German structures. This one is set at the terminus of a rural branchline, and it is probably more realistic as a wooden structure.

I printed the newly textured template on matte photo paper, and will back them with basswood after cutting everything. To get rid of the “too flat” appearance of paper (which bugged me after I finished a commercial cardstock kit last year) I scored lines along the slats with an awl. I tested the windows, and the walls look pretty convincing.

If you look closely, you can see the score-lines. This took some time, but the results are worth it.

Track Plan and Brewery Update

As promised, here’s the track plan that I have devised for my larger home layout.

Little Snoring

The plan is loosely based on the Culm Valley Light Railway’s Hemyock terminus. I did some flipping and length adjusting to provide some balance between aesthetics and pseudo-functionality. The headshunt just beyond the engine house will be a removable cassette, as I don’t want to permanently block access to a window. In addition, if the headshunt cassette is replaced with a lift-out 45-degree curve, it could theoretically connect to another module. If I build it to the proper height, it could even connect to the inglenook.

Here’s a repost of the terminus it is based on, for reference:

Culm Valley

Hemyock terminus as ‘advertised’ in Model Rail magazine.

The private sidings in this diagram (top and bottom left) eventually served two ends of a single creamery. Such a configuration has me thinking again about modelling a malt house and oast house in addition to the brewery proper. The malt house could be served by the bottom left rail, and would be connected to the grain store by way of a kiln or two.

I have also been steadily working on templates for scratchbuilding a structure using the Elkton Creek components as a basic template. My process is as follows:

  1. Scan individual pieces from the model after removing them from the sprues.
  2. Clean the scans up in GIMP, and ovverlay them with a solid color.
  3. Adjust sizes as desired by stretching, etc.
  4. Add or remove windows and doors using those already present as templates and guides.

Here are some pics of the uncut templates:


Brewery Template 1Brewery Template 2Brewery Template 3

Next, I will use textures acquired from Clever Models to overlay the solid color. 

Bigger and Better (Well… Bigger, Anyway)

I’ve spent the past week devising ways to modify the brewery and make it more… breweryish. The layout of the Elkton Creek smelter isn’t quite there. So I thought: why not? Mostly, I wasn’t completely happy with the placement of some windows in the Branchline kit. If I replace the walls with cardstock, I can easily modify window placement. So, I’ve been photocopying the major walls from the kit at 1:1 scale to use as templates.

The further I get into this hobby, the more I realize that it may not be worth buying large kits, except to use as templates for scratch-built models. Those are expensive templates, though, so I am going to keep 1:1 scale copies of any components for future use. I’m sure I could find such templates online, too, so I may do some research for future models.

Future models? Will there be room for future models? Not yet. But all this planning got me thinking about the hobby as a whole, and what my long-term aspirations are. The inglenook that I’ve built will be loads of fun, but at some point I know I will outgrow it (operationally and spatially). The intent of the inglenook–to build something portable and bulletproof, came about because I knew it will have to be moved around a lot. It’s been housed in a corner, but to really use it–to admire it–I have to pull it out from the corner and put it back when I’m done. With all the bookshelves, the desk, chairs, and other items in the room, there is simply no space for it.

Here I am, building fairly intricate models–which means the inglenook is intended for display as well as operation–only to slide the whole thing into an awkward corner when I’m done, where it is partially concealed by a bookcase. I expressed this concern to my wife recently. Well, I didn’t say anything about it, but she knows. She has caught me gazing wistfully at the latest Model Rail magazine, opened to a two-page spread of some massive layout. Last weekend, while I was out playing Magic: The Gathering with a couple of friends, she and my son spent a couple of hours rearranging the room in such a way that the inglenook was no longer in the… well… in the nook. It was a meaningful gesture, and it was not lost on me. However, the rest of the room is rather crowded now, and now my desk is shoved into an awkward corner.

A few days later, I was contemplating this problem while leafing through issue 232 of Model Rail magazine. I found myself staring at a diagram of the Hemyock terminus of the Culm Valley Light Railway, admiring it, and–in the back of my mind–wondering how much space it would take up in N scale.

Culm Valley

Hemyock terminus as ‘advertised’ in Model Rail magazine.

