Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Will it go 'round in circles?

Yes it will.

Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky?

I sure hope not*

In this 3rd wave lockdown I seem to have the attention span of a squirrel, running all over the place with no rhyme or reason. I've been thinking about track plans, and have been wondering about adding a small streetcar turntable to the layout. Having temporarily lost my motivation to install a roof on the HQ model, I thought I'd see what was around the workshop that I could use to build a simple, manual turntable.

I've got a build, I ain't got no steps, no.

I'm gonna let the components move me around.

So, I got started by searching the internet and old magazines for ideas, as well as looking through my parts stash. I'm not saying that what I settled on is the best, but it seemed workable with what I had on hand and my current temperament.

Some design considerations in no particular order:

1. I had a cheap Lazy Susan bearing from 30 or so years ago that I was keeping around to use 'one day'. 'One day' arrived last week. Its square metal base measures 4" on each side.

2. All the turntable has to do is rotate a streetcar 180 degrees. There's no track indexing or massive roundhouse to be serviced.

3. I'm perfectly happy with it being powered by pushing it either by finger or stick. Motorization isn't needed. Cheap and cheerful is the name of the game.

4. Its track has to fit streetcars with the longest wheelbase in my fleet, which are PCCs. The body can overhang the turntable.

Soldering the plug to the rail.
The part that concerned me most was how to get power to the track?

The method I used is based on the one presented by Bob Hayden in an article called An inexpensive, easy-to-build turntable, in the Feb '87 issue of Model Railroader. It used a 1/4" headphone plug as the turntable's rotational mechanism and method of transferring power. I used a much smaller 2.1mm x 5mm plug instead as I had some on hand, and since I was using a bearing for rotational motion, I didn't need a 1/4" plug.
I've got a story that's got a moral.

Don't use two axes ever again.

I should mention there's a problem with my design. There are two axes of rotation: the bearing has one, and the plug has one. These two axes need to be perfectly lined up, one on top of the other, for the turntable to freely spin. 

It turns out because I eyeballed the installation, these two axes aren't perfectly aligned, so there is a little bit of binding when you turn the thing. This isn't a big problem because there's no motor that'll burn out, and no large number of tracks to be indexed, but eventually something will wear out or break: likely the plug, or its supports. Given how little use this thing will get I'm betting wear out will happen long in the future. But, we'll see.

A better scheme would likely have been to solder wipers to the rail bottoms and have them rub against contacts from the fixed layout track when rotated into position. This gets rid of the plug's axis and eliminates binding, although you'll need to make sure the wipers have sufficient spring to make good contact - I didn't have components on hand for that kind of system, so I didn't pursue it.

The top and bottom circular plates are cut from 0.080" sheet styrene.

In this photo I've inserted the plug into a whole drilled into the centre of the upper plate after the plug's leads have been soldered to the underside of the rail. 

The track has been attached to the plate using plastic solvent. 

I'll probably have to adjust the rail lengths when installing the turntable into the layout. I cut them a little long so fine tuning can be done.

The plug to plate connection was stiffened with four gussets, each cut from 0.080" styrene. I spent a lot of time trying to get the plug dead centre and as perpendicular with the plate as possible, but as I noted above, it wasn't quite good enough.

After drilling a matching hole in the bottom plate, the turntable was glued on with epoxy and left to dry for a few hours.

One thing I should point out before I forget is that I was checking the electrical continuity after just about every step. 

I'd hook an old 9v battery to the track, and then use my continuity checker to make sure the light came on. The light is quite faint in the photo, but that's because I'm using an old battery.

I don't have any photos of the struggle to align the two plugs, but basically once the plates were epoxied to the bearing, I pushed and persuaded the joined plugs until the turntable seemed to rotate back-and-forth without much friction. The bottom plug was then epoxied into place along with 2 torsion supports cut from 0.080" styrene. 

And this is what it looks like once everything was glued in place. 

