Two more Buildings well on their way

Of late, I have been working on a couple more of the edge/foreground buildings on my layout that will at as shadow boxes along the edges of the benchwork to frame scenes and allow visitors and operators to look through the buildings onto the layout. There are 16 buildings of various sizes on my layout, with the two I have started and made a good dent in this week, I have started 7 of them. None are finished, though some are most definitely getting close to that magical “finish line” where I don’t think there is any more work to be done at the moment.

Building Cores and windows making progress. Constantly trying new things to make life easier in in getting from drawings to model with transferring a 1″ square grid onto the styrene core. The Coffman Clamp for corners makes a huge difference in making square buildings.

I am scratchbuilding all of my buildings on the layout, nothing is from a kit, as I am trying to recreate the buildings of Liberty Village as accurately as possible. This does however mean, a lot of work in constructing them. Where I can, or it is practical to do so, I am trying to use commercially available doors and windows instead of drawing and 3D printing, then resin casting them. The large building for Hinde & Dauch box factory that dominates the east end of the layout. It both faces the aisle and is huge, it needs accurate and individual windows. The two buildings I am currently building, are both facing into the layout, one on the peninsula will be fairly visible, the other, along Liberty Street fully faces into the layout, so it will largely will only be seen in photographs.

The peninsula building is marked on the Fire Atlas Maps as the Cooperage, it still exists, but it is not rail served. It is one of the buildings where I have some room for a bit of artistic license, in capturing the feel but not being 100% accurate. I could have drawn and printed windows, but that would have set me back months instead, using a combination of Tichy and Grandt Line/San Juan Details injection molded plastic windows, I have more or less completed the core of the building and have it ready for painting in a couple of days, instead of a months long process at my pace of CAD work, waiting on prints, making molds and casting. As I as noted, I have a lot of windows still to cast for H&D, I don’t need to make more work for myself!

For these buildings, I continue to evolve and experiment with how I transfer drawings and designs from paper or digital to styrene. As you can see in the pictures, with a fine Sharpie, I sketched out a 1″ square grid to match that on my grid paper. Using this and a small square I could transfer locations and mark cutting templates for the windows and doors to be cut out. Once the 0.04″ inner core was cut out, I laminated on brick sheet, and once it was bonded, I carefully trimmed through it using the openings in the core to create my window openings. I am using a variety of windows, some of which have exterior frames, some of which are masonry and do not. I am working to the “look” of these buildings rather than to plans. This frees me up to experiment and learn and work on technique a little.

Looking at the buildings in place on the layout both from the aisle side and the scenery side on the layout.

Both buildings are now nearing paint shop ready. Both need a little bit of work with some gap filling putty around the masonry windows to fill gaps where my cuts were not perfectly straight, so there are not light leaks in the future, and then I can start prepping and painting them. I have come to the conclusion, that it is easier for masonry windows to be painted along with the brick, then masked and painted their colour, where windows that have frames that sit out of the wall, are easier to paint and install later. I have varied this as I have gone along, but as I have advanced more buildings, it is becoming clear that for me at least, splitting up the windows this way makes the most sense.

As with so many things, even unfinished, going from foam core placeholders to partly built structures is a huge difference, and it’s been nice to feel the wind of motivation on the layout again after putting my efforts into side projects for a bit. Hopefully here for the next bit I can make consistent slow and steady progress on both projects.

Building and Rebuilding a Bridge

For my modern diorama of Canyon Road, the centrepiece is going to be the scratch built wooden farm crossing that still exists over the CPR Galt Subdivision. I looked at various commercial bridges that are out there, and decided that nothing I could find made me happy, but I did find one that would work as a bit of a design guide/aid that I could buy cheaply. There is a Rix Products wooden bridge kit, its an older kit that’s been out there for a while, and is only single track. That said, it gave me something to look at for wooden bridge design, and to use to help me make templates for my own bridge built from stripwood. I pre-stained my strip wood for this project, using a couple of different Hunterline Stains and a isopropyl alcohol/India ink mix. This got me a variety of wood colours, and those colours into the wood before gluing anything together, that means there aren’t areas that won’t stain because the wood has been impregnated with glue. This is something I’m sure I’ve seen written about, but I learned the hard way building wood kits or scratch-building that you need to stain before you glue!

Pre-stained strip wood, home made jigs for a bridge and scratch building the bridge decks and trestle bents with them.

