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  • Simple Scratchbuilding in Styrene: Baltimore & Ohio MD Signal Tower

    RailModel Journal April 2008 Pages 60-62

    By Mike Baker, Pictures by Karen Baker


    Styrene sheets and strip can be used to recreate the common Baltimore & Ohio, Signal Tower that was on the Monongah Division, at Clarksburg, West Virginia. 

    The Parkersburg branch of the Baltimore and Ohio was originally a part of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad.  This line (whose original charter was partially sponsored by the B&O) was a link from the B&O main lines in Wheeling, West Virginia to Parkersburg, West Virginia.  From Parkersburg, freight would move by barge over the Ohio River to connect with Marietta and Cincinnati.  After the NVR was absorbed by the B&O, this line became know as the Parkersburg branch.

    This line saw frequent and heavy traffic from after the civil war until the late 1950s.  The improved highway system caused the roads decline in the late 50s through to the 1960s. The route was dependent on the east-west traffic since very little revenue traffic originated along the line.  The decline continued until CSX the current owner, announced the St. Louis mainline would be downgraded and the branch from Cincinnati to Clarksburg would be abandoned.

    Today this area is known as the Bridgeport subdivision, and is a mainline for CSX operations. The double-tracked mainline runs from Berkeley run Junction in West Grafton to Clarksburg. The mainline changes to a single-track line at RS tower.  From here it continues onto MO tower in Clarksburg.  The mainline turns west to Bridgeport, and again becomes a two-track route after the line emerges from a tunnel at Columbia a short distance from the eastern end of the Clarksburg yard.  Two industrial tracks diverge from the line between Columbia and MO tower.  From there the yard continues through Clarksburg to MD tower.  This tower controlled the interlocking at the western yard leads.

    The tower is a basic brick structure, with a standing seam roof.  Entrance to the building is gained through one of three doors on the outside metal staircase.  The drawings were created using a set of blueprints from work done on the tower in 1956.



    This model was built with the idea that no "off the shelf" parts would be used.  All of the doors and windows were to be scratch-built, as were the stairs and platforms.  Most of the construction was done with sheet and strip styrene.  Only the Planophoto-etched roofwalk stock for the stairs and the embossed Plastruct brick sheet for the brick walls were not this material.  With drawings in hand I began to lay out the sides of the building.  I laid out all the major dimensions, including window and door openings, on a sheet of .040-inch styrene. The window and door openings were then cut out, as were the overall dimensions of each side.  An overlay of more .040-inch styrene was applied from the bottom of the model up 52 inches for the concrete base at the bottomof the structure, using a straight edge as a guide to keep everything straight and plumb.

    I have found the easiest way to model brick using the embossed brick sheets is to paint and mortar the entire sheet before I start cutting and applying the material.  The brick sheet was sprayed with an oxide red-Tuscan red mix followed by a flat coat a few days later.  With the paint and flat finish cured, a wash of very watered down white tempera paint was applied.  When dry the excess was wiped off with a dampened paper towel.  Now it was time to move to laminating the embossed brick material over the flat cutouts.

    To do this I first made sure the brick sheet had a straight baseline and was square.  I then applied a small bit of Plastweld to the brick sheet, which was placed on the workbench face down. More Plastweld was applied to the styrene sheet sections, then they were laminated -together.  Weights were set on the sections and allowed to sit overnight to ensure a nice, tight lamination.  

    When the glue had fully cured, a hobby knife was used to remove the brick from the window and door openings.  By cutting the openings before the brick sheet was laminated made removing the brick material easy, and left me with nice crisp square openings for the window and door frames.  Next, using my mini-table saw, I mitered the corners of my wall sections.  I did this for two reasons. One, I wanted to ensure I had the correct outside dimensions, and two, I did not want to see the ends of the brick material.  With the ends mitered, a bead of Plastweld was run down the seam, and each corner was clamped until it had set.  Small gussets, made from scrap styrene sheet, were attached to the inside of the tower to keep the corners square.  

    The window frames were made from scale 1 x 2 strip styrene.  Using a chopper, sections were cut to length and the perimeter of each opening was glued in place, using Plastweld and capillary action.  Once the overall frames were in place, the frames were marked for the mullions and louvers.  The remaining mullions were also cut from 1 x 2 stock.  The louvers were cut from 1 x 6 stock and carefully assembled.  The doors were made from .020-inch styrene sheet.  The overall door was cut out, and the frame and raised panels were laminated to the blank.  The doors were glued in place from the inside of the tower.  The window frames were painted aluminum, and the doors were painted white.  When the paint was dry, clear styrene sheet was applied to the inside for the window glass.

    The Standing seam roof was built by cutting four identical triangles from .020-inch sheet.  The lines for the seams were marked using a straight edge and triangle.  The four sections were taped together from the back, then the pyramid shape was glued to a section on .040-inch sheet styrene.  Sections of .040-inch strip stock were glued under the assembly at the inner wall edges so the roof could be easily set into place on top of the tower.  Strip styrene was used for the seams on the roof.  Once this assembly was complete, the roof was painted Weathered black.

    Now it was time to tackle the stairs.  I first made a frame for each of the landings from strip styrene.  After they were assembled, the frames were attached to the side of the tower.  The runners for the stairs were cut from 2 x 10 strip styrene, and the locations for the treads were marked on each pair.  These were then glued in place to each landing.  With the framework complete, the Plano etched roof walk stock was trimmed to fit the landing and glued in place with a thin bead of CA.  The treads were all cut to length and width and then glued in place one at a time.  All the railing sections were cut from .020-inch styrene rod stock. The sanctions for the railing were attached first, then with these pieces in place the top rails were attached, with carefu l attention given to make sure everything was straight. The lower rails were attached and then all the railings, stairs and treads brushed with Model Master Aluminum.

    Only the top section of the building received any special treatment. A floor was added, as well as the walls for the bathroom (with a special notch cut where the bathroom meets the outerwalls) to allow the roof to be attached.  At this time the interior of the building has not been detailed or lighted.  The roof was not glued in place, so the top floor is still accessible for future detailing.  There are a couple variations between the model and the prototype, mostly because I did not know what my end result for the model was to be, or where it would be located. The stairwell does not go all the way to the bottom of the structure on the prototype, since the grade at the front of the tower is higher than the back (see elevation drawing).  Also I did not add the train board or the tower ID, but these will most likely be added later.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Mike Baker

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