TV Is The Thing This Year*

 photo TV-Antenna-01_zps2rdgydlp.jpg
(The farmhouse at St. Williams has all modern conveniences for 1953, including a television. Somebody is doing well on sales of tobacco, it seems!)

Little details often go a long way to setting the year on a layout – especially for those who are not in the hobby or not familiar with the railway being modelled.

For example, I know that 2-6-0s ran on the branch to Port Rowan until sometime in the mid-1950s, when a bridge at Caledonia was rebuilt to allow larger power to cross. By 1957, Port Rowan trains were hauled by CNR 10-wheelers. Somebody who is only generally familiar with railroading may see steam locomotives and be able to guess that the layout is set before 1960 – but they would need more clues before they could even pin down the decade.

Vehicles help. Even if one can’t tell a 1953 Ford from a 1955 Chevy, there are certain signature styles that say “1950s” versus earlier or later decades: Nobody will mistake that 1953 Ford Crestline Victoria for a 1935 Ford Phaeton.

But little details also help tell the story. Like a TV antenna.

As the lead photo shows, I’ve used an HO scale photo-etched antenna from Gold Medal Models. I glued this to a length of phosphor bronze wire (not included) and added a block at the bottom from 0.040″ square styrene strip. I painted the block and wire black and then glued the antenna assembly to the side of the chimney. I added a loop of black E-Z Line around the chimney to represent a strap of metal, securing the antenna to the brick work.

The signal has to get from the antenna to the TV, so I used more black E-Z Line to add a cable. I threaded an eyebolt onto the line, and glued this into a hole drilled on the wall below the eavestrough, as shown below. Next, I drilled a hole in the siding next to the parlour window and glued one end of the cable into this. I then pulled the line tight – but not too tight – and glued the other end of the cable to the bottom of the antenna mast.

 photo TV-Antenna-02_zpsniismoeq.jpg

For most North Americans, a roof-top antenna defines a period from the launch of broadcast TV in the mid-1940s to the widespread adoption of cable TV services in the 1980s.

TV came to Canada a little later than in the United States. Canadians living along the border had been picking up American signals since 1946, and thousands of TV sets were watching ABC, NBC or CBS from border cities like Buffalo, Detroit and Seattle.

The first Canadian stations – CBC Montreal and CBC Toronto – signed on in September 1952. That year, it’s estimated that some 85,000 sets were sold, 95% of them in Ontario. Most of these – 57.4% – were sold in the Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Regions as people took advantage of clear signals beamed across Lake Ontario.

St. Williams and Port Rowan are a fair distance from Toronto so picking up CBC would’ve been impossible until further affiliates were launched. But they are right along the shore of Lake Erie – and from a broadcast signal perspective they’re in clear view of Buffalo. Could they have received television signals from there? Would they have bothered?

WBEN-TV signed on the air in 1948 and WGR-TV joined it in 1954, so signal or two existed. But televisions were expensive and the signal quality would’ve been dicey. That said, TVs were also a status symbol. It seems that my tobacco farmer in St. Williams is keen to impress the neighbours with a television in the parlour. Or maybe he just loves The Howdy Doody Show?

Regardless of reason, the antenna adds a nice bit of rooftop clutter that helps define the era.

*Dinah Washington’s recording of “TV Is The Thing This Year” was released in 1953 – one of the years I use for operating sessions on my layout:

FYI, Diane Reeves did a great version of it on the soundtrack for “Good Night and Good Luck”:

Houses set the scene

Extra 80 East - St Williams, Ontario - August 1953 photo X80East-StW-2014-01_zps347cae5c.jpg
(A single house at St. Williams provides an important clue that there’s a town here somewhere)

A reader recently got in touch privately to offer some observations about my layout, having read my article in the February-March 2015 issue of The S Scale Resource. He wrote, in part…

In my mind there are a couple of areas that help to “set the scene”. One is the use of houses, making it seem so natural that folks actually live there. Too many times we modelers only include structures that somehow are directly related to the railroad in some way. By your including houses, you set a scene of community.