Suddenly, I had a rare moment of self-awareness. I could spend my whole life waiting to build that ‘dream layout.’ Or I could stop dreaming and find a way to make more room and build it soon.

Making more room is not easy when you’re renting. I would love a shed in the backyard where I can run trains all day, but my backyard is shared, and the shed is leaky, filled with rock salt and rakes (and my old, rotten layout). All our closets are utilized, all our space is being used for this or that. It isn’t cluttered, per se, but I’d like to keep it that way. So, I will have to get rid of something big. Something that takes up about 5′ x 1.33′ (yes, that’s the space I anticipate I could squeeze Hemyock into, if the headshunt could be removed). Or, I could start thinking in terms of urban planning, and build up.

A couple of years ago, my wife was lamenting how much she hated my ponderous bookcases. Not the books (we both love our books) but the cases themselves. They are dark, cherry-laminated, particle-board monsters. I purchased them seven or eight years ago from an office-supply retailer, and paid way too much. The shelves are bowing, the laminate is chipping, and they weigh a ton (even without the books). One is 7′ tall and 3.5′ wide, the other is 3′ tall, same width. In order to build a larger layout, the bookcases would need to go.

Q. But what would I do with all those books?
A. Easy: build a new bookcase.

Q. But how will that make more room for a model train layout?
A. Easy: build it on top of the bookcase.

I proposed this idea to my wife, and she seemed skeptical at first. After all, I haven’t finished the inglenook I’ve already started, and I didn’t finish the larger layout I started years ago (and which I literally left to rot). She’s right, and I was already wrestling with those thoughts. However, I’m not planning to discard my inglenook–I can tuck it away easily enough, and can use it to practice modeling techniques, etc. I may even bring it to the office as the good Lord intended, and attach it like a module to the layout we are building there. As for my old, discarded layout… well, that still haunts me, but I don’t think I would have thrown it in the shed if it didn’t seem so out of place–so in the way–once we started accumulating other furnishings (we had recently moved, and didn’t even have a sofa when I built it).

I spent the past 24 hours planning and estimating the costs of building a bookcase with a 5′ x 1.33′ removable top, and came up with the following plan (sorry for the poor lighting):

$134.00 for the whole shebang (minus track, structures, and scenery)? Not bad. It won’t be built with premium lumber, but who will notice after some filler and a nice coat of paint?

When my wife saw how much care I was taking to draft a plan, she gave her full consent. I don’t have the ability to run out and purchase everything right away, but I have plenty to do in the meantime (continuing work on the brewery, in particular).

I have also been working out a track plan based on Hemyock, with plenty of liberties taken. I will post that shortly.

Brewery Pt. 1

I’ve been picking out bits from the big ol’ N Scale Architect Smelter box, turning them in my hands, fitting them together, trimming sprues, and cutting balsa for floors and walls.

This is all in preparation for construction of the main brewery building, which I’m simultaneously excited for and terrified of. Before I get into that, here are the buildings I’ve (mostly) completed. Roofs are on, docks are built:

I plan on adding a scratch-built boiler-shed on the left-hand side of the hoist house. This means I will be removing the ground-level loading door that I installed (and which doesn’t make sense, as I realized later, because the actual ground floor should be dock-height). Once that project is complete, and after I’ve built the ‘ore house’ and attached it, I will be extending the stone foundation around the perimeter of the hoist house with more strips of Plastruct.

Otherwise, what’s done is done, and I am pretty happy with these models. Now, on the the daunting stuff.

The N Scale Architect Smelter is not a kit for the faint of heart; the instructions are spartan, the diagrams are overwrought, and I’ve found several major mistakes in the design already. For starters, the tab-and-slot system is, apparently, not a system at all, but a suggestion. The tabs and slots simply don’t line up! At first, I was thinking I must have gotten things wrong, but the parts are so unique that it would be impossible to mix up one wall for another. Oh, well. I can trim tabs until the cows come home, but that will definitely add some hours to the kit.

Here, you can see what made me especially nervous. Not twenty minutes into my Tinker Toy session I realized that the tab-and-slot system doesn’t line up. In this picture alone, you can see a couple of examples. In the background, near the corner of the building, you can see a door. One of the tabs juts out beneath the door, but only halfway. I hope the door covers this completely, or I may have some back-filling to do. And on the brace that I am holding (along with two other braces), the tabs are ‘female’ instead of ‘male’ (see how they line up with the slots in the floor). As it turns out, I will be cutting these down anyway, as I am adding a partition and second-story floor.

