Building Brunswick Balke Collender (Part 1)

With work on the tracklaying progressing, and hitting a wiring snafu, it seemed like a good time to work on something else to clear my mind and feel like I was making progress. I started work early on on one building, the power house for the Brunswick Balke Collender pool table factory. I started working on this some time ago, but this weekend, after my electrical glitches (and I will have more to say about that in the future), simple scratchbuilding seemed like a safe way to make some progress.

Starting the Building Construction from scratch process. A big (11×17) pad of grid paper, drawings of the building, and pencils and squares.

For Brunswick, I had plans of the restoration/modifications made in recent years, obtained through the City of Toronto’s public development application portal, the Application Information Centre. Many City’s now have these public portals, if you keep an eye on them, all kinds of useful modelling information can turn up on them. Old industrial buildings are nice, as while they often have a lot of windows and detail, large parts are also very regular and repetitive for laying out windows and brick rows, which definitely aids in modelling them.

Building up blocks of windows from Tichy Styrene parts, groups of four of different heights and widths to match the appearance of the prototype building.

For this project, the lone picture I have of the pre-replacement modern windows, through combining blocks of off the shelf windows, I can recreate the look of the building. Each window is four windows glued together using a small strip of styrene in the back to provide strength and to wick glue along to bond the frame.

The process of building a wall, cutting out window openings in a 0.060″ Styrene inner core, installing the windows, and adding brick sheet overlay.

Last year I built the portion of the side wall I need. Because almost all of my buildings are low relief against the backdrop, almost none of them actually have four walls, and most are only bits of the buildings. I means I get to replicate a lot of different looks and styles, but don’t have to do too much of any. My technique for scratchbuilding is evolving, but at the moment, it generally involves using 0.060″ styrene to create inner walls, marking where I need to cut the window and door openings, and doing so with a Nibbler. Slow and steady work with this, it generates a lot of annoying little bits of styrene, but with some care, you get window openings the perfect size to slot your windows into. For this building, I am using off the shelf windows, for others, I will be drawing my own parts to 3D print, and resin casting windows for the models. With the windows in, the last step is to prepare an overlay of brick styrene, and cut the windows out of that. With that done, you have a wall.

IMG_8223Brunswick Balke Collender looked like this from late May 2019 to February 2020. With a gust of motivation, soon the printout and cardboard will be replaced by a ready to be painted styrene building.

Sometimes, I find I need to be in the right mood, and for a variety of reasons, this project sat off to the side as other layout tasks (who cars about track and running trains, lets build some awesome buildings, says the guy whose wiring doesn’t seem to work right!).

When I came back to the project this past weekend, I decided that I could knock out the main wall in a day. I transferred all the planning dimensions from the paper pad to the styrene, and set to nibbling out windows, suffice to say, it was a bit of a slow and steady wins the race task, something I sometimes struggle with. Some of my windows are more carefully cut out than others, something that has a knock on effect on fitting the windows evenly if they are too big. Important reminder, go slowly and test fi/check as you go. Its easier to take more material off than to add more on!!

Working my way around the front wall of Brunwick. Transfer to Styrene, cutting out windows, test fitting, finishing the cutting, and all the windows in to check before gluing.

I was back at it tonight working on getting the windows glued in and the brick on the exterior started, but I’ll save that for a follow up post along with starting the process to get the building to stand on its own feet and be ready for eventual installation on the layout. Still lots to do on this one, but its starting to look the part on my workbench.

Book Review – Every Tool’s a Hammer


A Book Review of sorts…

I haven’t finished reading this yet, I’ve been taking a lot of books out of the library, and I noticed this while trolling through the list of new releases on the library website (Pro Tip, if you live in Toronto, the Toronto Public Library has a digital subscription to FineScale Modeller and Model Railroader), and instantly placed a hold. I unabashedly loved the MythBusters TV Show on Discovery Channel. I regret not having managed to get to one of their live shows when the came to Toronto.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but already I know I will be buying a copy of this for my library so I can go back to it and re-read it. It’s part autobiography, and part guide down the path of making. There are so many parallels between the “Maker Universe” that has emerged in recent years, and modellers. In fact, I see the future of our hobby as enticing the Makers to see it as a place where they can contribute greatly and both learn new skills and apply the ones they have.

The first page I saw when I opened the book tonight after 7 hours in the layout room (there’s another post on that coming), and proof that Adam Savage is truly a Kindred Spirit!