Thanks! That’s a great observation – and it tells me that my use of houses is working because that’s exactly what I hoped they would do. For me, the houses provide a clue that the train is serving two towns – as opposed to two industrial districts, or two cities, for example. They also suggest that somebody from “around these parts” might be riding the daily-except-Sunday mixed train, at least some of the time.

What’s interesting is that conveying this sense of community doesn’t have to require a lot of real estate. On my layout, I have a single house in St. Williams, and two in Port Rowan. (Actually, one house and one mock-up at this time, as the photo below illustrates…)

 photo PtR-Chestnut-TwoHouses-03_zps4c1caab3.jpg

Those looking for railroads that exist in seclusion can find plenty of examples – from Shay-powered lumber lines to more modern examples such as the Plaster City Railroad, a three-foot gauge line operated by US Gypsum:


(Modern, but with a moonscape vibe. You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

But beyond resource haulers and other specialized lines, railroads exist to serve communities – with a varying mix of people and businesses depending upon them. It pays to represent that – to put the railroad in context – in our miniature worlds.

A (small) garage for St. Williams

 photo StW-Garage-01_zps03da8adb.jpg

A day at the workbench yesterday – actually, at the breakfast table in the kitchen – resulted in another structure for St. Williams (and another cardboard mock-up for the recycling bin or fireplace) as I scratch-built a garage to go with the house I recently finished.

Unlike the rather large – one might even say “useful” – garage in Port Rowan, this is a classic 1920s-era single car garage. It’s the kind found behind many houses in the older parts of Ontario communities: at just 14′ by 16′, it was big enough for a 1920s-era automobile but far too small for most vehicles on North American roads today.

Even by the 1950s, this garage would have been too small for the chromed cruisers. The car likely parked in the driveway and the garage was used as a combination garden shed and workshop.

For this model, I drew heavily on the floor plans and sketches in the “Better Built – Ready Cut” Bennett Homes Catalog that I found online.
StW-Garage-Bench photo StW-Garage-Bench_zpsbe6ff99c.jpg

I scratch-built everything except the window panes, which I cut from a spare set of Grandt Line 20-pane factory windows I found in my parts box. I built new window frames around these with strip wood, and scratch-built the double doors using strip wood and veneer business cards that I picked up at my local Lee Valley Tools. I added HO scale Tichy hinges to the doors, plus a latch bent up from a pair of Details Associates eyebolts. As is my preference, the windows are glazed with microscope slide covers.

I decided to use Insulbrick on this building, since it’s commonly seen but not commonly modelled. I cut the four walls from styrene sheet, then applied printed Insulbrick from Penitentiary Productions – the same company that produced the licence plates that I’m adding to my vehicles. The Insulbrick is printed on photo paper and is scaled for HO, but I think it works fine for S. I cut the sheets into panels with a sharp blade, then treated the cut edges of the paper with a black permanent marker before gluing them in place with Thick CA.

For the corners, I rounded the edges of the styrene and applied panels to overhang the corners on the end wall. I then curled the panels around, determined where to trim them, cut them to length with scissors, treated the edges with a marker, then folded and glued them in place.

I really like how the individual panels and dark edges create texture on the model when it’s on the layout:
StW-Garage photo StW-Garage-03_zpsf27d78c3.jpg

Now that I’ve built the garage of this scene, I can measure and create a base on which I’ll mount the house and garage. The base will let me level the structures and create a driveway. When it’s finished, I can blend the base into the scene. This will also take care of the floating rear corner of the garage, which is really evident in this photo:
StW-House+Garage photo StW-Garage-02_zpsc6da7f61.jpg

All in all, a good day’s work!