I applied a little light oil to the bearing to help smooth its operation.

From here on the rest was painting and decorating to make it sort of look like a turntable.

Styrene sheets were used to build up the upper surface so styrene brick sheets could be used to panel the top. 

I took care to make sure the brick sheets were below the rail head, because if they're level with it, it's often possible for wheels to ride up on the plastic and lose rail contact. 

Some 0.040" x 0.060" styrene strips were glued to the perimeter to neaten the edge. Then it was on to painting. 

I continue to dabble with Revell Aqua Color. The basic brick hue is mixed from their #37 Reddish Brown and #39 Dark Green using the same technique applied to both the Weekly Herald and the HQ. Alternating thin layers of the brick mix, #75 Stone Grey, and Tamiya flat black were used to build up the final colour. The edge trim was painted with Stone Grey.

I'm finding I rather like those little blue cubes Aqua Color comes in. I often use them as supports for work-in-progress.

Those Ls for rotating the turntable are cut from piano wire and inserted into holes drilled through all the top layers.

*Well, that's that. Given how I've mangled Billy Preston's lyrics, I should leave you with the legend so you'll know how great the song is.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The scissors-and-paste model is the watercolour sketch in three dimensions

There are those among the modelling fraternity who profess to despise glue and card, paper and parcel-tape, paper-clips, pins and drinking-straws as the raw material from which to construct engineering models. I disagree entirely with this view, and I hope that in writing this book I may help to sway readers to my way of thinking.

The truth is, of course, that there is ample room for all points of view. The magnificent examples of model engineering, products of lathe, milling machine and sometimes years of skilled labour, may be likened to the great gilt-framed oil-paintings which dominate the walls of Art Galleries and ancestral homes; masterpieces, often, but sometimes a little oppressive to humble mortals like myself, who find it refreshing to leave them in their majesty and spend a while amongst the watercolours. Myself, I find watercolours easier to live with, greatly as, in theory, I admire the Reynolds and the Lanseer! And so it is with models. The scissors-and-paste model is the watercolour sketch in three dimensions. It conveys its message by suggestion and simple devices, it can catch the colour, shape and essential character of its subject, and please its beholder no less than the rivet-for-rivet and true-to-half-a-thou. masterpiece in gleaming steel and brass. Its cost, however, in time and material, is a mere fraction of its more elaborate counterpart, and to the man whose fingers itch to be making things, but whose circumstances rule out workshops and elaborate tools, this simple scissors-and-past craft can be a most satisfying answer, as I shall try to demonstrate in the following pages.

From the foreword to Cardboard Engineering with Scissors & Paste by G. H. Deason, Model Aeronautical Press Limited, 1958.

One thing I always find interesting about these old model building books are the records of their authors' philosophical musings on the craft. I hadn’t thought of drawing a parallel between card modelling, Deason’s scissors-and-paste genre, and watercolour painting. It’s intriguing, and certainly stands in stark contrast to mainstream thinking on what the craft’s about. There’s something about the phrase, it conveys its message by suggestion and simple devices, that I rather like. 

I think it would be mistaken to take the analogy between card models and watercolours too literally, but maybe there’s something to it. It reminds me of Casual-ization, and John Page’s observations that Bill Schopp’s models and layout didn’t seem to be built to the most exacting standards, but there was something compelling about them nevertheless. Mix in a little artistic stylization from Francis Lee Jacques, and maybe there’s an interesting old trail that needs to have the overgrowth cut back. Just don’t use a digital camera on your hike :-)

Saturday, May 8, 2021

A Review of Architectural Models by Robert Forman

These latter [JDL: ‘latter’ meaning ‘architectural models’] have for many years been the almost exclusive province of card and paper, such models being used extensively by architects in the course of their profession, and these are really a special subject, rather outside the scope of these pages. For those readers who may be interested, an excellent little book on the elements of this craft is “Architectural Models”, by Robert Forman, published by Studio Press.

