Trackwork has been progressing on the layout but in order to finish the track in Port Rowan, I needed to build and install the coal dealer’s bin on the elevated track. And I kept putting this off while I debated how to approach it.
The problem that vexed me was whether to build a fully-detailed model of the bin, when the most interesting side – the opening under the track – would face the backdrop and never be seen by layout visitors or operators.
Normally, I would’ve gone ahead and built the structure with full detail, even on the backdrop side – because one never knows, a future change might make that side visible. But then it occurred to me that there was more at stake than appearance.
The problem is illustrated in this photo of a test train on the coal delivery track, taken back when the layout was still in its plywood subroadbed stage:
To elevate the siding, I used the cookie-cutter method: I laid in a large sheet of 3/4 inch plywood, cut a slot on either side of the future location of the track, then wedged, glued and screwed wooden blocks under the elevated portion. I left a clear space – under the black hopper car in the photo – for the future coal bin.
The problem? Well, the ramp track has really nice transitions at each end of it, and I started to worry that cutting away the portion of the subroadbed under the hopper car might allow things to shift. This would ruin the smooth transition at the top of the grade – essential if this is to operate reliably.
In the end, I solved the dilemma in favour of reliable construction and operation. As a famous model railway enthusiast is known to say:
It ain’t no fun if the trains don’t run
I therefore decided to leave the plywood in place and build the coal bin around it.
I have but a single photo of the bin, taken from the end of the elevated track:
(This photo was taken from the end of the elevated coal delivery track. The bin is just ahead, on the right.)
It doesn’t show much – concrete bin sides, a planked top, and a couple of levers – like those in an interlocking tower (or more accurately, like a ground frame on a British railway). I assume these levers open doors between the rails when cars are emptied. (It would not be safe to have open pits when no car is in place.)
Therefore, most of the structure is freelanced, but based on drawings of similar structures from various sources. I cut a piece of styrene sheet to use as a platform on which the detailed top would be built. This platform would be glued directly to the top of the plywood subroadbed when I installed the bin.
I added styrene walls around all four sides of the platform, leaving gaps in the two side walls so it could drop in place over the plywood subroadbed. I built up the top of the platform with styrene strip to represent the tops of the bin walls, including a dividing wall in the middle of the bin. I cut some more styrene sheet to create two wing walls to hold back the earth fill to either side of the bin. A smear of Squadron White modelling putty gave the styrene the texture of concrete.
I added some wood to represent the stringers that would support the ties, then added ties on top. The bin is not finished, but I’ve made enough progress that I’ve been able to permanently install it and lay the rails on the coal track.
So what did I do with the back side? I simply painted it black:
The above photo also shows some of the detail on the top of the bin. I’ve added drop-down doors (closed) in the two pits between the rails. Still to come is planking on the top of the bins to either side of the rails and the operating levers. (I must get in touch with some of my UK friends to see if they can find me an S scale ground frame.)
I have to admit that I’ve pondered how to tackle this project for far longer than it actually took to build the bin. The problem was not technique, construction or even data, but one of deciding what my priorities were for this layout. In the end, I decided that I will detail all four walls of other structures that face the backdrop – including the coal bin at St. Williams. But this bin was an exception because to build it with an open back would’ve compromised the integrity of a section of the subroadbed that’s under considerable stress – and that’s a line I’m not willing to cross.
A good lesson to remember for future projects.