As you can see in the pictures above, i built two jigs using scrap styrene sheet and styrene angles. I used the Rix Bridge as a rough guide for beam and bent spacing, but also made tweaks to get the bents in particular to look like my photos of the actual bridge. The deck jig was set up to let me build up to a 40′ long deck (could probably do longer the way it is set up, but my base only let me add dimensions that far. The deck of my bridge is about 32′ across to clear the two tracks. The bents (legs) on either side are really close to the tracks and edge of the loading gauge in real life, and I wanted to replicate that in the model. Even with the jigs, before I built anything, I used some scrap cardboard to build a mock-up to look at spacing and dimensions. I hang onto a fair bit of scrap cardboard for painting and mockups, its a good practice to have some as it is a cheap and easy way to see if what you see in your mind translates well into 3D before you start actually building with more expensive materials.

Building Bridge Version 1.0. Working through the design and visualization, then building. But yeah, those ramps are a bit steep.

So, with the prep work done, and the diorama reaching a stage where the landforms to support the bridge were in place, I got going with the bridge. Slowly but surely, building sub components, the deck, the ramps, the bents, and getting them together and continually going back and forth from the workbench to the diorama to check fit and appearance. As I was working, the angle of the ramps started to gnaw at me, but I was so happy with the overall look of the bridge, I busily went about convincing myself that it was OK. It wasn’t until the bridge was “finished” and I shared a picture with some friends, one of who’s first response was “gorgeous but those ramps look really steep” did I finally go yeah, I’ve been trying to convince myself its OK and I’ll be happy, but the more I looked at them after that, the more I knew I would not be happy. The good thing is, as I have been moving slowly so I had not gone so far in the ground cover that it would mean undoing work to raise the hillside at the back and reduce the angle of the ramps. The ramp on the front side is shot and doesn’t land, so it would just be a take apart and adjust angle to match the change on the other side.

Rebuilding the ramps and raising the hillside to provide a more gentle ramp onto the bridge. Using a level that mounts into a camera hot shoe to check the bridge levelling.

Once I had confirmed that the ramps had to go, I started looking at how to best fix them. First looking at just making the side that reaches the ground on the back longer, but the more I looked at that, the clearer it became that what needed to happen was raising the hillside a bit so the ramp could stay around the right length while getting a gentler slope. To do this, out came the hot wire tool to carve off a piece of foam, and carve it to a shape where it could be glued on top of the existing hill, and blended in with the Woodland Scenics plaster cloth as I did for the rest of the scenery. With the hill increased in height, it was pretty straightforward then to get the angles cut on the ramp underframe beams and get it into place. All the different pieces then where re-assembled/adjusted and the bridge rebuilt.

With the bridge now approaching “done” in terms of the basic form, I was able to build the jacking that was installed beneath the bents at some point to raise the bridge to clear taller modern equipment, as opposed to building a whole new bridge for the farmer. These where built using HO Scale pre-cut wood ties, stained, and glued together. These actually are really handy for me, as they let me ballast the track without the bridge in place, as the bents sit on top of the risers, so my bridge can stay removable for a while still while I do scenery around it before eventually gluing it into place when I am done doing things that are easier without it there.

Finishing off the rebuilt bridge, getting the footings in (at some point the bridge was jacked up on site and raised to clear modern higher height equipment with large timbers under the legs, and ballasting the tracks.

At the end of the day, scratch-building made it really easy for me to take apart and re-do the things that didn’t work. I have some added details I want to add to the bridge, in terms of bolt castings for where boards meet to add a bit of detail, but, given the pre-staining of the wood I did, I am already really happy with it having the weathered appearance I want. Next up, getting started on the ground cover on the hillsides and telegraph poles.

See Through Layout Edge Buildings

Looking through the foundry building to the layout after spraying the interior black. I can see some light leaks now that its painted on the interior.

My layout has five structures that will be located between the edge of the layout and the tracks. I have built one of them so far. There are a number of ways that this can be tackled by modellers to make them look good. You can put a false back on so the fascia board extends to close it in, you can build full, detailed interiors, or you can make them see through “shadow boxes”. I am going with the shadow box/theatre staging version of making them see-through. I don’t really know what the interiors looked like, and they are all slightly compressed and the widest is about 1 inch deep. That doesn’t make for great model space, and I think, as you can see, it creates a bit of a shadow box effect. I don’t have “glass” in the windows yet, as I still have to paint the window frames on the finished building side, so I can’t glaze them. I think the effect of looking through a shadowbox building will be really interesting and less distracting than made up interiors.

Making a Start on Painting Buildings

I have been working on the buildings for the layout. I have four that are getting close to done, in the sense that they are basically built, and have been waiting on my getting a move on with painting them! Some buildings on my layout will be too big for my paint booth, this means that they can only be painted outdoors on our patio, which, in Toronto means a reliable window in the spring and fall, summer if its not humid, and definitely not the winter half of the year!

