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An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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  • Laser Cut Wood Structures:

    As the operations end of the layout is finally up to snuff, the push is on to equip the layout with suitable structures. The major structures are relatively large, snap together, pre-colored plastic kits, more or less modified. They are the Atlas factory and the Bachmann/Plasticville coaling tower and they are already in place.

    I had hoped to finish the layout in similar O-scale plastic structures, either molded in appropriate colors or pre-built and painted. However, with the limited layout space, only one was found suitable, the small AM Models Jennysville Shanty kit, which will be repurposed into the factory's yard office, so the switch was made to using laser cut wood kits, which come in smaller sizes.

    These kits tend to be rather plain, with a minimal amount of details in their detail areas. Mostly they are just three blank walls and a fourth wall with a door/window, which in O-scale, takes up almost the entire side. Four kits by three manufacturers were chosen for the layout as they remind me of prototype scenes from my past. However, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

    It is a bugbear that is the bane of my working with wood models and that is - they have to be painted. While my innate skills allow me to do extraordinary work with electro-mechanical things, give me a model to paint and my brain turns to mush and my fingers become thumbs. Nevertheless, over the decades, I have become somewhat adept at using spray paint rattle-cans from the hardware store.

    As some of you may be aware, the spray paint industry is in turmoil, with many of the fine old paints gone from the marketplace. They have been replaced by reformulated combinations of paint and primer and many of them, sad to say, are not worth a darn. Full cans clog up after just seconds of use and then have to be discarded. When paint does spew forth (and I do mean spew), it often does not dry, and the traditional "selecting of the colors" by observing the can caps has become a crap shoot. The new caps used by Krylon are yet another nightmare. I have to use a pair of wide open vise grips to physically remove them from the can.

    The first of the wood, laser cut kits to be repurposed for the layout was the previously covered AMB Gandy Dancer's Shanty. that became a stable for the factory horses (posted 11/15/18). Initially, it was painted with a can of flat brown primer that was on hand, but when it was placed on the layout the structure displayed all of the charm and visual impact of a chunk of brick, so I was off on a trip to the hardware store. With the aforesaid paint situation, there were actually a number of trips to a number of stores, hardware, hobby and arts and crafts, over an extended period of time.

    Regrettably, in the present rattle-can marketplace, in anything other than a gloss finish, it seems the quality of the paint is inversely proportional to the combined number of words in the name of the paint and the name of the color. One exception appears to be the Krylon ColorMaxx Paint+Primer in the Matte Summer Wheat color, available at Lowes. It is a reformulated flat yellow paint that covers well and actually seems to want to come out of the can, but it dries many shades lighter than the goldish color on the cap. Nevertheless, partly due to the relentless, age related ticking of my biological clock, but mostly due to a lack of choice, it was selected as the basic wall color for the layout structures.

    Regular grey or brown primer, either Krylon or Rust-oleum, is used to apply an undercoat. After the basic wall color has been applied, any external door, window or wall trim that needs painting will be done by hand in a suitable shade of brown, but with my ten thumbed paws, the end results may look like a form of camouflage. In deference to dealing with my inabilities, I plan to leave each roof loose, so it can be removed from the structure and the side walls resprayed if things go bad.

    The photos show the repurposed stable in its present colors (it still needs a rain gutter on the rear edge of the roof, but I am working on it). The door, window and wall trim came pre-colored in the kit, saving me a lot of angst. The unerring, sixteen megapixel eye of the new camera does show up a lot of flaws, but trying to touch them up would only make things worse. As I am, currently, a recovering perfectionist; when the trains are running and the layout is being viewed from the normal operating position, the exposed flaws do not matter.


    • Here is the second completed structure for the layout. It started out as the pump house for an AMB No. 473 Wood Water Supply Tank kit that will also be added to the layout. It is actually a bit small for what it is supposed to be and with the only door on the narrow end wall, it does not, visually, fit very well alongside the water tank when on the layout.

      However, in the early stages of the layout construction, the sharp front corners on the layout were trimmed back, so there is now an odd shaped plot between the track and the fascia board. Serendipitously, the long and narrow structure fits there perfectly, without any modification, allowing it to be repurposed as a trackside shanty. With the door side toward the track, it forms part of a vignette for trains going around the curve going to the factory.

      As with the modified AMB Gandy Dancer's Shanty, the trim pieces for the kit came pre-colored, saving me a lot of angst. In the first photo, alongside the structure, in an attempt to demonstrate the difference in color between the advertised and the actual, there is the Krylon spray can cap. In real life, the cap appears a bit darker.


      • Looking Good. While I haven't commented before I read your posting and reflect on them.
        It's only make-believe


        • Thanks railman28,

          It is always good to hear from one my readers.

          As long as the "Read" numbers keep incrementing,

          I'll keep writing.

          All the best to everyone.


          • More Painting Peccadilloes

            The present rattle-can situation has reached a point where I am about ready to smear great gobs of finger paint, the stuff that is used in kindergarten, all over the layout and call it done.

            One would not expect the primer and the topcoat of the exact same brand of paint to interact with each other, but that has been my recent experience with the third layout structure. When first starting the laser-cut wood kit project, I had some qualms about mixing various brands of paint and primer. For each of the first two structures, I used Rust-oleum brown and grey primers under the Krylon topcoat and, except for the color being lighter then what is on the can cap, there were no problems.

            However, when I used the recommended Krylon ColorMaxx primer under the same Krylon ColorMaxx topcoat that was used on the first two structures, I got a rather different color. The Krylon topcoat is supposed to be a combination of paint and primer, so why is there a need for a separate primer?

            The paint dried to an unexpected and rather ugly greenish yellow hue that neither matched the can cap nor the other structures. It took several over sprays of the topcoat color, applied over a period of several days, to bring the color of the contaminated third structure close to the color of first two structures. Even then, it still looks a bit on the greenish side.

            My local arts and crafts store has gallon jugs of finger paint in appropriate kindergarten colors and I am sorely tempted to try them out.


            • Anticipating future layout needs by remembering past deeds.

              While I was haunting the spray paint aisles of various arts and crafts stores, I also kept a lookout for artist chalk pastels, but they seem to have gone the way of the Dodo bird in brick and mortar stores.

              Nevertheless, a search of the eBay listings turned up exactly what I wanted; a twelve color set, with free shipping, for about the price of a Happy Meal, Furthermore, with the current outside temperature hovering somewhere below freezing, they were delivered right to my home, saving me a bone chilling trip out into the cold, cruel world.

              The reason behind this present quest to acquire pastels goes back many, many years, to when I first learned to use them to weather my HO trains. The thing that I most appreciated was, if things got messed up, they were easily wiped away and one could just start over. At the time, as a teenage angst ridden nerd, I often wished that real life was that easy. As an angst ridden, nerdy old man, the feelings are much the same.

              As the structure building phase of the present layout is nearing completion, it will soon be time to try my hand again. With the set of pastels waiting in the wings, whenever the opportunity presents itself, I will be ready.


              • Dan, Might I suggest that the next time your at the craft store check out the craft paint. It's good stuff. On everything other than Rolling stock and engines that's all I use anymore.

                and I'm Bob
                It's only make-believe


                • Thanks Bob,

                  I have looked into them. There will be small detail items for the layout that will need brush painting and I will go that route for them. I have some small jars of Testors model paint that still have some life in them, so I will probably mix and match as needed.


                  • A new pump house for the layout water tank.

                    As the size of the original pump house included with the AMB water tank kit was found wanting, it was repurposed as a line side storage shed. and a somewhat larger structure was sought out. A fortuitous eBay purchase provided what was needed. It is the small boiler house kit, #SBH-O, once manufactured by Ragg' Riches (aka Joe Fuss).

                    While its basic construction is comparable to that of the AMB kits, the degree of difficulty in assembling its detail parts is several orders of magnitude higher, thereby putting the kit in the tedious range and at my age, I don't do tedious very well. Nevertheless, I persevered and actually got the detailed parts of the kit correctly put together.

                    For example, the small window on the rear wall of the layout stable has just two parts, made from self-sticking pre-colored material. They are the outside frame and the window itself, plus a bit of glazing. The window of the boiler house kit consists of six pieces, plus glazing. Some of the parts are rather small and quite fragile and they need to be, individually, glued together. The structure door is a similarly complex assembly.

                    As the door and window material included in the boiler house kit is not pre-colored a suitable brown, I agonized for hours over how I was to paint them, without compromising their level of detail or destroying them altogether. Nevertheless, eventually, I found a solution.

                    The door and window material in the kit is actual wood with a somewhat open grain that tends to give it a visible texture. In addition, some of the exposed part edges are charred to a dark brown color from the effects of the laser cutting. To my mind's eye, this has the look of old, once painted exterior wood that has been stripped by the time honored method of using a blow torch and putty knife, so it was decided to try leaving the door and window au natural, so to speak, awaiting the return of the O-scale painting crew.

                    The kit came with 3/32 inch right angle strip wood to make the corner caps, but it did not match the color and visible texture of the door and window wood. However, also included in the kit were several lengths of roof fascia that was made from their material. Unless it is a passenger station, where architectural gewgaws would be proper, I prefer the roof lines of my auxiliary railroad structures to be unadorned. Serendipitously, the kit fascia was the right size to be reused as the structure corner caps. On the layout, the overall effect is good and it is, no doubt, better than if I had tried to paint the details by hand. I believe that the appropriate term is, "Dodged a bullet.


                    • Nice Build on the pump house.

                      It's only make-believe


                      • Thanks Bob,

                        Three structures down with two more to go. They will be even more difficult than the pump house and one will need its trim painted, there is no other way out of it. Hopefully it can be done with a spray can.

                        All the best



                        • "Easy to Build!" my left foot!

                          A "Lazer Cut Kit" for an O-scale Handcar/Tool Shed (O-107), is currently being offered on eBay by Bill Bradford - Modelmaker (billbmodelmaker). Unlike the previously built AMB and Ragg' Riches kits that were repurposed, this one will not. Overall, it is a good kit that is being sold at a reasonable price (about four Happy Meals). When completed and placed on the layout, the structure falls, as any handcar/tool shed should, into the category of unassuming.

                          However, while still in its kit form, assuming is the operative word. The manufacturer just assumes that the builder already has a ready supply of unspecified scrap materials that are needed to complete the kit. As a result, the "Easy to Build!" statement that appears in the eBay listing seems to be open to interpretation. While I would not go so far as to say that the kit was a pain to build, very little of the construction methods use by the other kit manufacturers were carried over, so building this kit turned out to be an exercise in "Caveat Emptor!"

                          The biggest problem with the kit is the side and end walls are not keyed to each other as is found on the other kits. The interlocking wall keying was replaced by kit supplied 1/8" square strip wood, which is used to make vertical interior corner posts. It is also recommended that builder supplied scrap strip wood should be used as bracing on the inside faces of the sides and ends. Serendipitously, to fulfill the completely unexpected need for a supply of "scrap strip wood" I grabbed the very last pieces of square stock from the moribund hobby wood section of the local arts and crafts store.

                          As the construction method stated above requires careful and accurate work for the successful assembly of the structure walls, the builder is admonished by the instruction sheet, "Be sure they are square!" However, as no material is supplied for a floor and neither the walls nor the roof are in any way keyed to each other, they just abut during construction, how this is supposed to be accomplished is left entirely up to the builder.

                          When the walls are assembled to each other, as per the directions, there will be an exterior corner gap, which is to be filled in with the kit supplied 1/16" square strips. Unlike the other kits, no corner caps are included to hide the inevitable misalignments. Since there was no pre-cut floor included with the kit that would have to be modified, the corners were adjusted so the edges of the side walls would extend out to the face of the end walls.

                          In place of the 1/16" strips, which are no longer needed, the 3/32" right angle strip wood left over from the boiler house kit was reused as corner caps. The added corner caps and the window and door parts included with this kit were spray painted a suitable shade (Rust-oleum flat red primer, which has a reddish brown color) prior to attaching them to the structure, so the dreaded hand painting was not involved.

                          However, before the painting and attaching could be done, the door frames needed shimming and that is something not addressed in the directions. If the door openings were properly centered on the board and batten pattern of the walls, the frames would fit correctly. However, they are not and, therefore, they do not. As the photos show, the frame supporting batten is missing on one side of the entry door opening and on one side of the large end door, so the corresponding frames have to be shimmed to get them evenly spaced form the walls (the much smaller window frames were not affected).

                          A related problem is, as the ends and sides are also not properly centered on the board and batten pattern, battens were out of place at several of the vertical corners. As a result, all of the edge battens were stripped off before assembly, leaving a flat space for the installation of the reused corner caps.

                          Another kit anomaly is the roof panels that are made out of thick, but relatively sift cardboard slabs instead of the usual wood. According to the directions, much like the side and end walls, they should also be reinforced with more builder supplied scrap strip wood to prevent warping. Furthermore, the roof just sits on top of the side and end wall assembly, without any slots or tabs to position it.

                          Additionally, instead of the convenient pre-cut/pre-glued roofing strips that were supplied with the other kits, the builder is required to make the needed roofing material out of plain black paper that is supplied with this kit. In the photos, the roof is not complete. A major local model train show will be held this coming weekend, so I will be looking for more suitable roofing material.

                          While as a whole, the above noted complications are relatively minor, they nonetheless represent a considerable amount of tedious work that was both unexpected as well as undocumented, which required additional materials that are not included with the kit. Once one gets past all of that, the small amount of assembly that is needed to complete the kit just might qualify as "Easy to Build!"


