I’ve just finished building the first of two coal bin kits – this one, for the Leedham’s mill at the end of track in Port Rowan. (The second kit is for the team track in St. Williams.)
The kit – from Crystal River Products – builds into a much larger commercial coal house, as shown on the company’s website.
I cut down the kit to half the size – which is closer to the size of the prototype bin as described on my map of the yard area. It’ll hold a gondola car’s worth of coal and not much more – but that will add up to dozens of bags of coal for the mill’s customers, and I’m sure the mill will order more coal as the pile dwindles.
This was an excellent kit for many reasons – but the main one is that the designer departed from the standard use of a laser cutter in this hobby: Instead of creating a standard laser-cut kit, the laser was used to create fixtures in which to build up the walls and doors, board by board. The boards were also cut to length using the laser, so things went together with the precision that a laser offers, while still enabling the modeller to individually distress and stain each board for a terrific “weathered wood” finish:
Too often in the hobby, we’re enamoured by the tools: We have a laser cutter so everything needs to be laser cut. More recently, we’ve seen the same phenomenon with 3D printers. Like laser cutters, they’re great for some operations, and completely inappropriate for others. (I have a friend who runs a high-end machine shop. He has a 3D printer and 3D scanner at work that’s used mainly to create fixtures to hold pieces for machining.)
This kit is a good example of placing the priority on the finished model, not the easiest way to manufacture it. There’s a lot more laser time involved to create this kit than there would be for the standard “four walls plus a roof” approach. This is reflected in the price for the kit (US$140 last time I checked).
That may seem steep for a structure that fits in the palm of one’s hand. But I feel this is entirely worth the price.
There are literally hundreds of pieces of wood in this little shed. I stained each piece individually using three Hunterline stains in various combinations.
When I add up the time spent staining, distressing and assembling, I’ve invested about 50 hours into this kit so far. This works out to $2.80 per hour for hobby fun – so far – with the cost per hour to drop further as I invest more hours to install this structure on the layout and detail the area to turn it into a vignette. (Certainly, I got more enjoyable bench time than I would have had I spent that $140 on a ready-to-run locomotive.)
On top of this, I picked up many techniques – new to me – that I can put to good use on future projects. I can’t put a price on that.
This shed is the first structure for the feed mill complex. I have three more buildings to create, and all will be scratch-built. The coal bin has set a standard of quality for this scene: It was a great place to start.