First up, windows for 60 Atlantic. Trying something different with this one, painting the windows separate from the building.

First up, for 60 Atlantic, I am trying something new to me, building the structure, but keeping the windows separate until everything is painted. Using a technique I picked up from Jason Shron on his Kingston Subdivision layout blog, I bought a roll of double sided woodworking tape, it is tacky (maybe too tacky for somethings I’m doing), but its not designed to make a permanent bond. This makes it perfect for painting, I can lightly hold parts like windows and doors in place while I paint, instead of them blowing away as you spray paint and air from an airbrush at them. I am painting the frames for 60 Atlantic an off-white colour. Once the building walls are done being painted, I can install these into the walls, and blend them in before installing window glass from behind.

Painting the Gilbert Foundry. Sadly, all of this brickwork is almost never going to be seen as it faces the track on the layout edge side!

For my buildings, I am using Vallejo Model Air as my base coats. I am mixing custom colours for most if not all buildings, and doing it as one offs when I paint a building. This will mean that each building, even with similar brick tones, either reds or buff yellows in Toronto won’t be exactly the same. That said, I did use the same red mix for the Gilbert Foundry and the front wall of 60 Atlantic. The foundry brick will sadly be almost invisible as 80% of it faces into the layout, and by the time I have added mortar colour and grime from a time when Toronto was a city of coal smoke and dirty brick, they won’t look the same.

Painting 60 Atlantic. It has two tone brick, buff around the sides, and red on the front. I painted the red first, masked the teeth on the corner, then the buff.

60 Atlantic has buff brick around most of the building, but the main entrance wall was done with red brick, no doubt to make it more impressive. For this building, I painted the red first, and let it cure overnight. I then masked the tooth pattern along the south wall corner, where the red brick wraps around onto the side and mixes with the buff. I then sprayed the buff. For this building, I used the straight Vallejo Buff colour. I then mixed the Buff with some Sand Brown to make a darker buff for the adjacent buildings at Brunswick Balke Collender. The main building and power plant will be dirty, but also have three wall width painted signs on the upper brick courses of the factory. I need to get going on drawing these up to make painting templates/decals for the signs. I still haven’t figured out exactly how I am going to do them. I have had good luck in the past making “painted” signs by painting the underlayer white, and then making decals for the black part to go over the top. That was give or take 15 years ago the last time I did that, things have advanced a lot. I may look at seeing if one of my friends with a Cricut vinyl cutter or similar can make me templates to mask the white lettering and then spray the black paint too. This may be one where I need to do some experimentation, but of course, first I have to get the buildings ready for that, and draw the signs.

Back on the layout, with a base coat of paint on a couple of buildings. Onward to the next steps of painting these buildings.

I can already say even just base colour on the buildings makes another big difference on the layout. Still a long way to go on both these and the rest of the buildings, but progress is always a nice feeling.

Make a Template you dope

Some times, I wonder how I get anything done at all on the layout. I’ve been struggling with figuring out how to make some bits of the sidewalk where there are tricky curves or hydro poles sticking out of them. Of course, the answer was staring me square in the face from something else I have done on the layout but haven’t written about before. Make a template!!!

A switch sunk in concrete, not an easy thing to deal with in HO Scale, but using cheap crafters foam, doable.

Some time ago in a magazine I had seen an article about using crafters foam to make concrete inserts at level crossings. This actually works really well for me, as one of my level crossings has moving switch parts in it as you can see above. Methods that become hard pavement like plaster or styrene sheet don’t work, but a thin, soft, pliable foam would. The other nice thing about the foam, is you can press it into things and it takes an imprint of them, creating, an instant template to cut out and transfer to another material, or the shape of your crossing if you are using foam in it! The crafters foam comes in a variety of sizes and colours, I buy mine at Michaels, in single 12″x18″ sheets of 2mm thick material.

The issue immediately at hand, is as I said, how to create the sidewalks without wasting stacks of styrene getting the size of the pieces wrong and getting corner shapes. For this, its a pretty simple process. Cut a square of the foam, press it into the space. The foam takes an imprint objects it is pressed into. Its not permanent, but it will last plenty long to cut out the shape after. With this, all of a sudden the few areas with complex shapes or curves will be done with ease.

The corner at hand, and working through making a cutting template for a styrene sidewalk with crafting foam, pressing it in to get an imprint, the imprint, cutting it out, and checking it fits before creating in styrene.

Once the template is made, trace it onto a piece of Styrene. I am using scraps largely to make use of leftover materials, waste not want not right? As you can see from the pictures, its a small area of sidewalk by the Foundry Building that I need, but its curved and has a hydro pole sticking out of it! I traced the foam pattern onto a 0.040″ piece of styrene sheet. Tracing the pattern makes a shape that is going to be slightly oversized, but this is OK as its much easier to trim and sand to fit, than it is to make the part bigger once you’ve cut it.