I’ve been mocking up the structures with tape to make sure everything fits. You can see the partition that I’ve cut to obscure the interior of the ground floor, and I also cut a strip of balsa to create a floor on the second level (not shown). I will likely add some dowel bits and so forth to simulate mash tuns, fermentation chambers, etc. on the second floor, but I won’t paint them or add much detail because viewers will hardly be able to see them.

Secondary Project

I may have mentioned in a previous post that I am the administrator for a small medical facility. Well, a couple of weeks ago one of the doctors I work with asked me if I went to the Vermont Rails Model Railway Show, and we got to talking. He expressed that he’s wanted to build a layout for years but never got around to it. I told him that I’d gladly help him build one, and he suggested that we do so in a spare room adjacent to his office.

I did a bit of research, showed him a few good starter sets, and we settled on purchasing the Kato N 1060023 GE ES44AC GEVO and Mixed Freight Union Pacific starter set, along with the Kato V3 Rail Yard Switching expansion set. I will be helping him build benchwork using a hollow-core door, and the entire layout will fold down against the wall (our employees also use the room for various activities such as yoga and meditation).

Benchwork supplies: a hollow-core door, some lengths of pine, and hinges.

While this layout won’t be part of Little Snoring Railway proper, I consider it something of a sister project, as it will allow me to experiment with ideas that I may incorporate on my own layout when I am ready to expand. Thus, I will post occasional updates on this blog. That should mix things up a bit, and will hopefully balance out the “twenty-pictures-of-printed-shingles-being-glued-to-the-roof” posts of late.


A bit on the modern side for my taste, but a fine foray into a cooperative layout with everything we need to get a train running.

New Ridge Cap and Another Roof

Seems like such a little thing: I took off the ridge cap from yesterday’s roof, which was made with cardstock, and replaced it with one made with standard copy paper. This cap is also narrower, and the shingles run vertically (as they should). In addition, I added a row of ‘vertical’ shingles on the rear loading-dock roof where it meets the wall of the main structure.


The photo may not do it justice, especially because I haven’t given it a spritz of Dullcote, but in person it makes a world of a difference.


I basically used the same process to roof the ice house, although I had to measure very carefully to account for the cupola, which is no longer removable (idiot that I am, I glued it all in place twice, and the second time around I used a lot of glue). For future structures, I will be sure to cut out the shingle-sheets before assembling each roof, so I will be able to use the roof pieces as templates. I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort if I had thought ahead about that. Anyhow, here’s the ice-house roof:

This looks much better than the tarpaper that came with the kit, in my opinion.


After much deliberation and experimentation, I finally settled on roofing that I am happy (enough) with. The main challenge? I really wanted to do something (for once) that wasn’t going to cost anything. After the surprise styrene stonework purchase I made last week, I’ve been counting back the ‘ka-chings’ and realizing how easy it is to get nickeled-and-dimed in this hobby.

Having built a couple of cardstock structures last fall, I am still enamored by how cost effective they were, and, while I wasn’t too excited about the finished cardstock models, there were aspects of paper that I really loved. So, when contemplating a roof, I finally decided to design my own using nothing but ink and paper.

Last night I Googled “shingle texture” and scrolled through various images of asphalt, slate, and shaker shingles until I found a nice dark slate with crisp lines. I really like the look of slate shingles; having lived in New Hampshire and Vermont all my life, I often visit old mills and barns with still-intact slate shingles, though the cupolas might have collapsed and the walls might be leaning this way or that. 

I brought the slate texture into Gimp (having recently decided that I no longer wanted to pay the monthly fee for Photoshop) and duplicated the image a handful of times, overlapping each layer until I had a whole page’s worth of shingles.

After sending a page to my inkjet printer, I started measuring and cutting. Once I had pieces cut that would cover the roof of the cooperage, I sprayed the back of each piece with Elmers Spray Adhesive, and stuck them on. Easy as that. Certainly not perfect, but I couldn’t have asked for better results without dropping $30 per building. And, the Elmers adhesive is hardly permanent. If I wind up wanting to spend some dollars on a fancy styrene roof, I can easily peel this one off.