Honestly, the whole book feels like a guide to my own heart. I wish I was as organized as he was sometimes, and as willing and brave to fail. I fail plenty, and I learn every time I do, but I am also so risk averse, I’m afraid to fail sometimes, yet my greatest successes in modelling have come when leaping in blind with two feet and trying something I’ve never done before. There are all kinds of thoughts and process things that he’s learned that as I’ve read I’ve gone, hey, he’s totally describing my helter skelter workpath.

I can’t recommend this read enough for anyone who has enjoyed the MythBusters TV Show, or who is a builder or modeller of any sort. Its absolutely fantascic,

Mocking Up Liberty Village

Buildings buildings buildings. No small part of my layout are the early 20th century industrial buildings that frame the streets of Liberty Village. While I’m a long way from building them all, a few hours over the past few days has at least seen them appear in mockup form while I get ready to lay track and finalize the buildings orientation and siting.

Mowat Avenue and Liberty Street – The spur at Carbide Chemicals, Canadian GE, Barrymore Cloth and the Toronto Carpet Factory.

My mockups are cheap and cheerful, generally close to scale where I’ve found drawings or taken measurements, and are intended at this point to give me a sense of what the layout will look like and help with making adjustments once my switches are done and I can start laying track. They are all cut from a single sheet of framing matte board, for less than $10 I’ve populated the layout and have a sense of scale for the buildings in relation to the trains.

60 Atlantic, Brunswick Balke Collendar and Hinde and Dauch rise on the east end of Liberty Street.

Even with my cheap and cheerful mockups, I’ve noticed a few things that when track goes in where my track plans could use some adjusting to more accurately reflect the real alignments of buildings. I’m also working with selective compression. All buildings have their full heights, but some are being compressed to fit the layout space. Obvious examples are 60 Atlantic which is about 1/2 length, and Hinde and Dauch. I’ve been struggling with Hinde and Dauch. I have enough room to do a faithful full scale representation of the eastern 2/3 of the building. The mockup however, is a compressed version to get the variations in building height that the plant had. It’s a 45%/35%/65% compression of the three segments moving from west to east. The eastern part is the most “important” to me as that is where the large painted signs on the 4th and 2nd floor brick courses were painted, and I want to be able to include these on the building. While I could do that full scale, I think the building loses something important without all three segments to give it some variation in design and appearance, and the mockup in card lets me see what that looks like, and make adjustments before I start to build a real model in styrene and bricksheet which costs a lot more!

Mowat Ave looking north. Getting there.

With at least a first pass of the buildings that are on the backdrop side of the mainline done, I have a little bit of a sense of what they layout will look like, and if I do say so myself, I’m really pleased. It’s exactly the feel I want, big early 20th century industrial buildings that will dwarf the trains that service them. There’s lots of work in building buildings once the track is down and trains can run. I suspect most if not all of these Version 1.0 Mockups will go in the garbage and be replaced by better mockups once the track is in place and I can adjust them to be better templates for permanent layout buildings, but for now, it’s really nice to walk into the layout room and see something that vaguely resembles Liberty Village!!

IMG_7469The full layout. The big gap is where the Mercer Reformatory for Women (the jail!) was located. It won’t have a building there, but it also works as when the peninsula gets built, that area wouldn’t be reachable by operators to switch cars anyways.

Brunswick Balke Collender Power House

This weekend, in my process of constructing the Liberty Village Line, while I am still plugging away without laying track, I decided to start converting the large remnant piece of 0.060″ Styrene from the backdrop into the structures for the layout.

img_7205Not the most convenient work surface, but when I was dealing with an 8′ sheet of styrene, the floor is all I’ve got to get rough cuts done at least.

With the big chunk of leftover styrene, I have enough material to make a serious dent in the internal cores of a large number of structures on the layout. I decided to start with the only structure I’ve mocked up (I’ll mock-up the others once the track is laid and final alignment known). The first building to start taking true physical form is the power house for the Brunswick Balke Collender company, which made pool tables and bowling alleys and other entertainment/games. The buildings are both still there, the powerhouse (now modified to be a bank), and the factory building which houses offices and restaurants.

Wall cores cut from 0.060″ styrene sheet, cutting corner braces from 0.25″ square styrene, and gluing the first corners together.