Transferring the shape to styrene, cutting out the piece, and getting it fit into the space.

Once the styrene is cut, its a sand, file and trim to shape. I was pretty good in some spots, less so in others, but all in, between the realization I had foam and could make a template, to the blank being in place and fit took 15 minutes last night. This is the kind of short project I can get behind. Saturday night, done watching the Leafs game, not ready for bed, so lets do something! The final steps or preparing it for painting of marking and filing in some expansion joints and it will be ready to paint and glue in place. Onto some other templates now for the rest of the layout.

Ready to scribe some expansion joints and paint. A quick Saturday night project.

2020 Year in Review, well its been a year hasn’t it?

Well, what a year it has been, in so many ways, for so many people. We have been lucky in our house and family. Everyone has kept their jobs and their health, and that is thing one, far more important than model trains or anything else. Who knew what was waiting for us when I cheerfully reviewed 2019 12 months ago!

2020 Started out with a bang, a new years visit to operate on a friends layout, and friends coming here to help me wire the layout and reach a point where I could run trains, and that was just the first two weekends of the year! I then had my first “random” visitors in early February who weren’t dragged kicking and screaming through my promises of dinner being provided to help me build (Hopefully Matthieu and Chris can visit again and run trains!), then, well, we all know how the next 10 months of 2020 went. I spent a lot of time working on my own after March, but I have made good use of that time, applying myself to putting things I have learned from others into practice to actually achieve things on the layout, and make some real progress on construction, far more than I had hoped to before the pandemic and having no where else to go and nothing else to spend disposable income on other than hobby supplies.

View of the layout on December 31st showing the state at the end of 2020.

A summary of my year is below, followed by some brief thoughts on my year and the hobby:

Projects Completed in 2020

Projects In Progress

  • Building Liberty Village Layout – Did lots on this!! See page here. This whole post could really be a look at the layout, and I decided for this year, I didn’t want it to be. I want to touch on some highlights and things that mostly make me feel good in a year where feel good has been in short supply at times.
  • Freight Car Kits – I didn’t finish any as of the time of writing, though 5 are literally waiting on me setting up the airbrush to clear coat them before weathering. 5 more are partly built, 3 not started, and one on order. But that is the way of the hobby.
  • Bullfrog Switch Machines – I’ve installed 4, that leaves 8 to go. Its pretty much a laziness thing at this point that I just haven’t felt like doing it as each one takes some time.


  • Scenery. I did a lot, worked on base scenery, learned static grass. Am working on improving my painting techniques in a variety of ways
  • Wiring, well, I learned, not always good things, but I am pushing myself to become better at soldering and wiring, blown up decoder to end the year notwithstanding.
  • Resin Casting, I bought supplies and cast my own parts. Starting with simple flats like manhole and drain covers, moving on to rocks and stone, then finally windows for buildings from 3D printed masters. Its been a good year on this count.

Thing’s I’m expecting to arrive in Stores in 2021 (This list doesn’t seem to move some years)

  • Rails of Sheffield Caledonian Railway No. 828 – See Here
  • Bachmann LMS Patriot “The Unknown Warrior” – See Here
  • Rapido Trains GO Transit F59 – See Here

Strangely, none of those have anything at all to do with or on a layout set in Liberty Village in the 1950’s, but that’s what display cases are for!

I mentioned at the start that this has been a year of challenges, and while things have generally been good for me, I have not been without the dark times and depressing feelings and moods. It has not been an easy year, even if it hasn’t been “bad” for me, isolation, being at home 24/7 almost with my wife (and we love each other and get along just fine, but space is also important), has worn on me, and I have written about it this year, how living, working and relaxing in our home has been a challenge at times. Talking is a good thing, its part of why I do this blog. I hope people learn something or are interested in what I am doing, but it also is an outlet for me to shout to the interwebs about the things I am doing to be happy and function, even before the pandemic struck.

I am not going to do a “preview” post of what I want to achieve in 2021 as I have some years in the past, the one thing this year has taught me is that it really is true that making plans and scheming isn’t worth it. Roll with what life gives you, take the good and the bad, and make something of it. Thank you all friends I know and those I don’t for coming back and reading. Your feedback, likes, page views helps me keep going, and I hope I reciprocate enough for those of you who blog as well to know I read and appreciate your work and efforts to.

From my workbench to yours, as we see out the end of a year we’ll all be glad to have behind us I think, be kind to each other, and hopefully sooner rather than later, we can talk trains in person.

Stephen Gardiner
December 21, 2020