Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Still working on the garden railway building.

Here is the full-sized mockup of the garden railway craft shop. I have a lot of scrap foamcore, so why not?

Here are the template pieces taped to the insulation foam. Plenty of leftover foam from this 2' x 2' square.

I went to S.C.R.A.P. today. I took along a piece of foamcore with the dimensions of the doors, windows, roof pieces, etc. By measuring various bits and bobs against this, I found that some lids to some tea canisters were exactly the right size for the window boxes.

I cut them with the Dremel tool, then inserted them in slots in the mockup.

Just right!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Time to Get Crackin' on Garden Railway Structures

I've got a commission to make a shop for a garden railway, and I've got a confession: I've never done a structure for a garden railway before. I did a little research, and I've decided how I'm going to do it. I've found two good sources for making lightweight, durable outdoor displays. The first is right in my neighborhood -- The Davis Graveyard. They teach workshops on making Halloween haunt displays, and the material they use for gravestones is insulation Styrofoam. They leave their elaborate graveyard display up in the Northwest rain for the entire month leading up to Halloween, and re-use the props year after year.

Here's a video of their recent "abbey" project. As you can see, all the visible surfaces are painted insulation Styrofoam.

The other interesting source was Chris Walas, who builds whimsical fantasy scenes for his backyard railway. These are mostly foam and latex paint.

Some of his designs are really wild, like this Lemurian temple scene.

Okay, insulation foam and latex paint it is! Now I can move on to what I want to build. The commission is for a small craft shop with the owner's name on sign. It didn't take me long to think of Fiddler's Green paper models. Their two specialities are: aircraft and quaint buildings. I think this flower shop fills the bill nicely: it has a window for displaying some tiny craft creations, and a pleasant whimsical appearance. In its papercraft form, it's quite cartoony, but I'm not aiming for high realism in this model.

As a pleasant bonus, I got three free models for signing up with Fiddler's Green, so this cost nothing. (I will be signing up for the Fiddler's Green "Magic Key" subscription soon, because it seems like a very good deal.)

I've reached the next step, which is turning the model into a template so I can scribe the lines onto the insulation.

Now to enlarge the elements of the template, take them to the copy shop and have them printed on 11" x 17" paper.

This model is going to involve a lot of bevelling edges down to 45 degrees so everything will fit together neatly, but I'm up for a challenge.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Montana Deco

I'm thinking one of these two buildings (both in Montana, oddly enough) would make interesting N scale models. (You might need to wait a few moments for the Google street view to resolve properly.)

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I've seen the KPRK building in person, and I took some good photos all around it.

I need to do some proper photography of this today, but just for the purpose of keeping a diary of my work, here's the finished Bulldog Cafe and the surrounding signs.

A friend said all portraits are self portraits. I'm not sure how to take that.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Just found a page of very nice N scale card models of French buildings. I particularly like the layering effect of dropping back windows. At this scale, even just the thickness of cardstock really gives a good effect. Even the texture of the paper looks a bit like stucco. Lovely.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Quick-and-Tidy Prototypes

I like building prototypes. I slap an enlarged printout of a surface onto some foamcore, cut it out, trim the edges with my rabbet cutter, glue it and clamp it together with my foamcore clips (in case you haven't guessed, I like specialty tools), and the whole thing comes together in minutes rather than days.  They're really good for helping me visualize what problems might arise in the model-building process. Also, for determining spatial relationships, they can't be beat.

Above are two different styles of water treatment plants found on the Great Northern railway. The prototype on the right is the original 1912 plan, with a very low slope to the roof, and the other is from a specific plant in Des Lac, ND . What is likely to go into the client's layout is something midway between the two -- the 1912 floor plan with a more peaked roof, which is what most of the new plants had by the late 1920s.

I've learned that I can use really cheap supplies for these prototypes. I'm lucky to have an art supply thrift store nearby where I can buy off-cuts of foamcore for pennies on the dollar. I spent less than $2 building that water tower and the two treatment plants.