I ran across that statement in G. H. Deason’s 1958 book Cardboard Engineering with Scissors & Paste, published by Model Aeronautical Press Limited, when I was investigating mentions of ‘Fashion Board’ in old books about miniature building construction. Deason’s book is excellent, so I had to hunt down the one he recommended as an excellent little book on the elements of architectural modelling.

I found an inexpensive and well preserved copy online, but upon arrival I soon discovered what it had to say to be somewhat less than expected, even by the standards of the time it was published - that being 1946. In contrast, John Ahern’s article Madderport’s Buildings that appeared in the July 1942 issue of The Model Railway News is a good example of the beautiful models achievable in that era.

The book itself is a little 64-page gem. It’s full of beautiful line drawings and well written text. The problem seems to be the book is a somewhat simplified overview of the subject, and it never seems to settle on who it’s written for. The dust jacket blurb mentions the book is suitable for children, but once inside the text focuses on the needs and uses of architects, architectural students, and various other professions and students. I don’t think the construction examples and explanations would well serve any of those audiences.

The venerable wall strip technique is shown on the left-hand page - that could be the children's part.
By 1958, when Deason’s book was released, a number of better books on constructing miniature buildings had been published in England: Modelled Architecture by P. R. Wickham in 1948 and Miniature Building Construction by John Ahern in 1950 to name two. Thomas Bayley’s Model Making in Cardboard, which deals almost exclusively with miniature buildings, was also published in 1958, and although quite good, it seems unreasonable to expect Deason to have mentioned it for timing reasons. The point is that by 1958 there were better books on miniature building construction available. Maybe Deason and Forman were friends? Or maybe miniature buildings wasn’t something Deason kept up-to-date on? Who knows? These are more of those unanswerable questions.

And what about recommended materials? The book isn’t focused exclusively on card, but in the materials chapter it mentions: Various papers and cardboard are used, ranging from strawboard to Whatman. I assume Whatman is a brand name of a cardboard, and is being bandied about in the same manner that Strathmore often is by some writers when referring to their Bristol board products. Bristol board is mentioned a few places in the text, as for making window frames, but is not called out in the materials section.

One last thing. Take a look at the following spread:

The so-called American bubble house is shown in the upper left.
I hadn’t heard of an American bubble house, so off to the internet I went. It turns out in the early 1940s there was a Los Angeles based architect, Wallace Neff, who invented a type of semi-spherical house by spraying gunite over an inflatable form such that when the concrete was dry the form could be deflated and removed leaving a dome-like structure behind. What you see in the drawing is a fairly close representation. So, I guess the book was fairly advanced in showing the reader how to model one of those houses.

And then there’s this weird association. Neff? Neff? Where have I heard that name before? Yes, in my favourite movie, 1944's Double Indemnity. Walter Neff was the main character, played by Fred MacMurray. Wallace Neff, Walter Neff? Odd. The movie was based on a 1943 book of the same name written by James M. Cain, but in the book the lead character was called Walter Huff. So, Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder changed the name from Huff to Neff, the last name of our bubble house architect, who by the way was quite famous and made his fortune designing houses for Los Angeles’ elite. Coincidence? Probably, but Architectural Models doesn’t say :-)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy...

... especially if they're in your head*.

I keep thinking about the various details I should add to the ground floor. Support columns here, shelves there, a workbench in the corner, and on and on. 

But I realized the project has gone on a little too long and decided to just glue up the walls and elevator-floor insert and get on with original plan: creating a removable roof and detailing the second floor.

After a little more trimming and fitting on the interior insert, I glued up the whole shebang.

That upside-down tobacco can is an item from my father's workshop filled with nuts and bolts just as he left it. Makes for a fine weight for holding stubborn parts while glue sets. In this case it's sitting on top of the elevator shaft to hold it square to the floor and walls.

Elastic bands hold the corners together.

The model was left this way for a day to allow the glue to fully set.

