Saturday, July 6, 2013


On numerous visits to the hobby shop over the spring the Mels Drive-In kit from Moebius Models has called out to me from the shelves, “I know you want me. You can’t resist my circular restaurant and stylish retro sign.” 

I tried to counter with a rather lame, “but I don’t have a big parking lot on my layout, or a collection of cool 1950’s cars to show you off.”

My protests were to no avail. Maybe it was its seductive personal-pan-pizza size box, or the allure of how it might look bejeweled in radiant optical fibres. I was over 15. I couldn’t resist. I plunked down my cash, and the clerk gave me a wink as I took Mels out to my car and home to my workshop.

And so it begins: my adventure with Mels Drive-in.
[The opening scene in American Graffiti had Mels as the locale - according to Wikipedia it was located in San Francisco and closed down but reopened to film the movie, and then demolished after the movie was made.]

Mels Drive-In had a prominent role in George Lucas’ 1973 movie American Graffiti which sealed its place in the broader popular culture as an icon of 1950’s America. 
[David Fincher's 2007 movie Zodiac featured Mr. ED's briefly in its opening scene. I don't know if it's an actual building or a clever computer graphic, but the film places it in Vallejo, California.]

Moebius Models was very savvy turning it into a kit, what with the strong focus on 1950s stream-to-diesel transition era layouts in the American model railroading press. 
[Here's the base for Mels situated in a possible track plan.]

To me, I do admire its styling, and it seemed that it would fit well on a corner of whatever streetcar layout is to come. I imagine it as being part restaurant, part street car stop, located at a bend in the streetcar track with a lawn spread out between the building and the track with lots of picnic tables and a view of the ocean. Sounds good to me. 

I don’t plan to do a lot of modifications on this kit. I think it’ll be close to box-stock, but with some lighting. I’m planning on using side-illuminated fibre optics along the perimeter of the circular roof and some regular fibres drilled into the sign much like I used on the WSMoftheWBB project

I’m not sure if all this will work out, but I’ll see. I’m also going to try and build this one fast instead of my usual dead slow pace. I was reading an article called Old Schooled in a recent issue of New Scientist about how to help an old adult brain like mine learn new things – according to Debra this is required reading for me :-) One thing it mentioned was that “adults can hamper progress with their own perfectionism: whereas children throw themselves into tasks, adults often agonise over the mechanics of movements, trying to conceptualize exactly what is should focus on the outcome of your actions rather than the intricacies of the movements”. The last project I did where I decided not to agonize too much, and made speed of completion a priority, was the Fortran Building, and in the end I was rather happy with it; compromises and all. So, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I can find the time for this build and put the pedal-to-the-metal when I do.


  1. Years ago, when I was a young bloke, The Maribyrnong Drive in backed onto the reserved track of the Footscray/Moonee Ponds route, which provided a sneaky way for the youth of the day to get in. Now the site is a homemaker centre.

    1. I've never seen one quite like Mels in Ontario, although there certainly were drive-ins - but most drive-ins I went to were outdoor movie theatres.

  2. This is an impressive kit and I considered getting one for my HO Scale dad, who also has no room for it, etc...

    We lived in the Bay Area for a couple of years from 1998-2003 and their were a couple of Mel's, in fact, on Lombard street that I was always thought was the same location as the one in the film. If not, it looked an awful lot like the one from the film!

    Anyway, congrats on your great kit!

    1. When I was doing a quick search on Google to find out more about Mels and the kit, it looked like there was (or is) a Mel's diner chain and a Mel's drive-in chain, which might be different companies. I need to read up more on that to try and figure out the mystery :-)

  3. The graphics on the box are reason alone to buy the kit, I don't think I could have resisted this had I seen it on the shelves!

    1. I think the box was designed by the 'resistance is futile' Borg :-)