Here's a cardstock prototype I made to check some proportions. This one is so small, I didn't need to use foamcore. I drew the original on some HO scale graph paper, ran off a copy on my home printer, and built it very quickly.

Friday, February 14, 2014

I've been working on an N scale model of the famous Los Angeles building The Bulldog Cafe. Today I got out my finest technical pen and hand-lettered the word "EATS" on the side.

Here's what the original looked like. I'm taking certain liberties to get it to look the way it want it, but it's pretty close.

One of the liberties I'm taking is: I'm basing the signage on a similar but somewhat cruder looking cafe called The Pup:

That RC Cola sign is just irresistible to me, so I found some of the elements online, popped them into The Gimp and came up with this:

I'll print that on heavy cardstock and put it where the "HAM, BBQ, COFFEE, CHILI" sign was.

I've already designed a pretty good image for the front door and windows. I think this puppy should be done by the weekend, and then up on sale in my Etsy shop.


Monday, February 10, 2014

I started working on a small flag stop train station that I plan to build in several scales. I'm teasing out the roof geometries, which is challenging with a hipped eave. It would probably be easier if I'd just hunker down and really learn how to use my 3D drawing programs... Anyway, I'm working this out in The Gimp and by building multiple prototypes. I'm old school that way.

My notion is to do the following:

  • Make PDFs of the model available in different scales, and sell them as downloads on Etsy. 
  • Sell pre-cut, assemble-it-yourself kits, also in my Etsy shop. This will be nice because it will ship flat.
  • Sell fully assembled cardstock versions on Etsy in various scales. 
  • And finally, to make at least one garden railroad size outdoor version. 

That last idea resulted in me researching just exactly what garden-railway scale actually is, and I'll write it out here just to solidify it in my mind. Regular, indoor model railroads are built to specific scales, and the track width varies depending on what the gauge of the actual train is. Thus:

  • HO scale is always 1/87 of real size, and it uses HO gauge track (16.5 mm wide) to represent the standard 4' 8.5" width of American track. When you want to model narrow gauge, which is 3 feet wide in the real world, you call that "HOn3 scale" (which is a mouthful meaning "HO scale, narrow gauge, 3') and use N gauge track (9mm wide).
  • If you're building a N scale layout, the standard track is N gauge (9mm) and Nn3 scale is actually Z gauge (6.5mm).

That's all fine and dandy, but when you move up to garden scales, that convention of using the next smaller track gauge to represent narrow gauge is thrown right out the window. Almost everything (oh, I'll deal with the oddball exceptions later) is on 45mm "Gauge One" or "G gauge" track.

  • Gauge One scale is 1/32 size, and roughly represents the standard American gauge of 4' 8.5".  
  • G scale is 1/22.5 size, and represents 3' 3-3/8" narrow gauge.
  • H scale is 1/24 size, and represents 3' 6" Cape Gauge found in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
  • F scale (meaning "Fine scale"), aka Gn3, is 1/20.32 size, and represents 3' narrow gauge.
  • SE scale, aka (get this!) Gn2, SM45 and 7/8n2 is 1/13.7 size, and represents 2' narrow gauge.


  • 16mm or SM32 is 1/19 size, representing 2' narrow gauge running on 32mm gauge track. As if to annoy me, it's called 16mm in the UK because that represents 1 foot. 
  • O scale in the UK is 1/43, while O scale in the US is 1/48. I ask you.
  • 1 Gauge is so slightly different from Gauge One  it will make you crazy -- it runs on 44.5mm track instead of 45mm, but is still considered 1/32 size. It was used in the 1930s and a few old garden railways still run on it, most notably Bekonscot model village.

What does this all mean for my original flag stop? Well, if I make an HO scale model as my starting point, I'll most likely be making the garden model in G or F scale, which means...

  • HO (87)  divided by G (22.5) is 3.86666666... so I'd round up to two decimal places to make it 3.87 and I'd enlarge by 387%
  • HO (87) divided by F (20.3) is 4.285714286, so I round up to two decimal places to make it 4.29, which means enlarge by 429%.