Model railroading is a hobby, and I enjoy creating miniature models of modern-day structures—especially where not available commercially.
A Guide to Scratch-Building
Modelling in OO gauge has never been easier. Manufacturers like Hornby and Bachmann have created a wide range of products so that anyone can now create a realistic railway with little modelling skill. For the more seasoned modeller, kits by Metcalfe and Superquick provide easy to assemble quality buildings. Further, there are now several online companies that provide printable paper of all sorts of useful railway material.
But if you want to create a scene not available in the above formats, you need to resort to scratch building which many find a daunting prospect. I fall into this category and have avoided scratch building like some kind of hallowed ground that I am not allowed to enter upon.
One area not strongly supported is the ultra-modern station complex. The manufacturers provide an abundant mixture of Victorian to Elizabethan buildings and thankfully most such buildings have simply been renovated on today's railways. But what do you do if you want to create Milton Keynes or Peterborough where the platforms have been completely revamped. Heljan makes a European version, but it is expensive, HO gauge, and a bit of a stretch visually.
So with much trepidation, I have stepped into the murky waters of scratch building. I am writing this article simultaneously, not retrospectively and I will explain all my mistakes and successes along the way. Hopefully, I can encourage others to try. Time to begin.
Modern Island Waiting Room—Peterborough
Drawing the Model From a Photograph
I am no graphic designer, but I have some similar buildings on my layout, so I knew the building would be roughly 3.5cm high to just below the roof line. Using this measurement and allowing for perspective I was able to deduce that I had a building 5.2cm wide by 9.4cm long. Using the photograph, I was then able to draw and fill in the details on fine scale graph paper. In the end, I was actually impressed and encouraged.
N.B. It took me three attempts to get the dimensions right. I had measured but looking at it, it just didn't sit right. A reassessment and looking at the photo and diagram gave me a better sense of what looked right. Never underestimate the intuitive nature of the human eye.
Island Waiting Room
Many modern commercial buildings incorporate a lot more glass than was used in the past. I am sure the benefits of light play a big part in the decisions, but I am equally sure that the technology of toughened glass has moved forward to make this possible. So it made sense to start my model not with cardboard but with perspex. My waiting room is a simple 5.2cm × 9.4cm dimension, so it was easy enough to cut out the rectangles on a guillotine and sellotape the pieces together. To give form, I created a base with positioning pads to keep the pieces square as shown in the next photo.
Note: The mistakes in the photo are clear; I had to relay the blocks three times.
Adding the Bricks and Mortar
This for me is always the hardest part, cutting out window frames without making a complete mess. A small very sharp knife is best for this task and a lot of patience. The good news is you can always start again. Using the scale drawing that you have made, etch out the windows onto your chosen paper and cut out the windows. I use a fine ink pen to draw in the frames, door handles, etc. When you have finished, and you are happy with the finished wall, use a good paper glue and attach directly to the perspex.
Straight away you will notice that the window panes are in relief compared to the walls and this gives a sense of reality. I attach the walls together with sellotape as it gives an immediately fixed model and you can simply cut and reattach as needed. Be careful to apply glue to the right side. Don't do what I did, which is why there is a 'spare' wall in my photo! Perspex and glued paper combined tend to warp the structure. Prepare a couple of stiffeners that can be inserted inside the building when ready.
Positioning the waiting room on to the platform requires a bit of patience to ensure the corners are square and parallel to the platform edge. I use blocks of cards to ensure the plastic stays in place and is straight.
At this stage, you can add internal seating and wall posters and a drink machine using paper and pieces of balsa wood. If you want real posters, a quick search will bring up several companies that supply these on printed sheets. The addition of the CCTV signs is also a nice touch, and you can add a platform number.
The platform is from a Metcalfe pack substituting paving slabs for tarmac. Most modern stations use an abundance of slabs these days. You can make your own or download a printed sheet, but for added realism, I chose the pack.
You may also notice at this point that my waiting room is now grey. This is because when I started, I could only find primary colours. Then when I was halfway through, I found a shop with pastel shades. It was simple enough to glue a grey wrap around. If you are more patient than me, you might wait till you find your colour of choice.
The one bad thing about cardboard is it needs to be reinforced to ensure a straight line is maintained. This is fine on an interior wall, but when the straight parts are suspended, floppiness of the card is unavoidable. So I built the roof out of balsa wood. I used a 3" width and a 4 ml thickness. Cut at 9.4 cm this gave me the right dimensions. All I had to do was sand and paint, and I had an acceptable roof. I also purchased a 2 ml dowel cut into lengths to represent the cylindrical support poles. When fixing the poles to the roof, the only secure method is araldite glue.
Mistakes with the roof mostly were limited to cutting the poles to the right length. There are two variants: keeping the poles the same length vis a vis the roof itself and making sure that the poles sit on the platform! There is no point having poles all the right length if they don't reach down to the platform. I discarded quite a few dowel pieces getting this right.
The Finished Model
As mentioned at the beginning, I am new to the art of the scratch modeller. Modelling is all about capturing the image in miniature and whether the desired effect is achieved. Mistakes can be rectified, and I am sure if I build a second one, it will be better. But the joy is in the creation process, and I am very satisfied that I have achieved a model not readily available in kit form.
Where to Next?
I recently visited a Costa in Kidderminster. The structure is stand alone with large amounts of glass. I am inspired to recreate this building next, and when I visited, I made sure I took pictures of all four walls and paced out the dimensions (12 × 9 paces). It seems my love affair with perspex has only just begun.
© 2017 Christine and Peter Broster