Modelling Fences, from Chain Link to Board to Corrugated Steel

I wrote some time back about my learning to and making my own HO Scale Chain Link Fence. I finally got around to finishing and installing the first two segments of it, and I am really pleased with how it is looking as the layout scenery starts to progress.

The first segments of my scratch built chain link fence in position on the layout.

The next two places I need fences are not however locations for chain link, so I get to build something different. The first is the south side of Liberty Street across from the Brunswick Balke Collender billiard table factory. This site from the information I have and the aerials was the lumber yard for the factory across the road. That makes sense, as its close, and the factory filled most of the block, and I suspect in its prime it went through a lot of lumber making billiard tables and bowling alleys and such.

The small triangle that is the north edge of the lumber yard serving the Brunswick plant across the street on my layout.

My first thought on this was to re-use some fence I had salvaged when I tore down my layout in my parents house in Georgetown when they moved out. Its a perfectly nice laser cut wood fence, maybe not super well painted by me when I made it a decade ago, but re-usable. The problem was, the longer I looked at it, the more it was clear it was not the right fence for the job. An industrial site would have had a taller fence (the one I had was 5′ in scale), and it would have been a heavy board privacy fence to keep people out. So after looking at it for what seemed like days, the old fence is on its way back to the recovered scenery tub, and I built a new fence on Friday night. An 8′ high heavy board wood fence, something that feels much more right for the space when I look at it on the layout now, even unpainted just getting it into position.

Recovered fence vs. scratch built. Even unpainted the scratch built stripwood looks better and tells a stronger story about the area than the other fence would.

The second place that I need to build a fence is for the Mercer Reformatory, the women’s prison that was in the centre of Liberty Village (and along with the men’s prison to the east, part of why Liberty Street got its name, not because of war production as many think, but because its where prisoners were released to, getting their “liberty” back). I am not modelling the prison building, it is too far to the north, all that appears on my layout is the south end of the yard, and the perimeter fence.

The Mercer Reformatory area on the left, and looking at how a 10′ tall corrugated metal (or styrene) fence will look. These are also the only two trees on my layout in the corner of the prison yard!

I haven’t built the prison fence yet, it’s in my weekend work program along with getting the ground cover down (its the largest grassy area on the layout, and most of it will be out of view behind the fence!!). I’m going to get the ground cover down this afternoon, and work on building the fence on the workbench. I’m happy with the appearance, and in going back and forth with a fellow modeller of the 1950’s, the heavy metal fence tells a story about the prison being somewhere people really don’t go vs a wood fence. I don’t know what the actual fence was, any pictures I’ve found are either too far away, the wrong end of the site, or aerials where all you can tell is that its a sold fence. Therefore, modellers license, I can build the style of fence I want, and should I discover I’m really wrong in the future, its easy to take it out and redo.

Starting the 3D Window Making Process

While my layout may not be large, I still have a decent number of buildings on it, 14 in total based on the count from starting measuring foundations for them last week. Conservatively, 8 of them have windows that are not going to be off the shelf styrene windows. Before I did the building inventory last week, I had started an important process, creating the masters for windows for one of the first buildings I am going to build. Because I am modelling a real location, for a lot of buildings, the commercial available windows won’t do. A big part of re-creating the look and feel of real buildings is the windows. A lot of little details can be fudged in, but the windows and their patterns really make a building.

The first stage of this was taking the information I have on the building, in this case, original blueprints for the Toronto Carpet Factory from the Toronto Archives, and sketching up a not to scale plan of the different window types to determine how many types of different pattern there are. For a building segment that is 5″ deep off the wall, I’ve got 11 different styles of window, and three different doors to create!

Blueprint of Toronto Carpet Windows, and sketching out the building and the different window types and locations.

Having the blueprints for the south extension, the part of the building I am modelling is a huge help. It’s let me make sure that I’ve got the shape of the building, the spacing of windows and the design of them as close to right as I can. It will also help me to establish the scale of all the other buildings on the layout, as I am able to go to Liberty Village and compare their heights with this building, which I have known height for and which still exists.

For the windows, I am planning on 3D printing as master, making a mold and casting the windows in resin. This both will help me to build a new skill, and is cheaper than 3D printing. The resin parts will also be more stable long term. There is also a potential to sell some of the resin parts to other modellers, while there would be more work in it for me, the margins are probably better as I’ll be able to sell resin castings for less than 3D prints.

The first window done, in my 3D software on the left, and uploaded to Shapeways to check its printability.

Its been a while since I have spent much time in the 3D modelling software drawing parts. It was nice how quickly it came back to me. I’m happy with the results of the first window I’ve done, and I’ve now got a set of standards for the Carpet Factory windows in terms of minimum dimensions for the frames to be printable. That’s one down and 16 window styles to go, for the first building!!

Drawing Building Foundations

When everything seems to be chaos around us as we deal with Covid-19 and a global pandemic, for those of us with hobbies and our health, we can retreat for a few hours from the whirlwind at the moment.

For the layout, I have a lot of buildings to build, and I want to be able to work on the scenery such as ballast and roads before I get to all of them. That means, I need to make the foundations for all the buildings first. These will be blended into the scenery for the most part, but will provide me a solid and known base for building the rest of the structures later.

Recently when visiting my friend Pierre’s layout, he told us how for some buildings with concrete foundations, he had used MDF, cut to size, with sanding primer applied, sanded, and then painted concrete colour. This approach would work for me, using MDF I can prepare the foundations, install them, and scenic around them, then add the buildings later. As well, the MDF can be drilled for lighting drops for the buildings, and, for some of the buildings along the front edge, it will let me install pins to align the buildings but keep them removable.

Measuring the mockup of Barrymore Fibres (part of Toronto Carpet Factory) at Mowat and Liberty.

I’ve had mockups on the layout for a while of the buildings to get a feel for their size. As I’ve been testing trains now that the track is laid, I have started to get a feel for how the layout functions, and how the buildings feel. I have been wanting to do this for a few weeks, but having a Saturday with no sports to watch, and official advise to stay home and avoid unnecessary interactions in public, today seemed like a good day to clean the office and measure/draw the building footprints.

Using the Blue Bendy to measure the corner of the backdrop behind the building. With my high benchwork, a gap at the back won’t be visible anyways, but I want to start with attempting as tight a fit as possible.

Some buildings foundations are super easy, literally just a rectangle, and it was just a case of determining the right dimensions now that track is down. For others, they have complicated angles to the backdrop or cutouts for Hinde & Dauche around the door jam hidden behind the backdrop. At the end of the day, I have drawings now of the foundations for all 17 buildings that are going on the layout. It took 16 11×17 sheets of the graph paper (some buildings took multiple pages, other pages took multiple buildings), and am ready to start organizing to buy the necessary MDF for the job, and figuring out what tools I need to acquire or if I can get it done at a friends place who has a wood shop (though even in that scenario, I need to consider the right tools for adjusting the cut pieces here).

It was nice to work my way around the layout going building by building and thinking about what they are all going to look like, and getting a sense of how much building I have to do in the next few years, it’s daunting, but certainly not insurmountable.

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.