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  • Part I: Modeling a Railway Express Terminal from a Walthers Kit

    By V.S. Roseman
    Photo by the author unless otherwise indicated

    Walthers’ new Railway Express Transfer Building and Freight House is modeled after a real structure in Jersey City, New Jersey. Originally built by the Central Railroad of New Jersey for the use of Adams Express Co. and the American Express Company (who shared the facility with the railroad), this building was utilized in express operation until the 1960s. By that time the CNJ dropped all express services and moved their passenger terminal from their tidewater terminal at Jersey City to Newark, New Jersey, where passengers made connections for Pennsylvania RR and rapid transit trains to Manhattan.

    The prototype was aligned with the huge Bush shed, which was one of the largest of its kind. It was made up of connected umbrella sheds made of fire-resistant iron columns and reinforced concrete roofing with wire glass openings for light. It was located on the north side of the passenger tracks near Track One. The terminal was a waterside structure, and all traffic bound for the ferries to 23rd St. Manhattan (midtown) and to Liberty St. (downtown) passed through crowded cobblestone-paved Johnston Avenue to reach the head house and ferryboats.

    The terminal was constructed at the end of the 19th Century with a huge arched train shed, but with tremendous growth of the railroad this was removed and replaced with Bush sheds during the first years of the 20th Century. Around 1900, the brick Express structure was built with a steel frame. The prototype structure measures about 40' by 700’. Walthers has made some modifications to produce the structure shown. Very few model railroads have the need (or the room) for a 700' long facility, but by slicing off a chunk having four bays, Walthers has managed to make a realistic segment of this very typical installation. Provision has been made, by means of extra corner and middle pilaster sections, to add more kits to make the model as long as you want. My model is built of two sections, although I am anxious to add a third to fit into a slightly longer express yard I hope to build. I guess that six or seven of these would make a full scale version of the prototype — I have not bothered to count the number of windows and bays. Even a single section can become a visually interesting part of your layout once you “open” up the first-floor doors and add some interior fittings.

    The structure was served on the south side along Johnston Avenue by a continuous row of doors to which one could always see row upon row of trucks bellied up to the building like piglets to a mother sow. On the south, or railroad, side of the express building, there were three tracks served by an interesting arrangement of walk-throughs. Cars were spotted as they fit along the express platform on the first track (track A). Cars on tracks B and C were then aligned with those on track A so planks could bridge the gap between the doors. Express could then be trucked from cars on all three tracks. Whenever a car was loaded, the terminal switcher would have to play with cars on all the tracks to realign them again after pulling the load out. And whenever a new car was placed in the pocket on one of the tracks, the switcher would have to pull the whole string out and realign them again.

    Even the mid-morning lull around 10:00 is busy here. Trucks unloading local express parcels for distribution by train can be seen in this view from the roof of the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s power plant on the north side of Johnston Avenue. The express house adjoins the three tracks just for express business, and is followed by the station sheds and tracks for CNJ’s commuter service, the Reading to Philadelphia, and the B&O to Washington and beyond.

    Watching this operation in action is very interesting, because the brakeman or conductor would be down on the ground guiding the engineer. Cars had to be positioned exactly, sometimes with their knuckles just touching rather than being coupled. Although express boxcars and refrigerators were usually 50’, express baggage cars could range from 50' to75', and in a few cases up to 80' or 85'. As many as ten baggage-express cars or 15 express reefers could be placed on the express tracks. Modeling this aspect of express service, this structure and the three tracks with just a turnout at one end and a lead in back could provide enough operation for a small layout in itself!

    I am fairly sure that the exterior platform on the south side of the building was about twice the width of the one in the kit, but I have not been able to find any plans to show this. In the late ’40s or early ’50s, this narrow concrete exterior platform was extended over two of the express tracks and was covered with a sloping shed roof forming a V-shape with the original platform shed roof as in the kit. Steel columns at about 25' centers supported the new roof. When built, or at some time afterwards, the whole thing was enclosed with corrugated iron, fiberglass panels and some bricked-up sections. I got the impression that it was made up of random things already lying about on the property. I plan on adding that section someday, but I like the idea of having the three express tracks as provided until then.

    The Johnston Ave. Express facility in the early ‘70s after abandonment. After Railway Express pulled out of this facility, probably around the time of the closing of the terminal in 1967, Clipper Carloading took over the express floor of this structure. This photo was taken in the ‘70s after Clipper had pulled out, probably when the remaining freight services of the CNJ were trimmed back, and the train tracks were ripped up.

    This late-’60s view shows the east end of the Express Building after Clipper had taken over. The main CNJ passenger terminal is in the center of the view and the ferry building is at left. Courtesy of Bob’s Photos.


    After assembling the walls and roof I found that it is possible to link sections of this structure without gluing them together. This will help when the structure is finally set into the layout. By linking up the segments of the structure on the layout, any slight surface variations can be accommodated. I often add some ground foam or a few fibers along the bottom edge of building foundations to simulate weeds and to fill any gaps between the foundation and the ground. To make the building removable, I added a strip of Evergreen styrene .015 thick by .250 wide to the inside edge of the upper floors. By making the east section a “female” part and the west section a “male” part with a projecting strip that will slide into the space formed by the extra pilaster part on the outside, the new flange I added on the inside makes a very snug fit. This type of construction permits the use of as many sections as you like. Walthers has already included the extra pilasters.