Repainting Some Walls and Banging My Head Against Others

I’ve been away from my spraycans for the past couple of weeks, mostly because the final building of the three that needed repainting was daunting, to say the least.

It took me a solid week to build up the courage to remove all windows, doors, stripping, and ‘stonework.’ The project itself only took an hour or so, but it was delicate work and I am still rather surprised that I didn’t snap anything.

Spray-painting the pieces was easy. After gluing the walls back together, I began reattaching the strips of stonework. By some baffling turn of events, though, I couldn’t find one of the strips for the front of the building. I looked high and low, to no avail. Eventually, I gave up. It is likely that the adhesive became stuck on some piece of paper or something and would up in the garbage.

Anyhow, I contacted Branchline and inquired about their source for the styrene stonework. I got an email back almost immediately:

“The n scale stonework that we use is made by Plastruct. It comes 7 x12 sheets. How much are you in need of. I look forward to hear from you.”

Wow, I thought, I can just order through Branchline. That’s convenient! So I replied:

“I am only in need of about 6″ x 1/2″ but would be happy to purchase whatever you can spare.”

I heard absolutely nothing back for three days, so I followed up to ask if my email was received. Still no answer. A week later I tried again for good measure, but was met with silence.

Well, go suck an egg, Branchline. I ordered some styrene “Random Coursed Stone” sheets directly from Plastruct, and they arrived several days later. In the interim, I rethought the dock, and finally decided to reopen the holes just under the loading doors, which will allow me to attach the dock that came with the kit. I’ve been futzing around long enough. Really, I just want to get these models finished so I can start on the actual brewery.

I cut a length of Plastruct ‘masonry’ to fit the whole length of the cooperage, and added crenels for the dock-holes. I also cut a strip to run beneath the loading doors of the hoist house.

I reattached all doors, stripping, and windows (and took the opportunity to straighten the crooked window that has been gnawing at me for a couple of months).

To simulate mortar, I painted the Plastruct stone with Testors white paint then gently wiped it off the face of the stones so it only remained in the spaces between them. For variation, I scribbled on the stones with colored pencils in several shades of brown. Then I went over all with a No. 2 pencil and finally a white colored pencil, to blend it all in a bit.

The last major steps for these buildings will be as follows: place the scratch-built ‘wall’ in the cooperage again, add shingles or corrugated metal roofing, spray all with Dullcote, insert window ‘glass,’ and paint and add the docks.

Still plenty to do before they are done, but with any luck I’ll be finished before the end of March, at which time I will begin preparing to build the brewery proper. I’m nervous just thinking about it.

Veni, Vidi, Non Vici

I went with my twelve-year-old son to the Vermont Rails Model Railway Show yesterday. The half-hour drive was worth it, if only to spend some time watching trains run around the modular club tracks.

Disappointingly, there was only one small table of N-scale wares, and they were very outdated, worn-out bits of rolling stock. Most vendors were offering Lionel and HO-scale engines and stock, and the only scenic vendors were offering pre-fab HO structures and custom rock molds.

Last time I went to the Vermont Rails show was five or six years ago, and there was a significant amount of N-scale stock and scenic vendors. There was a local laser-cut model company, Creative Laser Design, a whole bunch of Kato track and components, and bounteous tables of N-scale engines and rolling stock in various liveries. This time around, there was none of that.

Also, there was only one non-club modeler representing his project “just for fun.” At the last show I attended, there were at least four or five non-club, non-vendors who had lugged their small layouts to the show just to operate them for the enjoyment of the crowd, including at least one shelf-sized switching layout. To help offset this “club- and vendors-only” trend, I plan on bringing my humble layout to the show next year.

I didn’t take many photos, mostly because I’m not sure how modellers feel about having their layouts photographed and posted online without giving them credit (and it was almost impossible to find the owners of each section of twenty- and thirty-piece modular layouts). Here’s one photo, just to prove we were there (my son is in the foreground):

Despite the lack of high-quality N-scale-specific vendors, we still had a good time admiring the work of other modellers, and we spent a full two hours strolling around, pointing out details, and talking about the operations.