Once dry I had a good look at the foundation and realized the brick pilasters didn't have concrete bases, so I added some made from 0.030" thick styrene strips. 

Afterwards, the concrete caps were glued to the tops of the walls, and a lot of touch-up painting was done to the foundation, wall caps, walls, and window sills.

The next step will be to install the removable roof.

Take it easy and stay tuned.

*with apologies to the Eagles :-)

Monday, May 3, 2021

Ironmasters of Upper Canada

I was surprised to find this documentary on the history of the Marmora ironworks featured at the Marmora Heritage Foundation's website in honour of Marmora's 200th anniversary this year. It's a little on the long side, but there's lots of interesting information in there. 

If you're a regular here you may recall that last year I searched around for the location of some old speeder sheds in Marmora and Havelock. I decided to send my location question to Anne Philpot at the MHF. She generously responded and sent my question off to some local experts. She also sent me these interesting links to photos of old Marmora railway structures: The Central Ontario Railway and the Marmora Station and News from the Train Station. In amongst the photos is one of a rather intriguing water tank, and another of one of the boxiest freight warehouses I've ever seen.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Hobbs’ Choice…of materials

46 year old Mineral City Depot model in card with balsa bracing

Galen wondered in the comments section of the review of Pictorial House Modelling by Edward W. Hobbs if Hobbs recommended any materials we might consider unusual. I didn’t think he did, but I decided to go back and have another look. Here’s a list of Hobbs’ recommended materials along with some one-liners about what he  suggests using them for:

Bristol board

2-ply for small models like those in 1/8” = 1’ scale; 4-ply for larger works; although various plies can be used in different situations.

Bristol board seems to have been around forever as a primary model making material, but as with all manufactured things, it was invented at some point in time. Looking around the internet the short story appears to be that it was first made in Bristol, England (I’m not sure by what company) sometime around 1800; however, it wasn’t named in honour of Bristol the city, but after Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol. Strathmore’s 500 series Bristol board, which is a mainstay of cardboard structure modelling and the one I like to use, was invented in 1893 by the equally old Strathmore Paper Company that was founded in 1892 in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Apparently Bristol board was the second paper product the company manufactured. There are lots of Bristol board manufacturers, and everyone seems to have their favourite, but the key here is that it’s been around in one form or another for 200+ years. Given its high quality, it isn’t surprising that Bristol board has long been a preferred modelling material.

Fashion board

A lower cost, and somewhat lower quality, substitute for Bristol board.

I don’t know what this is other than the book says it’s cheap, not as white as Bristol board, and spongy. I’ve looked through my old books on making miniature buildings and I find mention of Bristol board substitutes such as strawboard, ticket board, pasteboard, pulpboard in many of them, but only saw ‘fashion board’ mentioned in Wickham’s 1948 Modelled Architecture, which noted that it, along with ‘watercolour board’, are artists’ materials, being high-quality cards faced on one or both sides with papers of various texture. 

What seems to me the most interesting non-Bristol board cardboard for miniature buildings, at least as far as story is concerned, is ‘International Pasteboard’ that Chris Pilton mentions he used to build the models in his 1987 book, Cottage Modelling for Pendon: 

The material which I use for making Pendon buildings was bought in Bristol in 1941 by Pendon’s founder, Roye England, just before the shop was destroyed by enemy bombing. He bought £10 worth, which in those days meant a good large stock ever since. Although bought in Bristol, the card was not in fact Bristol board (apparently its skin is too brittle). It was apparently called ‘International Pasteboard’ and came in sheets varying in thickness from 0.2mm to 0.75mm.

Whether it’s fashion board or some other product, it looks like Bristol board has always been a pricey material, and most writers have had to mention some reasonable quality, lower cost alternatives. 

Mounting board

Their textures can make them useful in special situations.

Plaster of Paris, Plasticene, Playwax, Sealing Wax

Could be used to make entire models or parts of them.


A type of plastic wood.