“Better Built :: Ready Cut”

Bennett Homes - Catalog Cover photo BennettHomesCatalog_zps507df9af.jpg

As the image shows, that’s the tag line for the Bennett Homes Catalog from the 1920s. Bennett was a lumber company in North Tonawanda, New York that offered ready-to-assemble home kits – similar to those offered by The Aladdin Company, Sears, and others.

If you click on the cover image, above, you’ll visit a set on Flikr that consists of scans of the pages of the Bennett catalogue.

I stumbled across this resource while searching for plans for a suitable garage to go with the house I’ve just built for St. Williams:
St. Williams photo StW-House-11_zpsde78d0ff.jpg
(Click on the image for more on the house)

The Flickr set includes 78 scans of the catalogue. Each page features a house, with a photo and floor plans. And one page features four garage plans with photos – a perfect starting point for my model.

What a great resource for model railway enthusiasts!

St Williams house :: Details

St. Williams photo StW-House-11_zpsde78d0ff.jpg

I closed the year 2013 on a quiet note, detailing the white house at St. Williams.

A confab on the porch photo StW-House-13_zpscde28e0a.jpg

The above view shows a number of modifications I’ve made to the stock Finley House – an S scale kit from Branchline Trains. From the top down, these include:

* Sills added to window frames (strip wood) – all windows upgraded;

* Eavestroughs (built up from styrene angle) and downspouts (bent from styrene rod) – one across the front of the porch roof, plus one on either side of the main roof;

* A door knob and striker plate (fabricated from wire and styrene strip) – also added to the back door; and

* A more substantial porch, with framing below the deck and thicker legs (strip wood)

There’s a confab happening on the porch, involving four figures from Arttista. I used catalogue numbers 725, 743, 791 and 792 for this. They must be in deep discussion as they’re ignoring the traffic going by…
St Williams street scene photo StW-House-14_zpsea4c863e.jpg

Here are several additional details which can be seen in these four photos:
St Williams House - east photo StW-House-16_zpse12e5261.jpg

St Williams House - north photo StW-House-17_zps3b6cfe2b.jpg

St Williams House - west photo StW-House-18_zps61fecf00.jpg

St. Williams House - south photo StW-House-15_zps0395ad24.jpg

The main roof has the kit chimney, plus two vents for the plumbing stacks for the kitchen and bathroom. These were bent from brass wire and glued into holes drilled in the roof, then painted. Some weathering powders on the roof add a touch of rust below each pipe, and a touch of moss on the side sheltered by the tree.

The oil tank is kit 2104 from TractorFab. It’s a very nice laser cut kit that took about a half-hour to build. I’m not actually sure what it’s doing on this house – it wouldn’t be furnace oil because that would never flow in the winter from an outdoor, uninsulated tank like this. (Maybe that’s what the confab on the porch is about?) But it looks good, so there it is.

The electric meter is detail part S5024 from Wiseman Model Services. I added a taller stack made from wire. When I plant this house permanently, I’ll run the power line from this stack to the utility pole across the road.

St Williams photo StW-House-12_zps57c5629e.jpg

Planting the house on the layout will require building up the ground underneath it, adding a sidewalk to the roadway, adding a driveway next to the house on the side with the oil tank, and some landscaping to blend the house into its environment.

Finally, I I want to build a garage to complete this scene. Branchline has some lovely examples in HO. Unfortunately, they’re not offered in S. I might have to buy an HO version and use it as a study model to scratch-build my own…

St Williams House :: Test Fit

It fits.
St. Williams House - Scene photo StW-House-08_zps9bf798c9.jpg

Last night I shingled the roof on the house for St. Williams. The kit included laser cut paper shingles in pale grey. I decided to use these, but will paint them black.

These shingles do not have a peel and stick backing – and that’s fine because I find such backings are great for positioning rows but lousy at keeping the shingles in place over time, so I always take measures to lock everything in place:

First, as I lay each row I run a bead of CA along the top edge of the strip.

Then, when I have finished the roof, I carefully brush a coating of dilute Weld-Bond (2:1 adhesive to water) over the shingles. When this dries – usually overnight – the roof is nice and solid.

