Tasha Oates updated January 3, 2011


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

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

    Last month’s article ended with the first steps in the construction of the removable interior. Now we turn our attention to modifying the building to easily accept the interior. A flange was glued to the bottom of each of the express door openings on the first floor. This flange will guide and hold the floor of the removable interior in place. The flange was made from .015 x .188 wide Evergreen styrene strips. These should be painted the floor color, or could be finished in dark gray with rust to look like iron plate edging. With all of these in place and dry, I then cut a sheet of illustration board to fit the floor plan between the long sides of the building. The board panel was cut to clear the little reinforcements in back of the wall sections. The inner corners of the panel each received about a 1/4" bevel across the corner so that the floor would slide around any obstructions. The building was then turned over with the roof down on the work surface. By resting the floor panel on the flanges that were added inside the doorways, the floor is now in place where it will eventually be able to slide in from the open end of the building.

    At this early hour, nobody would be in those offices on the upper floors, but Railway Express never sleeps. Before sunrise, only a few of the doors would be open due to the chill off the river — and to help security control casual entry to the express floor. With trucks arriving and leaving at all hours of the day, it was common to see most of the doors open, especially in warm weather. Traffic on the express floor is visible between the shelves and all of those boxes and crates in transit between express cars on trains and trucks to make local deliveries. Just barely visible are some of the signs suspended from the ceiling used to divide the various sections of the floor for the various destinations.

    I cut some .100 square styrene strips and placed them on the board and glued them to the walls, taking care not to get glue on the floor panel. One way to avoid this problem is to tack all of the guides in place with just a dot of glue, and then gently slide the floor panel out. With the floor panel slid out of the building, the guides can be glued securely in place. When the floor guides are dry, you can slide the floor back in. The building was then turned right side up and the positions of the columns were sketched lightly in pencil.

    I calculated a good height for each floor to be 40mm (about 19/16"). Long strips were cut to this height from illustration board and then cut to length for each wall. I walled off the stairwells at each end by cutting two wall sections, one about 1" long and the other about 2". These were glued in place on the floor with white glue (e.g., Elmer’s® Glue-All), allowing about 3mm (about 1/8") at the edges so that the interior walls would not hit anything while sliding the floor in and out. I then made a couple of small rectangular enclosures for closets and bathrooms and some thin strips for support columns, and glued these to the center areas of the floor using white glue.

    When building architectural models, I learned that the less glue you can use the faster it will set up. I generally put a puddle of glue about the size of a dime on a small square of wax paper, scrap plastic or aluminum foil and apply it with a toothpick to parts that will be glued. In the case of high stress parts I sometimes also place a thin bead of glue on each side of a joint for reinforcement. This makes a very strong joint and is often stronger than the material being glued.

    After letting these little enclosures dry, I made the second and third floor panels. Each was the same length as the first floor but was cut about 3mm or 1/8" narrower to clear obstructions. When lateral walls are added to the edges of the floor, they must clear the interior thickness of the windows and glazing material. The real building had a large room on the second floor at the east end that held the payroll department. The computer room (a big punch-card computer was housed here from around 1960) was next to the payroll department and there were some huge safes in here. I have no idea how they ever got such big safes in unless they somehow took out the windows or maybe put the safes in before the windows were installed. There was a central corridor on the second and third floors with offices on both sides. While the safes were probably never moved, part of this building seems to have always been shared between CNJ and the express company. I have to guess at this late date how the building was divided, but I recall that the CNJ had one of the upper floors and the express company, Railway Express (and before 1929 Adams Express) had the other.

    I didn’t feel it necessary to add a corridor that no one could see so I just put a long “backbone” wall along most of the length of the building between the offices at each side, omitting the central corridor. I did both building segments in similar ways, because I think that there were some large full-width rooms at the extreme west end of the building that mirrored the ones at the east end. I added one set of walls at a time. When these were dry, I put drops of glue on the top of all the walls and quickly slid the assembly back into the building. I then added the next floor, pressing down with my fingers when it was in place. I put a few freight cars on the new floor to keep it weighted down as the glue set up. When dry, the unit was slid out and the third-floor walls were added in the same way as on the second floor.

    After making little gray desks for the first section I built, I found that they really couldn’t be seen once the blinds were added. Consequently, for the second section I did no interior fittings other than a couple of scale-sized posters and calendars I had already cut out. If you are building a contest model or if you just like to have all the interior details, then add a central corridor and full interior fittings. You should probably use shades instead of the venetian blinds because they do such a good job of blocking the view. Careful viewing of photos showing the south side of this building reveals that most of the offices on that side had roller shades anyway. Of course I found this to be the case after I had all the blinds drawn out and fitted to the building. (Maybe someday I will change over to shades on the south side of my model if I ever get caught up in my modeling projects.)

    With the interior unit completed and thoroughly dry, I removed it and sealed the whole upper interior floor and wall unit structure with Testors Model Master Desert Sand color. The floors were then finished with a tan mixture I made up of Floquil paint to simulate an asphalt tile floor. I prefer to use a solvent-based paint to seal any kind of board. I have found that water-based paints such as acrylics tend to warp illustration board for they shrink as they dry.

    I like to use acrylic to simulate windows because it looks like glass and does not shatter as real glass does. Some modelers use microscope slide glass, which is beautiful for this purpose. Microscope slide covers are very thin, rigid and fragile and can shatter into nearly invisible flakes that get into everything. Tiny shards can still turn up years later even after thoroughly cleaning the area. Acrylic won’t break nor do anything like real glass in terms of shattering. Cast acrylic is available in thicknesses down to about .030 or .040 at plastic stores, lumberyards and picture frame shops. Don’t get the non-reflective type sheets unless you want slightly frosted windows. You can sometimes find rolled acrylic, which seems to be a cheaper grade in these thicknesses too. In my experience, rolled acrylic is fine.

    Unloading and loading of trucks in close detail with all of the express floor activity.

    This 1950s-era photo shows the use of a three- or four-wheeled tractor with either an electric or gasoline engine to haul express. The number of tractors a facility had depended on its size and the amount of express handled.

    “In a Railway Freight Station” shows the interior of a big city Less than Carload facility. It might just as well have been shot in a Railway Express depot like the one at Jersey City. The tractors and wagons are of the same types used by REA and other express companies, the all-door configuration of the motor truck door openings on the street side (right) is virtually the same as in an express facility, as is the trackside arrangement on the left. There is an enclosed office on the left in the foregroud and through the fire- doors you can see the next section of the terminal.

    Ideally you should have .010 to .030 material so you don’t waste space inside the building or get funny internal reflections which can happen with thick window material. Plastruct offers .020 acrylic, which is perfect for this application. Acrylic windows can be glued with Ambroid’s Pro-Weld, which I already use for styrene, but it can also be held in place with Testors glue for clear parts #3515. While clear styrene in a thickness of .015 is easily available and works pretty much like regular white styrene sheets, it can warp after being glued and produce wavy reflections that do not look like glass. It can also turn yellow over the years. I have not encountered these problems with acrylic in my 30-plus years of modeling. I cut acrylic sheet using the score and snap-off method with an Olfa acrylic cutter — other brands are similar. You could also use the back of a hobby knife blade. An acrylic cutter costs about as much as an X-Acto® knife and has a blade with a sort of a hook in it—it is the hook edge that does the actual scoring.

    This building had venetian blinds in most of the offices. Making venetian blinds can be very tedious, so I used some shortcuts. I made up a set of lines on the computer and printed them out on a sheet of paper. I wanted opaque tan colored lines and so I took some Plastruct thin clear acrylic sheet and laid a sheet onto the ruled-out line paper I had printed. I even made some segments of the page with thicker lines, and some with lines that bunched up to simulate blinds as if they are partially raised. I then placed a ruler on the acrylic, and ruled each line using tan Floquil paint in a ruling pen. Long lines were ruled across the sheet that was later cut into segments, with one for each pair of windows. Many people have trouble with ruling pens overflowing or generally messing up. (That’s why first-class draftsmen were in such demand!) Alternate methods would be to either cut out parallel-stripe decals or use extra fine opaque paint markers. Sometimes you can also find printed sheets with line patterns on them in art supply stores. You could print out sheets of plastic on a computer printer if you are satisfied with a dark color such as black. Or if you have a printer that has white opaque ink (an Alps printer or the new one, which I think is being offered by Hewlett Packard), you can print light colored blind units. Printed sheets like these can be used for the windows, or you can easily glue them behind your window glass with Testors clear plastic glue, which is made to glue model aircraft canopies in place. Vertical blind tapes can be added, but I elected to leave these out.

    Alternatively, you can put shades into your building instead of blinds. Colored paper such as Pantone, fadeless or color aid are the best and can be had at art supply stores. (Fadeless paper is the cheapest of these by far and comes in smaller sizes in packages of assorted colors.) Buildings like this one had dark green or tan shades, although other colors were used too. I suggest using dots of Testors glue for clear plastic (#3515) for sticking paper shades to the window glazing so that any glue that smears onto the window area will still dry clear. You can apply the shades to assembled and painted window units and when dry, they can be easily glued into the painted building.

    The interior of the upper floors does make a difference in the appearance of this building, but with the venetian blinds in place, it is probably not necessary to go to this much trouble. All you really need are the floors and a few walls here and there to keep you from seeing through the building. The first floor, however, can be a hotbed of activity with figures placed to move all the piles of boxes and cartons inside. A mechanical horse or tractor, dollies and all kinds of wagons should be available to help move traffic about too. You can limit the work involved by leaving some of the bays closed.

    Closing up one end of the first floor saves adding all the columns and details I used but will still give the impression of a very busy facility. I added Evergreen .080 x .080 strips cut to length to simulate the columns that supported the upper floors. I had already painted the strips a gray to match the color I painted the entire area and when dry I masked the upper half of the columns, then brush painted them with Testors Model Masters Dark Green. On your computer, you can run off some tiny signs for schedules, a blackboard with sign-in areas, calendars with or without pictures and also REA ads. Other signs might include “Keep to the right,” “No powered vehicles past this point.”

    Next, you can add cardboard boxes that you fold up yourself from stiff brown paper, or use wood blocks cut from basswood strips such as from Northeast or Midwest Lumber. Make your cuts with a finetooth blade and work carefully so you don’t have too much sanding to do. You could paint these to represent cardboard boxes, or scribe boards into them to simulate wooden crates. Since REA carried everything you can imagine, your boxes could range from the size of a toaster to that of a piano or a tractor. You can put shelves in some areas and put some packages where they show, and you can put sorting tables in as well. Both of these are available from the hobby shop from such manufacturers as SS Limited (Jaks Co.) although I made mine from sheet and strip Evergreen styrene. Another good detail is loaded sacks. Preiser and several other manufacturers have packages of sacks. To show creased sacks that aren’t completely filled, heat a sack with a match or candle while holding it in a pair of tweezers — when it softens, crumple the sack from top to bottom slightly to crease it. You may need to paint the sack white after that due to the ash sometimes left by heating. In order to avoid having to finish all the boxes and cartons I made, I kept mine near the center of the building (where they cannot be seen easily). Plastic cartons and shipping palettes from Preiser, Eko and Merten were used near the outer edges since they look so much better than my mockups made of balsa and basswood.

    Overall view of the interior reveals the large offices on the top floor (lower edge of structure) but that there is no corridor between them on the north and south sides of the building because it doesn’t show.

    Finally, add wagons, express carts (4-wheel “jumbos” such as the ones Grandt Line makes) and lots of figures. Railway Express people on the trucks wore dark green uniforms. Preiser has police figures both in painted and unpainted versions and their uniforms were quite similar to expressmen. Many REA warehouse people might not have worn a full uniform, and I think it would be a safe bet that they wore work clothing like dungarees or coveralls. People lifting, holding packages, shoving them along the table or hauling carts all attest to this being a very busy place.

    If this building is in a dark area of your layout, you could run a string of lights across the ceiling of the express floor. I would probably run the feeder line up near the center of the building and add lights to all of the floors, but that could be the subject of another article. A few grain-of-rice bulbs, or even grain-of-wheat bulbs, would be enough to attract a lot of attention to the inside of this detailed area. If you use illustration board or Strathmore, I would suggest adding a scrap of aluminum foil (1/2" x 1/2" or so above each bulb. This helps in two ways: first it will reflect the light of the bulb and spread it out more, and second, it will diffuse some of the heat of the bulb so the ceiling is less likely to overheat. If you have fears of this happening, bend the lamp leads so that the bulb points down and away from the ceiling.

    I completed my building exterior with Modelers Mortar (available in hobby shops) in concrete gray. As in the instructions, I used a damp cloth to apply the mortar, spreading it into the brick areas and when dry, I used another damp rag to remove the excess. I don’t ever recall seeing a Railway Express sign on the building, but I think there probably was one on the north side first floor at the east end of the building where the Clipper sign was.

    Whenever I was at the Jersey City Terminal I saw long lines of trucks and trailers backed up to the doors, which were usually all or mostly open. With the narrow openings limited by the door track columns, great skill was necessary by drivers to back a truck into adjoining bays, let alone big trailers. While most of the trucks and trailers were REA, I recall seeing some from other companies such as freight forwarders that cooperated (some may have competed) with Railway Express. I have been finding more evidence of these local express companies that worked mostly out of small towns or handled special types of cargoes — possibly between one pair of end cities only.

    Whether you want to model Jersey City on the CNJ, another similar-looking express house or railroad office installation, or are making up a passenger terminal express facility for your freelanced railroad, you should be able to use these techniques to make a really striking building based on this Walthers kit. There are a number of other industrial buildings that would also make good express terminals, and perhaps one of them more closely resembles the one in your town.

    It is unfortunate that Railway Express, an operation that encompassed almost every railroad, has received so little attention for so many years. Most of the people who knew about it or worked with it are gone now, but you can add another facet of operation to your railroad due to the new interest in the express business shown by modelers and manufacturers, such as Walthers.

    Back up some express cars or material handling cars to your new terminal and you are in the express business! 

    Article Details

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

    Article Album (6 photos)

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  • Rick Phipps
    Rick Phipps Nice article and info. Thanks for sharing Tasha.
    January 3, 2011
  • Tasha Oates
    Tasha Oates No problem. Rick. Let me know if there's anything else you'd like to see.
    January 3, 2011
  • Rick Phipps
    Rick Phipps Thanks for the offer. I am just getting started in the hobby so I am definitely going to be reading up on everything I can get my hands on. LOL
    January 3, 2011