    On the roof I added a .300 wide by .020 thick flange cut from styrene sheet to close the void between the two roof segments. I painted this with a mixture of pale green and white with a drop of blue to simulate copper sheeting as was sometimes used on structures like this one. While this model compares favorably to the original, the skylight arrangement does not correspond to the prototype (although it could be that the original plans show it the way the kit was designed). The row of skylights only ran for about half of the building and was toward the north side. It is possible that the skylights on the eastern section of the prototype may have been closed up when the railroad located huge safes in that building for the payroll department. At the extreme east end of the roof there was a brick stairwell house that was about 12' tall, 10' wide and 18' long. It had a skylight on top and, as I recall, a west-facing door. I simulated this little addition with sheet brick material, but have not yet fitted a skylight to it. With a roof of this type, water collects behind the building wall extensions (cornices). Drainage was made possible by copper-clad scuppers (openings) that led to downspouts. I made my scuppers from .060 x .080 strip styrene and my downspouts from .040 square styrene strip. They were all painted copper green. It is not clear where these led, so I just cut them off at the first floor loading dock roof on both sides. Extensions can be added if I learn where they went. There is a downspout at the end of every other bay, but they are mounted unusually in that they are mounted to the wall instead of the pilasters.

    While it is nice to have an exterior loading dock on a model like this, the real one had a platform on the south side facing the tracks but did not have one on the north side, which faced Johnston Avenue. Huge trucks and tractor-trailers would be jockeyed into position at the low doors and be unloaded directly from their rear doors. In fact, it was Railway Express that pioneered the rollup doors seen on the back of many modern truck fleets. With a rollup door on the truck or trailer, it isn’t necessary for a driver to stop prematurely to have the double swinging doors opened.

    The kit includes an ample number of triple rollup door units for the structure (12 per side for each section). While many plants used this type of door, the Jersey City facility actually had a type of double-panel counterbalanced metal door. The Pelle Company made industrial doors for freight elevators that moved both up into the roof and down into the floor when they were opened. The Jersey City building had a similar type with an inner lower door that rolled up into the upper outer door, each one taking up half of the height of the door opening. Both door sections rolled up into a large pocket above the door opening. By dividing the space near the top of the roof overhang into three parts, you can scale the correct door pocket, upper and lower doors. Instead of brick being visible above the door openings, there were metal plates with decorative recessed panels that were painted gray or possibly covered with concrete. (This building was torn down over 20 years ago, and I just do not recall that detail.) As I wanted to detail the interior, I left the original opening and condensed the door pocket (section into which the doors roll up) above this and just added the door track columns. There are two columns for each opening, and I aligned them with those in the closed door panels supplied with the kit. My model simulates a few of these doors in partially closed positions, but I wanted most of them open as the real ones were, except in the coldest weather. Metal tracks (four per bay) permitted three separate door sets to be rolled up or down in each bay.

    Detail of the venetian blinds. The reason you can see daylight behind some of the windows is that the two sections of the building have not yet been joined.

    This is the interior that was built for this structure. I had anticipated adding more office furniture, but after painting the venetian blinds, so little was visible inside that I felt that even the scrap cardboard “decks” I built would not be visible from outside the model.

    I simplified the next section (west end) of the interiors by eliminating the furniture as it did not show up. I did, however, include a couple of areas where it was possible to see from one side of the building to the other.

    The interior can be slid into place in the structure after slide rails have been added.



    The interior assembly in place inside the building section. Where the two walls come together you can see the flanges I added to make a sort of track so the sections could be slid together and stay aligned.

    Removable Interior

    I assembled the building shell and examined it for awhile before continuing. I saw that it would be necessary to add a panel to represent the express (1st) floor. The detailing of the interior makes an eye-catching model that helps to convey the impression of a lot of activity. After agonizing over how to create and detail the interior, I decided to make a slide-in unit so that I could access the interior during and after construction. I first did this kind of installation when I built a concept model for a city station when I was in college. My teacher was more impressed with the sliding interior than with my design, but I recall getting a good grade for the project. (I would have been happier if he had looked at the design of the thing a bit more, but that’s life.)

    I used some dusty old illustration board I had around to make my walls. This is expensive material, however, and cheaper Railroad Board (which is colored on one side, gray on the other) or matte board would do just as well. Remnants of these can often be acquired from picture frame shops since they have to cut the rectangular centers out of matte board to make picture mattes. They may be willing to sell you — or even give you — the centers. Some stores keep a box full of this stuff for sale; it can be a cheap way to get some great building material.

    Next month, we will finish up this project so we can start moving express. 

    Typical outdoor details of the building’s exterior showing the REA poster which was changed frequently and offered the location of the nearest REA offices as Johnston Ave., Jersey City, 3, N.J. A pair of mechanical “horses” are ready to haul express wagons anywhere they are needed around the terminal to pick up or deliver parcels. The sawhorse barriers were used frequently to keep motor traffic for the ferries to Manhattan separate from REA movements with slow moving express wagons.


    Article Details

    • Original Author V.S. Roseman
    • Source Model Railroading
    • Publication Date April 2004

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