Pine, mahogany, or oak

For bases.


Species and sizes aren’t specified.

Fine sand or emery powder

For roads and paths.

Small pieces of slate or stone

For scenes needing rocks.

Small pieces of mirror or waved glass in blue or green

For representing water

Sponges or loofahs

For modelling vegetation.

Flock or flock wallpaper

For covering surfaces like lawns or fields. Hobbs notes that flock is hard to obtain except near cotton mills.

Seccotine, LePages, Croid

These are glues.

Oil, watercolour, or poster paints

Poster for cardboard models; Oil for wood or plaster models; Watercolour for small models.

It’s important to keep in mind the book was published in 1926 in England, and so it deals in brandnames and materials that were common then and there. However, the list doesn’t seem that odd reading it here in Canada close to 100 years after publication.  After substituting a few modern brandnames and materials, it could be used as a list for shopping the internet. Although, you’d be missing out on many modern developments.

Saturday, May 1, 2021


I thought I'd put the HQ on the layout and see how it sized up against the others on the street. I should have done this at the start of the project, but for some reason it never occurred to me.

For something that started off as an N-scale kit it seems to fit into the overall scheme of things all right. Although, I'm not going to squeeze the finished model cheek-to-jowl between some other buildings or the point of those big windows will be defeated.

I see a few painting problems that I'll need to clean up. And it looks like it'll need some sort of stairs up to the street level doors - there'll be a serious tripping hazard without them :-)

Thursday, April 29, 2021

A review of Pictorial House Modelling by Edward W. Hobbs

After stumbling across the work of Laurence T. Gieringer I’ve gotten interested in finding the oldest books about making miniature buildings. My archeological approach is admittedly haphazard, but stumbling around did find this 1926 book, Pictorial House Modelling: A Practical Manual explaining how to make Models of Buildings, by Edward W. Hobbs, published by C. Lockwood & Son in their Technical Press Manuals series. My copy is a 2013 reprint published by Read Books.

This reprint is not of the highest quality, although I bought it because of easy availability and relatively low price. The misspelling of ‘Pictoral’ on the cover is a clue. The biggest disappointment is the photographs, which are the pictorial in the reprint’s Pictoral. The photos are rough and grainy, and don’t do justice to the innovative way the original used step-by-step photos to explain construction techniques. Later books like Ahern’s and Stokes’ rely heavily on line drawings to illustrate building methods, but here the presentation is almost 21st century in its use of photos. After seeing this I’m now on the lookout for an original to see if its photos were any good - maybe Read was saddled by poor quality photos in the original.

The reprint also has an odd essay prefacing the main work called ‘Model Building’ that reads like it was added by the reprint’s publisher, but is uncredited. It gives a condensed history of model building along with some observations on where the hobby is today. I would have instead prefaced the reprint with something that gave a little history about the original book and its author, along with some thoughts on where the book stands in relation to others in the field of making miniature buildings. But, maybe that’s what this post is for :-)

The first thing I wondered was, who was Edward W. Hobbs? A page at the Brighton Toy & Model Museum came to the rescue. You can read about him there, but one thing I should highlight is he published extensively on model building and DIY subjects with 27 known books to his name, and for a time was employed by Bassett-Lowke as their ships and boats expert. From his bibliography it looks like Pictorial House Modelling was one of his earliest works, and he followed up on the subject in 1937 with House Modelling for Builders and Estate Agents, also published by Lockwood.

Although Hobbs’ name is on the cover, inside he notes that Joyce Inall prepared many of the models made specially to illustrate this book. It appears that all the construction photos feature Inall as the hand model performing the steps, although that’s never explicitly stated. So, the book appears to be a collaboration between Hobbs and Inall, even though Inall isn’t credited on either the cover of the original or the reprint. Although I’m glad to see the text does credit her contribution.