Afterward shingling the roof, I set the house in place on the layout and thought I’d take a couple of photos to explore the possibilities of this scene. I’m pleased with how it’s coming together. The house fits, both physically (I knew it would, since I built a mock-up) and aesthetically:
St. Williams - House and Depot photo StW-House-10_zpsca294a07.jpg

St. Williams House - Porch photo StW-House-09_zps60809e6c.jpg

Next up – painting the roof, adding the stairs, and detailing.

St Williams House :: Rooms and Windows

St Williams - House Front photo StW-House-04_zps5712a7fd.jpg

I’ve made considerable progress on the house for St. Williams. As the lead photo shows, I’ve built and installed the windows and doors, including curtains and glazing with real glass.

I started by adding room dividers, so that if someone looks into a window they can’t see the light coming through windows on other walls – a dead giveaway that a model is nothing more than an empty shell. Normally, I would simply install some baffles made of thin sheets of styrene – preferably the black stuff. But the instructions for this kit include a drawing of the floor plan of the prototype for this house, and I thought it would be fun to divide the interior into rooms:
St Williams - House Rooms photo StW-House-05_zpsd55d2c8b.jpg

I made no attempt to model a full, detailed interior: The goal was to allow the curious to see light through appropriate windows – for example, if one looks across the front bedroom one can see light from the window on the far side.

I started by cutting two floors from styrene, notched to fit around the interior wall braces. I glued the ground floor in place, then added interior walls following the diagram in the kit instructions. The ground floor includes an L-shaped living/dining room, a kitchen, and an L-shaped staircase. I cut two wall sections from styrene to form the interior walls for the kitchen and glued them in place.

Before continuing to the bedroom level, I realized I had to add curtains to the windows in the ground floor, so I did that. (More on the curtains in a moment.)

Next, I glued the upstairs floor in place on top of the kitchen walls. Then I divided the upstairs with more styrene walls, as shown in the above photo. I didn’t worry about making these walls exactly match the pitch of the end walls – in fact, they don’t even rise to the peak of the roof. This won’t be seen when the roof is in place. Instead, I cut them so they would not interfere with the roof and glued them in place.

The master bedroom runs across the front of the house. Behind that is a an L-shaped space representing the stairwell and hallway. A single bathroom is to the right, behind the master bedroom, while two smaller bedrooms share the back of the house.

With the walls in place upstairs, I added curtains to the bedroom windows.

For curtains, I went online and found some 1950s curtain patterns. I saved the images, imported them into a Microsoft Word document, and resized them so they were 1.25 inches tall – big enough to cover the windows. I duplicated the images so I’d have enough of each type of curtain to do each room, then printed out a sheet of curtains on a colour printer. Easy-peasy.

I cut out each curtain, then folded it accordion-style, in very tight folds. I then smoothed out the top of each curtain, added a bit of CA, and glued the paper curtain in place behind the appropriate window opening. For some rooms, I used the printed material flat, to represent a roller blind.

This image shows the interior of the rear bedrooms. At left, a pair of curtains. At right, a roller blind:
St Williams - House Curtains inside photo StW-House-06_zps585279be.jpg

And here’s what these rooms look like from the outside, before adding the windows:
St Williams - House Curtains outside photo StW-House-07_zps57b896c1.jpg
(I really like the steam tractor roller blind for a kid’s room.)

While curtains and blinds might not be printed on the back side – the side facing the outside world – I think doing this on the model adds some nice colour and looks better than plain white paper. Others may prefer to simply cut material from printer paper and not bother with printing out appropriately scaled patterns.

With floors, interior walls, and curtains in place, I then turned my attention to the windows. The kit windows are built up from three layers of laser cut wood, complete with peel’n’stick backings. These are, the outside frame, a two-light interior frame that represents the upper (fixed) sash, and a single-light interior frame that represents the lower (movable) sash.