With the space I have for the layout, my boilerhouse is about half the size of the real building. I’m compressing it by shortening the building, so that I can fit the main wall of the factory onto the layout as well. This is a pretty simple building for the main structure. Four walls, for my purposes, only three openings, two doors and a window on the south wall adjacent to the tracks.

This is a simple building, only the “front” wall adjacent to Liberty Street has any openings in my selectively compressed version to fit the layout space.

The Chimney will be a bit more complicated. I’m still working on how I’m going to creat it. I also don’t have nearly enough patterned brick sheet for building the larger buildings or the chimney. I’ve got a show coming up next weekend where I’m selling more stuff from the collection (I’ll post an update about that mid-week). The Chimney has a taper from bottom to top, and then a flare at the top. Fortunately, the Chimney is a down the road problem. First things first is to build the main part of the building.

Working on adding trim around the doors and window, the wall with a brick veneer added, and then with doors and window in place.

This is being built-in “traditional” ways. Sheet styrene, injection molded styrene doors and window from Grandt Line (now out of business, all their tooling has bought by a new company, the San Juan Model Co.). It was a nice simple structure for my weekend, four walls, a roof, a bit of detail around where the chimney will be. After working on and off between other household tasks, the walls are all together, with brick, the window and doors are in place, and the roof is rough cut in place. I held off on attaching it as I am debating best order of operations for attaching it, detailing it, etc along with the building walls so I don’t take a step that then makes painting the walls the buff beige/yellow colour that the brick actually is, as opposed to the red of the styrene sheet.

img_7235Replacing the cardboard structure with a taped on printout of an architectural drawing (of the modernized building) with some styrene and a cardboard chimney (everything in due course).

While I doubt that I will have been able to paint it before the Copetown and Toronto Railway Prototype Modeller meets at the end of February/Beginning of March, I suspect this will be one of the few things I actually bring with me to these get togethers, if only because I haven’t been building much else that’s portable in the past year with the house move and layout construction!

587 Yonge St/Bar Volo – Model Completed

For how small the model is (12″x12″ square), this has been a long slow burn of a project.  The idea of it was hatched in October 2016 when the original location of Bar Volo closed for the building to be demolished.  This will be a photo heavy post, but I will include links at the end as this is a project wrap-up post to earlier ones on the process of building the model.

This project had a bit of every aspect of model making and design, 3D printed components, designing signs for printing from the computer, working with styrene, using pan pastels, scenery techniques for the ivy.  The building and interior are all done. There are no loose ends.  I do want to make a sign for when it is out on display, and I am still messing about with which cars are going to be on the diorama, and where they go, but those are cosmetic things that can be changed as I desire.  There are no more “construction” tasks to do, the model is done!! (how nice it is to say that!)

My timing couldn’t be better, with the news this week that Bar Volo has finally found a new home, and that a liquor license application has been filed for a location only a block away from their old home, this time to the northwest of Yonge and Wellesley.  I look forward to seeing many good friends at Volo again in the future, and to bringing the model down to the bar for others to see.

With all that said,  I can now sit back and admire my model, and hopefully you enjoy it too!

IMGP7205RawConvCome on in to Bar Volo, the lights are on, the beer is flowing, and good company awaits.
The Dundonald Street (south) side of the building with the patio.
The Yonge Street view of Bar Volo.
The Interior View, showing the switches for lights, and the opening back wall so you can look into the bar and see the interior of the model.
The east side of the building, mostly hidden behind other buildings not modeled (the black card material)
IMGP7215RawConvAerial View of the diorama, the whole square foot of it!!!
View of the patio from street level, complete down to the blackboards with the beer lists on it.
Slightly higher view of the patio. As you can see, when the interior lights are on, its very visible.
IMG_5154A shot of the model to give a better sense of scale. For those not familiar, I model in what is known as HO Scale, a model railroad scale of 1″ of the model is equal to 87″ in the real world, often seen referred to as 1/87th.

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Day Job and Hobby Time Collide: Researching Information on Structures on the City Website

The Internet is a wonderful thing, sometimes.  One place that is has become a wonderful thing is that as the requirements for better and more open data and making information regarding land use planning applications have been increased, in major cities in Ontario at least, a huge font of once hard to find information is now regularly posted on the internet for all to access.  I wrote about this previously many months ago in relation to my model of 587 Yonge Street, and finding survey plans for the site, as it was in the process of being Rezoning and obtaining Site Plan Approval to construct a condo.  Strangely enough, this is also work and hobby colliding.  As a Professional Urban Planner in a consulting company, this knowledge is something I am using every day in my day job, but it nicely collides with my hobby and my desire to collect information on Buildings I might model someday, such as the industrial buildings of Liberty Village, where conveniently, there are plenty of applications to collect material from.