                          • nicely done. good color choice.
                            It's only make-believe


                            • Thanks Bob,

                              Four down and one to go. Then I get to work on repainting two large and one small plastic buildings.

                              That wide, flat expanse of pink foam with some track on it is starting to look like a layout now.

                              All the best to everyone.


                              • Building the AMB Wood Water Supply Tank.

                                I wanted a water tank sitting atop a tower structure for the layout that would be the right age and the right size for both the factory and railroad needs. Most that are currently available are too tall, the tower structures are too beefy and the tanks are too small as well as too modern looking. If there is a blinking light on top of the tank, then the prices seem to rise asymptotically.

                                I found something suitable in the AMB No. 473 Wood Water Supply Tank kit, but it would be a challenge to put together. It is one of those kits where you wish that there were duplicates of the major parts, so all of the mistakes could be made on the first build, allowing the second build to be craftsmen like. Buying a second kit is a pricey option as they retail for about thirteen Happy Meals.

                                Further complicating things, my Uncle Arthur came for a visit. His real name is Arthritis and his random appearances occasionally leave my hands resembling baseball catcher's mitts. His visits help to explain my penchant for building a layout based around R-T-R locos and cars running on Atlas Snap Track, accessorized with snap-together or ready-built plastic structures. However, the laws of supply and demand, as they pertain to model trains, demanded that I change my preference to laser cut wood structure kits. As the accompanying photos show, this was done with some degree of success.

                                In sifting through the kit parts, it appeared that modifications would be needed to achieve the look I wanted. Fortuitously, this did not mean hacking to pieces various pieces with my trusty razor saw. Instead, the changes were accomplished by selectively leaving off some of the parts.

                                The biggest visual change was eliminating the rather chunky railings from around the base of the elevated tank (the railroad is pre-OSHA, so they are not required). The peel and stick corner trim pieces for the tower structure legs were also left off as I wanted to emulate the light and graceful appearance of the fire watch lookout tower that stood behind the barn on the dairy farm of my aunt and uncle. Where once one could stand, ankle deep, in fresh pasture patties, people whack a little white ball around as the farm is now part of a golf course and the fire watch lookout tower is long gone.

                                The part of the kit that really frosted my cookies was the construction of the ladders. The side frames were to be mated with a continuous, peel and stick strip that was precut to form the rungs, but I just couldn't get it to work. So I substituted a one piece, laser cut wood ladder of the same dimensions for the long and short ladders that came with the kit. The substitute ladder stock was found on eBay.

                                The one area where I could not fail was the assembly of the tower, as there was no substitute. There were four beautifully cut sides for the tower. To ease their assembly, they were provided with interlocking tabs and slots, but the wood sides were so thin that they tended to warp in several directions, simultaneously, negating their effectiveness. The tower also needed to be square, but the directions left it up to the builder's own devices, figuratively and literally, to get that done.

                                The piece of kit wood that held the tank platform frame was fairly thick, about 1/8 of an inch. Serendipitously, when the frame was removed there was a nice square hole that was somewhat larger than the base of the tower. The corners of the hole were used as fixtures for gluing the lowest ends of the tower sides together, one corner at a time, at the required right angles. Even then, it wasn't easy to get good results.

                                The first attempts were a bit off, so they were positioned at the back of the structure. The other two were much better and they went at the front. Slowly working up the tower, each pair of sides were carefully fitted and glued together, about every inch (gel ACC was used). On reaching the top, the tower legs were as they should be, straight and square. The rest of the structure went together rather trouble free. To my mind's eye, it makes a good looking water tower of the right size and age for the layout.

                                The mathematics associated with the structure further confirms its worthiness for use on the layout. For the large 2-6-0, the tender water capacity is rated at 2000 gallons. As the tender water supply would never be allowed to get that low, the maximum fill up would be about 1500 gallons. The capacity of the tank on the spacer car is also about 1500 gallons. Finally, the capacity of the tower water tank is about 4000 gallons.

                                As a worst case scenario, on an early morning run out the line, taking on 1500 gallons for the loco tender and another 1500 gallons for the tank car, that would leave about 1000 gallons for factory use until the pump house operator starts refilling the tower tank. On the midday and evening trips, only 1500 gallons for the loco tender would be needed at a time, so the tower water tank would remain nearly full. While the successful assembly of the layout structures is a point of pride, I get all warm and fuzzy when the theoretical layout engineering proves itself beyond a doubt.