Speaking of hand models, I found this rather arty video on Vimeo of Jo Ray enacting a selection of Joyce Inall’s hand positions superimposed over photos from the book. It’s hard to describe what this video is about, so have a look:

Pictorial House Modelling (After Miss Joyce Inall) 2015 (extract) from Jo Ray on Vimeo.

Ok, as for modelling methods, the book shows mainly how to construct small buildings from cardboard. For the simplest models, say those comprised of only four walls, drawing the walls as a continuous strip, and then folding the strip into a structure is recommended, as we saw with Railroad Modeler’s Penny Model features. Surface detailing is for the most part painted or drawn on with little in the way of physical three-dimensional detailing. Although, the few photos of professionally built models do show built-up detail. In general, the book’s construction methods are similar to those presented in the 1920 manual training textbook my grandmother studied from in teacher’s college. 

Regarding scale used in the book, Hobbs states: The novice is counselled to make a start on a model of modest size to a scale of 1/8 in. to one foot, a scale that has been adopted for many of the models illustrated in this book. This works out to approximately 3.175 mm to the foot, which is a little smaller than HO’s 3.5mm to the foot, so the construction methods shown are quite suitable for use in HO scale. HO was invented sometime in the 1920’s, and it wasn’t until later in that decade that it started to become more well known in model railroading, so it’s not surprising to see no mention of HO in the book (I need to look into the details of HO’s development as its 100th anniversary will occur sometime in the 2020s).

Should you buy this book? That depends. If you’re looking for techniques to use, I’d say no because I’d recommend more up-to-date tools and methods, even if you’re going to use cardboard. If you’re interested in the history of making miniature buildings, definitely yes. It’s well written, the instructions are clear, and its presentation method of more-or-less step-by-step photos is surprisingly modern. And it’s good for getting a sense of what were probably thought to be doable methods for home hobbyists, although professional techniques seemed to be more advanced.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Long train runnin' at Meadows, Manitoba

These days I'm looking through YouTube for either model or real railway themed videos that strike me as particularly Canadian. Boomer Dioramas is one, and recently I've been going through Steve Boyko's. There are lots of great videos there, but for some reason I've watched the one above several times. I find these long, double-stacked container trains mesmerizing, especially this one rolling through Manitoba. And on the other end of the length scale, there's this one of the Greater Winnipeg Water District train.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Ground floor detailing

Once I wasn't feeling as fatigued from the vaccine I went back to working on the HQ's ground floor detailing. When all the walls are in place it will be hard to access the ground floor, so I needed to do as much as I could before the other two walls are glued in place.

I added some joist-like strips of styrene to bottom of the second floor to give it some three dimensionality. The strips, which are 3mm wide and 0.030" thick, give the illusion that the floor has some strength, and they do give the model a little more stiffness. 

The light is an LED strip with a couple of leads soldered on.

I drilled a pair of holes in the elevator shaft for feeding the wires out through a hole in the floor.

Every lobby needs some sort of weird abstract art to signal sophistication to those who enter - or maybe just do a favour to a wayward nephew who needs to unload some art school projects from his storage unit :-)

Either way, a old watercolour cast-off was cut up for these pieces, glued to some scraps of 1/8" artist board so the art would stand-off from the wall, and then finally glued to the wall with some Weld Bond.

On the other side I added some vintage workplace safety posters I found on the internet. A notice board, as well as washroom and exit signs, were also printed out and glued to the walls.

I printed the safety posters slightly oversize and mounted them a little higher than normal so they could be seen through the windows.

I'd have to say that this interior is something of a caricature. It's less detailed and not as grimy as a real equivalent would be, but hopefully I've added enough elements to make it pop as 'real' once everything is in place.

To the floor in the truck unloading area I added some rudimentary safety markings, oil leaks, and dirtied the floor a bit. You can also see that some exit signs were added above the lobby doors.

That's about it for the main ground floor elements. I'm going to add some shelves and tables before attaching the other two walls. And I'm debating installing some support columns for the second floor as the open span seems unrealistic, although they'll block views.