The instructions do not mention that the outer frames and two-light interior frames have a top and bottom – so I’ll mention it here. I goofed on a couple of windows before I realized this and hand to peel them apart to rebuild them. The outer frame should be positioned so that the wider piece is at the bottom. The two-light interior frame has one opening that’s larger than the other – this is the lower of the two lights.

The instructions would also have one start on the innermost frame and work one’s way out. This is backwards: It’s a whole lot easier to start with the outer frame and work in, especially if one is using real glass as I did.

Work on one window at a time, installing it as it’s finished. Cut both pieces of glass before assembling the window. (Here’s how I cut glass.)

Peel the backing away from the outer frame, and lay the two-light interior frame in place. Peel the backing away and add glass to the upper window. Then add the single-light interior frame – either fully closed or positioned partially- or fully-open. (I left a number of windows open, since I’m modelling August.) Then peel the backing off the lower sash and add the glass. Finally, position and press the completed window into place.

To model open windows, the lower sash will not have enough contact with the adhesive on the two-light frame. Secure the lower sash in place by holding it in the desired position and using a toothpick to add a line of Microscale’s Kristal Klear to each side of the sash. Do not use CA, which will fog the glass. This high-tack adhesive will not do that, but will hold the sash in place.

One last item – not done on the windows in the photos – is to add a piece of wood to the outer frame, below the lower light. (Here’s an example on a Tichy O scale window.) This trim detail is not included in the kit but I can whip up some out of strip wood and glue it in place with Kristal Klear. (I won’t use CA here, as it’s too close to the glass and could fog my glazing.)

As the photos show, I’ve also added the foundation and the porch – although I need to finish painting some edges. There’s more to do, including shingling the roof – but the house is very close to being finished. It’s going to look really nice across from the station in St. Williams!

Brace yourselves

In my previous posting on the house I’m building for St. Williams, my friend David Woodhead noted that he could see some interior bracing in the second photo. (Not only a good ear, but a good eye, David!)

That bracing is important for a couple of reasons, so I thought I’d post about it here…
St Williams house - bracing photo StW-House-03_zpsff3e14b7.jpg

As the above photo shows, I’ve added bracing in the four corners as well as a couple of pieces along the two long sides. I cut pieces from strip wood – the size is not important except that it should be fairly large since it’s structural.

As I described in my previous post, I added 6″ x 6″ trim to the two end walls, as shown here:
St Williams House - Trim photo StW-House-02_zpsfc433b9d.jpg
(Click on the image to read more)

After adding the trim, but before gluing the four walls together to form the structure, I added the large strip wood braces to the inside of the two end walls. I lined this up on the joint between the laser cut wall and the 6″ x 6″ corner trim. Meantime, I measured and drew a vertical line on the inside of the two side walls to locate the mid-wall braces. Their exact location isn’t important but by making sure they will be directly across from each other, they can be used to support interior baffles that will prevent visitors from staring through the house and seeing that it’s an empty shell.

The interior bracing and corner trim also make it easy to glue the side walls into place against the end walls: I simply add glue to the brace and press the side wall against it, tight against the corner trim, with everything set on my glass surface.

Finally, note in the first photo in this post that it’s a good idea to number the adjacent corners of each wall before trimming away the interlocking tabs. Tabs tend to be keyed – they only fit the correct adjacent wall – but once they’re gone it can be easy to mix up the relationship. With numbers, one can match up the edges.

A start on the St. Williams house

St Williams House photo StW-House-01_zps3cc05621.jpg

My snow plow project has been delayed until I get my mitts on some sanding sealer. In the meantime, I’ve had a couple of quiet days so I’ve been able to start working on something else: The house for the St. Williams scene.

For this, I’m using an S scale kit from Branchline Trains – the Finley House. I like the manufacturer’s model in white, so I started by airbrushing a lacquer-based white on all the wood parts (except the two main roof panels, which I did with black). I used a lacquer-based paint to seal the wood without the warping that a water-based paint would cause. I was able to start construction the following day.