When most planning applications are submitted you are required to post a notice sign to invite public comment (Site Plan Approval is slightly different, as it is not a public comment process, but Toronto still posts site plans to the AIC, so you can see the info, but the City isn’t obligated to engage the public as it’s a technical approval dealing with the development, as opposed to say a Zoning Amendment or Minor Variance where the application is to change the rules applicable to what you can build there).  For Official Plan or Zoning Amendments, a big sign (see below) has to be posted, for Minor Variance or Consent applications, a small 11″x17″ neon green or orange sign is required.  Different City’s have different signage requirements, but if you are driving around and see big signs, there might be plans that are public record available for you.

TorontoDevelopmentSign.jpgA Toronto Development Application Notice Sign. A Sign to modellers that there are plans and drawings out there waiting for you if you want to model the site.

I’m going to use the City of Toronto as an example, but I’ll include some links at the end to other City’s in Ontario’s similar sites.  In Toronto, the site is known as the “Application Information Centre”, and is accessed at  From the site, you can search by address, city planning district, or City Ward.  I personally find the City Ward is most useful to get down to an area and see whats going on.  The City has required electronic submission requirements for years, and staff have finally gotten good at making sure everything gets tagged and added to the application.  For a long time after the AIC launched, this wasn’t the case, and you can still find applications in the system that do not have drawings and reports attached to them unfortunately.

The City of Toronto “Application Information Centre”, an amazing tool for any modeller in Toronto, watch for properties being re-developed or where any application is proposed, and you’ll find plans!

Once you have located an application on a property you are interested in, click the pin, and it will open up a page with information on what is being proposed, what applications have been filed, and a list of supporting materials, i.e. everything the applicant has had to submit with the application.  This is the treasure for modellers.  There are two things you are most likely going to want, anything called a “Survey”, and anything listed as “Architectural Plans”.  Sometimes the survey drawings are included with the Architectural Plans as part of a set, sometimes not.

The screen that greets you when you open an application, and expanded to show the list of materials.

Survey plans are exactly what they sound like, a plan, prepared by a Land Surveyor that identifies the boundaries of the property, and the details of the existing structures, buildings, trees, railway tracks, whatever on the property.  These are a great tool for modellers as they show you exactly the size and shape of buildings.  The Architectural Plans can vary in their usefulness depending on what is going on.  If you want to model the building that’s been there for 50 years, but its being torn down, the plans probably only show the new building.  If it’s a change of use, addition, or even a new building, sometimes they then have plans that cover the existing building as well as the new.  personally, more often than not the survey is the most useful just to understand the size and layout of a site, any elevations or building drawings are a bonus.

BrunswickBalkeElevationsElevation drawings for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender building, included in the plans for a new office building adjacent on the site to allow City Heritage Staff to ensure the heritage building is protected (WZMH Architects Drawing).

In this case, one of the major buildings that I am planning on modelling is here in both survey to get the siting and dimensions, but in elevations for both the main building, and the powerhouse/chimney.  This is absolutely fantastic for me, and will make this an early project when layout construction begins.  I now have scale drawings that I can print in HO Scale to use to get the building shape and size right.

Because there is so much development happening in Liberty Village, I now have surveys for 5 or 6 blocks in the area, and at least partial plans for a couple of buildings.  Unfortunately, one of my key buildings, the Hinde and Dauch Paper Company that is now the Toy Factory Lofts when through the development process long before online posting.  If anyone at Quadrangle Architects or Lanterra Developments reads my blog and wants to share the topo survey of the building before construction, and the elevations for the original building, I’d love to hear from them!!

People often like to kick their government, and there are certainly plenty of things you can kick the City of Toronto for, but the Planning Department’s Application Information Centre and availability of public record documents certainly isn’t one of them.  As the requirements in the Planning Act that governs development in Ontario have evolved, more, not less Municipalities are going to wind up with sites like this making information available to modellers looking for it. Its a nice double whammy, makes my day job and my fun time more productive and easier!! Not often you can say that!

Other Major City Application Information Pages: