Tasha Oates updated January 4, 2011


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  • The Cumberland Laundry

    Scratchbuidling in Styrene Brick

    By R.B. Montague

    You can build this building from “scratch”, using sheet styrene plastic, in less time than it would take to cut-up and convert a kit. Use the basic “Snap­ Out” techniques of simply scribing, then snapping-out the windows and walls as shown, step-by-step, in the July 1990 issue. The article on using Holgate and Reynolds styrene plastic brick sheets in the December 1990 issue of “The Journal” provides the techniques you’ll need for the brick surfaces of this model.

    Most structures we modelers build are related to rail­ road activities. Here’s a different structure serviced by the railroad. Chlorine bleach and coal (For the boiler) were delivered in railroad boxcars and hoppers to this commercial laundry serving railroad diners, hotels, restaurants and motels.

    There’s nothing so ugly as an un-square old building along a right-of-way (especially in the East). This is no indictment of the East or the railroads or the buildings. They simply had to coexist. Trains went where they must.

    This is the Cumberland Laundry, circa 1916, the prototype for the model.

    Buildings either gave way or used the available real estate. After all, the East is where it all began.

    This ugly old laundry actually existed! It was exhumed by Bob Smith, president of the board of directors, Pittsburgh Model Railroad Historical Society, based in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. Source information for many buildings extant during the 1940s and 1950s is difficult to come by. Bob made six trips to Cumberland, Maryland, spending time at the library, city offices, newspaper, fire department, bookstores and historical society with varying degrees of success. Buildings that are still standing get plenty of pictures taken of them. It’s the buildings that have either burnt to the ground or that have been razed that are the challenge. The Cumberland Laundry is such a building. It is shown on a 1950 Fire Department plan of central city Cumberland. Bob also located an 8 x 10 black and white photo taken in March 1936 of the rear of the structure along the tracks.

    The prototype for this rail-served laundry was located on the Western Maryland Railroad in Pittsburgh. The flooded river was apparently the reason for this 1916 photograph, but it does provide a view of the industrial area.

    Why all this research? The PMRHS is recreating certain areas along a typical line running from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cumberland, Maryland, on its 4,000-square-foot layout. This structure will reside there in the near future. 

    From the photo and research, Bob drafted the exterior with dimensions in feet and inches.

    It may seem strange that a fellow in San Diego is building structures for a layout in Pittsburgh, especially seeing that he has never lived in the East! Here’s where I come in. I’m an HO modeler who visits family once a year in Pittsburgh, and while layout-hopping a few years ago, became affiliated with the society. I like to build structures. An expanding layout needs structures. Thus the San Diego-Pittsburgh connection came about.


    Photo 1 - Use the "Snap-Out" construction steps from the July 1990 issue of "The Journal" to transfer the plans for the building to .040-inch-thick Evergreen sheet styrene. Snap the building parts from the walls and test-fit the parts using tape for temporary joints.


    From the detailed plans provided, I first laid out the five walls and three roofs on .040-inch styrene sheets, cut them out, and then check fitted the pieces (Photo I). I decided on a basic brick structure, so I bonded Holgate & Reynolds medium brick sheets to the appropriate walls. My particular technique is to complete each wall – windows, doors, glass, shades or curtains – and paint before joining them together. So, I next cut out the windows and doors for Grandt Line and Campbell frames (see parts list). Because this building is located between two others, I opted to eliminate several windows on the sides. Three areas are covered with corrugated iron (Campbell) and roofs made from “metal” siding (Evergreen) and “tarpaper” (Scotch black photo tape).

    Proceed slowly, thinking about each step, such as window fit and wall alignment. Comers can butt or be beveled. Base can fit inside walls or extend beyond. Roofs can be removable or attached. You decide. You are the builder . . . a scratchbuilder!

    When painting the interior walls and roofs black (to block interior lighting from showing through), leave edges clean where they bond to others. I covered about 1/8 inch of the edges with masking tape, then sprayed with flat black before installing windows. Windows and doors were sprayed separately on the front sides only before gluing into the walls.

    Campbell corrugated metal was cut into scale 4x6-foot sheets and applied overlapping as in the prototype. Metal siding was applied to the roofs and strips of black masking tape were applied overlapping to the rear roof. On the latter, locate and drill a small hole for the stack. You can now apply clear styrene plastic “glass” and paint shades on the windows. I also sprayed Testors DullCote over the windows to achieve a frosted look. I then assembled the walls, checking to be sure they’re square, vertically and horizontally, and joined them with plastic cement. By using cement, I can still make fine adjustments as to corner fit, square and roof fit before it sets up. The corners were reinforced and interior cross-bracing installed, both for strength and to serve as light baffles for interior lighting.

    Photo 2 - Put the parts back over the plans and trace the windows, then use the "Snap Out" techniques to remove the windows from the walls. Tape the walls to a board with the tape covering the edges to be glued, then spray the interior of the walls black. When the tape is removed, the bare plastic will be ready to accept the plastic cement for a proper cement bond.

    When the cement was thoroughly dry, I positioned and glued metal roofs in place, then drilled the stack holes slightly undersize and attached the rear roof.

    I cut stack material full length (ground level to the top) and drilled out the top to create a thin “metal” thickness. I then tied black thread at about 12-foot intervals to represent pipe joints and painted the stack flat black. I put a good amount of Walthers Goo on the bottom and passed the stack down through the roof hole until it touched the ground floor, then straightened it to a vertical position.

    I painted the bricks their red/brown color before assembly. I chose the paint­ on rub-off technique, using a cement grey water-base paint (Polly S) for the mortar color. Rust, brown and black streaks were applied to the roof and siding, plus gloss black for tarpaper seams and corrugated iron joints. Guy wires will be attached to the smokestack when the unit is finally situated on the layout, and interior light bulbs and wiring will be installed according to the system used there. Outside plumbing pipe and roof trim can also be added and painted. The building sighs were cut to size, framed with styrene strips and painted, then rub-on letters applied. I established the floor level (between second and third) and drilled for bolts, washers and nuts to simulate the cross­ tie rods found in many older brick structures for strength. I used brown paint, streaked rust marks, then brushed on dry dust (chalk or a commercial product) over the entire building . . . much as nature would. You may want to blend the tar and put rain marks under each window. I keep a jar of dirty thinner from brush cleaning for this mild streaking effect.

    Because the final resting place of the laundry is on a slight hillside lot, I constructed a base with the proper elevation to hold and protect the model in transit. It also helps to frame the project for photography.        



    Article Details

    • Original Author R.B. Montague
    • Source Railmodel Journal
    • Publication Date May 1995

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