I like laser-cut kits, but in general I don’t like the peel and stick trim. I can live with it for things like the frames around windows, but I can never get the corner trim to look nice. There’s always a dark line where the pieces don’t quite meet. So for this laser-cut kit I decided to do something about it. I borrowed a technique I learned for making corners while building many Campbell Scale Models craftsman kits in my formative years in the hobby.

Here’s a view of the front of the house, labelled to explain the changes I made to the trim:
St Williams House - Trim photo StW-House-02_zpsfc433b9d.jpg
(Click on the image for a larger view)

As it suggests, I cut the tabs off all four walls – including the edges that slot into the roof. On the roof edges, I also measured in six inches from the edge and trimmed back the end walls. This made space for 6″ x 6″ scale lumber to form the trim.

I glued the square strip wood to the edges of the end walls, working on a piece of glass and making sure that the strip wood was lined up with the inside face of the wall. I added the vertical side pieces first, then trimmed them to the angle of the roof. I then added one trim board to the roof line, trimmed it, then added the second and trimmed it as well. Some light work with an emery board cleaned up my trimming.

Next up: making all those windows and doors. I’ll tackle that as time allows – and will replace the kit’s clear acrylic window glazing with my own glazing cut from microscope slide cover glass. Stay tuned!

Wind power

I’ve added a windmill to St. Williams, to pump water for the farm and the fields:
Windmill in situ photo Windmill-03_zps9493e0e9.jpg

My windmill is an etched brass kit – Number 206 – from Tractor Fab, a company that bills itself (quite accurately) as “Precision Farming in 1/64 Scale”. (I ordered my windmill kit and some detail parts a while ago – service was excellent and the products I received are all high quality.)

Here’s an overall view of the finished model. I was able to build this in one session at the bench, in the morning, and paint and weather it in the afternoon:
Windmill photo Windmill-02_zps61459871.jpg

The fan and tail assembly are exquisite, and Tractor Fab’s instructions are quite thorough. The company thoughtfully includes an etched brass tool on the fret to allow one to angle the fan blades correctly and consistently. Given the delicate nature of the kit, I soldered the ring to the fan blades, instead of using CA. I positioned the windmill on the layout so that under normal viewing conditions, one will not see my somewhat heavy application of solder, on the back side of the blades:
Fan and tail photo Windmill-04_zpsf39b9f65.jpg

The etched platform is a nice touch.

I made some adjustments to the kit as well.

The tower has the sides etched together in a single piece that folds up. A photo etch bending tool made this easy, but one is not essential. (Mine is the Etch Mate from Mission Models.) The instructions say one can glue the final corners with CA. I did this, but it’s a butt joint. Therefore, when I had the tower assembled and square, I ran some Thick CA onto four lengths of .015″ wire and slid these into place on the inside of each of the four folds. This makes for a stronger structure.

The kit includes an etched base that one is supposed to paint to simulate wood. I prefer wood, so after I finished painting the assembled structure I cut lengths of scale 1×6 from Mount Albert Scale Lumber, glued them to the tops of the etched boards on the base, and stained them with brown weathering mix from Hunter Line.

The kit’s weakest feature, I feel, is the pump. This is supposed to be assembled from two pieces of photo etch. It looks okay from a distance, but it’s obviously flat in close-up photos. I therefore used it as a guide to scratch build a pump using brass tube for the pump and spout. I carefully cut away the pump handle from the photo etched pump, and soldered it to my scratch built one. The upgraded base and pump are shown below:
Pump and base photo Windmill-05_zps44d15ade.jpg

I have sited the kit after careful consideration of where operators will reach into the layout to uncouple cars. Since all of my operators are careful, I don’t anticipate any problems.

This is a fabulous kit and it will be a real attention-getter in my farm scene. Thanks, Tractor Fab!